Category - Goodbye Normal

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» Orlando Fun in the 2019 Mazda CX-9
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» Home for Christmas, Nashville 2018
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» National Adoption Month
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Celebrate Fall at Dollywood with Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights!
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A promise of Joy
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Sideline Talk
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REVIEW: Brandless – Online Grocery Shopping
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Christmas Dove: Doing Good, not Being Good
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REVIEW: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
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National Geographic Explorer Academy and 2019 Almanac

» Orlando Fun in the 2019 Mazda CX-9

After a year of planning, our family escaped the Nashville cold to visit sunny Orlando! We started with Universal Studios and ended in the Gulf at St. Pete Beach. The 2019 Mazda CX-9 not only fit the six of us, but we managed to pack in a week’s worth of clothes and vacation memorabilia in the back. We drove the 2018 model earlier this year and we love the changes, inside and out, that the 2019 model has brought.

Here are a few things we especially love about the 2019 Mazda CX-9:

Seats Seven – This might sound like my 2018 test drive and review but there are not many vehicles that can fit a family like ours. The CX-9 is compact but we can still fit our dog, an extra family member, or friend.


Interior – The interior of the CX-9 is just as sleek and sophisticated as the outside. 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. One of my favorite additions since last year’s model is the ability to see who in the second and third row is buckled (or not).

CarPlay – We love the fact that more and more cars are working with Apple’s CarPlay. The ability to have the Apple interface makes an unfamiliar car feel familiar immediately. I can quickly type a destination on my phone and at the same time see the route on the larger display the dash offers.

The Advanced Heads-Up Display displays the speed limit, your current speed, blind spot warnings and more right onto your windshield. The Birdseye view magically pulls up an aerial view of the car on the dash display when backing up or parking. No more playing guessing games with how much clearance you have on those awfully tight spots.

Conclusion about the Mazda CX-9

We had a blast driving through Disney and Universal parks and surrounding areas in the CX-9. Our drive to St. Pete beach an hour away allowed us to test the longer commute. The comfort and the handling of the car made the trips feel painless and quicker than they actually were. This vehicle 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 2019 CX-9 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» Home for Christmas, Nashville 2018

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. The year of less is slowly turning into a lifestyle of less. Our family is spending another December at home (for the third year in a row) 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. For the last couple of years, we’ve attended Dave Barnes’ Christmas show, which we highly recommend. This year we’ll be going to Home Alone in Concert (performing on 12/5 and 12/6)! Experience John Williams’ delightful score performed live (by the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Symphony Chorus) while the movie is shown on the big screen.

We’re also excited about a Very Merry Christmas with Dave Barnes (12/2), Drew and Ellie Holcomb’s Neighborly Christmas (12/17 and 12/22), and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Big Band Holidays with Wynton Marsalis (12/7). Also Handel’s Messiah (four performances to choose from), which has really become an annual holiday tradition for many families.

Full schedule and tickets available at NashvilleSymphony.org

2. NASHVILLE’S NUTCRACKER
Nashville Ballet has performed Nashville’s Nutcracker for over 10 years. This has become a huge tradition for families, with fifteen performances to choose from. Our (young) family especially loves the early afternoon show so that we can grab dinner at Milk & Honey after the show!

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 will be at TPAC’s Jackson Hall for fifteen (15) performances:

  • Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 2, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 9, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 1 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, December 21, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Friday, December 21, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 22, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 22, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 23, 2018 at 1 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 23, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets available at NashvilleBallet.com

3. NASHVILLE PREDATORS

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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. Marvel Universe Live!

If your kids can’t get enough of the Marvel movies or too young to watch them, this live performance might be a fit for your family. Witness cutting-edge special effects, aerial maneuvers, pyrotechnics, martial arts, motorcycles stunts, and vast video projection in this completely new thrilling adventure.

Seven shows available from December 6-9. Click here for tickets

5. Dollywood – Smoky Mountain Christmas

If you’re home but willing to drive a few hours, Dollywood should always be in consideration! Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas featuring Glacier Ridge is the most beautiful holiday addition yet. There’s no better way to spend your holiday season, and there’s no place quite as uniquely beautiful as Dollywood.

» National Adoption Month

It’s National Adoption month. A time to celebrate and advocate for adoption and foster care. It’s also a time find our place in caring for the millions of orphaned children who will never be adopted due to varying situations.

As you may already know, we’ve been through the adoption process twice; once in Ethiopia and then in China. Our son was just eight months old when we brought him home and our daughter was 5 1/2 years old. You can read more about those stories and “older child” adoption by clicking here.

I also work for an adoption agency, America World Adoption Agency, as the Director of Missions and have the privilege of sending skilled teams to support and enhance care for children and teens living in orphanages overseas.

Today, as someone who is deeply connected to the plight of orphans I would like to provide a few resources for those of you who have heard from God, but don’t yet know how to get involved in the Biblical and holy mandate to care for orphaned children.

International Adoption

International adoption has steadily declined in the past few years. Corruption, politics and long timelines have taken their toll on this process. Yet, there are still ethical programs with waiting children who are in need of forever families. China and India adoption programs both have countless waiting children. Children in these programs have minor to moderate medical needs and can thrive with the love of a family and access to medical care and specialists. Our hearts break when we see the number of children waiting with vision impairments and blindness. We have seen first hand how a child can thrive with access to Braille and vision services.

Learn more about the India program here and the China program here.

Domestic Adoption

There are several avenues to answer the call to adopt domestically. Families can contact their local agency or work with a consultation organization like Christian Adoption Consultants. Foster to adopt is, of course, another option for families hoping to adopt domestically… but I advise caution to anyone who becomes a foster parent with adoption as their primary goal. While adoption is often an outcome, it should not necessarily be the goal for foster families.

Foster Care

In 2016-2018, records show that 437,465 children are currently in the foster care system, and this number is projected to grow. Foster care is meant to be a safe, temporary solution for children when their parents are working through a number of challenges. More than half of the cases in the foster care system have the goal of reunification. If you are interested in becoming a safe, nurturing place for a child in crisis click here to learn more about how to access resources in your state. There are also private programs that offer safe places for children such as Safe families and Jonah’s Journey. These programs may be a better fit for some families.

Sponsorship

Sponsorship can often be a life-giving and life-saving tool for children living in difficult situations. Sponsorship can provide an education, medical care, supplemental nutrition and much more. Here is a list of sponsorship programs I recommend.

Ethiopia City Kids

Amazima

Save the Children  (both U.S. and International)

If you and your family are looking to grow your family through the gift of adoption, become foster parents or simply support a child who desperately needs it I hope you found some great resources above. If you have any specific questions please reach out to me or use the comments section below.

Celebrate Fall at Dollywood with Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights!

It’s Fall in Tennessee! This means that we alternate between 45 degrees and 98 degrees until at least the first of November. We don’t let the fluctuating temps keep us from reveling in all the pumpkin, cider and colors of fall… we just head to Dollywood for Harvest and Great Pumpkin LumiNights! The park is decked out and it fulfills our need for all the fall things even if we are still sweating in our shorts and t-shirts. If you have yet to make it over to Dollywood during the fall let me fill you in on all the details.

Harvest Festival:

Each fall artisans from around the country visit Dollywood to share their beautiful handmade crafts and talents with guests during Dollywood’s Harvest Festival. We enjoyed many of these skills on display as we viewed carvings in action as well as candle making. Special booths fill the park, but seem to be centered largely around Craftsman’s Valley. Click here for a full list of artisans. If you enjoy Southern Gospel music, this is another highlight of Harvest. The Southern Gospel Jubilee takes place during this time and features concerts, included with admission, throughout the park. Harvest is also a time for special treats like pumpkin cookies and candy apple cider, or apple cider floats.

 

Great Pumpkin LumiNights:

Great Pumpkin LumiNights are really a sight to behold. From adorable pumpkin frogs floating on lily pads to brilliantly lit massive pumpkin people resting near roller coasters they have really covered everything. The displays are fun during the day but they come to life at night. Head over to the entrance of Craftsman’s Valley at 7:15pm (foot traffic swaps to one-way at 7:30pm) and take a magical walk through the lights. Our favorite light display was definitely the massive pumpkin guitar that played along with the light display, very Nashville. LumiNights also includes opportunities for fall-themed character meet and greets, master carver skill displays, specialty fall foods (pumpkin spice funnel cakes!) and glow in the dark face painting. If you visited last years LumiNights display you’re in for an even bigger treat this year, Dollywood has doubled the size of this festive experience. LumiNights runs through November 3rd.

Are you headed out for some fall family fun?
What are your plans before winter hits??

 

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.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal