Author - Erica

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A promise of Joy
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Sideline Talk
3
REVIEW: Brandless – Online Grocery Shopping
4
Christmas Dove: Doing Good, not Being Good
5
REVIEW: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
6
National Geographic Explorer Academy and 2019 Almanac
7
REVIEW: Tuft & Needle MINT Mattress
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Five birthday treats to send to school when cupcakes aren’t allowed
9
REVIEW: Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics
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Say Mama, a reflection on the orphan crisis

A promise of Joy

This weekend I went home. Not for a celebration or fun-filled weekend, but to sit in an ever-changing and tumultuous time with my family. A time that inevitably every family experiences in one way or another. I had a lot of opportunities to think, ponder and get lost in my own mind. It’s something I do with great skill while other people ask me if I’m okay.

None of us are really okay.

Yet, there is an ever-crushing internal pressure to appear as if we are. I’ve never been a fan of this method of self-destruction. Brush it under the rug, tidy it up and put a bandaid on it.

It’s curious that this is human nature when we know, deeply, that every person who graces this earth will encounter heartbreak, anxiety, trouble and pain.

A couple of years ago, after a surgery, things went really wonky for me. My body didn’t heal like it should have. My heart did odd physical things. And in the midst of that I became really afraid. I wasn’t okay. I had a lot of time to feel all those heavy things and wrap my arms tightly around them. Strangely, over time, my response to my trial became thankfulness.

Not thankful for the trial, but thankful to be present. To feel, to be alive to struggle and seek God in that struggle. I’ve watched friend after friend meet their own trials. Some with grace and some with despair that eventually transitioned into grace. I’m astounded by how incredibly beautiful it is to live fully in both the depths of what feels like destruction and the heights of life’s celebrations. Can we fully appreciate one without the other?

John 16 has always been a great source of comfort and encouragement to me. In this passage Jesus is anticipating his arrest and his death on the cross. He speaks to the disciples, telling them of the sorrow and hardship to come. But, the sorrow is not without the promise of joy.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

I truly believe that there is no trial, no pain and no struggle without purpose. It’s part of our journey here. But all of this hurt comes with the promise that Jesus has already overcome it all.  Read the very words of Jesus in John 16 and 17. Let him speak to your heart today. It’s okay to not be okay but don’t sit in it alone. We are more than conquerors.

 

Sideline Talk

I’ve been a soccer mom for almost seven years now. From the group ball chasing days of four-year-old soccer to a fast paced travel league I’ve seen it all from my folding camp chair. Have ya’ll listened to the things people shout at their kids during soccer?

Some of my favorites:

You’ve got time!
Take a touch!
Get it boogie!  over and over (I think boogie is a nickname??)
Space, Space! Spread out!
Fresh legs! First five minutes!
Think ahead!
That’s the way!
Dig!
You’re all on top of the ball! Space!!!
Cross it!
Wasted opportunity!
Look center!
You’ve got all the time in the world!
Take it up the field!
Come on Red, it’s your ball!!!

So for just a second switch places with your kid and ask them to shout a bunch of random stuff at you while you either mow the lawn, do the dishes or you could even invite them to work and let them shout at you while you work on an excel spreadsheet. I’m sure you would love that right? And your productivity? Super high I’m sure.

All that stuff up there is pure nonsense and these exasperated little sports learners are just trying to get through a game and get the ball in the net, or the basket or just hit it or whatever the game calls for. Calling for them to look center, or get to the corner or dig deep is the coaches job. Maybe sticking to enthusiastic good jobs and great plays is the best route for all involved. Honestly, the kids can’t really hear you any way, so perhaps sparing your sports watching neighbor is really the focus of this post.

And listen, if you’re the mom yelling go boogie through the whole game, I get it. We’re all proud of these kids. The first time I saw my son crest the hill running cross country, tears filled my eyes and I turned red yelling at him to dig deep and cross the finish line. It’s overwhelming to watch these little pieces of ourselves perform athletically. So lets keep the chatter encouraging, uplifting and for goodness sakes be sure the things you yell actually make sense.

(Bless your heart.)

REVIEW: Brandless – Online Grocery Shopping

We tried out Brandless last week! If that name doesn’t sound familiar to you it’s basically an online shop of “brandless” items that are mostly organic, all gmo-free and other things like gluten-free as well. Every item is either $3 or two for $3.

The experience:

The site was easy to use and shipping was free after hitting a certain price point. This was pretty easy to do as it was around $30. I found plenty of staples that we use on a regular basis and some new items to try as well. This was my first time ordering and I received six dollars off my box as a bonus. The boxes came about two days later and they were well packed. Nothing was leaking or broken. This was impressive to me, I’ve used other services that don’t go the extra mile with packing and it shows.

The products:

The products were all high-quality and very tasty. We are a folic acid free family due to MTHFR genetic mutations and we were excited to find pretzel chips without that additive. We love them with hummus! Some of the products, however, are not worth the $3 price tag. I’m actually going to make you a list of the best and the worst. This should help when and if you decide to give Brandless a try.

Brandless Best from our order:

Blueberry Muffin Mix
Pretzel Chips 2/$3
Organic Ketchup 2/$3
Granolas, all flavors
Lentil Soup 2/$3
Olive Oil
Spray Olive Oil
Organic Pasta 2/$3
Organic Pasta Sauce
Organic Coconut Oil
Organic Dried Fruit
Popcorn 2/$3
Pistachios
Organic crackers (all flavors)
Whole wheat organic animal crackers
Maple Syrup

Brandless Worst (these items are cheaper/same in the store):

Beef Jerky
Candy (all flavors)
Applesauce Pouches
Granola Bars
Cookie Thins (not much product in the bag)
Almonds (same price per ounce as store)

Is Brandless worth it?
Overall I rate Brandless as a good, and useful service. There is absolutely no monthly commitment, you can order as you please or never again if you want to! It’s a nice way to get gmo-free and organic pantry staples for a consistently low price. A lot of items are cheaper than stores with a handful being equal or slightly more (see list above). I would say, try it out with a $6 code, be sure to hit free shipping amount, and see what you think! Our family will definitely order again.

Shop Brandless

 

 

Christmas Dove: Doing Good, not Being Good

My precious friend Tricia, and her crew, just released a book package called the Christmas Dove. 

It’s a humble, theological and Gospel-centered devotional book that takes the place of Elf on the Shelf style activities. Now, there’s no judgement here at Goodbye Normal, so if your Christmas Dove needs to fly with your Elf because you love it, go for it girl.

Back to the Dove. It’s beautifully and simply illustrated, placing the focus where it should be at Christmas… on Jesus. Each day your family will have the opportunity to read a devotional segment together and then engage in a service or giving activity. This will open your children’s eyes to the truly vulnerable living around them. Each service act is simple and inexpensive as well.

Included:

fabric dove

daily dove reports

complete supply list

helpful parent guide

beautifully illustrated devotional book written by a seminary-trained author

The goal of the Christmas Dove is to help children take the focus off of themselves and whether they are on a Naughty or Nice List. Instead kids are given the opportunity to grow a heart for their community and train their eyes to truly see the vulnerable around them.

Don’t wait until the end of November to get this set in your hands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself googling “family Christmas devotional book” on the Friday before December!

Order today by visiting their website and shopping page.

Bonus for those ordering as a group or for a group:

Use CHRISTMASDOVE10 to receive 25% off your order of ten or more Christmas Dove book sets.

 

 

REVIEW: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect

We are in the midst of yet another renovation. Smart technology and monitoring our home continues to be a top priority. Our family is constantly on the go and we have four kids who can’t seem to remember that doors should be locked on the way out. And I’ll be honest, as mom to those busy four I’m notorious for locking myself out. We added some great, smart solutions to our last home but I’m excited to share that we’ve discovered an even better solution for our new place: the August Smart Lock Pro.

Installation:

Installing the August smart lock was a breeze. The August app gives step-by-step instructions on how to get things going. The only tools needed were a standard screwdriver, drill and a couple of drill bits! The lock worked with our existing (Kwiskset) deadbolt and the entire install was complete within ten minutes.

Function

The lock can be accessed from our smart phone using the August or Smartthings app, Siri through our Echo device, or by the existing key (hand-turn from the inside). In addition, DoorSense is a magnetic sensor that lets you check if your door is open or closed, this is especially great with kids running around! We opted to add the Smart Keypad to the exterior to our home as a fourth access option as well.

The phone app allows us to check the lock from anywhere, lock or unlock from anywhere and give the kids (or other family members and friends) their own access codes to input at the door if needed. The app keeps a log of which codes have been entered so we know exactly who unlocked the door with exact times. We’ve already employed these options in various ways. It was a snap to give access to the dog sitter or remotely unlock the door for a friend to grab an item when we weren’t around. The August Lock has provided both freedom and peace of mind to our daily routine.

The August App also has a cool feature called the 24/7 Activity Tracker which lets me know when different members of my family come and go through the front door.

Design:

We love the sleek, modern look of the August Smart Lock Pro. It comes in two great color options (silver and black) that will compliment any home. As a bonus the exterior portion of the door hardware is not altered by the August lock. I love this because I don’t have to add another key to my keychain and to an outsider, the lock doesn’t bring any extra attention to itself. The smart lock itself is a bit bigger than the exterior of the existing deadbolt, but does not come out any farther than the door handle. This is acceptable, especially considering it needs to house AA batteries (included) and a motor.

Compatibility:

To access the lock remotely, just use the included August Connect Wi-Fi Bridge and your app can lock and unlock the door from anywhere. The August Smart Lock Pro gets even smarter when we combined it with voice-activated commands through Amazon’s Alexa. Locking the door couldn’t get any easier! We simply ask Alexa to lock the front door or check the status of the front door and she does the work for us. If you choose to ask Alexa to unlock the front door she will prompt you for a four-digit passcode. Not just anyone can unlock the door!

Conclusion:

The August Smart Lock Pro meets our many needs. It installed quickly and it looks great. We now have greater freedom to let friends and family in as needed while maintaining greater security in our home. The lock also has some great companions: The August Doorbell Cam and the August Keypad I’ve already mentioned. These items can be added to give even more flexibility and control over the security of your home.

August website

buy on Amazon

 

 

 

 

I received this product from August to complete this review, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

National Geographic Explorer Academy and 2019 Almanac

We have both avid and reluctant readers in our home. Library and bookstore trips are often weekly adventures for us as we seek to fill up the avid readers and at least get the reluctant ones reading their minimum. There is honestly a lot of subpar reading choices for young readers so we are constantly on the look out for enriching reads that are also highly entertaining. Developing a love of reading early on contributes to a love of life-long learning, which is why it’s such a priority in our home.

National Geographic is a highly recognizable brand, but I had no idea that they produced children’s literature and books until this year! Our family recently had the chance to check out their 2019 almanac and their brand new Explorer Academy book series.

The Explorer Academy series starts with the book The Nebula Secret. This series is unique because it combines scientific facts with fictional plots and characters. Some stories are even based on real-life adventures from actual National Geographic explorers! Kids are encouraged, through the example of 12-year-old main character Cruz Coronado, to get curious about their world, problem-solve and find their own big adventures. The vivid illustrations that pop up from time to time are also helpful for engaging the more reluctant readers. Our kids devoured this book during their bedtime reading each night.

The 2019 National Geographic almanac has been a fun family read. We enjoy pulling this out on Friday nights rather than flipping on the TV. Incredible animal stories and the 2019 sky calendar have been the stand out favorites. We are already planning when to head out to view meteors and planets in the night sky. Did you know there is something called a zombie star? It’s a surviving fragment of an exploded star. Who says science can’t be entertaining?!

As a family we are thankful for the entertaining, educational and action-packed books now offered by National Geographic. We even enjoy the occasional read through the Weird but True series. This typically involves a lot of giggles and disbelief from the kids. Reading as a family is definitely more fun with National Geographic!

 

 

 

** A big thank you goes out to Moms Meet and National Geographic for allowing us to read, enjoy and review these titles. All opinions are my own.

REVIEW: Tuft & Needle MINT Mattress

We have a house full of kids, all the bedrooms in the house are spoken for and some are shared. With no bedrooms leftover to allow for a guest room option, we decided to give at least one room flexibility to accommodate our guests when needed. Enter the king-sized MINT mattress from Tuft & Needle. We loved our T&N Pouch chair so we were excited to try out the mattress. After four months of use, we’re finally ready to share our experience.

The MINT is the latest member of the Tuft & Needle family. T&N has literally transformed the mattress industry (there is nothing better than skipping the store and ordering directly to your home!). We even had an unexpected move when we first received the mattress. We were able to keep it in the box which made moving with it so much easier.

With lots more competition in the ship-to-home mattress market, they have upped their game by adding features that make the MINT even more breathable than the original Tuft & Needle product. Added graphite actually redistributes 50% of your body heat. This is excellent because the number one complaint I hear from foam mattress users is the temperature! Now you can access the convenience, price point and comfort Tuft & Needle has to offer without worrying about heat regulation. Our guests have enjoyed many comfortable nights on this bed and we’ve kicked our son out a few times to try it ourselves!

I struggle with neck and back pain and I noticed pretty quickly that the MINT provided remarkable support. The layers are arranged with gradual support, meaning it pushes back when you push. The areas where I need more support and cushion get exactly that!

As I mentioned before, we have several children and fur children on top of that. The MINT is extremely durable! The cover is made of micro polyamide and polyester which dries 6-8 times faster than cotton. It is also piling and tear resistant. Believe me, our crew has put this to the test.

The MINT would be a great addition to any bedroom in the house. We chose to use it for our son’s room/guest room but we regularly think of trading of with him! We are certain it will meet anyone’s sleep and comfort needs. T&N offers a 100 night no-risk trial and a 10-year warranty to help ensure that you choose the right mattress! The price is right, the risk is zero and the reward is a great nights sleep for years to come.

Tuft & Needle website

buy on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

I received this product from Tuft & Needle to complete this review, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

Five birthday treats to send to school when cupcakes aren’t allowed

I began my career, fresh out of college, as a teacher. I didn’t spend a long time in that field but I lingered long enough to realize that birthday cakes were a disaster in the classroom. They crumbled, kids licked only the frosting off the top and the resulting sugar high made the afternoon super pleasant. As a mom, I see the cupcake issue from yet another angle. Food allergies are a real issue for many kids and cupcakes have a lengthly list of ingredients, lots of sugar and often artificial food dyes. Perhaps food treats aren’t the best choice to send off to school and into the hands, and mouths, of children we don’t know well. Today I’m proposing five options for elementary aged kids that aren’t food and won’t break the bank. Each item is linked for you convenience.

Squishy Mochi Animals

What’s not to love? These adorable little guys are squishy (sensory input!) and tradable. They come in at $12-15 for sets of 20 or 30 and your child and their classmates are bound to have an extra fun recess that day squishing, stretching and sharing their new little creatures.

Play-Doh

Play Doh is a classic and these mini, party size options give each child just a little bit to enjoy. The party packs also come with little stickers that allow your child to add the names of each friend in class. The price is right at five dollars for 15 mini tubs.

Novelty Food Erasers

Your child’s teacher will be pleased with this “treat” that doubles as a school supply! For $14 you can snag 50 erasers that span every food group. From pizza, to pie and popsicles there will be a favorite (or 2) in the mix for each child in the class.

Mini Rubiks Cubes

My 11 year old chimed in with this option! These little cubes are adorable and will keep hands busy during transition times, recess or the bus ride home. The price point is right at $9 for 18 cubes and it’s just a really fun and cool little treat to share. Great for older elementary.

Friendship cord bracelets

This little treat serves a dual purpose. It’s fun AND it promotes friendship and unity in the classroom. This $12 fifty pack comes with styles that will work for both genders and has plenty of colors to choose from. Bonus points for not being a distraction! This is another treat that could work well for older elementary.

 

REVIEW: Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics

A few years back I learned that you are supposed to rotate and change out your probiotic sources periodically to expose your gut to different probiotic strains for optimal results. For this reason I was pretty excited to partner with Moms Meet for a special review of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics. It was definitely time to get out of my probiotic rut!

I was immediately intrigued when I discovered that these particular whole-food based probiotics were created with a three year fermentation process. Fermentation maximizes the natural health-promoting properties of each ingredient. Mushrooms, vegetables and spring water are all part of this amazing fermentation process.

