Bucket List Date Night - Hike and a Picnic

At the beginning of this summer, I was really excited for this date night activity but as this pregnancy started to take more of a toll on my body, I was afraid that we weren't going to be able to complete it this year. I knew that hiking in the mountains was not going to be at all enjoyable for me, so I started researching easy, flat terrain hikes in my area. There are plenty of trails and paths to walk on, including a nature path near our home, but I was looking for something that felt like we were hiking in the mountains without being quite so strenuous on my pregnant self.

I found a few different options that I'm excited to explore in the future, but settled on one that was just a few minutes from our house and had the added bonus of a really fun playground! When we got there, the park was under construction and the majority of the grass was dead. I'm hoping that the next time we go back, it will be a little bit better. We still had fun and enjoyed our time there though!

We started out with a picnic because Bensen had just woken up from his long Sunday afternoon nap and was ready to eat. He may not have eaten a lot while we were there but Joe and I were impressed that he sat on the blanket and didn't even try to move for the 15 minutes that we were eating. Bensen really just likes to be outside and I think more picnics are in our future, no matter how messy they might be.

After we were done eating, we packed our dinner mess into the car and started searching for the trail that I'd been reading so much about. I loved this trail because it wasn't just one long expansive trail, there were a lot of different directions you could go and loops that you could take. We made our "hike" a 15 minute one, following a little loop that took us a ways down the trail and then came right back to where we had started. From the map at the beginning of the trail, it looks like there are a lot of different trails you can take, some that go up in to the mountain and others that stay close by. We'll have to explore it again when my activity isn't limited by painful pregnancy symptoms.

Last but not least, Bensen and I explored the tot side of the playground. I'm excited to take him on the bigger playground one day and have him appreciate it, but the toddler playground was fun too! I love having a little buddy who I can enjoy climbing, sliding and swinging with, even if I looked a little silly pregnant and trying to sneak under the toddler sized opening to take my kid down the slide. Next year, when I start my mommy/son dates with him, I think going to the playground will need to be a regular activity for us.

This date may not have been what I'd envisioned it to be when I added it to our bucket list at the beginning of the year, but we enjoyed our family time and the added excitement to our usual second Sunday routine. The weather was perfect and I was content with the location that we'd picked. However, hike and a picnic may end up back on our bucket list next year to complete just as a couple when we can go on a more intense hike without the kiddos.

Gestational Diabetes Survival Tips + Meal and Snack Ideas

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I make a small commission off of purchases made through my links at no extra charge to you. All opinions are my own.

When I was pregnant with Bensen, my biggest struggle came when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Some women cry when their regular clothes don't fit anymore, I cried when my carb intake became drastically limited and I realized just how many high carb foods I enjoy. I knew going into that pregnancy that I was at risk for GD because I was pre-diabetic, a little overweight and have a family history of Type II diabetes, but getting that confirmation that I indeed had it was rough for me. I'm here to tell you that I survived and that six weeks postpartum, I was healthier than I'd been when I first got pregnant!

My diagnosis came the week of Valentine's Day, so my loving husband changed his plans for our celebration. Instead of going to our favorite pasta restaurant, stuffing ourselves silly, and then coming home to lounge on the couch in front of a movie, he planned and prepared a low carb dinner at home and then we went for a walk. It meant a lot to me because I knew how much time and effort he'd put into researching and preparing our meal, and also how much of a sacrifice it was for him to eat the same thing that I was eating and nothing more. He told me later that he was hungry within a couple of hours because the meal just wasn't filling enough for him.

During those last two months of my pregnancy, I learned to love vegetables and eat foods that I never would have considered in the past. After a few weeks of testing my blood sugar levels before and after each meal, I learned what I needed to eat and do to keep them level throughout the day. Some days were better than others, but I was diligent and it paid off. My baby didn't weigh 11 pounds like the doctor kept threatening and six weeks postpartum, I weighed 20 pounds less than I had when I got pregnant, my A1c number was the lowest it had been in years and I was not considered pre-diabetic anymore!

I'm disappointed with myself because in the nine or ten months between giving birth to Bensen and getting pregnant with our second, I lost those good habits and gained back all of the weight that I'd lost. I haven't taken my blood glucose yet this pregnancy (that happens this weekend), but I'm assuming I will get the same diagnosis, so I'm trying to follow these same guidelines already. Being pregnant and knowing that my own health affects the health of our baby has been the motivation that I needed to get back on track. I'm hoping that not having the crazy schedule and workload that I had in the year following Bensen's birth will help me keep these habits up after this little one is born so that I can continue to stay healthy and manage my risk for diabetes.

If you have gestational diabetes, you should talk to your doctor and meet with a diabetic educator to find out what specifically they suggest for you. These are just the things that helped me personally.

Gestational Diabetes Survival Tips
  1. I make breakfast a priority. I've always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I've also heard that you should eat 30g of protein within an hour of waking up. Both of these things help me get my blood sugar levels up to where they need to be first thing in the morning, since I just went all night without eating anything.
  2. I eat something small every two or three hours. The guys at work are always concerned about the size of my meal when I'm getting food during lunch hour. To them, it's not even big enough for a snack, but because I eat every few hours, it's the perfect amount of food for me. Eating continuously throughout the day keeps my blood sugar levels more consistent. If I were to eat three large meals instead, they would drop and climb throughout the day and that's not as healthy.
  3. I include protein in every meal and snack. Protein has become my best friend! I quickly learned that if I paired a carb with a protein, my blood sugar levels would remain steady. This was great news for a pregnant woman who craved breakfast foods full of carbs. Even if it's just some cheese, I make sure there is some sort of protein with everything that I eat.
  4. I have a snack before I go to bed. There are a lot of tips out there for not eating after a certain time at night, and I threw them all out the window with GD. If I eat dinner between 5pm and 7pm, then I can have a small snack between 8pm and 10pm each night. I make sure that this snack is high in protein to help me make it through until morning.
  5. I incorporate physical activity into my day. I was a lot more active when I was pregnant with Bensen because three times a week, I would make a 15 minute trek across campus to get to class and back to my car. Fitbit always logged this as 30 "very active" total minutes. The walk back was a consistent incline and included a lot of stairs as well. It's not as easy to stay active now that I'm sitting at a desk 40 hours a week, but I try to spend two hours moving each night. Whether it's chasing Bensen around the house/yard, going on a walk or cleaning my house, I make sure that I'm doing something active.

Breakfast

This was the hardest meal for me because so many breakfast foods are high in carbs and because my biggest craving when I was pregnant with Bensen was anything that fell into that high carb breakfast food category. I knew that to get my blood sugar levels up in the morning and keep them level throughout the day, breakfast was key. But with my hectic morning schedule, getting ready and running off to class or work, it was hard to find things to eat that were quick and GD friendly.

Protein Smoothies

These became my go to and my very favorite breakfast! They didn't feel too heavy but they filled me up and are really yummy. I throw all of the ingredients in a blender, (I used
this convenient one that my mom let me borrow...until I wore it out.) and I can drink it while I do my make up, or during my commute. Below are just a few of my favorite combinations. These protein shakes are my favorite to use not only because of the taste but because they have a lot of protein (30g), are low carb (4-5g) and are low in sugar (1g).

Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana Protein Smoothie
1 Chocolate Protein Shake (I use just one of these)
1/2 medium Banana (yes, it's high on the glycemic index, but you're combining it with a protein and by using only half, you're cutting those carbs in half)
4 Tbls peanut butter (or you could use peanut butter powder, it's just not my favorite)
1 handful spinach leaves (optional) (I freeze mine in bags so they don't go bad in the fridge)
4 or 5 ice cubes
Total Carbs: 32.5g
This smoothie is my very favorite, and the best combination of these flavors that I've found. It also makes the perfect amount for one person for breakfast. It is one of the higher carb things that I eat, but I tested my blood sugar an hour after I drank this, every single time, and it was always right where it needed to be. I usually just eat a lower carb mid-morning snack to counter act it.
After the baby arrives, I'm going to substitute the chocolate protein shake for a vanilla one mixed with 2 Tbls of this because I've heard that it helps with milk supply and I'm determined to succeed in my breastfeeding journey this time around.

Peach Banana Protein Smoothie
1 Vanilla Protein Shake (I use just one of these)
1/2 medium Banana (once again, high on the glycemic index, but this smoothie is also lower carb)
1 medium Peach (I have some
1 handful spinach leaves (optional)
4 or 5 ice cubes
Total Carbs: 25.5g
My mom used to always make peach banana smoothies for us after school and they'd have milk and/or yogurt in them instead of a protein drink. You could probably substitute the protein drink for some Greek yogurt, but I like to use the drink because it's so high in protein.

Strawberries and Cream Protein Smoothie
1 Vanilla Protein Shake (you could use this Strawberries and Cream shake instead if you'd like)
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
1 handful spinach leaves (optional)
4 or 5 ice cubes (you could leave these out if your strawberries are frozen)
Total Carbs: 16
Because this one is lower carb and my limit for each meal/snack is 30g, I'll sometimes combine it with 1/2 cup of cereal and milk. Most of the time though, this fills me up because it's full of protein.

Eggs + Pancakes, Waffles and French Toast

These are not usually approved GD foods, I know. I honestly don't want to look up the total carbs for these either because that might make them off limits. I just know that any time I ate this for breakfast (or usually dinner), my blood sugar levels were fine an hour afterward, so I added them to my list. The key with eating these is to combine them with a protein! I always make myself two or three eggs (scrambled or fried) and eat those before I put the pancakes, waffles or French toast on my plate and then I limit myself to two max. I also make the yummy goodness with whole wheat bread or wheat flour to make myself feel better about eating them.

You could pair one piece of French toast, one pancake or one waffle with an omelette stuffed full of spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, other yummy veggies and cheese. I haven't mastered or really tested the omelette thing yet, so I don't have any tried and true recipes or my favorite combination of ingredients to share. From other meals, I know that veggies, eggs and cheese are all very low carb (2g or less each thing), so I'm sure an omelette would make the perfect addition to your breakfast!

Omelette and Toast with Jam

Like I said, I haven't tried the omelette thing very much, so I can't share my perfect recipe, but I'd love to hear some of yours (if you have a recipe or favorite ingredients) in the comments at the end of this post! Joe has made us an omelette or two, and they have been pretty yummy so this is something that I'm going to work on. I suggest adding your favorite veggies, some cheese and some ham.

A piece of toast on its own can fill up your carb limit for a meal. I check all of the labels at the store and pick the brand/type with the lowest number of carbs (I think I've seen 24g as the lowest). I'm also sure to always go for whole grain or whole wheat bread, my mom's homemade bread is my favorite. And then a Tbls or two of your favorite jam is a delicious addition.

Lunch

This is another hard meal because I'm not usually great at planning, preparing and packing my lunch the night before, so I'm always in a rush to get off to work. Most of the time, if I have leftovers from dinner the night before, I'll eat those, but the options below are my favorites when I'm eating at home or have time to pack something before work.

Sandwiches and Veggies

When I was pregnant with Bensen, I craved turkey and cheese sandwiches (with deli turkey of course), which didn't work out as well after my diagnosis because one piece of bread was about all I could have. My mom found these sandwich thins and my lunches were saved! I pair my sandwich with some veggie sticks (carrots, zucchini, peppers, etc.) and it makes the perfect lunch.

Turkey and Cheese Sandwich
1 sandwich thin (I like multi-grain)
1 Tbls mayonnaise (surprisingly low carb)
1 Tbls mustard (I'm not a mustard fan, so I leave this off)
5 or 6 slices deli meat (personal preference) or sliced meat from dinner (see below)
2 or 3 slices of your favorite cheese (I usually choose colby jack or provolone)
your favorite sandwich toppings (lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc.)
Total Carbs: about 25g

Crackers, Cheese and Deli Meat + Veggies

This is like a DIY lunchable and I love it! Pick your favorite crackers, (look at the nutrition facts to determine how many you can have and stay within your carb limit), slice up your favorite cheese and slice up your favorite deli meat into smaller pieces. Put them all together and enjoy with veggies sticks or steamed veggies.

Dinner

One thing that I learned quickly after my GD diagnosis was just how many carbs most of my dinners contained. The frozen meals that were quick and easy, casseroles, pasta dishes, etc. were all filled with carbs. Dinner was where I had to make the biggest adjustments with my eating habits and it was tough. I had to work to find something that both Joe and I would enjoy and that would fill him up. A lot of times, I'd make slight adjustments to the overall meal, eating my meat without the rice or pasta that Joe was having, just eating the meat and veggies and leaving out my roll, etc. I had a lot of fun finding foods that I enjoyed and that still filled me up.

Grilled Chicken/Turkey

This is the obvious, quick and easy dinner option, but I love how versatile it is. You can sprinkle the meat with your favorite combination of seasonings or use your favorite marinade. When we had our at home Valentine dinner after my diagnosis, Joe found some already marinated herb chicken at the grocery store that was really delicious!

This recipe for barbecue turkey breast (or you can use chicken) is my very favorite. We usually make it for parties or only make a quarter of the recipe because it makes so much. But if you grilled up all of the chicken at once, you could freeze a bunch to use for future dinners, on sandwiches at lunch or in salads. The marinade is really good on its own, I can never stop eating it, but it's simple enough that it is versatile and can be used for a lot of other meals.

Roasted Veggies

These were a game changer for me when I was diagnosed with GD. I've never been much of a veggie fan. I'll eat them steamed, but I don't necessarily enjoy them. Finding ways to roast vegetables and actually look forward to eating them was a big deal for me! I continue to eat more vegetables than I used to because of this. These are a few of my favorite combinations.

Bell Peppers with Mozzarella Cheese - You can find my favorite recipe for roasted bell peppers here. I love orange, yellow and red peppers the best. Sometimes I'll use Italian seasoning or another combination of my favorite seasonings in place of the salt and pepper for a different flavor.
Roasted Cauliflower - You could also substitute the cauliflower for broccoli in any of these recipes if you want! I like garlic roasted cauliflower and Parmesan roasted cauliflower the best.
Cheesy Roasted Tomatoes - We slice beefsteak tomatoes in thick slices, sprinkle them in olive oil, add any herbs or seasonings that sound good and then cover them in shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Roast them in the oven similar to the bell peppers above and they'll be perfect!

Zoodles

Pasta is one of those quick meals that can be made a lot of different ways but it is also very carb filled. I love summer because there is an overabundance of zucchini that I can eat in place of my pasta noodles. I like to make lasagna with zucchini slices, but my favorite thing to do is use to spiralize the zucchini and replace almost any pasta noodle with it. I'll cook a regular pasta dinner for my family and eat mine with the zoodles to keep my dinner GD friendly.

Parmesan Zoodles
1 cup spiralized zucchini
1 Tbls olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Saute the zucchini noodles in the olive oil until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with parmesan cheese sprinkled over top.
You could add grilled chicken and your favorite veggies to the dish for more flavor.

During the summer, I'll spiralize a bunch of extra zucchini, squeeze the moisture out of it and freeze it in meal size portions to use when zucchini isn't in season.

Lean Proteins

I mentioned above that I really like to grill or roast chicken and turkey. I've also learned to love ground turkey in different dishes as well. When I made pasta or zoodles, I use ground turkey instead of ground beef. I always use ground turkey in my taco soup all the time. Joe never notices and it's a lot better for us than all of that ground beef. Turkey burgers have become my go to this summer as well.

Snacks

Cottage Cheese and Fruit

If you eat this for a snack, try to find fruit that is packed in water. My mom bottles peaches and pears every year and these are my favorite. I put a 1/2 cup of cottage cheese in my bowl with two halves of the fruit and just a tiny bit of the liquid that they are bottled in.

Celery and Peanut Butter

Because I'm a child at heart, I'll sometimes spread the peanut butter on the celery and sprinkle a few raisins on top (ants on a log anyone?). Most of the time, I'll put a few Tbls of peanut butter in a small tupperware container and dip the sliced celery in it for my afternoon snack.

Veggie Sticks and Cheese

I don't eat this for snacks a lot because I have a hard time eating raw veggies unless they're smothered in ranch. Carrot and bell pepper slices are vegetables that I can enjoy a few slices of without the ranch. String cheese is my go to because it's quick and easy to keep on hand at work or at home.

Yogurt and Granola

Granola can be really high in carbs I've learned. I'll grab a single serve container of yogurt (greek yogurt gets you more protein) and sprinkle just a Tbls or two of granola on the top. I haven't found a favorite, high protein/low carb granola yet, so if you have one that you love, share a link or the recipe in the comments below!

Nuts and Chocolate Chips

I love a little bit of sweet with my snacks every once and a while. Almonds, cashews and peanuts are my first choice for nuts. I'll also grab a small handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips to go with them. It's like making my own trail mix!

Eating Out

This is the hardest for me because there are so many yummy dishes that I enjoy different places that are definitely not gestational diabetes friendly. When choosing somewhere to eat, go somewhere that you know has low carb options. Pretty much any pasta dedicated restaurant, I avoid because everything that we'd eat there would be loaded with carbs. I'll order turkey burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches on wheat buns and then only eating one half of the bun (this requires the use of a knife and fork). Instead of ordering fries with my meal, I'll get steamed veggies or a side salad. Ordering a thin crust or personal size pizza and only eating one slice with a side salad or veggies is another option. My meals may not be the most popular item on the menu, or what I'd really like to order, but I feel good eating them.

My biggest tip would be to exercise self control and find what you like! For a lot of people, low carb may not be hard. For me it was difficult because I'm not a big vegetable fan and I really enjoy treats and breads. I didn't find myself loving too many new foods like quinoa. Instead, I had to look for new ways to prepare the foods that I knew I already liked to add variety and enjoy them more.

What are your favorite, gestational diabetes friendly, meals and snacks?

Four Boundaries to Set to Save Your Marriage from Your Smartphone

I got my first smartphone in 2012, and I felt really behind the times. But I remember not really seeing the need for a phone that was more high tech than my own. It had data capabilities and could browse the internet if I needed to, but I never really saw the point. Now, I can't see myself ever going back to a regular cell phone because my smart phone has made my life more convenient on so many levels. I use the GPS to get me anywhere and everywhere, I can quickly Google a restaurant or store and see what time they open/close, their menu, any discounts, etc. When I was in school, being able to check my e-mail anywhere was convenient because I got last minute alerts for classes that were cancelled or if the teacher needed us to bring something with us that day.

Smartphones have made a lot of things in our lives more convenient, but they can also be a nuisance and can quickly get in the way of life if we let them. Long distance couples rely on video calls and social media to communicate and feel more involved in each other's lives while they're apart. Throughout the day, couples communicate the little things with each other via text and I know many a wife/mom who keeps her husband involved through her Snapchat story or by sending him private snaps of the things that she and the kids are up to while he's at work. Our smartphones have become our camera, video camera, address book and journal. They have so many great uses, but without a few boundaries, they can quickly take over our lives and our relationships.

Boundaries your marriage needs to keep technology and your smartphone from taking over.

Set technology free times throughout the day

Determine what the most important times of the day are for your relationship and put your phones away during those times. Some couples leave their phone in the other room or in their pocket on silent during dinner. Some families won't answer the house phone if it rings during a meal, no matter what, and the same rule could be applied to our smartphones. Don't answer them, don't touch them, don't look at notifications. Your outside world can wait half an hour for you to respond while you spend quality time with the most important people in your life.

Making your bedroom a technology free zone or turning off all electronics at a certain time every night might be good boundaries to set as well. Make your bedroom a sanctuary for your marriage, free of any outside distractions. I promise, it won't offend anyone if you choose to turn your phone off or put it on silent at night. If you are on social media, responding to texts or answer phone calls at any hour on a regular basis, people will come to expect that you are available at that time and may try to contact you then because of that.

I like to go on walks with Joe because it's difficult to walk and talk, so neither of us is tempted to pull out our phone and look at it unless we get a phone call. It's great time to talk together without social media or texts interrupting us.

Listen to what your spouse is saying

First and obviously of all, when your significant other is talking to you, listen and hear what they are saying. Don't pick up your phone to look at a notification, don't browse social media, give them your full attention. If you are in the middle of something on your phone and they want to talk, stop what you are doing to pay attention to them or ask them to wait just a minute while you finish what you are doing and then set your phone aside and let them know that you are ready to hear what they have to say.

My second tip with this point is to hear your spouse if they let you know that they feel like you spend more time with your phone than with them. Have a conversation about what both of your expectations are. Maybe browsing social media at the end of the day is your way of unwinding and relaxing but your spouse wants some technology free alone time at the end of the day and feels like they take the backseat to your phone. Some couples compromise and spend an allotted amount of uninterrupted time together before the phone comes out, or like I mentioned above, might set a curfew for phones so that both spouses know that after a certain time each night, phones are away and the focus is on each other.

Most importantly, if your spouse vocalizes in any way that they wish you would spend more time with them or less time with your phone, hear them out. You may feel like you are rarely on your phone throughout the day, but if the time that you have together is limited and your phone is out for the majority of that time, you can guess who is going to start to feel unimportant. If your marriage is your first priority, your phone needs to be an obvious second, third or fourth.

Turn off unnecessary notifications

One of the best tips that I ever got, from a fellow blogger a few years back, was to turn off all of the push notifications on my phone. Whenever I download a new app, the first thing I do is go in and change my push notification settings. For most apps, I turn them off altogether, but there are a select few that I do still get important notifications from. I recently even turned off notifications for my e-mail because I no longer needed to be aware of last minute school or internship communications. 

If you're like me, the notification tone, buzz of my phone or seeing that little blue light light up in the corner is distracting. I almost can't help but pick my phone up and look to see what is going on. Whenever I would post an Instagram photo, I felt like I spent the next 20 minutes picking my phone up, putting it back down, picking it back up again, and putting it back down because it would go off any time anyone liked my post. Friend requests, new follows, messages, comments, likes, favorites, e-mails, etc. are all things that I know can wait until I have time for social media and can look at them. Push notifications were not only wasting precious minutes of my day, but they were a distraction when I was trying to spend time with Joe, other family members or friends.

Don't text each other about everything

On a more superficial level, if you share all of the details of your day through text, you won't have as much to talk about at the end of the day. Sometimes I will send Joe a text that says, "Remind me to tell you about such and such" so that he'll be intrigued and ask me about it later. I've also been known to make a note on my phone of all of the things that I need to talk to Joe about or ask him when I get a chance. This usually happens on the days when I am gone all day long or when he's doing work for his lawn care company after his day job and I'm not sure what time he'll be home at night. 

The more important reason for this boundary is to make sure that you are communicating the important things face to face or over the phone. Don't text each other about a disagreement, that's not a good way to solve anything. Don't have discussions regarding big decisions like budget, which family you're spending the holidays with, etc. If it's a discussion that can be had in person, wait until you can sit down together and talk, or at least video chat or talk on the phone. No matter how well you know each other and think you can convey your tone of voice through text using emoticons or whatever else, texting is not the place for the serious conversations of life.

Technology makes it easier for people to communicate and connect with one another, but if we aren't wise with the way that we use it, the opposite will happen in our relationships. Be aware of how often you are on your smartphone or other technological devices. Set boundaries for yourself and in your marriage that will help keep your relationship strong and allow you to continue to enjoy the benefits of technology without hurting the connection that you have with your spouse and other people around you.

What boundaries have you set for technology in your marriage?

Christmas in July - Game Night Fun!

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We love game nights! We play games with each of our families on a regular basis, and we always pull out a game or two when we have friends over to our house. I will always remember mine and Joe's first Christmas together when we pulled out The Game of Life and played it until midnight when we opened our presents to each other. More and more games are being played electronically these days, through your phone, tablet or favorite gaming system, but I am still a huge fan of pulling a game out of the game closet, gathering around the kitchen table and playing for hours! We have a decent game collection, but I'm always looking for more.

Board Game Gift Ideas

This year I want to start a tradition of our family receiving one new game from Santa on Christmas morning. Below are a few of our family favorites and some that are on my wishlist as well. Board games make a great gift because playing them gives you the opportunity for family time and some of them can be played as a couple!

I'm pretty sure every family has Apples to Apples in their game closet, because it's a classic! I love how wacky this game gets when you're playing with the right people. I have so many inside jokes with friends and family members as a result of this game, and playing it always results in someone laughing until they cry! I'll make one suggestion though, don't try to play through the entire box, you'll get appled out. One night while I was living in Rexburg, we were so bored that we decided to play the game until we'd made it through every green and red card in the box. I didn't play the game for a while after that....

UNO Attack was played almost weekly at my house growing up. Even though we had quite a few different versions of UNO in the game closet, this one was played the most. It was always fun to become allies with the person next to you, only to turn on them a few minutes later when a "reverse" card was played. And there was always that one person who was so close to winning and would end up with a handful of cards because their neighbor held onto that dreaded wild "hit four" card until they found the opportune moment.

Joe's family introduced me to Play Nine and it has become one of our favorites. We pull it out when we have another couple over or even when we have a group over. It's a game of strategy and luck and while you have to pay attention to what's going on, you can still talk and carry on a conversation without being too focused on the game. We love introducing people to this game if they've never played it before! We introduced my family to it and then gifted it to them for Christmas, so it gets played there every once and a while as well.

Dixit is one of our newer favorites. It reminds me a little bit of Apples to Apples in a way. The illustrations are gorgeous and it's a pretty quick play if you're lookig for something to do between dinner and dessert or after the kids are in bed at the end of the day. This one is on my wishlist because we've yet to add it to our own game collection.

This is my personal favorite! I played Quelf a lot when I was single and it was always a blast. I'm still working on convincing my friends and family (mostly Joe), that this is a game they need to play, because I know they'd all love it. If you have a group of people who likes to get a little wacky every once and a while (let's face it, who doesn't?), you need this game! It's seriously so much fun!

I just recently heard about the Ungame and am thinking that this is the game that will be under our tree on Christmas morning. I've heard that it's a great way to start conversations and get to know people better. They have a pocket version for families, couples, teens and kids as well!

Ok, so maybe this will be the game under our tree this year because it's been on my wishlist for a few years now. You can't get much more fun than a little friendly competition and Battle of the Sexes is perfect for that! I think you could play this one with a group, or just the two of you. Playing for who picks dessert or who does the dishes makes it even more exciting!

What games would you add to this list? Are there any that you think are important to have in your collection or that you enjoy playing together? I'd love more suggestions to add to my wish list!

Five Ways to Prioritize your Marriage While Apart

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I don’t have much experience with long distance relationships, but during the past year, Joe and I have spent more time apart than we have in our entire marriage combined and I’ve learned a few things from the couple of experiences that we've had so far. 

Last summer was Joe's first year as a scoutmaster and it was the first time that we'd ever been apart for that long. We'd spent nights apart before, and have since, but not for that long, and not without any way to communicate like was the case that week. That week definitely made my heart grow fonder for him, and I lived off of a ten minute phone call he made to me on Wednesday morning. I was like a giggly school girl whose crush had just called her when I realized it was him on the phone (you can read all about it in this post). Since then, I spent half a week in Canada and Joe has gone to another week of scout camp. That time apart is hard, but I've found a few ways to continue to make our relationship a priority, even though we aren't together.

No matter how many days you have to spend apart, it can be hard on your marriage. These five things will help you keep your relationship strong while you are apart.

Find Ways to Make Them Feel Loved While You’re Apart

Last year while Joe was away at scout camp, I realized that I didn't put a treat or love note in his bag before he left, so I sent a bag of cookies up with someone who was heading up later in the week. I told myself then that I was going to be more prepared the next time around and sneak something into his bag before he lft.

When I went to Canada in November, I made sure that our fridge was stocked with groceries and leftovers so that Joe would never run out of things to eat. I did everything that I could to make his time as easy as possible, even though I knew that he was more than capable of taking care of himself, the baby and the dog while I was gone. He's proven that to me time and time again while I've been in school.

Before scout camp his year, I put together a little package of "open when" love notes and letters for Joe to read throughout the week. It was one of my favorite things that I put together and I had a lot of fun doing it! Not only was it simple, but it was meaningful! I spent an hour writing my notes and another half hour or so decorating the notes and their envelopes.

This kit from The Dating Divas has everything done for you, including a few gifts! It's a great way to let your spouse know that you're thinking about them, even if you don't have a lot of time to prep. If your spouse is already away, you can easily mail these and/or any other surprises to them in a package!

Communicate Whenever Possible

Last summer, when Joe was gone to scout camp for a week, he had no cell phone service and no way of communicating with me regularly. I would have to say that was the hardest part about having him gone. I handled myself and the baby pretty well, with a little help from family members who live close by, but not having my best friend around to talk to and text throughout the week was rough. The ten minute phone call that he made to me in the middle of the week was the highlight of my entire month!

In November, when I was traveling in Canada, I didn’t have cell phone service, but we were able to communicate through Google Hangouts and social media when I was in the hotel or had access to wi-fi. We had nightly Google Hangout chats, sometimes with Bensen and sometimes after he had gone to bed. There was one night that Joe fell asleep before our chat and even though it was my last night in Canada and I knew that I was going to see him the next day, it was a major bummer for me. The entire trip, it was nice to be able to shoot him a little message on Hangouts to tell him about something that I'd done, let him know I was thinking about him or ask a question about Bensen.

When Joe was gone this year for scout camp, he had phone reception, but hadn't taken anything to charge his phone with easily throughout the week. We were able to chat for half an hour twice during the week, and I really looked forward to his calls! It was nice to be able to send him a text on Thursday morning, after a particularly trying Wednesday, to let him know I'd love a call and know that he'd check his phone at least once. Thursday night, I kept my phone close so that I wouldn't miss his call.

If you have any way to communicate with your spouse while they are gone, do it! Send them a text or a message on social media and call them whenever possible. Video chats are even better, hooray for modern technology! Check out 365 Love Texts and Text Messages 2.0 from The Dating Divas for fun ideas of what to send to your spouse while they're away (and every other day of the year)!

Let Them Know They Were Missed and Appreciated

Last year, on the day that Joe was supposed to be home from camp, I had Bensen dressed in a onesie that said something about his daddy and I was wearing my 'this girl loves her husband' shirt when Joe got home from camp. This year, I had plans for how we'd greet Joe, but Bensen slept in that morning and I was in the shower when the scouts pulled up so those totally flopped. Instead, we took our breakfast outside and hung out while the guys unloaded the trailer and then we spent the day playing together as a family and enjoying having him home. In between lots of naps of course! ;)

The Dating Divas Welcome Home Kit is full of ideas and supplies for any sort of welcome home greeting! While I was looking through it, I thought how fun it would be to use some of these things to surprise your spouse after a long week when it feels like they've been living at work.

Plan Time Together for When You’re Back Together

Last year after camp, Joe and I ran a few errands and just hung out while my sister-in-law watched Bensen the night after he got home. It was simple, but he was tired so I knew it was something that he'd appreciate. This year, I reserved all of my plans for the two of us until a few days later because I knew that he'd be exhausted and that we'd have more fun together after he'd recovered.

We still kept things simple, but we had a lot of fun together! The newest Marvel superhero movie hit The Movie Grille this past weekend, and because we'd missed out seeing it when it came out in May, we decided that it would be the perfect time for a matinee movie and lunch while we watched. Later that night, after Bensen had gone to bed, we enjoyed this gooey oreo dessert from The Modern Tulip while we sat in our yard and watched fireworks from the country club near us and other neighbors. It was perfect and relaxing and just what we needed after a week apart.

I'm a big fan of spending time at home with Joe after we've been apart. I get him all to myself and we can relax and enjoy each other's company without any outside distractions. Datelivery is one of my favorite resources when we're planning a date night at home. Below are just a few of my favorite date night boxes, perfect for reconnecting after your time away from each other. Check out their date night box shop for more options.

A Romantic Picnic Date Night

A Romantic Picnic Date Night

In-Home Spa Date Night

In-Home Spa Date Night

Pizza Challenge Date Night

Pizza Challenge Date Night

And another thing, don't forget to do something for yourself! I wrote this article, 10 Things to Do When Your Spouse is Out of Town for Family Share a couple of months back. A few of those things involve your spouse and your marriage, but the majority of them are selfish, for you only! Being apart is rough, and it can be pretty lonely if you are the spouse that is left behind. I know for me personally, while I was gone to Canada, I was so busy with everything that we had going on at the conference, that yes I missed my little family, but not in the same way that I have missed Joe while he's been gone to scout camps. Knowing that you're doing things that make you happy and help you stay busy will give your spouse peace of mind and let them focus on what they are supposed to be doing rather than worrying so much about you back at home.

I'm not saying that you're not allowed to miss each other and struggle while you're apart. That's going to happen regardless. But making the most of the time that you aren't together will not only help it go by faster, but can strengthen your relationship as well!

What are some ways that you make your marriage a priority while you're apart?