Tag - Travel

» Atlanta: Three-Day Family Vacation
» Daddy + Daughter Trip in the Mazda6 (Houston, TX)
» Don’t be a Joy Robber
» Children: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 2)
» College Students: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 1)
» REVIEW: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (Houston, TX)
» How I Pack Without Losing My Mind
REVIEW: Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN)
Uganda the Beautiful

» Atlanta: Three-Day Family Vacation

With the spring school semester coming to a close, many of you are already thinking about Summer vacation. During Spring Break, we wanted to get away but didn’t want to drive too far. Atlanta is within the four-hour window; the furthest we were willing to go. The kids were pretty cranky in the car but the fun activities and attractions snapped them out of their bad moods pretty quickly! Atlanta has a lot to offer so consider this a quick snap-shot of our trip in a city filled with family adventures.

Day One Afternoon:

World of Coke

I remember visiting the World of Coke during my high school years. I had fun then, but they have definitely upped their game in the last several years! As we entered the building we were ushered into a large holding area with a large bar full of staff opening and handing out aluminum bottled Cokes, Diet Cokes and Coke Zero. Once everyone was situated with a cold drink we went into the next part of the museum where a lively host gave us a run-down of Coke history. From that point we entered a large theater. As we filed in the host mentioned that there were monitors for the visually impaired! This was awesome for Lola, who is severely visually impaired (blind) but enjoys following along with light and color when she can get close to a screen. This monitor was adjustable and she was able to pull it all the way up to her nose. This may seem small, but for a kiddo who can’t access the big movie theater screen it was huge. I’m so thrilled that they made an effort to be inclusive (they even have braille guide maps at the entrance). Once the movie presentation was over we were released into the big, wide world of Coke. We took pictures with the Polar Bear, watched a 4-D movie, explored Coke Art and of course… drank every Coke product from every country. Once we had our fill of Coke culture we exited and received a commemorative glass Coke as a souvenir. Entry to World of Coke is fairly inexpensive so I highly recommend a visit with your family the next time you head to Atlanta. Make sure you download the Explorer Mobile App (we have iPhones and downloaded via the App Store) to enhance your visit, too!


The kids love to pretend to live in the different rooms in Ikea. Hours of entertainment while mom and dad get to look for fun items for the home. The cheap dinner is an added bonus, we went on Tuesday night when kids eat free!

Day One Evening:

Loews Atlanta – Midtown

We opted to have a taste of the bustling Atlanta city life and treat ourselves by staying Midtown at the Loews Atlanta hotel. Location is a huge advantage with this hotel, walking distance to restaurants and 1.8 miles from the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coke. I was a bit nervous about mixing a luxury hotel with four small children but the friendly staff and mango lemonade in the lobby eased my fears right away. While I checked in the kids sipped their drinks and got more information from the concierge about the scavenger hunt the hotel provides for curious kids (a must!). They were also spellbound by the modern/chic decor and soaring ceilings in the lobby. When we finally made it up to our room we were pleasantly surprised by how spacious the bathroom and guest rooms were. The floor to ceiling windows and Atlanta city views were the icing on the cake. After the kids had settled in and enjoyed a movie on the large flat screen (and on the bathroom tv) I escaped downstairs to grab a charcuterie plate from Saltwood for Calvin and I to share before turning in for the night.

We often find that hotels, even luxury hotels, are lacking when it comes to food service. Not LOEWS! Saltwood is one of the highlights of staying at the hotel, cleanly decorated and located conveniently on the lobby level it does not disappoint. Named for its emphasis on salted, cured meats and classically rustic presentation on wood blocks, this casual eatery features a charcuterie station that serves as the restaurant’s centerpiece. Diners can pull up bar stools to sample house-made and locally sourced items and sip on handcrafted cocktails and local brews while watching the restaurant’s charcuterie chef hand-carve meats and assemble charcuterie plates. We can definitely see ourselves spending a weekend at LOEWS Atlanta again in the very near future, with or without the kids! (FYI for families, unfortunately there is no pool at this location).

Day Two Afternoon:

After a lazy morning in our room, the kids went on their hotel scavenger hunt adventure with Calvin that sent them up and down the 26 floors of the hotel and a couple blocks around the hotel property. Once completed, they returned their sheet to the concierge and were rewarded with prizes from the treasure box.

We wanted to eat lunch close to the zoo (our next destination) and stumbled upon BBQ joint Tom, Dick & Hank. This place had a great, clean atmosphere and the barbecue was great! Give them a visit, especially if you’re going to the zoo.



Zoo Atlanta

The Zoo in Atlanta boasts a few animal exhibits that our zoo in Nashville does not have. The kids were most excited about the Panda exhibit. Seriously, who doesn’t love watching Pandas roll around with a ball? The zoo is easy to walk through and a great way to spend about 4 hours on a warm afternoon. There are plenty of interactive areas as well including a petting zoo and a playground. The kids also enjoyed feeding the birds in the bird exhibit and getting up close with the lizards and snakes in the expansive reptile house.

Day Two Evening:

Stone Mountain Marriott Evergreen

The Stone Mountain Marriott is the place to go if you have kids. It’s located conveniently within the park, so you do not incur extra parking fees etc. It’s so nice to relax at the hotel after a long day at Stone Mountain and skip the drive to a hotel outside the park. What makes this hotel great for kids? The pools. There are two pools, one large outdoor pool and one smaller indoor pool. The weather was a bit cool but the outdoor pool was heated so we were able to swim and enjoy the beautiful views. The outdoor area is filled with seating and fire pits so we grabbed some food to go from the lower level restaurant and fed the kids while they ran in and out of the pool. There are even giant chess and checkers sets on the patio.


The guest rooms are a reasonable size but the beds are full and not queen, an important detail to consider when booking rooms. We requested floor two, which had a balcony with lake views and quick access to the pool. Bonus tip: Papa Johns delivers to the hotel with no additional fees. A great way to fit in a cheap and poolside friendly meal.

Day Three:

Stone Mountain Theme Park

Stone Mountain definitely exceeded our expectations. We love to be active with our kids and this fit the bill perfectly! The adventure pass option is the best value (you can even add an optional meal if you want). This allowed our kids unlimited access to ropes courses, rock climbing, 4-D shows, train rides, mini-golf. We were excited about the newest experience, The Jump, but unfortunately it wasn’t open yet. It also allowed us to take the sky-lift to the top of the mountain. (Tip: booking online saves $5 on Adventure passes.) You can hike, of course, but we were unsure how the youngest would do. Once on top of Stone Mountain we experienced breath-taking views and took lots of fun photos. I was really in the mood to hike so I challenged the kids to hike down the mountain with the promise of the delicious ice cream found at Stone Mountain. They excitedly agreed and we found the hike down to be enjoyable for the whole family. It did rain while we were there but we found plenty of indoor activities to entertain the family during a short rain storm. Once night falls Stone Mountain puts on a laser show projected onto the mountain that is unparalleled.

Disclaimer: The folks at Zoo Atlanta, World of Coke, Stone Mountain, and Loews Atlanta kindly accommodated us for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

» Daddy + Daughter Trip in the Mazda6 (Houston, TX)

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2016 Mazda6 i Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

(this post is from Calvin who visited Houston last week)

This was my first trip back to Houston in 2016, and it was Charlotte’s turn to come with me. One-on-one moments with my children are always memorable but cruising around in the Mazda6 made our trip even more special. With a short four days in Houston, we were determined to eat (of course!) and check out some of the city’s free offerings. Here are three places we visited followed by some of our favorite things about the car.

1. Children’s Museum of Houston

If you’re visiting Houston and happen to be there on a Thursday night, the Children’s Museum is a great place to be. The best part, it’s free! It’s a big-city museum, so you’ll easily last two-three hours in this place.


2. Sam Houston Boat Tour

I’m not sure how long the Port of Houston Authority’s free tour has been going on, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. Experience an unforgettable waterborne voyage through one of the busiest ports in the world. For locals, it’s not something you’d want to do often but I think everyone should at least go once. You end up sailing for about an hour and half with lots of room to roam around and see some really fun parts of the city.

3. Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts/Petite Sweets
601 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007

A must for any visit to Houston. You can read my updated post from my last trip to Houston but in summary, these two places have only gotten better. Some notable additions since my last visit include the Double Donut Fried Chicken Sandwich (two fried chicken tenders between two glazed donuts) and the Pulled Chicken Chopped Kale Salad. Yum!

After Lee’s, everyone should take a quick trip to Petite Sweets to grab some dessert to enjoy in the shop, or take it to go. The newest addition is Suzie’s pies and cookies by the slice, without losing any of the other tasty treats (macaroons!) from the restaurant’s offerings.

2016 Mazda6 i Grand Touring

This was my first time getting behind the wheel of a Mazda and I had a blast driving the Mazda6. The sport mode was useful in the crazy Houston streets and Charlotte was loving the ability to request the Kidzbop station on XM radio.

Things we loved:

Style – The photos say it all. The exterior and design is great and will definitely turn heads. The white leather seats in the interior and bright LED lights give a nice, clean look. Charlotte was especially enamored with the Soul Red paint.

GT Technology Package – This optional package is worth it in the long run. The features include: adaptive cruise control, forward-collision and lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam control, active grille shutters, and i-Eloop, which stores energy during braking to improve fuel economy.

Safety – I saw a sticker on the car we drove that said “2016 Top Safety Pick+” so I decided to look it up and found this article. In addition, I love the blind spot monitoring with simple light-up icons on the mirrors and a beeping sound that’s noticeable but not annoying.


I’ve never owned a Mazda and have always felt their cars were mediocre. After driving the Mazda6 for a week, my perceptions have changed greatly. The interior was comfortable and the entertainment dash controls were at an easy, reachable distance. I’m still hoping to try a car with Apple’s CarPlay so I’m hopeful that more cars, including this one will add this function. The next time I’m market for a vehicle, I’d definitely consider a Mazda.

» Don’t be a Joy Robber

I led a team to Uganda earlier this year and had the opportunity to bring my son Elliott. I’ve written a few posts about our trip (see Uganda pt. 1, pt. 2 and pt. 3) and his reaction but I couldn’t resist writing about it at least one more time. Elliott had a hard time leaving Uganda. And he has a hard time being away from Uganda. That country, and his friends wove themselves deeply into his little heart. His experience there changed him forever. And while he is still a little stinker 75% of the time he speaks of his friends there daily. There is no pity, there is only compassion. Compassion for kids who are growing up without families… and a desire to support them.

Once we were home, Elliott asked if we could sponsor Derrick.

Derrick was the first one to grab Elliott’s hand as he got off the bus. Derrick showed Elliott how to eat a grasshopper. Derrick gave Elliott a nickname and called his name in secret code through the ventilation holes in the top of the dormitory. Derrick and Elliott had so much in common, despite situations that were worlds apart. Derrick just turned 10, Elliott is almost 9. Just boys. Just pals.

When Elliott asked to sponsor Derrick I said yes, of course. Thinking I would link my debit card and pay the monthly sponsorship gift. But Elliott said no. He brought money from his bank. He asked to do yard work. He started organizing for a garage sale. Then, Charlotte brought money from her bank after Elliott shared his dream with her.

And here’s where I almost made the wrong choice. As Charlotte handed me $10 from her Chinese New Year money I almost handed it back to her. I caught myself, just in time, as the words “don’t worry about this, I’ll take care of it” were coming out of my mouth. Why wouldn’t I want them to worry about it? They saw and felt the need and wanted to help their friends.

In seconds I could have squelched their natural JOY in giving. Something I pray they carry into their adult lives.

A few weeks ago I faced the same scenario. As the offering basket was being passed through church I began to pass the basket up and over Charlotte’s head until I felt resistance. I looked down to see Charlotte’s hands firmly grasping the bottom of the basket. She pulled it down, dug through her little bag and pulled out the money she had saved to buy a lip gloss. She had talked and talked about this lip gloss for some time. And she put it, clunk, into the basket with authority and purpose. As the basket went on it’s way I whispered “I thought you were saving that” and she answered “Mom, you always say we are blessed. And we have so much, the church can use it to help people who don’t have what they need.” I grabbed her close to my side as the worship music began and resisted the tears that accumulated at the corners of my eyes. She gets it. She gets it more than I do on most days. True sacrifice is choosing what others need over what we want for ourselves and taking the responsibility to stand in that gap.

So the kids are dreaming big now. Dreaming about seeing every child at Canaan Children’s home sponsored. Of taking trips and being with their friends and celebrating that God ordains us all to care for each other. A responsibility that is JOY rather than just obligation.

I came so close to robbing them of these things. So close to taking on the responsibility myself and removing their contribution from the picture. Our kids have the unscathed ability to love big and wide. Let’s let them loose.



» Children: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 2)

Taking my children on mission trips is something I’ve dreamed of for quite some time. Elliott and I spent months planning, fundraising and dreaming about what his first experience might be like. I’ve mentioned before that I could educate him but not truly prepare him for what he would see, hear and… smell. He handled the airplane and bus travel like a champ. He hauled the luggage full of donations and kept track of his boarding pass in his traveler’s wallet around his neck. He was really serious about taking care of his things.

After what seemed like a lifetime of travel we pulled into Canaan Children’s Home (by the way, the Canaan kids need sponsorships so feel free to click that link to learn more!). I watched as he leaned out the window taking everything in and seeing his new friends for the first time. Then I watched as the kids realized we had an American kiddo on the bus. Their sweet faces lit up as they too saw their new friend for the first time. The bus stopped and we filed out of the bus greeted with the usual hugs and, you-are-welcomes and hand-holding. It’s always good to see the kids, and observe their faces when the recognize that you’ve kept your promise and come back. However, Elliott received much more than the typical hugs and hand-holding. The kids lifted him up and he kinda crowd-surfed into the grassy area nearby where the kids made an effort to get to know him. I kept watching and observing, wondering when and if his personal space quota would be exceeded but he was just as thrilled to be close to them, to get to know them.  Moments later he ran off, hand in hand with some of the boys to retrieve a football and begin what would be a long week of play.

Clearing land for a future church.

Clearing land for a future church building.

I didn’t take Elliott to Uganda to show him all he had to be thankful for at home. To make him appreciate his toys or his comfortable room. I took him to Uganda to show him that friendships cross cultural boundaries, that Jesus is the same for all of us and that ocean expanses don’t separate us from our responsibility to care for and love each other. This is something he began to understand in those first moments.

He continued to work hard the rest of the week. He carried every heavy thing he could get his hands on. I watched him grow under the influence of some of the finest college students I’ve ever met. He always sat with the guys and I would overhear the best things being shared. I told them this, and I’ll say it again, I could not have picked a better group of people to invest in my son’s young life. I believe that their impact on him will be something he remembers for a lifetime. He still talks about each of them by name and wonders what they are doing back at school.

Elliott with purchased nets from local pharmacy.

Purchased mosquito nets from a local pharmacy.

When I reflect upon the week I can’t help but smile as I remember the endless arm-wrestling matches, football in the village, purchasing and installing mosquito nets, more football, soccer and the day we celebrated Christmas at Canaan’s. The kids had just finished sharing some songs and dances with us and Pastor Isaac invited the team to share a little bit. So we danced and sang a little. Then I asked the team to gather the Christmas items for the kids. We had also arranged for eggs, a special treat. I watched as Elliott rounded the corner with the team and began to hand out the Christmas gifts. As he handed them to his friends he shared in the joy, saying, “that’s so cool!” “you have a really awesome toy in your pack” and other fun little exclamations you would expect when kids are playing and checking out new toys. Just genuine love and happiness for his friends. After everything was passed out Elliott walked over and whispered in my ear “Mom, they really like everything, they are really happy.” Then he grinned and ran off to play with his buddies. Gifts, by the way, are a hard thing. They have to be reserved and given out wisely. We typically give donations to the staff so that they can hand them out in an appropriate way. We were careful to make this something we were doing together. Celebrating Jesus birthday and enjoying a special day together. It was pretty perfect. Afterwards the little church area became a place for loud music and dancing with the kids. We danced until bedtime.

Elliott had a hard time coming home. He mentions Uganda daily. He misses his friends. He would go back today if we could. He would move there if we could. Everything about his experience moved him to love Uganda and care about his friends there deeply. In fact, he is continuing to raise funds for moisquito nets through Nickels for Nets. He saw, first hand, that kids can be a part of change. If you are considering taking your kids on a mission trip go for it! Stock up that mama bag with probiotics, medicine and snacks and you’ll be set. God has big things in store for the littlest people.

(As always, pictures speak louder than words so I’ve loaded quite a few in the gallery above!)


» College Students: On Mission (Uganda, pt. 1)

I recently returned from another wonderful Storyteller Missions trip to Uganda. My love for the country and people expands with each step I take on the red clay paths. This particular trip was very special because I had the opportunity to take 18 Clemson University students. (Go Tigers! I hail from class of 2005.) I spent a lot of time observing them in action and pondering how this trip, and others like it, would impact their future.

First of all, this sampling of students represents future innovators and thinkers. As we bused across Uganda we discussed excessive plastic use, solutions and passions for children with special needs. I was encouraged to hear them thinking outside themselves rather than letting monetary gain fuel their college ambitions. Exposing such students to the needs across the globe only fuels, rather than discourages, their hope for change. They are able to meet and see, first hand, ministries and individuals who have committed their lives to fighting malaria, poverty and unclean water. And most importantly, they learn that it literally takes ALL a person can give to be involved in such a fight. Fortunately we place our hope in Jesus and recognize the peace and hope he provides to those who have given their lives in this way.


I believe that working alongside those in the field gives students a chance to ponder what their impact on the world will ultimately be. They are given a chance to gain inspiration from Ugandan bus drivers who have put 7 siblings through school and ministry leaders who humble themselves, taking side work when necessary, to fund their outreach. They find themselves at the feet of these heroes of the faith, praying over them, laying hands on them and encouraging them for the days ahead.

I find that college students lack the social boundaries that adults adopt as they grow older. I watched as my team sought out night guards, restaurant employees and sat in the front with our drivers to learn more about their lives.  They asked questions, became students of the culture and served until well after dark. They worked through jet-lag, sickness and difficult emotions. They solidified callings and career choices. They allowed God to speak to them through their experiences and new acquaintances. They said yes to the uncomfortable.

I’ve read so many articles recently that criticize the intentions of short term mission trips. And I agree, without specific goals and careful partnerships these trips can easily slide into territory I call Missional Tourism. We actually discussed that quite a bit on this trip and I was once again encouraged to hear and see that these students were far from that category of thought. This trip and others like it open up the world to college students. They are the future missionaries, givers, adoptive parents, sponsors and non-profit managers. Their involvement at an early age ignites a passion that prevents apathy. They will likely be involved in any one of the capacities mentioned above. They will also find their mission at home. Service fuels service.

Without short-term missions it is very difficult to bring students into the sacred work of the missionary. And without willing and open missionaries it is impossible to open the eyes of the next generation. I pray that as we move forward as organizations and individuals we can continue to form goals that incorporate both with healthy objections. And as ministry leaders let us keep the young in mind. 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Investing in students, and leading by example, equals investing in the future of ministry.

» REVIEW: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (Houston, TX)

Special thanks to Mitsubishi Cars for allowing us to test drive the 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. As always, these opinions are my own.

(this post is from Calvin who visited Houston last week)

These days, I try to plan a trip to Houston two to three times a year. It’s hard to believe but it’s now been 10 years since I’ve lived in Houston, the place where I was born and raised. Right before the trip, Erica informed me that we were asked to put the 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (GT 2.4) through the paces for a week in Houston. I was excited but I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for the vehicle. You see one of my first high school cars was a gold Mitsubishi Galant sedan, which wasn’t exactly cool at the time.

So I jumped on a plane with Liam, landed in Houston, got our luggage, and there was the Outlander Sport waiting for us. Forget all the reservations I had earlier—the look of the vehicle, Rockford Fosgate audio system, full-length moon roof, and AWC (All-wheel control) won me over quickly.


So I’ll give you more details about the car but first order of business, food. If you ask a Houston native what there is to do in Houston,their first response will be… grab something to eat! Well with any trip, I absolutely have to get Chinese and Vietnamese comfort food in Chinatown. But I always try to visit a few places I’ve never been, remember, it’s been ten years since I’ve lived here. The good folks at F.E.E.D. TX allowed me to check out their newest restaurant, Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts, along with their established confectionery spot Petite Sweets.

1. Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts
601 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007

All photos: Justin Wong, Goodbye Normal

Why did I want to go to this place? The name says it all! The modern look and atmosphere of this chicken joint is great. Unless you live in the Heights, you would never known it was a former Church’s Chicken. The chicken portions are huge at this place! In addition, I found out that Lee’s uses all-natural, antibiotic/hormone-free, vegetarian-fed chicken. The taste is amazing and I wasn’t surprised when the F.E.E.D. staff informed me that the chicken goes through a three-day prep and cooking process. You can get traditional fried chicken at lunch or pick up some tenders as early as 10 A.M. Last week was also the first week their drive-thru was operating.

We were left with a ton of leftovers and at first I was hesitant to share it with my friends. Not because I didn’t want to share but because I didn’t want their first experience to lack the “fresh out of the kitchen” quality. Well I ultimately decided to share and everyone absolutely loved it! My one request of the restaurant is to have a sweet and savory combo that includes chicken and donuts, like the name.

My Favorites:

Traditional Fried Chicken: Lee’s has tenders and sandwiches but if given the choice, I’m a traditional chicken kinda guy. The tenders were just as amazing (and big!). Make sure to get a side of creamed corn and sour cream mashed potatoes with gravy!

Sauces: Don’t mistake this for Chick-fil-a sauce. All of these are made in-house and really bring the chicken to the next level. My favorites were the spicy mayo and bacon jam.

Donuts: Ummm yes. OK if I had to choose just one, I’d have to say blueberry cake with blueberry icing.


All photos: Justin Wong, Goodbye Normal

2. Petite Sweets
2700 W. Alabama, Houston, TX 77098

I felt guilty stepping into this place without Erica because she is a macaroon fanatic. The staff and environment was just as welcoming as Lee’s. The pictures speak for themselves. The taste of these macaroons and other lovely sweets are just as good as my friend Justin’s pictures. And if you’re wondering, no, he’s not a professional photographer. For my friends and family in Houston, I learned that Petite Sweets is really known for their custom orders. I know some of you out there are already planning the next party as you’re reading this, give Petite Sweets a call!

2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (GT 2.4)

I’ve realized that over time, I’ve lost the aggression and shameless, sporadic lane changing it takes to drive in the big city. So after driving in town for a week, I thought I’d share a few thoughts that crossed my mind when driving:

  • There are so many lanes! But wait, there are so many more cars, too.
  • Remember that defensive driving class? Don’t let your guard down in the parking lot.
  • The speed limit is 70. Why is this guy going 40 and everyone around us is going 85? (this happened multiple times)

So after a full week bobbing and weaving through Houston traffic, here are my conclusions about this machine.


Photo: Justin Wong, Goodbye Normal


Besides the constant braking and accelerating needed to overcome the Houston streets, The Outlander Sport’s handling and response was very good. In fact, I try not to drive like a maniac with kids in the back seat because, you know, car sickness. For the record, Liam never once said his stomach hurt. So kids, this whole time it’s been the car, not me. Lastly, the fuel efficiency (reported 25 city, 32 highway) I would say is accurate even with all the starting and stopping I had to do.

The Look

The pictures speak for themselves. This is a great looking car! I was not embarrassed at all driving this thing around town. I even got compliments from all the friends and family I was able to see. Also remember that we’re talking about the Sport here but I still do like the other models. Mitsubishi has come a long way in the looks department.

The Feel

There is a lot of leg room in the front. The compromise is that the back seats don’t have a lot of leg room. The leather seats were very comfortable and the A/C is great. According to my dad, Mitsubishi makes one of the best A/C systems for cars (I believe that most, if not all, Mercedes Benz vehicles use Mitsubishi’s system). The touch-screen dash is close so you’re not extending too far to operate the GPS system or change the audio settings.



We will always have at least one van in our family but when we’re due to replace the Saturn Vue we currently have, I definitely won’t rule out the Outlander Sport. Here are some of my favorite features:

  • 168-hp, 2.4-liter MIVEC engine
  • Super-wide High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights with fog lights and LED running lights
  • 7-inch touchscreen audio display with Digital HD Radio® and rearview camera
  • FAST-key passive entry system with panic feature and One-touch Start/Stop engine switch
  • Leather seats with heated driver & front passenger seats
  • Automatic air conditioning climate control
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers

Also, thanks to F.E.E.D. TX Restaurant Group for allowing us to review your restaurants. As always, these opinions are my own.



In less than two weeks I will board a plane with my son and 18 students from Clemson Univeristy. It’s quite emotional to have so many worlds colliding at once. My love for Uganda, my son’s first international mission trip and my alma-mater. My heart is just falling to pieces as I imagine Elliott’s worldview exploding in front of him. As we’ve talked and prepared for the trip he has shared that his main goals are to play soccer with the kids, buy mosquito nets for malaria prevention and learn more about Uganda. He also has some plans to buy a spear… but we’ll see about that one.

Many have asked if I have any fears about bringing an 8 year old on a trip like this. And honestly my answer is… I’m afraid not to. As parents we all wish to instill certain values in our children. And one of the virtues I wish to see in my children is compassion. A compassion that reaches beyond the borders of home and country. A compassion that is fueled by love and faith. A compassion that leads them to diverse friendships, activism and action. I feel that I’ve done what I can to expose them to the diverse needs within our community and country and this is the next step for a child who has watched me go and come back countless times.

He is ready to face the needs himself this time. He is ready to see with eyes wide open, the struggles and joys of the world. I wait, with great anticipation, to process with him and listen to his questions. And I wait to see how he embraces the people and kids that I love without the pre-conceived ideas adulthood carries.

The wait is almost over. And with great thanks I think of all of you who have allowed Elliott to take this journey with me. You have scheduled family photos, paid Elliott to pick up sticks, purchased a pallet Christmas tree and given funding. You are at the forefront of our minds as we prepare to go. My friend Kim texted me this week, she works in the Children’s ministry at our church. She shared that a question was posed “Has there been a time when God chose you to do something?” Elliott excitedly raised his hand and shared “I was chosen to go to Uganda.”


So friends and family, let your faith take you somewhere for a moment. Your investment in a young life has sparked something. A genuine desire to go where God calls and love who God loves.  I can only imagine where an early step in that direction will take him as he grows older. So thank you again for being a part of being chosen.

» How I Pack Without Losing My Mind

Packing for a big family can be daunting. Especially when you have to account for road trip snacks and activities, medications and supplements, weather changes and a week long trip. When we traveled to China to bring Lola home 2 years ago I discovered Packing Cubes. Since then I’ve realized that a few good organizers, and color coding, can completely transform the packing process.

The Process:

Clothing- Each child has one large packing cube. The packing cubes are different colors. This helps us quickly pull that child’s cube from the suitcase. No digging or searching for the size 6 pants in the kids baggage. In fact, the cubes have zippers and can function independently from the suitcase. So if we are in multiple rooms at Nana’s house I put their cube with them. Now, please understand the packing cubes aren’t fancy. They are breathable, zippered organizational tools. (and I love them)

I encourage independence with my kiddos so generally I allow them to pack their own cubes. I give guidelines such as be sure to have 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 5 shirts, a pair of pjs and 5 pair of underwear. If we are traveling to see family I see no need to over-pack clothing, they have a washing machine and shorts/pants can be worn more than once. I double check their cubes before putting them into the luggage. Again… the kids folded this stuff… it’s not beautiful but they did it and that is what’s important to me.


I recently discovered bago and they were kind enough to provide a large Travel Duffel for me to try out. Ya’ll. I LOVE this thing. It starts out looking like a little zippered pouch that hardly weighs anything.


Then you unzip. And the magic happens. This little guy becomes a huge, ultra-durable duffle bag. It can even be checked through at the airport. I can think of so many uses for this bag outside of simply packing my kids clothing. I often travel overseas and bring back local items, or take a trip to my in-laws and end up taking home more than I came with. This is such a useful little guy to stow away in your regular luggage. So… here’s how it looks unzipped and filled with packing cubes.


And here’s how it looks filled with packing cubes AND a cute puppy who is ready for a nap and a road trip.


I was able to pack four large packing cubes, shoes and the toiletry bag. I love not having to lug around any additional bags for the kids.

I also pack for the car ride. I use zip lock bags to create a snack bag of decent road trip food. This time I included kettle chips, larabars, chia seed pouches, Good Earth lollipops, green pea chips (for those ones that like them), Barbara’s fig bars and Plum organic pouches. They have a wide variety and enough food to skip lunch if we want to just keep driving. We typically pack a lunch in a cooler to avoid fast food but this particular trip, and the days leading up to it, didn’t make that possible.

Each child also has a new notebook, markers and pens. We do our best to give them fun writing prompts and our kids just have a true love for fresh pencil and paper. They each have a kindle and headphones as well. (Thanks Grandma!) I don’t like to pass things back and forth in the car (chaos!) so I found this awesome Car Organizer for the back seat. The top can flip upside down and be used as a little table for games which is a fun bonus. It fits everything nicely and includes lots of pockets and two cup holders on the exterior. It can even double as a cooler if necessary. Update: This organizer is no longer sold, but we actually prefer this one and love how it folds down to store away when not in use.



I hope some of these tips are helpful to you as you plan your holiday road trips! We are excited to hit the road for a few more adventures as 2015 comes to a close.

REVIEW: Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN)

Earlier this year, our small group thought it would be fun to spend a long weekend camping together.

During our regular weekly meetings, we’re restricted to a church class room for an hour on Wednesday night. Most of us are rushing home from work, feeding the kids, racing to get to church on time… and then scrambling to get home to preserve bed-time routines.

We began to plan armed with the idea of camping under the stars with no plans, no agenda, no screens, and no walls.

Cedars of Lebanon was a great option for us, just an hour away from the North Nashville area. We knew that state parks fill up quickly during Fall Break so we looked past our commitment issues and booked our sites early.



We decided to take the kids on a short hike and made plans to fit in a game of kickball. After checking out a cave and making a couple of turns we started down our chosen trail. Although I confess I was somewhat swept up in the beauty of the day and said “this way!” without knowing exactly where I was headed. What was supposed to be one mile, quickly turned into two. As we continued, we began to see horseshoe prints… and then the inevitable horse poop the rest of the way. At mile three, we started to worry. Just how long was this trail?


With 11 kids in tow, we were in the middle of nowhere and had no clue how long the trail was. The only choice we had was to turn around and follow the trail back or keep going. We chose to press on. Five miles later, we ended up at a horse stable and a street. The kids were tired, thirsty and hungry. I had the forethought to bring salami in my pack so I passed that out while we waited for our friends to rescue the kiddos. Thank goodness a couple of guys stayed back at the campsite to hang out. The kids were worn out but in good spirits. We were very happy with the accessible hiking, just make sure you read the map. Or not… just be prepared for adventure!

Camp Site(s):

All of our sites were in camping area three. This area is reserved for tent camping and pop-up campers so you won’t be stuck next to RVs. My family was specifically in 107 (closest to the bathrooms) and the site was huge. We even said if we were to do it again, we probably could’ve fit our five families into three camp sites. There was very little traffic except for the camp patrol that came by very frequently to check on things. Cedars of Lebanon definitely gets thumbs up from our crew and we hope to check out the cabins and horseback riding at some point in the future. Always planning!

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 4.30.46 PM



Uganda the Beautiful

Confession: I started this post when I returned from Uganda over the Summer. It’s hard to write when you are in the re-entry period. Glad to revisit (and finish) this post as I prepare to head back for a special Christmas trip. This post also contains a nice parallel of current me interjecting on the thoughts of past me. Weird.

There’s nothing quite like jet-lag, pinched nerves and a looming first day of school. And also the realization that, while 32 is young, the body does indeed start to reject certain notions like sitting on airplanes for international flights. Being numb from hip to knee is maybe the most un-awesome thing I’ve experienced lately. (I now know that a deeply-burrowed jigger was causing a large portion of my leg issues)

Aside from that my recent trip to Uganda was everything I’ve come to expect from such a diverse and beautiful country. Our little team was honored to work with organizations such as Pillars of Hope, Canaan Children’s Home, Healing Faith Uganda, Sixty Feet, Ebenezer Children’s Home and Return Ministries Uganda. We played soccer, blew bubbles, installed mosquito nets in village homes, preached hope in Jesus and provided basic baby education. I threw that last detail in there… but it wasn’t really in the plan.

We literally stumbled upon a baby in a children’s home. The home was clearly not set up nor educated for baby care but they were doing the best they could. Moments later I was spotted with said child tucked into a  football hold in my right arm, climbing over seats in our van to retrieve some baby formula a team member had randomly thought to bring along. Our sweet driver was mildly shocked but obediently folded down seats as I implored him to help me drag a suitcase from the back. ( I did ask permission to take the baby, all was well) My sweet little friend enjoyed many many ounces of formula before rewarding me with a smile. And then there were more babies. And fortunately we had more formula in the van. (the power of the internet has allowed me the ability to watch these kiddos thrive over the past months, elated to see them again soon)

We were able to give some basic education and guidance, we wrote a feeding schedule and stocked up their supply of baby formula. Things that seem so basic… how to make a bottle, how often to feed, don’t skip feeding just because the baby isn’t crying… are not basic to a culture where breast feeding is typically the only way to feed an infant. When a mother dies in childbirth there is no milk. And formula is expensive and unavailable in many places. It’s easy to judge. Why aren’t these babies being fed??!! But given culture, climate and resources what else would they know to do? Just like the malaria epidemic that Healing Faith is working to combat, baby care requires basic education that goes against the cultural norm. It is my continued observation that one of the greatest things we as outsiders can contribute is education. Ugandans are smart, resourceful and resilient. Given the correct tools they need very little from us.


(current me, taking over)

For me, a trip to Uganda isn’t just about what I can do for people. Of course I want to be helpful. We all do. We see need and for the most part we respond with compassion. And compassion leads into a natural desire to do and fix. But aside from being helpful I want to simply be available. I want to meet divine appointments that are set ahead for me. I want to always say yes. I want to hurt with people and understand people who live different lives. Not only for myself, but for my children. And for that reason I have given in to my son’s constant request: take me with you. Against fear, against convenience and against finances I’m going to take him with me in December. My prayer is that making this journey to serve at a young age will change and equip him to live a life of compassion and empathy. That he will be inspired by my Ugandan friends and that he will value their place in the world. He thinks he is ready. But he isn’t. No one really is. It still breaks me every time. I look forward to processing and serving with him. Perhaps the first of many times.

IMG_5966 MOMLogo


All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal