Great Cheap Date Challenge #20

Whoa! We’re up to 20 date nights completed. So far, so good! It’s been one of those weeks where I feel like I’ve been pulled in a million different directions, and I just want to be home for goodness’ sake! So, I think that we ought to plan a stay-at-home date. such as…

Henry and June

“Compose together, or take turns writing paragraphs and then folding over what you’ve written except for the last sentence, which the other person then continues until the conclusion of the tale, at which time one of you reads the whole thing aloud.”

I’m sure this will be a riot to post about on Monday.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Valentine’s Day Julie & Julia Style-part 2

I have been looking forward to writing this post all day. Thanks to all of you who called and emailed me with encouraging words about last night’s Julie and Julia Valentine’s Day dinner. That’s the great thing about blogging. You can host a dinner gathering for 10 people and a few hundred of your closest friends who are there in spirit.

Believe it or not, these were the only images I could salvage. Most of them were so dark, it looked like I hosted a Valentine’s Day dinner in a smoky bar underground. It is sad that the best camera that we have in the house is on one of our Iphones. So, I am hereby putting a new camera on my wish list. Nothing fancy. I’m not picky. However, if a Cannon EOS 7D happened to end up on my doorstep, I would not refuse it. I’m just saying…

Even if the photos had turned out picture perfectly, they could never fully capture the magic around my dinner table last night. Don’t get me wrong, the Boeuf Bourguignon was life changing (those are Clark’s words, not mine), but the celebration of love and friendship represented remains unrivaled to date. The last time I can remember enjoying an electric chemistry like that among a group of people was at my wedding if that tells you anything. Did you ever read the book Chocolat? In one of the final scenes Vianne Rocher and the townspeople of Lansquenet-sous-Tanne throw a confectioner’s soiree like nobody’s business. After reading it years ago, I was so captured by the intensity with which they celebrated, that I swore I would one day host a party like the one I imagined took place in Chocolat. Last night, I was Vianne Rocher. Ok, no one went into a diabetic coma as a result of the festivities, but you get the idea. The French music, the candlelight, the canopy of red paper chain links, the pomegranate wine, the FOOD…. good heavens the food. I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but…


I don’t remember from whom I inherited the gold silverware. I’ve never used it, but I dug it up from the back of a cupboard yesterday and not only was it a conversation piece, but it went perfectly with the whole retro them of the evening. Everyone sported the pin-on hearts made out of red felt, and you can’t imagine the suggestive material they provided for a few comedians in the bunch.

Clark’s best impression of Paul Child. He even nailed the toast…

“You are the bread to my butter and the breath to my life”. I am smitten.

Ranaye brought over some decadent party favors for everyone. Little did she know that the love poetry inside was enough to make the whole table blush. But the raspberry dark chocolate was delicious.

My red velvet cake… sans red

(it was already half-baked before I realized that I forgotten the red food coloring).

We were halfway around the table with hilarious stories of how each couple met when there it was… the big moment of the entire event…

A marriage proposal… in my house…. at my Julie & Julia-inspired Valentine’s Day dinner! To say it was the high point was an understatement. I don’t think any of us have ever witnessed a proposal up close like that before (besides our own of course). What can I say? It was magical.

This afternoon I am sitting at my dining room table relishing in our divine evening. I’ve run the dishwasher twice already and still cannot seem to dig out from under the mountain of dishes, nor can I bring myself to do much of anything else today, but I don’t care. I can’t bring myself to take down the decor, so I make leave these few momentos out for a couple of days just to let it linger a little longer.

I made myself a rosette hair clip last minute to go with my retro do, and I still can’t seem to get the red lipstick completely off! We drank a red wine very appropriately called “Cheap Date“, and I will be saving the label.

Thanks again to everyone that contributed ideas to this evening. A friend showed me this adorable Julie & Julia inspired photo shoot that I just had to share. Enjoy!


and she said “Yes”!

Congratulations Hunter and Ranaye!

Great Cheap Date Challenge #17

Every Friday I post one of 52 Great Cheap Dates by Lynn Gordon. A friend of mine gave me this little deck of cards as a stocking stuffer so long ago, and one day while I was feeling adventurous, I pulled them out and enlisted my husband for a 52 week dating challenge. Every week, we pick a new adventure to do together. Some are out on the town and others take place right at home after the kids go to bed. Some of my favorite dates don’t even involve leaving the house! They simply require the two of us and a sense of humor. We are having a blast! And I welcome you to accept the challenge right along with us. This week’s challenge is rather perfect because Sunday is Clark’s 33rd birthday.

Bake a Cake

“Have yourselves a Betty Crocker date by poring through the best-sounding dessert recipes and choosing one that you might never tackle alone. Grocery shop for the ingredients, then make your outrageous creation from scratch as the evening’s entertainment. Be sure to have doilies and glasses of milk on hand.”

I’m pretty sure Spice Cake isn’t all that outrageous, but, I do have some pretty interesting cake molds. I wonder how Clark would feel about his birthday cake being in the shape of a giant bunny?

Yes. Let’s!

Bowling with Benefits


Big Balls. Little Balls. 

Have yourself a middle-American afternoon dressed in garb appropriate for a miniature golf game, or head to a putting green and whork out your whacks there. If you hate chasing those little white balls, head to the bowling alley (you do have your own shoes and bowling ball, yes?) for a cutthroat bowling tournament for two.”

Clark and I spent all day Friday looking forward to bowling a few frames at the Epicenter’s Strike City Lanes. We were placing bets, and I must say, the stakes were getting more provocative as the day went on. We showed up psyched because regardless of who won, we knew we would both make out okay. I should have been tipped off by the bouncers freezing outside the front door. Strike City soon struck out when we discovered it cost $45 an hour per lane. Excuse me? This is supposed to be a Great CHEAP Date Challenge. So, bowling for benefits turned into Shocktops and cheese sticks at the snack bar. I wasn’t too disappointed as we exchanged perhaps the first uninterrupted conversation of the entire week. It is a wonder how 2 people can share a name, a bed, and a checking account and in 5 days time only manage to squeeze in enough dialogue to ensure the garbage made it to the curb before trash day. I’m pretty sure we looked more like a newly dating couple than a married couple with 5 years and 2 kids under our belt, since the waitress did ask us if we wanted separate checks. I’ll take that as a good sign. Cheap Date Challenge #15… Good times without the embarrassing bowling score.

Great Cheap Date #14

Wash and Dry

“Make a date to meet at your favorite laundromat to do your laundry, but pretend to be strangers. Somewhere between the sorting and borrowing detergent introduce yourselves. Perhaps between rinsing and spinning you could bravely begin to make small talk, and by the time you’re folding and leaving, see if you can’t make a date to get to know each other’s dirty laundry better.”

Did you ever see the movie Four Christmases? The scene opens with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn pretending to meet in a bar for the first time when they are really a dating couple. He’s going down in a flame of pick up lines while she completely shuts him down cold in the middle of all these people. Next thing you know, he’s put her in her place (which she finds irresistible) and they leave the bar together arm in arm to everyone else’s amazement.


I don’t know if I would have the nerve to roll play like that, but if I can muster it up, this would be the cheap date challenge to give it a try. Considering my recent Laundress post, I think this date will not only be fun, but rather necessary in our case.

Up, Up, and Away

“Drive to the airport, park in short-term parking, and stroll through the international terminals. The range of nationalities found here is impressive. People-watch and make up stories about people’s lives and the trips they are taking. Enjoy the emotional drama of sad partings, joyful reunions, and all the misbehaving tired children. Scan the latest in trash reading at the airport gift store, have yourself a snack in one of the snack bars, and head home with the comfort of knowing that you won’t be sitting on an airplane for 11 hours.”

We recently moved to Charlotte from Atlanta. In more ways than not, Charlotte is much more suited to us than Atlanta– less people, less traffic, less expensive. However, for this week’s Great Cheap Date Challenge, things may have gone rather differently if we had lived near Hartsfield-Jackson rather than Charlotte Douglas. Granted, it is the busiest airport in the country, but you can practically hang glide through the terminal its so big. Not to mention, the shops and restaurants available are endless. Kill some time over a cold beverage and a Ceasar salad at Houlihans. Or stay healthy at the Grove stand on your way to catch a flight. Want a massage? No problem. Hit up any one of the Brookstone shops and test the new uSqueeze Pro Massager. You can pretty much find whatever your heart fancies before you even reach the security check point. Perhaps we may have been a tad bit spoiled. Upon our arrival at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Saturday night, we were greeted by nothing but a lonely Starbucks and an empty Lufthansa ticket counter. We soon realized that any hope for entertainment was beyond the full body scanner to be enjoyed by ticketed passengers only. Clark muttered something about all airports smelling like cigarettes and rubber, and I made some crack about a girl wearing a strapless sun dress and flip flops. Does she know its 20 degrees outside? We realized it was only hunger talking, so we left the airport, no sooner than we had arrived, but not before we promised each other that we would one day show up at the airport ticketless and choose an exotic destination on a whim. This addition to the bucket list was well worth our brief visit. In keeping with the international theme, we headed to Deejai Thai and toasted to finally finding our stride. The airport didn’t deliver, but the chicken Tom Kha certainly did.

Did you do anything fun over the weekend?

Great Cheap Date #13

Up, Up, and Away!!

“Drive to the airport, park in short-term parking, and stroll through the international terminals. The range of nationalities found here is impressive. People-watch and make up stories about people’s lives and the trips they are taking. Enjoy the emotional drama of sad partings, joyful reunions, and all the misbehaving tired children. Scan the latest in trash reading at the airport gift store, have yourself a snack in one of the snack bars, and head home with the comfort of knowing that you won’t be sitting on an airplane for 11 hours.”

Hmm… clearly this idea would fly if we were living in pre-9/11 times. I doubt we’ll make it thru to the international terminal, but I’m actually excited to check out the security X-ray scans that have been causing so much controversy. Charlotte Douglas International Airport was one of the first to implement the full body scanner. Yeah, you could say we’re on the cutting edge. HA!

Planning anything fun this weekend?


Great Cheap Date Challenge #12

“Put on tweeds and meet at the public library at an appointed time, library cards in hand. Decide on an esoteric topic or writer whose work has always fascinated you both. With the help of the reference librarian or the computer, carry out your literary scavenger hunt and then, treasures in hand (you can fight over who will carry whose books), walk to a nearby cafe for a caffeine fix while poring over your printed finds.”

OK. We might have bent the rules a bit on this one. Regardless of your faith background or beliefs, you simply cannot call Charlotte home without paying a visit to the Billy Graham Library. The locals tell us that Christmas is the best time to go, so last night chose this spot for our Great Cheap Date Challenge #12. Every tree, bush, and building was covered in Christmas lights. We had just missed the carolers, but the living nativity scene was still aglow with a very brave Mary and Joseph posing for passerbys in 30 degree temperature and freezing rain. There was even a live camel! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a camel up close. Awkward creatures. Anyway, the real treat was a tour of Billy Graham’s boyhood home. It figures that while I’m walking through the very rooms that this legendary evangelist was taught the path of Christ, I would be most thrilled with the decor of the kitchen.

I would probably get so much more ironing done if I had one of those fold out wall units.

Anyway, on to more spiritual matters…. The height of our experience was the gallery tour of the reverend’s life and work with a special exhibit dedicated to the life of his late wife, Ruth Bell Graham. I realize it is the Billy Graham Library, but I was most impressed with what I learned about Ruth. The old footage captured both her wisdom and firm resolve. She revealed that from their very first date, which was to a performance of Handel’s Messiah, she prayed that she might be given the great honor to walk alongside the promising evangelist as his wife and partner. Ruth said that if she had only known what was in store for the couple, she never would have had the nerve to pray that prayer. I can only imagine what it would be like to be the wife of a world-renowned gospel preacher. When asked if she had ever considered divorce, she replied, “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.” I mean, here was this ambitious college girl pursuing a life’s work as a missionary to China when Billy waltzed into her life unexpectedly. She went on to raise 5 children (all of whom went on to work in Christian ministry) all while serving an evangelist who brought the gospel to closed, hostile nations and who counseled 11 U.S. presidents. And I complain about Clark playing his music too loudly. She went on to say that being a wife and a mother was one of the greatest callings in the world, and that one could find God in the most mundane tasks of life. The carvings etched into the wood above their living room fireplace simply stated “Divine service will be conducted here daily.”

This was the wedding dress that she sewed for herself. Later she trimmed the trosseau and used the material to line the bassinets of all five of her children.

Billy Graham describes his wife Ruth, as the “greatest Christian he has every known”. Needless to say, I was so inspired by what I learned of Ruth Bell Graham that I plan to collect some of her titles and read through them in the coming months. This was definitely one of my favorite dates so far, because while I was admiring this great woman who supported a man who’s life work has literally impacted millions of people, I was so challenged to become the wife that my husband needs me to be in order to fulfill what God has called him to do.

Heaven, help me!


Volunteer, My Dear?

“Although running off and joining the Peace Corps may not be practical at this time in your lives, there are other ways to spend time together while contributing to the welfare of others. Nonprofit organizations often put out a call for volunteers around major holidays, though you may want to avoid the rush and make a few calls yourself to see which cause could use a cooperative couple of volunteers.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Clark and I met playing music. We could be in a raging fight, but if we start playing music together, in a matter of minutes we can completely forget why we were on each other’s case. It is a gift really– to have a common interest that has continued to bind us since the very beginning. We were reflecting on this very fact as we prepared for this week’s Great Cheap Date Challenge #11 at Charlotte Emergency Housing— a homeless shelter for working families. This mission is unique in that it allows whole families to remain together in one shelter, rather than be divided. Center City Church sponsored this year’s Christmas party for the house, and we were the musical entertainment. We dusted off our Christmas tunes and attempted to spread some holiday cheer to 14 families who are fighting to stay together under the crushing weight of poverty and homelessness. One 4-year-old named Cameron attached himself to me early in the evening requesting song after song, to which I finally gave him the mic as we sang yet another round of Jingle Bells together. He must have asked me half a dozen times afterward, “Did I do good?” When he received his stocking filled with toys and candy, I expected him to tear into it like any other American, consumer-bred child would have. Instead, he lined up his new matchbox cars still in the packaging underneath the Christmas tree and stared at them for a long while. I dare say that I haven’t seen wonder in a child’s eyes like that before. It was a beautiful night shared with beautiful people. As we were preparing to leave, I caught sight of a framed canvas on the wall entitles, “My Name is Not ‘Those People’.” The following words stopped me dead in my tracks and humbled me right on the spot.

“My name is not ‘Those People’. I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth to the future, where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone.

My name is not ‘inadequate’. I did not make my husband leave us- he chose to, and chooses not to pay child support. Truth is though, there isn’t a job base for all fathers to support their families. While society turns its head, my children pay the price.

My name is not ‘Problem and Case to Be Managed’. I am a capable human being and citizen, not a client. The social service system can never replace the compassion and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Fathers, Cousins, Community- all the bonded people who need to be but are not present to bring children forward to their potential.

My name is not ‘Lazy Dependent Welfare Mother.” If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and community building was factored into the Gross Domestic Product, my work would have untold value. And I wonder why my middle-class sister whose husbands support them to raise their children are glorified- and they don’t get called lazy and dependent.

My name is not ‘Ignorant, Dumb, or Uneducated’. I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps. Rent is $585. That leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius of surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour.

Never mind that there is a lack of living-wage jobs. Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional, social, and economic support to a family. Never mind that parents are losing their children to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social workers, kidnapping, the streets, the predator. Forget about putting money into our schools- just build more prisions.

The wind will stop before I let my children become a statistic. Before you give into the urge to blame me, the blame that lets us go blind and unknowing into the isolation that disconnects us, take another look. Don’t go away. For I am not the problem, but the solution. And my name is not ‘Those People’.”

— By Julia Dinsmore

Great Cheap Date Challenge #11

‘Tis the season to think less of one’s self and more of others. This is the perfect time to accept this weeks Great Cheap Date Challenge, by Lynn Gordon.

Volunteer, My Dear?

“Although running off and joining the Peace Corps may not be practical at this time in your lives, there are other ways to spend time together while contributing to the welfare of others. Nonprofit organizations often put out a call for volunteers around major holidays, though you may want to avoid the rush and make a few calls yourself to see which cause could use a cooperative couple of volunteers.”

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!


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