Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Babysitting Co-op

This one is for the parents...

In need of affordable babysitting?  Create a babysitting co-op!

A babysitting co-op is a quickly growing trend and great way to save on childcare without sacrificing quality care.  A co-op is a group of parents who take turns watching each other's kids for free.  Instead of paying a babysitter, participants earn points by watching one another's children and then cash in their points when they need a sitter.

Here is how to get one started:

- Talk with other parents in your circle or neighborhood and gather willing participants.  Co-ops can range in size from 3 families to 30.  Ideally, you want enough families involved so you can get a sitter when you need one, but not so many that it losses its community feel.  Starting small gives you a chance to see what works and what doesn't.

- Designate a secretary or coordinator.  This person will handle all the calls from parents needing a sitter, sets up times and days, and keep all the information organized for the group.  Often Co-ops will trade off this role with one another monthly.

- Come up with a point system.  Some co-ops use tickets, poker chips, or play money.  Then you are credited and debited according to the hours of babysitting you do or receive.  When you are running low on points you are incented to babysit for others.

-Ultimately babysitting co-ops are based on trust.  Make sure you are in a group of people that you trust with your children and have a safe place for your children to play while you are out.

Check out THIS link for more details!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mighty Fine Date Night Success
over at Casa Cullen!

Yay!  The Love Is Here Mighty Fine Date Night Event I helped organize earlier this week was apparently a success over at Casa Cullen!  Check out Morgan's "Personal Peek" about the night her and her hubby enjoyed...she even has some great pictures too!

Check HERE for the Conversation Starters Morgan referenced and HERE for the Couples Check Up.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tried & True: Michelle & Dean
Travel the World
(without leaving town)

By Michelle B of Brain-Drops.com:
Dean and I have always loved to travel. Whether it was a spontaneous motorcycle trip to the mountains of North Carolina, spending our honeymoon camping and visiting Disney World, or going half way around the world to meet our daughter; the adventure of a new place was always exciting. 

Our last big trip was actually our move cross country. We had been living in northwest Georgia for 14 years, when the job that brought us there came to an end. It turns out the next job to be offered was at the opposite corner of the country, in Seattle Washington. With all of our belongings packed into POD's, a U haul, and the car, we headed west. Taking our time, visiting Mt Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Wall, South Dakota along the way. 

But since we've been here we haven't had the opportunity to take any trips, so I decided to plan a date around the world as our date night for the week. I originally started by getting out the world atlas and picking different countries that we would want to visit. I was then going to plan the dinner menu around those countries. But an opportunity presented itself that I couldn't pass up.

Having been married for 21 years and having an 11 year old daughter causes date nights take on a different tone these days than when we were first married and childless. This turned out to be one of those times. We made the decision to include our daughter on the first half, (since it was her school function after all) and then continue the second half just the two of us after we dropped her off at home.

Because the area we live in is a culturally diverse area, the school put on an "International Night" to highlight and educate the kids (and parents) about many of the different countries and cultures represented at the school. There were 20 different countries represented at the festival and we learned there are 31 different languages spoken by kids at the school. 

There were performances by the school choir highlighting songs from different countries, other international groups that performed dances native to their countries, different foods for sampling, and a parade of nations to cap off the evening. What a great way to learn about other countries and sample some foods we may not have otherwise had a chance to try. This gave us ideas of places we would like to go, things we would like to see, and more foods to sample (and maybe learn to prepare too).

Next stop, the bookstore. Having learned a little more about all of these different countries, it gave us more direction of the next step we would need to take and that would be the research. Fortunately we have a good bookstore close to home, so we were able to go there after the festivities and take our time browsing the travel section. Looking at maps, travel guides and history books, helped to spur the dream of world wide travel that much more. 

The great thing about this type of date night is it was free. It afforded us the opportunity to share time with our daughter, be an example of a strong marriage to her, and also gave us some time together, just the two of us, sharing and dreaming about something we both enjoy. 

Bio: Dean & I have been married 21 years. We met in 1989, dated for 3 months and married in March of 1990. We adopted our daughter in 2001. While date nights aren't as regular for us as they used to be, we do try to make an effort to still go out just the two of us once a month. This date was a little different, but as I said it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. Regardless of how long you've been married, I would say dating your spouse is key to a happy marriage. It helps to keep the communication going and reminds you to focus on the two of you for a little while. Which after so many years of marriage and kids is easy to lose sight of. http://brain-drops.com/

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Mighty Fine Date Night

Monday night was my first Date Night EVENT.  Earlier this month, I was asked to take part in a city-wide project to promote and encourage the culture of date night.  Loveishere.com and Committed.net joined together with churches across Austin, Tx to champion and encourage marriage investment.  I was very excited when I got an email asking for help to organize my church's pilot date night. Basically our main goal was to present an opportunity...something to do... for a couples date night.  Couples were instructed to arrive at Mighty Fine by 6pm and were surprised with a fully comped dinner.   Though Mighty Fine dining consists of a string of picnic tables, we made separate spaces for each couple to keep things as intimate as possible.  We placed candles and red roses at each setting and even had some conversation starters to get things going.  Overall it was a great success!  

(Austinites: contact me if you are interested to learn more about all the Date Night Events occurring throughout Austin every Monday in August.)

Conversation Starters:
The Love Talk Menu

Here are the Conversation Starters we used during our Mighty Fine Date Night.  

Here is a PDF for you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Date Idea: Boot Camp

Okay, so this may not be the most romantic date...and in many cases may not take place at night, but it just might be a great way to connect with your mate.  I say so from experience.  Ramy and I are in the middle of [a 3x a week for 6 weeks] boot camp.  And though it is tough, our mutual support and encouragement get us through it.  Better yet, after you get over the initial shook of boot camp, it feels really great to start exercising regularly again.  If you aren't up for boot camp or need childcare, hit up the gym together instead.   Many gyms offer free childcare to their members and have plenty of classes you can take together.  Either way, set a goal and chase after it together.  Then after your goal is met, take that beach body out for a real deal date with your mate!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tried & True: Dominique & Dustin
His & Her Dates

Dustin & Dominique are the cutest couple.  They have been married for a year & a half now and the honeymoon phase they are STILL in is infectious.  This last weekend they were both telling me about how they have been investing time and energy in planning each date and taking turns as the planner.  I asked them to send me an email with the details of both dates they each recently planned.  I got the email in my inbox and love how Dominique gives tons of detail and Dustin's plan is simply stated.  Very apropos accounts of his & her date nights, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stuck in a Date Night Rut?

Some of the best advice I ever received was from my good friend Jenny.  After complaining for probably way too long about being in a rut, tripping in a hole stuck, she said, "Why don't you do the opposite for the week?"  When I asked her what she meant, she explained that if I normally wake up late in the morning to instead for one week wake up with the sun, if I would normally stay in and watch TV on a Thursday night, instead go out to dinner, if I am always punctual, try being a few minutes late.  And at the end of one week, I will have gained a different perspective through these diverse experiences.  I would then have the knowledge to make a better choice about what I want.  And you know what, it worked.

(On somewhat of a side note, this opposite week experiment in my life occurred the same week that I met my husband Ramy... long story short, I was asked to pick up a lunch shift at the restaurant I worked at which I normally would not do... but it was opposite week so I did.  Low and behold Ramy came to lunch that day and the rest is history)

Anyway, all this to say that this concept can be applied to date night too.  If you and your mate are in a date night rut, take a month (or 4 date nights) and do the opposite.  If you normally hang out on the couch watching Netflix, then take that movie date to a theater, if you normally go to the same restaurant, agree to have dinner somewhere you've never been before, if you always stay within a 2 mile radius of your house, venture out across the railroad tracks, if you normally go out dressed up try dressing down (or vice versa.)  This list could go on and on, but you get the point.  You may not love all the results, but sometimes learning what you don't like is just as valuable as learning what you do like.  At the end of your 4 week date night experiment, not only will you have 4 new adventures under your belt, you will have gained perspective on what date night could be.  And who knows, it could change your life forever too.  

Disclaimer: I should also note that opposite dates should work towards the positive...I am not advocating anything that involves breaking the law, or doing something that makes your partner uncomfortable!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Best date night movie in theaters now?

And the winner is.... Bridesmaids.  
Though it has a name that might infer this is only a chick flick, I have heard that is geared to entertain both men and women alike.  I can't wait to see it!  Maybe for the next date night I get to plan. 

Take a vote and let us know what movie you would recommend 
for date night or which movie you want to see this week! 
If you have another recommendation, tell us
 about it in the comment section below!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Date Night Idea: Happy Hour

clock available at Restoration Hardware

I like the idea of an hour that has intentions to make me happy.  And so why not pair it up with Date Night.  There are so many great perks:  Get out of the house earlier, a light fare of inexpensive food & drinks, sparkling conversation, and for you married folk a chance to get home and roll around in the hay without worrying about losing too much sleep over it.  Just make sure you have a safe ride home!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Way Back When

  This is the very first picture Ramy and I ever took together.  It wasn't on our first date but it was certainly during one of our first date nights.  I just came across it and thought I would share.  

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tried & True: Whittney & Craig
On Married Life after Baby

I have heard many call 2011 "The Year of the Baby" and rightfully so.  It seems that every where I look there is a a stroller with a newborn crossing my path or another celebrity pregnant .  It also might just be my impression since I recently had a new bundle of joy earlier this year... As did my sister.  
My sweet sister, Whittney, became a new mother just one month ago.  There is something really neat about watching her in this transition. Not only is she a great mama, but she also holds true to her title as great wife.  Yesterday afternoon I got a chance to chat with her and asked if she would share a little about how she keeps her marriage going strong after the new baby.

Here is what she had to say:

Life after the baby is certainly different.  There is not as much US time anymore.  Craig and I can't just stop and do whatever we want, like drop everything and go out to dinner just because I don't want to cook.  We also used to do our household chores together, like doing the dishes after dinner.  But now, I would much rather do it on my own, so he can go keep an eye on the baby.  (I don't know what it is, but I still can't rest easy if the baby is out of our sight.)
A couple weeks after having our little guy, I decided it would be a good idea to start getting him on a schedule, esp at night so I can get a little more sleep. At 8 o'clock I would begin; I'd feed him, bathe him, dress him, read to him, and finally put him down to sleep.  Then I would be exhausted from the full day of activity and middle of the night feedings, and I would zonk out too, thus leaving very little time for Craig and me to connect.  I could tell after a few days that this wasn't going to work.  Not having connection time was going to wear on us.  

I decided that I needed to be intentional about making some time for us to hang out.  So I moved the baby's routine up earlier.  That way I could put the baby to sleep, and we still had a moment to be together.  The first night I did this Craig made a comment, something like, "Nice, now we get to spend some time together!"  I felt kinda bad, like maybe I had been ignoring him.  

Now, after we put the baby to bed, we make dinner together.  He barbecues while I make the sides, and then we sit down together and talk.  He asks about my day, I ask about his.  I tell him about the baby and he fills me on how work went.  We talk about our future plans and stuff we want to do.  Then we will just relax.  Sometimes we will turn on the tv and see what's on prime time.  Though we are zoning out on television, its nice to just hold hands and know he is right there.    

Even though having a baby can be sometimes stressful and exhausting, it has certainly brought us closer.  I love watching him with the baby and seeing that we created something so beautiful together.  It's also cool watching Craig cus I think he never thought he would have this in his life.  Before me and the baby, he was set in his ways.  He was happy the way things were.  But once we started dating it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.  And so it's cool to watch how he has grown and fallen in love with this new life.  
When asked what advice I have for new parents, I say make sure you find ways to stay connected: have dinner together, write a post-it on the fridge with a sweet message, hold hands.  Oh, and don't be afraid to ask for help.  I tend to be very independent... I have the "I can do this myself" mentality, but it can become exhausting especially with a new baby in the house.  I have learned that it is great bonding time when he helps me with the baby or whatever I am working on.  

The next step?  Well, Craig just asked, "When can we get babysitter and go out for dinner... just the two of us?" 

Um, soon, maybe....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Group Date Idea: Photo Scavenger Hunt

This is one of my favorite group activities.  You get to hang out with friends, run around town, and then end up with a whole bunch of silly photos and great memories.  Schedule a night to hang out with a big group of friends.  Make sure there are enough cameras for each team!  See below for scavenger hunt rules and photo list. What are some more scavenger hunt photo list ideas you have?

Scavenger Hunt Rules (To Print this click HERE)
The object of the game is to take as many pictures on the list as you can within an hour and a half.  Players will be 
put into teams of appx 4 people. The first team with the most points wins! Teams may not split up to take pictures 
faster) Players must obey all laws at all times, especially speed limits and traffic laws while driving.  Please be 
mindful of safety.  If a  team is discovered to be playing unfairly/ not by the rules, they will be disqualified.  A 
picture of “all team members” imust be taken by someone who is not a team member. Only one picture per item 
will be counted. All team members must stay together at all times. A late team will be docked 5 points per minute 
past the deadline. +2 points for every picture you are in height order (only with “all team” shots). All photos 
become the sole property of the organizer and may be posted on the internet  
_____ 1. A team member in a boat  (15 pts), all team members in a boat (20 pts), all team  
              members in a boat with life jackets on (25 pts),  

_____ 2. All team members with a police officer (10pts),  A team members in the backseat of a patrol car (20 pts)  

_____ 3. A team member with a horse (5 pts), a team member riding a horse (20 pts)  
_____ 4. A team member at least 10 feet off the ground in a tree (5 pts)  
_____ 5. A car or truck older than 1950 (10 pts), a convertible car older than 1950 (15 pts)  

_____ 6. All team members on a firetruck (30 pts)  

_____ 7. A guy playing a guitar on a street corner (5 pts) A team member singing a song        
              with a guy playing a guitar on a street corner (10 pts)  

_____ 8. All team members on a stage (10 pts)  

_____ 9. All team members wearing funny hats (10 pts)  

_____ 10. A team member riding a bike (10 pts)  
_____ 11. Your team sharing a soda at the same time (everyone with their own straw) (10 pts) 

_____ 12. A team member with a nonteam member that look alike (20 pts)  
_____ 13. A team member in a freezer case (ie at grocery store, liquor store, etc) (10 pts) 

_____ 14. A team member and a person wearing a uniform (5 pts) All team members with a     
                person wearing a uniform.  

_____ 15. One team member pumping a non team-member’s gas while another team member cleans the  
                same cars windows. (10 pts) 

_____ 16. A team member walking someone’s dog (10 pts) 

_____ 17. A team member eating at a hot dog stand/taco truck/food cart. (10 pts) 

_____ 18. 2 Team members mummified in toilet paper (no body part showing) & holding hands. (10 pts) 

_____ 19. A team member in the front store display window (10 pts) All team members in 
                the front store display window. (15 pts) 

_____ 20. A team member on playground equipment. (5 pts) 

_____ 21.  A team member with a statue that is taller than them (15 pts) 

_____ 22. All team members bare feet in a circle (5 pts) 

_____ 23. All team members in a doghouse. (20 pts)  

_____ 24. All team members walking thru an automated car wash (20 pts) 

_____ 25. Entire Team jumping in the air (must be off ground) (5 pts) 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

artofDATENIGHT.com is official

It's official!  Now there are two ways to get here: 
artofdatenight.com & d8-nite.blogspot.com.  Both work!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Face Time

No, I am not talking about Apple's Video Chat software. 
Rather, I am referring to my term for daily quality time.  

Give yourselves a chance to get on the same page with each other daily; Make sure you and your mate get in front of each other (sans the television, the kids, the phone, the anything else) and talk about what you are up to...I have found that just 15 minutes of this once a day makes all the difference.  

photo: courtesy of Rachel & Phillip Rogers (thanks guys!)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sometimes Date Night Sucks

No matter how hard you try (or don't try for that matter) date night can fall flat.  Plans fail, attitudes arise, communication break downs occur, expectations deflate and it just sucks!

A couple weeks ago (yep that would be after I started writing on how to have a great date night) Ramy and I had one of the worse date nights in quite awhile.  Ramy's plans for our night didn't pan out, there was a miscommunication with our sitter, so she didn't arrive until well after 8pm, and we were both tired and cranky from our busy day.  We were okay to rise above all of this as we walked out the door.  We were just going to jump in the car and enjoy some time outside of the house.  But we weren't even a mile away from the house when I said something with the intentions of being funny and it was misunderstood.  When he questioned why I was being like that, I got defensive then he got defensive, then we both shut down.  The rest of the night was a wash.

I hate when this happens!  I sat there going through ways I could reverse what just happened but irritation kept bubbling up and my attitude shifted from wanting to find a solution to focusing on the problem again.  It was hard not to conclude that Date Night was useless or a waste of time.  But I know better.

Date night is dependent on people, and people are not perfect in anything we do.  The hope is that you can get it right the majority of the time.  And sometimes it just takes practice to get there.  It's important to start the night off by choosing to have a good attitude.  Remember that things will arise to make the night imperfect, but your outlook will help you get through it. (I learned this best through Karin and Brandon's date they shared last week.)  I also have learned to choose my battles.  Sometimes it just isn't worth it nit picking everything that bothers me.  Especially on date night, I try my best to let the little things just roll off me. We also have made a rule to not discuss "hot topics" on our date.  For instance, don't have a budget meeting during date night dinner...it never ends well!  And if in the end the night still sucks, make sure that you dust yourself off and try, try again next week!

What's your solution for getting through a crappy date night?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tried & True: Jamie & Corey
The All About Him Date

By Jamie S.
I can't wait to share about Corey and my date, but before I do I have to give you a tiny bit of background.  About a month or so ago, my husband went out of town, which doesn't happen very often... and well, I missed him.  This started me down the trail of what I like to call relationship inventory.  You know, what areas do we have plenty in stock and what areas are we low on.  Date night was the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about the low department.  We had gotten into a rut.  There was nothing new or different happening, and it was all getting kind of boring.  So I prayed and asked God to help give me some inspiration.  Seriously, later that same day I got an e-mail from Tiff asking me to check out her date night blog.  How cool is that!  

So inspired by what I'd been reading here, I came up with the idea to do an all about him date.  I decided I could plan a surprise date that was a night of doing things that I know my hubby enjoys.  My first step once I decided what kind of date we would have was to listen.  By simply listening to Corey, I found out all I needed to about what he would want to do.  It was awesome!  Without even knowing it, he was helping me plan our date around him.  

So last Saturday, the day was finally here.  I had everything planned out, and he had no idea.  When Corey got home from our son's soccer game, I asked him if he would please go get the mail for me.  he looked at me funny and questioned me about why because I am never worried about the mail, but I told him, "Just do it!" and he did.  I had slipped an invitation to our special date in the mailbox.  When he opened it, he was totally surprised.  Again, the best part was he had no idea.  

Once we got the kids off to their overnight destinations (which was Corey's favorite part), we got cleaned up and were off to an evening all about him.  We went to see the movie that Corey had been telling me he wanted to see (Hanna) which he enjoyed.  I personally found it to be slightly disturbing, but it wasn't about me.  Then we picked up dinner at a new Italian market that had just opened near us.  Corey had been telling me how much he wanted to try it.  We got it to go, brought it home, and moved into the next phase of our date which was what I knew Corey wanted the most: an uninterrupted night alone with me.  Much of this part of our date is private ;) But what I can say is we laughed, talked, ate our wonderful Italian food, and enjoyed ourselves very much.  It was all about him that night, but I have to say it was one of the most fulfilling dates we have had in a long time.  I loved it!  I guess that just goes to show it truly is better to give than receive.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Date Night Idea: Go on a Picnic

(We choose our favorite picnic spot at Calabasas Lake for our engagement photo location)

The key to a great picnic is keeping it simple while being prepared.

The Picnic essentials list:
Picnic Basket
Utensils (don't forget a knife!)
Cups or wine glasses
Corkscrew/Bottle Opener
Music - make sure you have a great playlist on your ipod (I like the Ameli soundtrack for Picnics)
Game - Bring a kite or frisbee or even travel scrabble for entertainment
Garbage Bag

The Menu:
Cheese: Get a few different Blue Cheeses to sample and compare
Fresh Bread: I like fresh bread with cheese, plus a baguette makes my picnic basket look complete
Fruit: Bring raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, or grapes
Sandwiches: I like BLTs - In order to ensure the bread isn't soggy, pack the ingredients separately and then assemble them on the picnic
Water: Sparkling water steps it up a notch 
Wine: I like a crisp pinot grigio for a picnic
Dessert: Stop at a bakery and get a couple different pastries to try.

Where is your favorite picnic destination?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother's Day Gift Idea:
Take your Mom on a Date

I think quality time makes some of the best gifts.  Maybe it's just because my mom lives so far away, I am being more nostalgic right now.   Or perhaps because my little guys are growing leaps and bounds in front of my eyes, I want to cherish all the time that I have with them.  Either way, I think the concept of date night can be applied beyond our significant other (spouses, fiances, boyfriends and girlfriends) and can be adapted to our extended family.  I know that if my mom and I lived in the same city, I would love to steal some time away with her to show her how much I love her.  And when my boys get older, I think it would be so sweet for them to take me on a date as well.  If you are trying to come up with an idea for a mother's day gift, I urge you to consider the gift of time.