The Date That Almost Wasn’t

A word to all couples without kids…go on dates…go on lots of  dates.  When you have a child, somehow the weekly date night will disappear if you’re not careful.  This winter and early spring, Matt and I were not careful.  We realized last week that we had not gone on a date since sometime in January!  We let lots of different things get in the way.  Plus, we really like doing things with Ryman.  We weren’t opposed to having some time alone, but we just didn’t make it a priority.

We finally had enough.  On Friday, I called my mom, apologized for the short notice, and asked if Ryman could spend some time with her Mimi and Papa Saturday.  Thankfully, they didn’t have any plans, so we were all set.  Then, we just had to decide what to do.  Our typical date would be dinner somewhere.  Carabba’s was the usual, where we would briefly discuss ordering something new, but inevitably we would both order Spiedino di Mare.  (If you’ve never eaten it before, and don’t have a seafood allergy, drop what you’re doing.  Go now.  You will thank me.)  Then we would end up at a movie, and even though we had just eaten an incredible meal, seriously over-priced popcorn was always a must.

Saturday night, we were at a loss for how to do a date without going out to eat.  I know that sounds lame,  but somehow we couldn’t figure out a good way to work dinner into the equation.

Do we want to eat before we leave to take Ryman to my parents?  No, that’s way too early.

Do we want to come back home after we drop Ryman off at my parents?  No, that amount of driving back and forth doesn’t make sense.

Do we just bring food to my parent’s house and eat there?  No, that’s strange.

Do we eat in the car after we drop her off?  No, that’s not very date-like.

Mind you, we still didn’t have any plans for what to do after dinner.  No movies sounded interesting, and we weren’t feeling very creative.  We just couldn’t get past the dinner issue.  So, I called my mom to tell her we were going to forget about it for tonight, and reschedule when we had a better plan.  Thankfully, she didn’t answer.  When she called back, Matt answered the phone, and my mom asked if we had figured out what we wanted to do for our date.  He only said, “No.”  He didn’t cancel yet.  Then, she gave him the perfect solution!

When he got off the phone, he told me that we were leaving as soon as I could get ready.  He kept my mom’s suggestion a surprise.  After we dropped Ryman off at their house, he told me the plan.  We were on our way to Arrington Vineyards!

Kix Brooks' second career.

Each weekend, Arrington hosts Music In The Vines.  It is an opportunity to bring a picnic, sit out on their lawn, and listen to great music all evening.

Our spot by the grapes.

While I was getting ready, Matt made salads and sandwiches for us and packed it all in our picnic basket.  When we got the basket as a wedding gift almost seven years ago, I loved it, but had totally forgotten about it because we just didn’t ever use it.

The forgotten picnic basket.

We had a wonderful evening eating, drinking some great wine, and swinging on one of the many porch swings hanging from the trees around the lawn.  We watched the sun go down, and enjoyed spending uninterrupted time with each other.


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There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame!

We’re back!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Our family has just survived musical season (this year we did the Rogers and Hammerstein classic South Pacific) and the week or two that it takes to recover from it.

During production week for the musical I spend more hours at the school than I do all year, but I would be content to stay even longer than I do.

I am a teacher, but my job is unique.  I teach high school choir.  Many teachers do not get to see the results of their work aside from grading homework and tests.  Even then, you don’t always know for sure if they “got it.”

When it’s performance time, I get to see if they “got it.”  I get to watch 60 kids pour their heart and soul out on the stage using the skills I taught them this semester.

All semester, the theatre teacher, the fabulous Melody Allen, and I have worked, stressed, obsessed, prayed, and fretted over teaching our students how to be excellent actors and singers.  We have pushed them, prodded them, and sometimes provoked them to go the extra mile to live up to their full potential.  We get frustrated, we get angry, we see them try things and fail.  We wonder why we ever decided to do this to ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be easier to just teach math?  Your emotions don’t have to get wrapped up in equations.  (Ok, maybe they do for my friends in the math hall.  I just don’t see it.)

About three weeks before any performance I experience the most doubt about the show.  Every year, I just know that they’re never going to get it right.  Then I get to pitch a big fit about their work ethic.

How many of you actually practiced at home this week?!  (Very few hands raise.)  That’s what I thought!  It’s obvious you have not been practicing at home!  Do you care about your show?  I’m not the one that’s going to be on stage…it’s going to be you.  Is THIS what you want to look like?  Is THIS what you want to sound like?  

One of the little perks of being a teacher of the arts is that, for some reason, you get a free pass to pitch the occasional fit.  These fits of rage become legendary.  Seniors have learned to sit there and take it and then push the underclassmen to pull it together.  Freshmen are horrified, but come back after the show is over and thank you for getting mad because they know they really weren’t performing to their potential.  My family loves to compare war stories about infamous choir directors who have stormed out of rehearsals, thrown shoes, and singled out people for making the same mistake over and over.  (One disclaimer:  my wonderful choir director from college…the shoe thrower…taught us that you don’t have the right to throw a shoe unless you have an even bigger positive reaction when they get it right.  These fits aren’t to hurt them, but to make them realize that after months of working on the same music or scenes, there is still work to do.)

And then…it’s production week.

The makeup goes on.

They're ready to perform.

The frustration is gone.  The anxiety is gone.  Our work is done.  It’s up to them.  We get to see the same students who couldn’t get their lyrics right or their entrances on time rise above themselves and become a family of seasoned performers.  There’s nothing quite like live theatre.  Anything can and does happen, but they, people who may not otherwise be associated, take it all in stride.  They face the challenges together, lift up each other, and cry like babies when it’s all over.

I love my job!

Oh yeah…I almost forgot…this blog is about not going out to eat.  Since I got to school all week at 7:45am and didn’t leave until 11:00pm most of the week, it would have been so easy to go and pick up fast food between school and performance.


crock pot


over and over

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Eating In At Seminary

My biggest concern when we agreed to not go out to eat for a year was what Matt would do on seminary weekends.  He is attending Asbury Theological Seminary, and does most of his classwork online.  He does have to go to the campus one weekend per month to do intensive coursework.  His schedule is packed, and I thought eating in would be impossible.  In fact, we decided to start this challenge later than we had planned in order to avoid one of these seminary weekends.

When he goes, he leaves at 3:30am Friday morning, and has a 3 1/2 hour drive to Kentucky.  He sits in class from 8:00am-5:00pm, and then goes back to the dorm to work on homework for the other classes he is taking.  Class on Saturday lasts from 8am-12pm.  He gets back in the car and drives home another 3 1/2 hours.  Usually, there is something going on Saturday afternoon or evening that we have to do, so he is totally wasted by Saturday night.

I, being the obsessive compulsive planner that I am, spent a lot of time trying to decide how we were going to do one of these weekends.  Do I buy a cooler and prepare meals ahead of time that could keep without a refrigerator?  Does he only eat peanut butter sandwiches for five meals?  I even told him at one point to make sure to stay somewhere where they had a kitchen, and he could cook meals for himself (like he’s not busy enough…see above paragraph).  How nice of me.  We briefly entertained the idea of giving him a pass for seminary weekends, but we didn’t want to give in since we have been doing so well.

Our solution turned out to be much more simple than anything I agonized over.  Thank goodness for already prepared food at grocery stores.  Duh…  He loves Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts, so that takes care of breakfast.  During the break for lunch, he went to Wal-Mart and got a few things from their deli, and a salad for dinner.  Now before you get all legalistic and say that this is cheating, keep in mind that we decided to not spend money eating in restaurants.  I consider him picking up a salad from the deli the same as buying a Lean Cuisine.  On his drive home, instead of driving through somewhere, he usually gets through lunchtime with Combos, and eats something real when he gets home.

I’m so proud of the work he is doing and how he manages all he has to do in order to be successful in Seminary.  I’m so blessed that he also cares so much about our goals as a family even when he is taking on so much in his own life.

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Still on Track!

It’s been a while since my last post.  We have had some major family events in the last two weeks.  I am just now feeling like I have recovered from them.  I’ll tell you about the first event today, and the second event in my next post.  Both were highly emotional in very different ways, and each offered its own unique challenges to eating in.

In my last post, I showed you how we were able to fly during dinner and still eat in.  We flew to Florida for my grandfather’s funeral.  We spent a week there having the funeral and getting his house ready for sale.  We had a wonderful time, despite the circumstances, spending time with family, reminiscing, and doing some relaxing.  Eating in while we were out-of-town was surprisingly easy.  Our first day there, we took a trip to the store, and bought food for the week.  We spent a little time at the beach on a few of the days, and packed a lunch to bring with us.  Matt thought it would be fun to feed the birds, and I was able to get some fun shots of them all diving for the pieces of crust.


We ate sandwiches...Ryman ate sand.




Bird announcing that food was near.




Diving for the crumbs!



The evening after the funeral, my mom said that grandpa wanted to take us all out to dinner.  Since we would not be spending any money, we knew we had to respect his wishes and go out to eat.  We went to Sharkey’s on the Pier, a place where my grandpa had taken us when we would visit.  We would go to the pier and fish, and would sometimes get to go to Sharkey’s to eat.  Matt was excited because he always loves getting “real” seafood when we’re in Florida.  He got a boatload of shrimp, and I got shrimp and grouper.  It was amazing.  You really can’t compare anything we get here in Nashville to what they have in the Gulf.  Since grandpa was paying, and we knew this was a rare opportunity, we ended the night with the best key lime pie we had ever eaten!

When we arrived back in Nashville last Saturday, we dropped our bags, and immediately drove to Murfreesboro to see the Lake County basketball team win their State Championship game!  I was reluctant to go since we had just stepped off a plane, but I’m so glad we did!  The game was amazing, and we got to see a lot of people from Matt’s hometown.  Their coach is the first female to coach a boy’s team and win the State Championship.  This was also her first year at Lake County High School.

We had a good, but exhausting week, and we stayed on track always eating in!

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Eating In Jet Setter Style

Up until a few days ago, avoiding restaurants had been easy.  I committed to cooking every night with the help of E-Mealz, and we made lunches to bring to work every day.  Busy weekend days, when we would have normally gone out to eat, were slightly altered with meals at home.  We hadn’t encountered anything too complicated.

On Sunday, we faced our biggest challenge yet, and conquered it mightily!  (If I do say so myself.)  We flew at dinner-time, with a 13 month old, and still ate in!  Our flight to Tampa left at 6:20pm.  We knew we would be getting to the airport around 4:20pm, and not arriving to our final destination until close to 11:00pm.  Eating dinner before or after the flight was not an option.  Normally, if we were eating at the airport, we would probably get something from one of the fast food options.  Instead, I packed orange slices, strawberry feta salad, and peppercorn turkey sandwiches on sourdough.  Here’s what it looked like.

I wanted to make sure our meal would be good enough that we wouldn’t even want the options at the airport.  I stepped up the sandwich a few notches from our normal lunch meat on double-fiber bread.  We bought “real” deli meat that was sliced at the deli counter.  I also bought some “special bread.”  Wal-Mart actually has some nice specialty bread in their bakery section.  We went for the sourdough loaf.  For another special touch, I packed them in parchment paper as if my kitchen were a real deli; I like to pretend.  The other part of our dinner was an attempt to clean out the refrigerator before going out-of-town.  We had some lettuce and strawberries that needed to go, so they made the salad.  Oranges almost always make it into any packed meal I make, and I cut them into disks because it’s fun.  

We had to take turns eating because Ryman was flying in our lap.  She did awesome, though.  She slept for about 30 minutes on me, got up and ate her dinner, and then slept for 30 minutes on Matt.  

If you can, try to look beyond the adorable baby at the sun setting through the clouds. It was a beautiful sight.

The only hitch in the plan was eating the salads.  We weren’t able to eat them because I forgot forks, and the plane didn’t have any.  That didn’t matter because the sandwiches ended up being so huge, we were full after half.  We ate the other half on our ride from the airport to the house.   

One last thing…a confession.  We purchased our drinks.  In our defense, we would have violated federal law smuggling drinks through security, and probably would have been subjected to one of those full body scans.  However, we did have some money my parents gave us to retrieve my grandpa’s car from long-term parking.  When my dad gave it to us, he said he threw in a little extra “for incidentals.”  This…was an incidental.  So technically speaking, we did not spend our own money, even on our drinks.

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Tips for Always Eating In

I’m a mom who works outside of the home.  I am a high school choir director; a job that I love.  I miss Ryman terribly at moments throughout the day, but luckily, when class starts, I am able to compartmentalize and enjoy work.  I am required to be in the school building from 7:45 am-3:15 pm, but as many teachers and friends of teachers know there are always hours outside of the classroom.  It’s musical season, so on Monday and Thursday, I’m at school until at least 5:30 at rehearsal.  We’re doing South Pacific this year.  You’ll definitely be hearing more about that as the show approaches.  Matt has a pretty flexible schedule, so on rehearsal days he’s able to pick up Ryman from daycare, which is great!  Wednesday evenings are for small group meetings.  Sundays are always full of multiple church services.  I’m saying all of that to say this:  our schedule is packed.  This is part of the reason we opted for going out to eat so often.  We’ve started the year-long journey of not going out to eat at all, and in order to do this we had to come up with some practical things to do to avoid restaurants.  Here are four of the ones that are helping us right now.  I’m sure we’ll come up with more as we progress through the year.
1. Decide and Commit. Even if your goal is to avoid going out to eat for one week, you have to make the decision and commit to actually doing it, no matter what.  We started talking about doing this since January and it took until March for us to finally pull the trigger and go for it.
2.  Identify Your Danger Zones. When we did go out to eat, we ate out most on the weekend.  We don’t tend to sit around the house.  We are always out doing something most of the day.  This makes it hard to eat at home.  We knew that weekends would be the most challenging for us.  Somehow just knowing this, and anticipating the challenge made it less difficult to get through this first weekend.  Examine your schedule and identify the times when going out to eat is the most tempting.  Know that it will be a challenge, and see tip #1.
3. Prep Lots at Once. I have gotten good at this one.  When Ryman started eating real food, we decided that I would make all of her baby food.  It really is not hard at all, and we felt good knowing exactly what was going into her little body.  I got into the habit of making her food in big batches and storing individual portions.  I still do this every week, and it helps with our mornings tremendously.  It’s great to be able to grab a few containers and throw it into a lunch bag.  I definitely regret it when I don’t prep things in advance.  This week my mom reminded me of something they do.  Whenever she and my dad grill, they cook lots of chicken and store it in the refrigerator.  When it’s time for a meal, they pull it out, heat it up, and add it to any meal.  We’re definitely going to try this soon.
4.  Pre-Plan. This one is probably the most important.  As I have said before, one of the reasons why cooking every night is so difficult, is that it’s so hard to come up with something every single night.  I’m so excited to tell you about our solution!  We have started using e-mealz!  I first heard about e-mealz on Dave Ramsey’s radio show, and was reminded about them by Jon Acuff, on his blog, Stuff Christians Like. I knew I needed some help with ideas if I was going to make 3 meals a day for 365 days in a row.  We have used e-mealz for two weeks, and we love it!  Once you pick your plan, you get recipes for the whole week plus (this is the best part) they make the shopping list for you for the grocery store of your choice.  They plan the meals based on sales, so our grocery bill has actually decreased, even though we are buying more.  The meals are great, and the recipes are easy.  Check out their different plans here:  E-MEALZ Easy Meals for Busy and Frugal Families.
I hope these are helpful!  Do you have any tips to add?

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Excuses, Excuses

Let me start by saying, I have always cooked.  Before we started this journey of not eating at restaurants, I cooked most nights of the week.  Weekends were another story, but on school nights, I usually had no problem cooking.  However, there were nights when I would call Matt about an hour before he got off work, and we would do the all-too-familiar “What’s for dinner?” dance.

Me: Hi, how’s your day going?

Matt:  Fine.

Me:  What time do you get off work?

Matt:  Six.  Have you started dinner yet?

Me:  Not yet, I’ve been (insert something like: dealing with Ryman being fussy, staying late after school, trying to decide what to make).  What do you want for dinner?

Matt:  I don’t know.  What do we have?

Me:  (with a very pitiful voice) I don’t know either.  I guess I can look and see if I can figure something out quickly.  We don’t have anything defrosted.

Matt:  Do you want me to just pick something up on the way home?

Me:  Well, I guess I could make (insert something intentionally unexciting).

Matt:  You don’t want to cook, do you?

Me:  No, not really.

Matt:  I’ll just pick something up.  What do you want?

Me:  Thank you.  I don’t care.  What do you want?

Then we switch dances to the “Where do you want to eat?  I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?”  dance.  I’m sure you all are familiar with that one.

When we really weren’t concerned about what we spent, it was easy to find an excuse not to cook.

I put plenty of pressure on myself to make something fabulous every night.  So if I didn’t feel up to cooking a meal worthy of the food network, I didn’t want to cook anything at all.  I now have to deal with the fact that on busy or lazy evenings, a sandwich can be sufficient.  I will be forced to abandon the notion that being a “good wife” equals feeding my family a dinner a la Martha Stewart every night.

Matt will also have to be ok with leftovers.  To his credit, he has come a long way.  When we first got married, he wouldn’t even entertain the thought of eating something for a second time.  It was less about “old” food as it was about eating something again he had eaten recently.  There were definitely times we would go out to eat just to avoid eating leftovers.  Now, he will occasionally bring some leftover chili or casserole for lunch later in the week.  I have also found ways to repackage the leftovers so that he feels like it’s a new dish.

There are plenty more excuses we used for going out to eat as frequently as we did.  While putting together our plan for attacking this huge challenge we presented to ourselves, we have confronted many of our excuses.  We are well aware of the challenges we will face, and that this isn’t as simple as just saying,”We’re not going out to eat.”

In my next post I will talk more about the practical steps of our plan that are making making this process a little easier.

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Filed under How It Works, Why No Restaurants?