These days, finding ideas for an at-home date night are running a little thin. Justin and I love games and puzzles and have no shortage of them, but every once in a while it’s nice to do something else.
As I was scrolling Instagram yesterday, I noticed Angela Rose Home and Vintage Revivals are hosting a little DIY Dare-a-thon to help inspire people to get creative while social distancing. Their first challenge was to build something with scraps in your garage. I immediately thought this would be a fun date night for Justin and I, and the DIY Dare-a-thon Date Night (say that 5x fast ha!) was born.
Deciding on a project was easy. We have a little nook under our stairs that we lovingly refer to as our Harry Potter closet. LJ loves to “hide” in there and now that we’re home so much, we’re spending a lot of time playing there. I eventually want to transform it into a magical little play space for our kids. One thing I’ve always envisioned doing is creating little ledges to store some books for our kids to read, and this seemed like the perfect little project for the dare-a-thon.
We put the kids down for bed, grabbed the baby monitor, and headed out to our garage/workshop. Since we couldn’t go anywhere to get supplies, we had to use what we had. Justin rounded up some scrap wood from past projects and we had two 1×3’s, a long 1×2, and a few 1×4’s.
We decided to make two shelves: each shelf would be 21 inches long and would be made of a 1×2, 1×3, and 1×4. The 1×3 would form the base, with the 1×2 as the front lip and the 1×4 as the back. Since we were working with scraps, it wasn’t all the same kind of wood, but I figured the only thing that would really be visible was the very front, and the 1×2 was long enough to be used for both shelves so they would end up looking the same.
Justin got to work measuring each board and cutting them to 21 inches long with his miter saw.
While he did that, I got to work sanding each piece with 80 grit sandpaper.
Once everything was cut to size and sanded, Justin used his kreg jig to create drill holes in each 1×4 and 1×3. Kreg jigs are easy to use and it kept us from visible nail/screw holes on the front of the finished project.
We used square clamps to line up the boards perfectly, and then attached them with pocket hole screws.
We first attached the 1×3 to the 1×2, then we attached the 1×4 to the 1×3.
Here’s a glimpse at how everything attached.
Once both shelves were assembled, Justin took some 120 grit sandpaper and a wood block to smooth over all the edges.
It only took us about 90 minutes to go from a few pieces of scrap wood to two book ledges!
Justin has a box of leftover stain from previous woodworking projects and after scrounging around, we found this lighter shade that was pretty close to my original vision.
We used a sponge brush to apply the stain and let it dry overnight.
We talked about multiple ways to hang the shelves. We could have attached hooks, but I wanted the shelves to lay flush with the wall. We talked about notches on the back, but we wanted them to be sturdily attached to the wall so kids didn’t pull them off. We ultimately decided to just screw the 1×4 directly into the wall, knowing that books would cover the screws up. Before leaving for work this morning, Justin attached the shelves to the wall.
I put some of our favorite books on the shelves, and the project was complete!
I am still dreaming of ways to transform this tiny space, but this was a great first step. I picture lots of cozy reading happening in here!
Overall, this was a great experience! Justin and I had a fun time planning what to do and working together to complete the shelves. It was nice quality time and we both feel really good about the finished project. The project itself was relatively easy, quick to execute, and didn’t cost us any money. Plus we took our first step towards improving this little nook and I’m really happy with it! I can definitely see more DIY Date Nights in our future 🙂
I don’t remember a lot of advice I was given during the newborn haze of the first few weeks of LJ’s life, but I will never forget these words from our pediatrician at his 2 week check-up: “You are the foundation of his life.” Basically, he said we can do a lot of things to help LJ grow and develop but the thing he is going to see every single day is US. The stability of our relationship and how we treat one another is going to be one of the biggest things that he watches as he grows. Our marriage is a huge part of LJ’s life and will form the foundation for his childhood. The pediatrician took a few minutes to specifically encourage Justin and I to make sure not to lose ourselves or our marriage to our new job as parents, but to continue to foster our relationship and prioritize one another as well.
I mean, wow, right!? What an amazing reminder to brand-new, slightly-overwhelmed parents to not get so wrapped up in parenthood that they forget what started the journey in the first place: their relationship. Justin and I were so appreciative of this reminder that we can love our son SO much, want the absolute best for him, try our hardest to be great parents, and still want to prioritize our marriage.
I blogged about our recent trip to Chicago last week. We take LJ with us on a lot of trips, but this was one we took without him. It was so wonderful to have a few days away together and we both felt reconnected and rejuvenated and ready to get home and love on our boy on Sunday! Obviously, it doesn’t always work to do something big like a multi-day getaway; but Justin and I have really tried to take our pediatrician’s advice to heart and remember to prioritize our marriage and spend time together. It doesn’t mean we have to spend a lot of money, or even any money at all, but it is important for us to connect and enjoy our marriage together every once in a while. Sometimes it’s just talking on the couch during LJ’s naptime. Other times we go out for a movie, sporting event, dinner, putt-putt golf, etc. It keeps our marriage strong, helps us focus on our love for each other, and is just plain fun. We are always ready to come home and give LJ so much love and attention afterwards!
Today I’m sharing a few ways that Justin and I utilize to spend one-on-one time together. These are ways that work for us – they may not work for you and that’s totally okay. I encourage you to find what works for you and your partner and carve out some time to focus on the relationship that started your little family: your love!
Relax together after LJ’s Bedtime
We have a few shows we both really enjoy watching (This is Us, A Million Little Things, and occasionally The Bachelor depending on the season and main person). Some days one or both of us may still have some work to finish on our computers so we will have those up while we watch but it’s still fun to be together while the show plays so we can discuss our thoughts during and after. Some nights we both are totally finished with work and there isn’t a show we want to see so we’ll curl up together on the couch, usually with bowls of ice cream, and watch a movie together. It’s such a fun, relaxing way to just spend some time together! Of course, there are days when it feels like Justin and I are just counting down the minutes until LJ goes to bed and we’re both so exhausted from our long days that we just kind of zonk on the couch and do our own thing. It’s always nice though to watch something together.
Occasionally during naptime or after bedtime, we’ll intentionally set 30 minutes of screen-free time. TV is off, computers are shut, phones are away, and Justin and I just sit and talk. We might talk about our days, our dreams for the future, our plans for the week, or whatever else is on our minds, but it’s always just nice to have focused, uninterrupted time to reconnect. The busier the season of life, the more important I think this time is!
Utilize grandparents (if possible)
I know we are SO lucky to have parents who want to be very involved as grandparents. Both Justin and my parents adore LJ and love to love on him. We are also lucky that my parents only live just over an hour away and frequently babysit LJ (we know Justin’s parents would love to do this too but they unfortunately live several states away). I personally think it’s important to take them up on their offers to babysit not only so Justin and I can have some time to reconnect, but also so LJ can develop a relationship with his grandparents. It is so sweet to watch their bond grow! My mom often offers to come watch LJ at our house so we can have a date or take him to their house for a day/night/weekend. I had no problem leaving him in their care early on (they first babysat him at 2 weeks old for 2 hours so we could attend Justin’s work Christmas party nearby) but I did take much longer to feel comfortable leaving him overnight. They first watched him overnight when he was about 8.5 months old. It went so well though – they loved it, LJ had a great time (they sent lots of pics and videos), and Justin and I got to enjoy a little getaway for my birthday (read the recap here). Once we did it once, it became much easier to continue to do and increase the length of stay. My parents just had LJ for 4 nights while I joined Justin in Chicago and it was amazing. They all had a fantastic time and Justin and I both agreed that it was so nice to have time away together to relax, explore Chicago, and just spend time together.
I will say – yes this is a “free” option for us, but we do try to be conscious of the fact that it’s not free for my parents to drive an hour or buy groceries for LJ when they keep him overnight. We try to split driving (I’ll drop him off, they pick him up) and I’ll typically send along some food for him in addition to what they have. If my parents come to watch him so we can go out to dinner, I will try to either have dinner made for them to eat or they know they can always raid our fridge/pantry if they need. We never want them to feel like we’re taking advantage of them and want them to feel appreciated for all they do!
Swap with friends
I realize that many people don’t have the option to have grandparents babysit for a variety of reasons. Justin and I also swap free babysitting with friends. We have close friends who actually live in the same neighborhood as us so it’s super convenient to drop our kids off at each other’s houses. This isn’t something we keep track of, like your-turn-my-turn, but it’s more of a “when we need each other, we’re not afraid to ask” situation. We watch their two little boys if they need us for a dinner (they’re also into intramural sports so we sometimes watch the boys if they have a game in the evening) and they watch LJ if we need a date night or have something else going on. We 100% trust them and vice versa so it works really well for us.
Split a babysitter
There was a night when both we and our “swap” friends needed a babysitter, so since we couldn’t swap with each other, we split a babysitter. It was much cheaper to pay one person to watch 3 kids together and split the cost than to find two separate babysitters. I dropped LJ off at their house and the babysitter was great with all three! Problem solved!
Mega-Swap, or the “Night of Chaos”
One of my friends had the brilliant idea to create a kind of “mega babysitting swap” amongst our group of friends. There are six families with 12 kids between us. Each couple takes one month and picks a night to host ALL the kids at their house so the other couples can have a date night. It’s a pretty hectic night for the hosting couple (hence we playfully dubbed it the “Night of Chaos”) but you only have to do it 2x each year and the other 10 months of the year you have a free babysitter and date night each month! I will say that each couple has at least one member certified in CPR/First Aid and we are all parents who handle a variety of situations, which definitely adds to our comfort level with something like this. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have trust and confidence in each couple that was part of the group. But it works really well for us and it’s a great way for Justin and I to make sure to carve out time each month to do something together!
If nothing else, take him along!
Our friends hosted a Christmas party and we didn’t have someone to watch him so we just took him along in his jammies. We set up a pack n play in their guest room, brought our sound machine and his wubbanub, darkened the room, and just put him down there at bedtime. When we left at the end of the night and got him down from upstairs, guests who showed up after we put him down said “wait, there was a baby up there!?” He didn’t disturb the party and we didn’t disturb him. We’ve done this a few times now and while it is still preferable for LJ to fall asleep at home, this option works well if we need.
I know not everyone feels comfortable with this and that’s okay. You don’t have to do it if it doesn’t work for you! I will say that the more we do it, the easier it becomes. We travel enough with LJ that he has gotten used to sleeping in places other than his crib in his bedroom and he does a good job in other environments. If we never had him sleep anywhere else, he probably wouldn’t do well with a pack n play in a guest room during a Christmas party. But because he sleeps other places often enough, now it’s super easy to put him down somewhere and have him go right to sleep! He transfers well to the car seat then and back to his crib when we go home. I would just encourage you to try it a few times and see if it works for you. The first time didn’t work flawlessly, but we kept at it and LJ got better at it (and so did we) and I’m glad we didn’t give up.
What works for you in making time for your spouse? What dates do you enjoy together?
This weekend Justin and I got to attend a formal gala for his medical school. We are so not fancy people and prefer to lounge around the house in our sweatpants (which we may or may not be doing right now as I type this . . .) but it was fun to get dressed up and have a special night out!
Before taking off to the gala, we met up with some friends to take pictures.
My handsome date and I. (Side note: I got my dress from a store called D.E.B. in the spring during prom dress season. As soon as I saw it on the rack, I knew it would be perfect for this evening!)
Aren’t my friends absolutely gorgeous!? The color-coordinating was totally unplanned by the way. Black and red seemed to be the popular colors at this event!
The event took place at a breathtakingly beautiful luxury resort. After sitting down to a delicious meal (various types of pasta, shrimp, roast turkey, vegetables, fruit, and tons of delicate macaroons and tarts for dessert!), we danced for a while and then took off to explore the resort. The rooms seemed never ending and they were all just so grand! There were luxurious bars, cozy seating areas, marble floors, huge windows, and elegant ballrooms. I felt like a princess roaming her castle. And the place was already decorated for Christmas which just made it even more stunning.
I love this picture of my friends! They got tired and sat down in these chairs in a hallway and I snapped a picture quick. How cool is the lighting? So warm and cozy!
We also hit up the casino in the basement. Justin and I are not gamblers at all, but we decided to have some fun with it and agreed to spend $20 and just see what happened.
We split it and each took $10. Justin lost everything on one bid in roulette, and I decided to try out a slot machine. I ended up winning $82! Technically I only got $62 because we spent $20 but it was so much fun!
We had a GREAT night! Now off to cozy up next to my love (in our comfy sweatpants) and watch The Voice. The gala was fun, but I can’t get enough of special time at home with my hubby–no fancy dress needed!
For today’s outfit, I wanted to keep it classic. Black is hard to mess up and I just love the texture of this jacket!