- Easy dinners – I love making fresh, healthy meals. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that a homemade meal–even if it’s quick and easy–is much healthier than ordering pizza every night. I try to follow the rule that I can only make one “complex” dish per night. For example, if we’re having burgers (easy), I can make frozen green beans (easy) and couscous and black bean salad (more time consuming).
- Pizza once a week – I’m going to budget to order pizza once a week. We have church plans on two weeknights, and I tutor after school one of those days. I don’t have time to cook and clean up afterwards. In the past, I would have cooked at home anyways and been depressed about how messy my kitchen was for 80% of the week. No more! Besides, I am very popular around here when I order pizza.
- Date Night – We used to cram date night into a week night, and then I’d want to eat out again on Friday because I was so exhausted after a long work week. We’ve moved date night to Friday night, and now I have something to look forward to all week!
- Delegating – With pizza night and date night out of the way, I’ll only cook on three week nights. We’ve made an arrangement that Dexter and Luke (our renter) will each do all the dishes once a week, so I’ll only do dishes one night a week! Luke and our future second renter will also clean the upstairs bathroom–so all I have to clean is a half bath.
- Decluttering – We’ve worked hard this summer to get rid of a lot of stuff. We’ve even give away the now-empty plastic totes we stored our junk in so we’re not tempted to re-fill the empty spaces. Having fewer possessions means I have fewer responsibilities. We’re not finished yet, but I can already feel the weight lifted from my shoulders!
- Waking up on time – Even though we’re almost 26 and have been married for 5 years, Dexter and I are awful about waking up on time. No amount of morning misery has been able to convince us to just get out of bed when the alarm goes off. We’ve instituted an extrinsic reward system to pry us off our buns in the morning: our Friday night date budget hinges on our waking up on time. For every week day we wake up at the designated time, $5 goes in the date night fund. Needless to say, I had a very productive morning today!
- Prep the night before – I am notorious for saying, “I’ll do it in the morning.” This is a dangerous thing for a person who can’t wake up to say. (See #6) From now on, I’m making lunches, getting my bag ready, and even picking out my clothes the night before. No more stressful mornings for me!
- Family calendar – Dexter and I will have two friends renting rooms in our house this fall. With four adults sharing our home, and three adults eating together, it’s important to know who is going to be where, when. Instead of making an ever-effective “mental note,” we got a big family calendar with plenty of room to write. I think I use it the most, and even if no one else touches it all year, it’s taking away my burden to remember everything all the time.
- Saying no – I’m trying to realize that there are some things I won’t be able to do as much as I’d like, and some things I won’t be able to do at all. I haven’t run for a couple of weeks because of school activities (and I didn’t run for a couple of weeks before that). I’d like to keep running, but it may not be four times a week like it was in the past. And I’m deciding to be okay with that.
- Having ONE priority – We often talk about our “priorities,” but only one priority can be at the top of the list. I’m making an extra effort to keep my relationship with God at the top of my list at the expense of a clean house, of time to run, and of time to blog.
My least favorite question on date night is this: So, what do you want to do tonight?
My answer? I definitely do not want to waste time figuring out what to do.
Here are some of our favorite go-to ideas for when we don’t know what to do.
1. Homemade hot drinks. For five months before Dexter and I “started dating,” we went out on “non-dates” at coffee shops. We drank mochas and talked and talked and talked. Actually, Dexter talked and talked. I talked and listened. Luckily, I like to listen. We still love coffee shops, but have started having coffee-shop-inspired dates at home more often.
2. Watch a movie. I know it seems like a cop out, but I’m not a huge movie person. Movies at the theatre are so expensive, and at home I’d rather multi-task by doing the budget or folding socks while watching a movie. (I do better with sitcom-length shows.) However, my husband LOVES movies. To him, snuggling on the couch while watching a movie is heaven on Earth. Going to a movie at the theatre is even better. For years, I thought I needed to come up with something better, but I have finally realized that watching a movie blesses my husband more than a spotless house and a four-course meal.
3. Live music. In October, a British stranger Dexter met at work offered to put him on the guest list for the Los Campesinos–the band he worked for. We spontaneously stayed out late for a Wednesday night date, and had a lot of fun! We didn’t come away any more virtuous because of the lyrics, but the sound was good and British accents make everything better! We also got to see The Envy Corps for the first time–something that has been on Dexter’s wishlist for a long time. We’re lucky to live in a city with some great venues and live music for free all summer long, so this is an easy date for us to find. (Although, we’ve planned on going to several events but stayed home because we were so tired. We’re kinda lame.)
4. Take a class. Our local health food store offers cooking classes for about $15/person. They usually involve food that you get to eat, so it might even do double-duty as dinner out. Homemade pizza, homemade sushi rolls, and bacon are all themes that have caught my eye.
5. Make dinner or dessert. It’s amazing how a clean kitchen can stay clean when there are two grown-ups cooking together. We have a blast trying out new ingredients like spaghetti squash and brussels sprouts together in the kitchen! My advice is to keep whatever you’re making simple so you can still talk and avoid getting cranky about the details of meal preparation.
6. Photography. You don’t have to have a fancy camera to take interesting pictures. We followed our dogs around with a camera back in the day when 4.5 megapixels was impressive for an affordable camera. By the time we have kids, we’ll be photography pros! You could even start a photoblog to document your photo dates.7. Painting. Even if you’re not a painter, painting can be cathartic. Buy some canvases and paints when they’re on sale at the craft store. Look for colors that complement your home’s color scheme so you’ll end up with some affordable wall art. You don’t have to do still-life or anything complicated. Work together to use masking tape or stencils to make a simple, geometric painting. Or try something abstract. If you buy a small can of primer, you can always let an ugly painting dry and paint over it for a brand new start.
8. Take a walk. I’m still convincing Dexter that this one is a good idea–to give him credit, he does stand for 3-9 hours each day as part of his job. We always have good conversations when we go on walks, and I always come home feeling loved and encouraged.
10. Window shop. We need to leave the debit card and cash envelopes at home to keep this date economical. We have fun walking around Target, antique stores, or craft shows, pointing out home decor we like and discussing whether we could make something similar ourselves.
Do you ever intend to have a real date on a Friday night, but end up eating frozen pizza and watching a movie because you’re so tired? That’s how a lot of Friday nights go around here. We decided to make last Friday night a serious date night. Not serious as in “let’s talk,” but serious as in serious awesomeness.
Every Friday, I ask my students what their plans for the weekend are because it’s good conversation practice and because I’m a little nosy. There are a few girls in each class who always ask about my weekend plans. They were thrilled when I told them I was going on a date. One asked, “With who?” and “Are you going to wear a dress?”
When I got home from work, I was sure the night was going to go horribly. (Do you ever do that thing where you have time to spend together but you’re not on the same page and you just end up being cranky at each other? Please tell me we’re not the only ones.) I was starving, so I was a little irritable. Dexter seemed a little antsy to get going, but we couldn’t decide on a restaurant. Plus, I wanted to shower and shear my legs (I feel like “shave” doesn’t get the real meaning across…it’s winter) and wash my greasy, limp hair. I had a snack and went upstairs to get ready.
Whenever my hair is wet, I get really cold. And whenever I’m really cold, all I want to do is cuddle up in bed. So, after I showered, I hopped into bed…just to warm up. Dexter loves a good nap, so pretty soon he was in bed, too. We slept till 6:30 and woke up really groggy. We almost just ordered pizza and sat around in pajamas, but I knew I’d be disappointed if we did.
I finished getting ready, wore an outfit complete with kitten heels, and we headed out to the Motley Cow. We went there for the first time during winter break and fell in love with the restaurant. We got there at 7:15, but there was a 30-40 minute wait. We put our names in and headed to a coffee shop next door for some hot cider. The 30 minutes passed quickly, and we were soon seated at the Motley Cow.
We ordered white ale fondue with beet chips and a radish for dipping. We split a different (cold, bubbly) kind of cider. Dexter had squash soup, and I had a salad with some amazing buttermilk cumin dressing that I need to know how to make. My main course was fried polenta with eggplant, ricotta cheese, smoked paprika, and arugula. I discovered that I really like arugula, and it was the best eggplant I’ve ever had, although I wasn’t crazy about the polenta.
For his main course, Dexter had a really interesting pork lasagna. The pork came from Pavelka’s Point in Mount Vernon. Instead of being a baked lasagna, this was a pasta dish that was made with lasagna noodles. There were two lasagna noodles, pork in a delicious sauce, and some sort of celery root puree on the bottom. Brian Regan has a sketch where he says that if he ever went to a charity dinner that cost a thousand dollars a plate, he’d feel compelled to send his food back on principle, saying it wasn’t up to par for a thousand dollar price tag. He goes on to describe how a meal that expensive should make you want to hoot and holler after every bite. Dexter told me that’s the experience he had with his dish, and I believe him. He was looking at it wide-eyed and seemed a little bewildered after each bite. He said it was the best thing he’d ever eaten at a restaurant.
Although our food took a long time to get to the table (apparently a really big party ordered right before we did), we didn’t mind waiting. We had a good time relaxing and talking and didn’t feel rushed.
Then, we went home, built a fire, read, and watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And no, that’s not a euphemism for anything.
I don’t know what the key was to the date being so good. The nap? The magic of smooth legs? Local food? My best friend? Choosing to have a good attitude? Whatever it was, I want it to happen again next Friday!
We brought our old camera to the restaurant, hoping to get pictures of the food. It apparently developed an inability to use memory cards in its disuse, so we couldn’t take any. Serves me right for wanting to make you settle for 3mp photos when you could have had 18. Oh well. I guess that means we have to go there again so you can see pictures, right? It just goes to show that we should treat ourselves to iPhones when we get out of debt.