What makes this probiotic different? Definitely the fermentation process, but also the blend of pre-biotics, probiotics and post-biotics. You get all three of these necessary strains that promote optimal gut-health in one capsule. This allows your body to grow its own healthy bacteria, something our bodies need to thrive. This formula is also free of gluten, dairy, allergens and GMOs, so it’s a great pick for even the most sensitive systems.

Cold and flu season will be here before we know it and gut health is a huge factor in how well our immune system fights for us. There is no better time to start a great probiotic to support your immune system. I began to notice a difference in my digestive health just days after starting Dr. Ohhira’s supplements. I experienced more regularity, less heartburn and I even lost a few pounds after using them for about three weeks. I chose to do the jump start for intensive rebalancing as suggested on the packaging, and took five capsules in the morning and five capsules at night for the first six days. I feel that this was a key part of my results and a great way to rebalance quickly. I now take just one capsule per day and continue to experience great results.

It’s nice to know that I’m also experiencing greater nutrient absorption as well as the more tangible benefits I shared above. If you are looking for a new, high-quality probiotic I certainly give my gold stamp of approval on this one. But thankfully you don’t have to take my word alone. Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics are the seven-time award winner of the Best of Supplements award as well as the Clean Choice Awards winner of 2015.

Click here to read more!

 

 

Say Mama, a reflection on the orphan crisis

I woke up early this morning, which is typical. I’m a morning person through and through. My best hours are 5-7am accompanied by strong coffee that I constantly forget and reheat. After years of small kids I know no other way to drink coffee. I took out the dog and puttered in the kitchen and then I read, checked email and scrolled facebook for a minute or two, something that is part of work for me and always in my morning routine: a quick scroll, answering messages and posting on the One Orphan page. A sweet little video popped up and I watched for a moment. A darling, blonde toddler was watching the Good Dinosaur and crying a bit over the dinosaur’s accident. He had fallen and was separated. With tears in her eyes she called out to the screen, get up! She said this a few times and then changed her tone, he needs his mama, say mama, she said, say mama she called to the screen.

For a moment I envisioned a world in which all children knew that they could say mama and receive aid. But that’s not our reality. Instead we live in a sin-ravaged world that leaves millions of children without the safety net of family and thousands more within families that cannot care for them properly due to a plethora of situations.

This week, and weeks before, I sent teams to stand in as surrogates. To hold and feed and support for just a minute. They are trained, they know how to enter carefully and minimize their presence… to enter as a supporting role to the overworked and overwhelmed in-coutry staff. To purchase supplies locally, to hire out work locally and to not impress our American ways on another culture.  They know all the things.

That’s the hard part. We know now. We’ve known for a long time. Orphan care got really big in Christian circles in the past several years. But it was also highly criticized. There were even published comments by public officials stating that they would rather see children die in their birth country than be adopted.

I think the criticism was good in many ways. It helped us all examine our motives, our language and our practices. But it also slowed us down. Adoption is on the decline, the foster care needs are soaring and international orphanages are full and struggling.

There are so many children who do not know how to say mama. It’s not in their vocabulary. But friends, it was designed to be part of their vocabulary! I am mother to a child who did not know families existed until we showed up at a dim Chinese government office to take her home at the end of her 5th year. We had to teach her to say mama. And now, in her 10th year, I often find myself rolling my eyes because she knows how to do it a bit too well! It wasn’t easy. But they are all worth it.

It might not look like adoption or foster care for every child. The needs are complex and so are the children. But I’m worried that a little criticism has taken the wind out of our sails. That perhaps we arrived and found a mess we couldn’t fix and retreated rather than just sitting in the mess with them.

I don’t think we get to do that friends. And we don’t have to know all the answers. There are children who don’t know how to call for their mama and the amount is staggering, let’s keep going… adopting, supporting those who adopt, expanding our families when they feel big enough, caring for a child for two weeks through Safe Families or Jonah’s Journey, taking foster care classes, mentoring an at-risk teenager, serving in orphanages overseas, raising money for big needs. Let’s do it all with BIG love in Jesus name. Because when saying mama isn’t an option saying Jesus is even more powerful.

 

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal