Brain Dump

It’s been a while since I’ve done a brain dump style post. There isn’t much happening in our house right now (thanks to state testing season and the almost-three-month-old who has taken over our lives) but I’ve got a lot on my mind, so let’s dive right in.

Those of you out there who are already parents are going to laugh at me for this one, but holy cow I don’t think I realized how much having a baby would change everything. Don’t take that as a negative – I love my sweet little boy with all of my heart. But I honestly don’t think I ever could have been prepared for how much his arrival would turn my world upside down. Absolutely everything is different. Some of it is way better. Some of it is way harder. All of it requires a major adjustment. I feel like since he was born, we have been in a fog of new-parenthood, just trying to figure things out one day at a time. Some days we feel like we are doing awesome, and some days we wonder how we’re going to make it out alive. But now that he’s 11 weeks old, I feel like we are finally settling into a groove and things are getting easier. I finally gave Cullen a haircut for the first time in about three months the other day, I’m able to keep my house relatively clean, and I’m managing to cook dinner most nights. It’s a start!

Every year right around this time I reach a point where I am just over the school year. I think everyone in the whole school does. April is always a hard month to get through, because the weather is warming up and you want to spend all day outside, but you’re still over a month away from summer. May is easier because it feels like one long celebration of the end of the year, and you’re really in the final countdown. So, I’m in my April funk right now, but hopefully these last few weeks will go by quickly and May will be here soon…and then it’s really almost summer!

We took Jackson’s first bluebonnet pictures this weekend (Jackson and I went with some friends one day and Corey came back with us the next day!). For those of you who don’t live in Texas, you should know that it’s basically a requirement to take yearly photos in the bluebonnets. They’re so gorgeous and it’s impossible to resist them. I could just lay in this field all day long. It’s only about a quarter of a mile from our house, so maybe I will!

I made this strawberry cake this weekend and I cannot stop thinking about it. I’ve made it before, but I think I forgot how amazing it is. I honestly could have just eaten the batter and nothing else because it’s just that tasty, but the baked cake is pretty darn amazing too. Yum, yum, yum.

I cannot contain my excitement over Mad Men being back. I’m pretty mad that they’re splitting the season over two years, so I’ll be soaking up each of the seven (only seven??!) episodes we get this year. Corey and I are also excited about Game of Thrones, but we don’t have HBO so we’re behind already. Good thing we’ve read the books so there aren’t really any spoilers! Oh, and, can we talk about Kitchen Nightmares? Tell me I am not the only one hopelessly addicted to that show. Corey and I watched the season premiere this weekend, where they revisited Amy’s Baking Company…and oh goodness, those people are nuts. That show is so bad but oh so good.

What’s on your mind lately? What shows are you addicted to right now?

Our Favorite Games

Last week when I wrote about our weekly at-home date nights, I was shocked at the number of you who responded and said you’re into board games as well. I knew I had some awesome readers but I didn’t know so many of you were into gaming!

I had a blast reading the comments and seeing your suggestions, and several of you asked about our favorite games so I thought it might be fun to write a quick post about the board games we love, then open it up for y’all to share your favorite games as well. We are always looking for suggestions!

For those of you out there who have no clue what I’m talking about and who haven’t heard of any of these games, just trust me on this and give one or two of them a shot. I highly recommend Wil Wheaton’s show, TableTop to give you an idea of what some of these games are, and I promise you that once you try these games you’ll never want to go back to playing Monopoly or Life again. I included links to the TableTop video for all of the games that have one – I absolutely love watching Wil and his friends play the games, and it gives you a good idea of what the game is like!

So let’s jump in – my top 10 favorite games we’ve been playing lately.

Ticket to Ride (TableTop video)

This is a great introductory game for anyone who is just wanting to try something new. The rules are very simple and it’s fun to play with just two people or with more. This is a game where you don’t really know who is winning until the very end, which I always enjoy – it adds to the suspense! I also love playing the iPad app – it’s a nice low-commitment way to try the game out if you’re curious… I play it a lot while I’m nursing Jackson! The app also has a function where you can play with someone else via wifi, so Corey and I will play together sometimes as well.

Carcassonne (TableTop video)

I wasn’t sure about this one until I actually played it, but it’s so much fun! Corey and I haven’t had the chance to try it with more than just us yet, but it’s a great two-player game and I imagine it would be even more fun with more people. The concept of the game is very simple – it’s just laying tiles and scoring based on how you lay them, etc. but it’s a blast.

Alhambra (TableTop video)

This one is my current favorite. In this game you get to build your own little “house” and you score based on how many of a few different types of tiles you have in it. This one is kind of a pain to set up for two people, but it works well – and we’ve played it with four people and had a lot of fun, too, so it’s versatile!

Settlers of Catan (TableTop video)

This one is always a favorite at our house. Catan requires at least three people but it is so! much! fun! It’s one of the nerdier games that we have, but once you get the hang of it, it’s absolutely addicting. I have the iPad app for this one as well and play it all the time. This is one that has a lot of expansions to make the game different, and Corey and I just recently bought the two-player version (it’s a card game but has a lot of the same mechanics as the main game, just adapted to work for two people).

Formula D (TableTop video)

We’ve only played this one once but I loved it. In it, you’re playing a race car and your goal is to be the first to finish a lap (or more, if you want a longer game), but there are some elements added to make it more complex, such as gears and a requirement to stop a certain number of times at each turn. I believe it can be played two-player (we don’t own it, but have played with friends), but it’s super fun with four! Corey blew up his car and got kicked out about halfway through the game when we played it, which was wildly entertaining for everyone.

King of Tokyo (TableTop video)

I hated this game the first time I played because I got my butt kicked, but I love it now. It was one of the first board games we tried with our friends, and now that I’ve played it a few more times I’m a big fan. This is a fun game if you like to get really competitive and attack people (in the game, of course).

Forbidden Island (TableTop video)

This is a cooperative game, meaning everyone wins or everyone loses. It has a very different feel than most of the other games, since you’re all working together, but it’s very fun! The concept of the game is that you’re trying to collect four “treasures” and get off the island before it sinks – it’s fun to problem solve with everyone and figure out how you can accomplish your goal. I hadn’t ever played cooperative games until recently, but I’m a big fan!

Love Letter

This one is a new favorite in our house. It’s probably the simplest game that we own – it’s a card game with only 16 cards, and the goal of the game is to end each round with the highest numbered card. I always feel like people think I’m crazy when I explain the rules because it takes less than a minute to explain, but it’s strangely addicting. I keep this game in my purse for Corey and I to whip out when we are bored or waiting (like at a restaurant or something), and we have a blast with it!

Fluxx (TableTop video)

Corey got this one for me for Christmas a couple of years ago, and we still play it all the time. It’s an incredibly fun card game where the rules change constantly, and it can last five minutes or thirty. Almost every time we introduce this game to someone new they spend the whole time complaining about how confused they are, but as soon as we finish they always say they want to play again. This one has a ton of different versions, each with different themes – we only have the base game for now, but I want the Wizard of Oz one!

Betrayal at House on the Hill (TableTop video part one, part two)

This one is here for those of you who are already into playing board games because it’s not really for beginners. We just bought this game recently and are completely in love with it. We’ve only been able to play it once, but it was so much fun and I’m obsessed. In this game, you build the board as you go (meaning it looks completely different each time you play) and at some point in the game one of the players becomes a “traitor” and begins playing against everyone else. The best part about this one is that there are about a million (okay, fifty) different ways the game can end, and the goal of the game changes just about every time you play. It’s hard to explain (and the rule book is super long!) but it is an awesome game and we can’t wait to play it again! A special note about this one is that it has been out of print for a while. Apparently they stopped producing it right after it was featured on TableTop, so it’s become incredibly expensive. Our local gaming store got a few in recently, so we were able to snatch it at a much lower price, but it’s pricey on Amazon right now. If you can find it locally, though, I definitely recommend it!

(All links are Amazon affiliate links – meaning if you click and purchase I’ll get a small percentage. But know that I wholeheartedly recommend each and every one of the games above! All images above are via Amazon as well.)

And those are our favorite games! What games have you been playing lately? Any awesome recommendations for two-player games? We’re always looking for more!

Date Nights With Baby

I’ll be honest – Jackson is two months old and Corey and I have yet to go on an actual date since he was born.

Those of you with kids probably understand this. It’s almost impossible to find time to go anywhere without him, and quite frankly we aren’t super interested in leaving him alone with anyone else just yet. We’re hoping to go on a real date at some point this month, but over the past two months we have found other ways to set aside time for one another, and in the process we created a new tradition that we are kind of obsessed with.

Game night.

Corey and I have tried to have weekly at-home date nights for as long as we have been married, but over the last year or so they had kind of fallen off our radar. It wasn’t a big deal because we had plenty of time together, and never really felt like we were missing out. But! When Jackson came along we very quickly realized that we needed to start setting aside some specific time for one another again, and thus game nights were born.

Every Tuesday evening Corey grabs a Papa Murphy’s pizza and we eat that while we play some games. We don’t watch television, we don’t zone out at our computers – we just have some good quality time together. It’s a super fun way for us to connect and it’s way more fun than just watching television like we do most other nights.

We’ve gotten really into board games now, and are always on the lookout for new ones. We’ve learned some really unique games and have been introducing them to people we know so we now have lots of friends that will play with us! I still think that 1:1 dates that actually involve leaving the house are important (and our goal is to have at least one a month, starting this month!) but this is such a perfect way to connect a little more at home, and we’re hoping to keep it a tradition even as Jackson gets older. In a few years we’ll probably be playing Candy Land instead of our current repertoire, but we already get excited thinking about teaching Jackson all of our favorite games and having this as a tradition for the long haul.

How do you stay connected with your significant other when things get crazy?

My Happy List

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me happy. Becoming a parent has been such an earth-shattering, perspective-changing experience for me (isn’t it for everyone?) and it has caused me to really take a step back and look at how I spend my time versus how I want to spend my time.

There’s nothing like a tiny little human in your house to make you wonder if you’re living your life to the fullest potential.

This was already on my mind, and then I saw this post on Dooce where she talks about making a list of things that keep her grounded and make her happy. Things she wants to do more. And that got me thinking…about those moments in life where I want to just stop time and bask in how happy I am forever. The times that make my heart happy when I think about them.

Those are the things I want to do more of. Those are the things I need to be focusing on, and trying to increase in my day-to-day life. So, I decided to write my list down…and I’m committing to doing more of these things. I’m going to make a conscious effort to do these on a regular basis…I may even print the list out and tape it on my mirror. Because it’s easy to forget the things that make you happy sometimes.

1. Listening to music and dancing in my kitchen
2. Going for long walks
3. Trying new things/places
4. Taking pleasure in the little things
5. Cuddles with Corey and Jackson
6. Spending time outside when the weather is perfect
7. Opening the windows and letting the breeze in
8. Turning off the television, putting away my phone/laptop, and truly being present
9. Playing games with friends
10. Spending time with my sister
11. Making our house beautiful
12. Working on projects, stretching my creativity
13. Singing at the top of my lungs in the car
14. Taking photos – not just of our house, but of our life
15. Watching Jackson do anything

What would be on your list?

On Returning to Work

Whew. This last week was tough.

I went back to work last Monday and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was the longest I had ever been away from Jackson and leaving him behind that first day absolutely broke my heart.

However, I feel like I should acknowledge that I am totally and completely spoiled by an amazing set-up. I’ve had several people ask what we are doing with Jack while we’re at work, so here it is: my school has a daycare. It’s just a couple hundred yards away from the school itself, in a little portable. It is run by people I have known for years and that I trust completely. I’m able to go up to daycare every single day during my conference period and spend about 30 minutes feeding and snuggling with my sweet boy.

I am very, very lucky.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Monday felt almost impossible, but I survived. Tuesday was a little easier, and by Friday I wasn’t tearing up when I dropped him off in the mornings. It would have been much harder for me if it weren’t for my daily visits, and I can’t imagine returning to work without them.

My ultimate dream is to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. It always has been, and I think it always will be. But I’m fortunate enough to love my job, so even if we aren’t in a situation where I can stay at home, at least I feel challenged and fulfilled every day at work.

There are 53 days left in the school year (not that I’m counting or anything…) and then I get to be home with my baby for two and a half months. There are no words for how much I’m looking forward to that.

But for now, we’re taking it one day at a time and trying to adjust to our new normal. It’s much harder to get things like housework and laundry done (much less work on my graduate school homework!) now, but I’m confident that as we get used to things it will keep getting easier. At least, I hope they will.

Has anyone else made this transition recently? Any tips for staying on top of everything?