January 6, 2017

Daily Checklist for a Joyful Marriage

Marriage is awesome!
At least it's supposed to be amazing and comforting and confidence-building
and supportive and sexy and rewarding and challenging and (insert more positive adjectives here).

Sometimes relationships become strained, and sometimes marriage is frustrating. Spouses get annoyed with each other and arguments happen too frequently. Unhealthy patterns can unravel a marriage, so it's vital to nurture loving habits with your spouse. A joyful marriage will have healthy habits supporting its core. Day to day interactions will be supportive and uplifting, while tense moments will be few and far between.

Does your marriage need a check-up? Do you feel fulfilled? Does your spouse?
Check out which behaviors need to become part of your daily routine:

The Joyful Marriage Daily Checklist

1. Express appreciation for each other
Say "thank you," and explain something you are grateful the other person did every day. Every day! The most common complaint I hear from my clients is not feeling appreciated in the marriage. Tell your spouse you appreciate the meal, the folded laundry, the text messages, the diaper changes, the hugs, the well-serviced vehicle, the financial earnings, etc. Couples in joyful marriages don't seek out the bad. They see the good, and they express gratitude freely for little things.
There is power in gratitude, and there is power in frequently saying, "I love you." Every day.

2. Disconnect from technology, and connect with your spouse
With technology managing so many aspects of our lives these days, it's too easy to get stuck in a rut of staring at screens over faces. Instead, take some time to talk face-to-face. Turn off Netflix and listen about each other's day. Go for a walk. Discuss hopes and dreams together. Pillow talk rather than fall asleep to the television. In my opinion, televisions do not belong in bedrooms, and really, any device that keeps you aloof from your spouse needs to disappear around bedtime. It's too easy to waste that last hour of the day playing Solitaire or checking Facebook or watching YouTube until you start sleepily blinking. Tune into your spouse at nighttime, not the TV.

3. Accomplish tasks together
Couples in joyful marriages work together to finish tasks and projects. Either by "dividing and conquering" or completing everything together, these couples support each other through service. This balance looks different in each household, but when balanced appropriately both spouses feel appreciated and valued. It's not about the number of chores, it's about the management of the home.

4. Listen to understand and ask questions
To often people listen only long enough to respond. If your brain is formulating your next response while your spouse talks, then you are not truly listening. Both husbands and wives need to feel heard and listened to, and in a joyful marriage, that habit shows up every day. Listen to how the day went, what frustrations were felt, and which moments were exciting. Just listen. Every day.

5. Touch each other
Humans need physical touch to thrive. Babies that don't receive physical touch suffer, and marriages without loving touch suffer as well. Whether it's a hug, a kiss goodnight, a pat on the back, or cuddling on the couch, spouses need physical contact every day. Talk together about your individual needs for touch. Learn what you each prefer and dislike when it comes to physical contact. Then, make it a daily habit to reassure each other through loving touch. 

6. Make each other part of your daily routine
Form routines around each other; doing so highlights the importance of each spouse. Make your spouse feel worth your while! This could be a habit to share a kiss before leaving for work, or chatting during your commutes, or sending a quick text at lunchtime. Leave time for each other in your daily busy-ness, and make time for each other every day.

Bonus Points:
Go to bed at the same time as often as possible
Ending the day together builds the idea that your spouse is a source of comfort, relaxation, and peace. Sometimes work deadlines or sick kids will keep one spouse awake in another room, but try to make those nights rare. Crawling in bed together allows for extra quiet time. Pillow talk and cuddling nurtures emotional and physical bonding in a marriage. Plus, by choosing to end your day together, you show each other's importance over Hulu, work e-mails, or the X-Box.

Fulfilling marriages don't just happen, they are developed.
Something about the common phrase "marriages are hard work" rubs me the wrong way. It feels so burdensome. I also cringe when I hear teenagers say similar phrases about their future marriages, like, "It'll be hard but worth it." Having a relationship is not hard, but overcoming selfishness is hard. Marriage isn't hard work; continual self-improvement and altruism is hard work. The skills that build joyful marriages are the same skills that encourage a person to be kind, selfless, service-minded, encouraging, and listen deeply.

I hope this checklist helps you nurture a more joyful marriage. As both spouses work towards that goal, with open hearts, you will re-discover that magic that brought you together. Plus, you'll have the strength to continue down a fulfilling and joyful road.

January 3, 2017

Goals and Money Saving Tips for the New Year

One year over, and a new year just beginning. Hello 2017!

With the start of a new year, people think about goals and fresh starts. I don't have new goals per se, but I do want to complete leftover goals from last year. Life is a work in progress, and I hope I am continually improving as I go. Since January has finally arrived, I can nudge myself to lose the last remaining pounds of baby weight and stop eating so much holiday food (once my stocking candy is finally eaten and gone. . .) I'm also excited to get back to the gym now that my baby is old enough for childcare programs while I exercise at the gym. 

Weight goals are super common in January, but don't forget about financial goals too! Last month, I was introduced to the company Earnest, and they got me thinking about financial saving and security. Their company mission is to not only save money but to also teach the importance of knowing where your money is, how you spend it, and what your debt looks like. Adults old and young can benefit from a financial check-up to make sure you're on a sustainable path. Plus, if you are a recent graduate, take comfort in knowing that you can refinance student loans with Earnest and save over $20k!

I personalized my Money Saving Challenge plan with Earnest, which I'll share below.
I often tell my clients to tape their goal chart to a mirror or dresser, somewhere highly visible. Frequently seeing your goals helps channel your thoughts in that direction, making it easier to change unwanted habits. This first quarter, my goal is to keep healthy snacks in my purse and on my kitchen counter. The more I eat healthy, the more my body will crave healthy, right? These last 10 pounds of baby weight have gotta go! The same principle applies to financial goals. Once saving money becomes a habit, it's easier to save. Learning to curb spending desires is similar to curbing junk food cravings - it takes time and effort. You can even tape a picture of the "treat" you are saving for to your own mirror. 

What goals would be on your three month list?
What actions can you take to form healthier financial habits?
Let me know in the comment section. Good luck!

December 28, 2016

Christmas 2016

This year we really wanted to celebrate the meaning of Christmas. Our little ones were at the perfect age to understand (and anticipate) Santa Claus, and we were excited for them! But we also wanted them to learn young about giving and helping others feel loved. We frequently told them that Santa brings us gifts because he loves us, and we give gifts to others because we love them. Tying it all together, we emphasized that wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus because they loved Him, and He loves us too.

We bought small gifts to distribute each day before Christmas, and the kids took turns picking who needed to feel loved that day. After school we took a gift to a friend, a teacher, a fellow church-goer, or a neighbor. We hoped a small token of love would brighten the day of those we visited.

I also took the three older kids to the Dollar Store, one at a time, so they could pick out sibling gifts. I was surprised how quickly they picked out something their brother and sisters would actually like. Of course they wanted to get presents for themselves too, but at least they were happy to choose a gift and wrap it for their family members.

Then, a few days before Christmas, I learned about a family in need. A single mother had just lost her job, and her three children didn't have any presents yet. We gathered up some gently used toys from our house and called upon some other families with kids the same age. With their help, we filled two giant bags of nice toys for this family. On Christmas Eve we drove to their house late at night to drop off the surprise presents. Simon, our five year old, commented, "Mom, it's like we're Santa Elves!" Helping that family made my heart beam, and I hope our kids continue to help people as they get older. It's easy for kids to get over-excited about "receiving" at Christmastime, and at their young age, it's expected. But at they mature, I really hope they remember the fun of giving.

Finally Christmas morning came!!!

I was awake before the kids and so anxious for them to experience a magical morning. When everyone finally woke up and realized their were toys in the living room, the fun started! We took turns with presents, gave hugs for our gifts, and enjoyed family time. Church started at 1:00pm, so we had plenty of time to play and bake yummy food together.

We are so blessed to have four amazing kids, a festive home, working cars, air conditioning (since it was Texas hot outside), and plenty of food in the pantry. 
Life is good. God is great. And Christmas was wonderful.

December 17, 2016

Gift Ideas based on the 5 Love Languages

I love watching the Sketch Comedy show "Studio C."
If you haven't already found their amazingness on YouTube, visit their channel. Not only are the funny, but their content is always family friendly. Love, love, love Studio C!

Inspired by one of their Christmas sketches about Santa Claus basing gifts on the 5 Love Languages, I thought I'd give it a go too. Hopefully, my list comes across more heartfelt than hilarious, but depending upon your gift recipient's love language, that's to be determined. Any links I share were ones I randomly found as I created the lists. All ideas are my own, no sponsored links. Enjoy!

As a reminder, Chapman's love languages are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts. If you show love to others by speaking their preferred love language, you'll hit a deeper note in their hearts. You can even take a quiz to learn your own love language (and guess at theirs). And now for my list of gift ideas, based on your loved one's Love Language:

Words of Affirmation

1. Write a list of what you love about her
2. Send a letter to him at work, wishing him love and expressing appreciation
3. Gather letters from friends and family and compile them into a love journal for her
4. Leave Post-It notes in hiding places for him to find throughout the day
5. Print out the lyrics to your wedding song and frame it for her
6. Write him a list of the joys you hope to celebrate on your 50th anniversary
7. Mail her a thank-you note every week
8. Write his mother a letter about how much you adore him
9. Arrange a performance where you and the kids share how much she means to y'all
10. Write a journal of all the reasons you love him, and give the journal to him when it's full

Acts of Service

1. Surprise her with a totally cleaned house
2. Meet him for lunch with his favorite foods
3. Get her car detailed
4. Complete his least favorite chore around the house as a surprise
5. Schedule a trip to the garden center, and plant a flower bed with her.
6. Allow him to sleep in on the weekend
7. Create service coupons for her and finish your "honey-do" list
8. Clean and dust the garage for him
9. Buy a pack of diapers and promise to change all of them for her
10. Send him out for the fancy haircut that includes a massage and hot towel wrap

Quality Time

1. Secretly arrange for a babysitter and recreate your first date
2. Take a long drive over the weekend, turn off the radio, and talk about hopes and dreams
3. Sign up for cooking classes or dance classes together
4. Schedule a hot air balloon ride
5. Come home with his favorite movie and flavored popcorn
6. Create art together: watercolor, face paint, etc. (gift a paint set)
7. Lay on the trampoline and learn the constellations together (gift a telescope)
8. Buy a new book and take turns reading out loud together
9. Create a date night jar together. Each of you suggest fun dates
10. Buy a large bag of Skittles. Eat them until you both can tell which color you're eating with your eyes closed

Physical Touch

1. Gift a session with a massage therapist
2. Purchase some massage oil and give her a massage yourself
3. Buy a set of couple gloves and go for walks often
4. Buy a nice hairbrush, and brush her hair for her
5. Learn how to cut men's hair, and become his own stylist
6. Surprise her with a pedicure tub and give her pedicures
7. Gift a two person blanket - the Double Slanket!
8. Buy a Hug Shirt that lets you actually feel a hug from the other person when you wear the shirt. Great for long-distance or military couples.
9. Create the famous toy car map as a back-rub t-shirt, like this one on Etsy.
10. Learn reflexology and practice your skills with soothing touch

Receiving Gifts

Note: Just because their love language is gifts, any old, random gift won't do. They need to be heartfelt and specific to your loved one. Below are just some ideas:

1. Give a DVD of her favorite childhood cartoon
2. Make a photo book of your years through dating, marriage, kids, etc.
3. Think of something he frequently complains about - an old pillow, scratchy socks, dull tools - and replace them
4. Send her favorite flowers to her multiple times in the same day. For example, a rose in the car in the morning, an arrangement at her office, another vase of flowers that evening, and a rose on her pillow at bedtime
5. Buy him a duplicate of his favorite shirt that is wearing thin 
6. Buy the book to his favorite movie, or the movie about his favorite book
7. Add something to his hobby collection
8. Braid matching friendship bracelets for her
9. Find a piece of jewelry that matches an inside joke or a memory. Gift her the jewelry with a note about the memory it represents
10. Give him a subscription box that matches a dessert or hobby or facial hair preference

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas to everyone!
May your gifts be well-thought out and heartfelt, and may your recipients gift you loving presents too. Show your love to them in the way they need it most. "Put a little love in your heart!"

December 9, 2016

Funny and Random Gift Guide 2016

Earlier this week I had the freedom to wander and shop for two amazing hours. Thank you to my fantastic husband for keeping all four kids at home! And thank you Kohls for being open until midnight during the holiday season! I picked out Christmas gifts, stocking stuffers, and some white elephant gifts too. Speaking of white elephant gifts, there are some totally random gifts out there. So, I had the idea to create a funny gift guide and show you what kinds of randomness you can buy online! Bytheway, these are not sponsored posts, just my own sharing.

1. Check out the "Pony Up Daddy" saddle toy.
Pony rides have never been easier for kids or parents. This toy is super cute!

2. If a pretend pony ride isn't enough for your kids, or if your back can't handle the ride, check out this ride-on elephant! U-Free creates ride-on toys that actually move like animals, meaning you feel like you are actually riding a horse, a zebra, a reindeer, or even an elephant!

3. Kids love Smencils! These scented pencils are sure to brighten up your stocking stuffing supply. My son has the candy cane scented one, and he cherishes it. They have pencil scents for the entire year as well if you are looking beyond the holiday.

4. And while you're thinking about pencils, here's another random gift - a nose shaped pencil sharpener! Pick yourself a winning booger, I mean present.

5. Continuing the random nose-y train of thought, here's another random gift found on Etsy. If you're the type of driver that picks and flicks, then this Beware of Flying Boogers sign is for you. Attach it to your car, and consider the world warned.

6. If scents impress you, then you must love good eats. And if you love food, then your kids need their very own Taco Truck Playhouse. #raiseemright #seriously 

7. If you need a quirky gift for your spouse, look at this awesome Etsy shop. She has so many cute couple pillows - like this Superman and Wonderwoman set. There are pillowcases for couples that like fishing, music, pets, and more.

8. Here's another gift for the lucky online couple that made it past the first date. Tinder for the win! Celebrate your swipe right success with this cute mug from Andreas Emporium.

9. As I typed this list, my two year old was crying about wanting yogurt, not even 10 seconds after she claimed she was full and put her breakfast bowl in the sink. A quick Google seaarch lead me to a random book all parents can relate to: the Reasons My Kid is Crying book. Yep - there is actually a book filled with pictures of the funny reasons kid well up in tears.

10. Finally, fry gloves. Best white elephant present this year. You need some.

That's the end of this year's funny and random gift list. Merry Christmas everyone, and happy white elephant parties! These ideas are way cooler than the candle, that nobody wants, as seen on SNL's Christmas Candle skit. Although, maybe that peach candle will be famous enough next year to make the list!

December 2, 2016

The difference between Hearing and Listening

Earlier this year I gave a presentation to a group of teenagers. After deliberating the best way to teach them how to communicate, I decided to take an alternate route by teaching them how to listen. After all, if you listen ineffectively, you’ll communicate ineffectively. The quote “we have two ears and one mouth for a wise purpose” comes to mind – because it’s true! We should spend more time hearing others than running our own mouths. Truly listening (which I’ll explain further down this post as hearing) can bind broken hearts, solve problems, and keep relationships strong. The teenagers at my presentation learned the difference between hearing and listening, and I hope you can learn that skill after reading this blog post too.

Merely Listening

“Are you even listening to me?”
“Did you listen to me earlier?”
"You just don't get it."

How often do you hear these phrases in your relationships? Either a task was not completed, a response was off-base, or a message was not received correctly when these phrases are uttered. You see, listening is simply the physical sensation of sound ringing in your eardrums. Everybody listens. Soundwaves travel; we hear a sound. But with mere listening, the message is not always understood. 

Think of the childhood game of Telephone, where someone tries to send a message down a row of giggling kids. Usually the message is altered in some way before it reaches the end of the line, and the initial message of “Hi, my name is Nicci, and I really love to dance in the rain,” becomes the awkward “Hi, Mamie, Nicci really wants to see acid rain?”

The reason the Telephone game is famous for hilariously failing is because people always listen, but they seldom hear. I define hearing as “listening with the intent to understand.” Hearing is the conscious choice to direct your attention to a noise. Merely listening with the head bobble of “uh-huh” while our kids chatter on about dinosaurs and rocket ships is unhelpful communication. Hearing is more involved. Hearing means you actually take note of the dinosaur species, plus you know which planet the rockets are flying to visit. See the difference? Hearing also means the cell phones are put away, the TV is turned off, and the speaker has your full attention.


“I felt understood.”
“You get it!”

Hearing is the skill everyone needs to develop. Hearing goes beyond simply regurgitating the words back in the same sequence, but it involves genuine concern and a desire to understand. Hearing your children talk about dinosaurs allows you to grow closer in your relationships, as it is hearing that leads you to say helpful phrases like, "Wow, you've really been paying attention at school to remember all those dinosaur names. I'm so proud of you." As you hear, you can respond in ways that build up a conversation and the people you communicate with. Through genuine hearing, you understand the speaker and their topics. You might discover the source of your kiddo's rocket ship fascination, or pick up on hints for birthday presents for your spouse, or hear the underlying tone under your wife's statement of "I'm fine." (Because we all know that when your wife says she's "fine," that's a lie.)

The consistent pattern of compassionate hearing allows you to really know someone. You'll hear their words, but you'll also see their body language and facial expressions. You'll notice changes in their tone of voice or if they are fighting back tears. Hearing someone is more work than merely listening to words, but you'll gain so much from the person you choose to hear.

How does hearing build relationships?

Hearing people means you want to understand them. Everybody likes to feel heard and validated. You'd be amazed at the power that focused listening has on a person! One of the most common complaints in couples counseling is a lack of helpful communication. I teach couples how to hear with the intent to understand, rather than with the intent to respond. Hearing is a valuable tool for combating conflict. Think how your heated conversations would have been different had you stepped out of your own thoughts of how you were going to respond with the perfect argument as soon as the other person takes a breath - and instead listened to the message they were saying. What words did they use? How was their posture? What emotions are they describing? As you hear them, you'll recognize the bigger picture of their message. Having love and compassion on them enhances relationships. Seeking to understand others is a hearing trait. Quickly responding to secure your opinion is a listening trait.

May we listen twice as much as we speak, and may we hear their whole message so we can truly understand. 

November 21, 2016

Time for Gratitude 2016

It's that time of year when we reflect on the things we're grateful to have. There is beauty all around us, and making a gratitude list helps me realize all the countless ways I have been very blessed. My wise cousin, Cambri, also wrote on her blog about keeping a "beauty book." For people that fight against anxiety, simply focusing on the present beauties around you can be more helpful than listing out blessings. Whichever method works to lift your spirits, I hope you have time this Thanksgiving season to refresh your soul (and your tummies!)

1. My patient and devoted husband. I really can't brag about him enough, and I'm very lucky.
2. My kids' hugs and smiles and kisses and drawings and the flowers they pick from the yard for me.
3. Air conditioning and indoor heating.
4. Indoor plumbing.
5. Basically all the home conveniences we have in the 21st century!
6. A genealogy line that kept journals. I love reading about their joys and struggles. I love finding pictures of their families and even their homes from centuries ago. There's a sense of pride and comfort in feeling connected to ages past.
7. Knowing that there is a God in Heaven, and He loves us. And His son, Jesus Christ, made it possible for us to find an eternal happiness and live in Heaven again someday. My soul rejoices.
8. Friends that love me (on my no-makeup days, on my hyper days, on my quiet days, on my supermom days, and my lazy days).
9. A very patient mother and father. Thanks Mom and Dad.
10. Soft beds and pillows. Nap time is awesome.
Bonus: homemade pumpkin pie!!

What are you thankful for? And how do you refresh your spirit?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

November 14, 2016

Self-Care with a Plantable Wish Kit

Recently, my Dad has begun gardening. He dug out a section of the fence and tilled the soil for carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and more. My mom jokes that one of his new mottos is, "Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes." Which is funny considering his daughter is a therapist. . .
 I've written before about the family benefits to gardening, but there are personal benefits too! For example, I believe that gardening helps me develop perspective and patience. Whether your preference is flowers, fruits, or vegetables, nurturing a garden is a form of self-care.

Self-care frequently comes up in my counseling sessions, and together my clients and I analyze the time they spend nurturing their own souls. A sense of fulfilling self-care looks different for everyone: it could be a relaxing bath once a week, or playing golf once a month, or disconnecting from electronics everyday for half an hour. It's self-care, and it's personal.

If you need help in the self-care department of your life, visit UnCommonGoods, the online store with amazing hand-crafted and unique gifts. I recommend the Self Growth Wish Kit from BloomIn. This self-care kit allows you to write a wish or burden or goal down on seed paper and then watch it grow! This idea is simple, but the effects can be profound.

Metaphors are a powerful form of human communication, for children and adults. Sometimes emotions are easier to manage with a physical outlet. For example, for someone that struggles with anxiety, cleaning the house is a tangible substitute for internal chaos. A clean home has visible results you can see and touch, whereas emotional anxiety is more complex to soothe.

That's why I love the idea of these plantable wish seeds! They are the perfect metaphor for growth and change over time. As you nurture the seeds, you are symbolically caring for your desire on the card. This self-care wish kit would be a great stocking stuffer for your insightful teenagers or your best friend. Wishes can bloom true!

On one card, I wrote that I want to be a better mom: more creative, more patient, and more joyful. As I water the seeds I can ask myself, did I listen to my children today? Did I color with them? Did I dance around the room with them? What do I need to do before bedtime to show them love? As I diligent nurture my goal, I will see the fulfillment grow before my eyes as a small garden of flowers. Hopefully I will also see myself as a better Mom because of my new behaviors.

The wish kit also encourages you to tell others about your seed card. This allows them to help facilitate your growth and change too. Just like a helpful neighbor waters your lawn during vacation, a helpful friend can visibly "check-in" on your growth process.

UnCommonGoods carries many other unique gifts for birthdays and Christmastime. Their artisan crafted items are frequently made in the USA, and UnCommonGoods donates to charities, such as Reach Out & Read, which benefits young children's literacy skills. You can feel good about supporting UnCommonGoods. Visit their website to find the perfect gift for yourself or someone you love.

Disclaimer: I  had the opportunity to choose a gift from UnCommonGoods at no cost in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own and were not influenced by the company.

Decorating with a Porch Wall

Pinterest and Front Door Decor.
Just like chocolate and marshmallow.
Or cheese and crackers.
They just go together!

Every house has a front door, but not every house has a door that is decorate-able. Our front door has a metal screen door, so hanging things on the outside is hard. For years I've hung wreaths on the actual wooden door, but they just get squished up against the screen when the door closes. Bummer. Pinterest also makes me a crave a front porch that can hold pumpkins or hay bales or miniature Christmas trees. But our porch is a small area just in front of the door. So again, my house and my decorating dreams struggle to co-exist. #PinterestProblems

Last month I imagined a solution - I needed a porch wall!
If I could utilize the giant brick wall adjacent to my front door, then I would have a decorating space! I could hang pictures and signs and finally have that seasonal decorating space I'd hoped for. I stained a large piece of lumber to match our front door, added 3 coats of spar varnish, and added the knobs. FYI: a trip to Hobby Lobby with a newborn, a 1 year old, and a 3 year old is rough, but I got my knobs. When it was finally finished I was so excited to show Johnny! I love showing off the things I create with his power tools. (Although he helped me drill into the brick to hang the board. I wasn't brave enough to try that.)

 Thus, I give you my "porch wall."

I love that I can finally show seasonal cuteness outside, and it's not smashed by the screen door.

These door tags were another project I cut out by myself, although Johnny helped me shape the final cut. I attached the vinyl wording and brushed on spar varnish. (I love this lettering font; it's called Mitre Square.) The wood was leftover thin plywood from our kitchen remodeling projects.

Remember when I was feeling crafty a few months ago?
Here's the pumpkin sign I created. I love the colors in my pumpkin!

Fall decorating stirs up feelings of gratitude in my heart. I'm glad I had this project finished in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Plus, how fun will it be to show more outdoor Christmas spirit next month? So fun! Yea!!

November 9, 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Families

Looking for a gift to please an entire family this Christmas?
Maybe your brother's family, or your favorite co-worker's family?
Or for your own family?
I'd like to share three amazing gift ideas for a family dear to your heart. These ideas come from UnCommonGoods, and they are uniquely special items. If you haven't heard of UnCommonGoods, take some time this holiday season to browse their selection of artisan crafted gifts.

Idea Number One:
If the family you are purchasing a gift for loves to play games together, check out this amazing board game that encourages random acts of kindness and spreads that goodness all over the world with Boom Boom Cards! The description at UnCommonGoods sums this game up perfectly, "The coolest thing about Boom Boom! cards is that you can create a chain reaction of covert kindness that could theoretically travel around the world." As you complete an act of kindness, you give the card away to a friend. Hopefully that friend also completes the challenge because the card has a tracking code, which allows you to read stories about every act of service that specific card inspires. Awesome, right? What a great way to teach a family about service and its positive impact in the lives of other people.

As "agents of altruism," Johnny and I have started our game board. Our first challenge is already underway, and I'm excited to then give our Boom Boom card to another family. My life has been positively impacted by small acts of service, and I'm excited to be a part of that goodness for someone else. Reading their stories on the online tracker will be humbling and inspiring. By ordering the Random Acts of Kindness kit as a Christmas gift, you're essentially saying, "Goodness to all, and to all a good night!"

Idea Number Two:
If your you need a gift for a family that enjoys conversations together, consider the ReMemory game from Storymatic, available at UnCommonGoods. Rememory is a deck of cards designed to elicit memories from each player. There are three decks of cards, each with random word prompts. A player draws three cards and proceeds to tell a memory based on those words. Last weekend, my husband and I went camping with his brother's family. After the kids finally went to sleep in the tent, the adults played Rememory around the campfire. I enjoyed hearing about my sister-in-law's childhood in Alaska and her adventures as a flight attendant. I learned more about my husband's relationship with his grandparents. I talked about my summer jobs as a door-to-door salesman and travels in college. 

The game does allow for customized rules, such as guessing someone's memory. You can also use the cards alone in order to expand your journal writing. However you play the game, there is a sense of grounding that's both peaceful and fun at the same time. It's just a cool game! These cards would be the perfect family reunion game. They'd also be helpful when interviewing grandparents. Reminisce with Rememory.

Idea Number Three:
As Thanksgiving inches closer, the word gratitude becomes a common part of everyone's vocabulary. Once a year it's the season of gratefulness, and our lives are enriched by focusing on the blessings we enjoy. But, what if something existed that made gratitude a part of our life all year long? What if that focus on gratitude came in a cute little box with cards and a gratitude journal? Such a gift does exist, and it's called "A Year of Gratitude." Imagine the bonding that would happen as the family decides who to send a card to each week.

The Year of Gratitude encourages a person (or family) to express thanks for the quiet moments of joy experienced every week. Those life enriching moments may come from a friend at school, a co-worker, a mailman, or a grocery store clerk. As you and your family begin to appreciate the positive impact left on your hearts, then "deep heartfelt gratitude seems the only appropriate reply." This gratitude activity kit includes 52 cards (one for each week of the year) and a journal where you can document your journey of "ever-increasing joy and wonder." The journal offers advice for writing genuine thank you notes, and allows you to document whom you've mailed cards to so you can choose new people every week. I have officially logged my first thank you card, and I'm excited to begin a weekly tradition of expressing thanks.

I am grateful that UnCommonGoods offers such unique Christmas gifts from talented artisans in a variety of categories. Plus, many of their products are handcrafted with an innovative dedication to eco-friendly design. For example, the Boom Boom card game is made with recycled materials! UnCommonGoods also spreads "good" around the world through charitable giving to organizations like American Forests and the International Rescue Committee. Ordering family Christmas gifts from UnCommonGoods ensures you are supporting artisans and spreading Christmas cheer to more people in need.

Disclosure: I received my choice of items for review purposes from UnCommonGoods in exchange for this review. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by the company in any way.

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