And The Winner Is …

It’s September 1st … and that means The Great Date Contest (and my first blog give-away) has come to a close. It is time to announce the lucky winner who will receive their very on copy of the book $10 Great Dates: Connecting Love, Marriage, and Fun on a Budget,  as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a great date of their own.

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

But before I announce the winner, I would like to say I am so thankful for everyone who took the time to write an entry. Your great date stories were entertaining, cute, sweet, romantic and even encouraging. My family read through the stories together, enjoying each great date tale. We wished each writer could have been with us and told us the story in greater detail.

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The way we chose the winner was quite complicated. (No, not really …. but it was sort of arbitrary.)  Basically, I read all the stories out loud and we gave each date a name. There was The New Orleans Bike Taxi Date, The Date That Never Happened, and a Hard-To-Catch Date.  There were dates named after countries like Italy and China. There was even a Stay-At-Home Date.

Once each date had been read through and given a name, the four judges wrote down a score for each date. Our scoring system basically meant assigning each date a number of points between 1 and 10, with 10 points going to the best date imaginable and 1 point for a terrible, no good, very bad date.  Some judges were looking for romance, while other judges were looking for adventurous or funny moments. Regardless of how they did it, every judge scored every date.

There were four judges:  My husband Jon, my sixteen year old daughter Maddie, my fourteen year old son Joel and my nearly thirteen year old son Nathan. (My daughters, Megan and Julia, were at a slumber party and not available for the judging.) That meant each date had four scores. The individual judges’ scores for each date were tallied and the date with the highest marks was declared the winner.

The winning date turned out to be the one we titles “Passing The Test.”  It was submitted by Korin Taddei. (Yay, Korin!  Congratulations! You will receive a copy of the book and the $10 bill! I hope you and your husband Danny will enjoy the book and many more great dates together. Seeing as we see each other relatively often, I will get your prize to you soon  … as long as I remember to put it in my car.) For my other readers: You can read Korin’s great date story in the comments section of this previous blog post.

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Now that I’ve named the 1st prize winner, I am going to award another prize … one I didn’t plant to award but last night at the end of the judging decided there needed to be an additional award given. Here’s the story as to why my family and I decided a prize for the Most Creative Romantic Date should be given.

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When I was through tallying the scores and announced the winner, Maddie groaned, “Oh … I was really hoping the Italy date would win!  It was so romantic!”

“I know! I expected that date to win as well, but it came in second. In fact, it was only one point under the winning date.”

Jon piped up, “That was a really creative date! It sounds like a lot of fun as well as very romantic. I can see why both of you thought it should win.”

Meanwhile, the younger male judges were   making fake gagging sounds  looking about perplexed. I was holding the score cards in my hands and could easily recognize the hand-writing. (This is a good thing about having a small group of judges and also being the mother of the majority of the judges as well.) Flipping through the cards, I noticed some of the judges one of the male judges had scored the Italy date relatively low in comparison to Maddie who had given that date a perfect 10.

Maddie moaned, “If only Megan and Julia had been here to judge! Then the Italy date would have won!”

“Now, we don’t know that for certain, Maddie. However, I think it goes to show that romance is important to women, and romance doesn’t haven’t to be boring.” Jon paused.  Then he continued, “As a guy, I think the winning date was clever and creative too. Guys often prefer to think practically … but it is important for us to remember that romance is a necessary part, too.”

Nathan interrupted, “I thought this was supposed to be about cheap dates … after all the prize is a book on how to just spend $10 on a date. The winning date was certainly cheap! And it even had romance. You gotta admit walking by the ocean at night is pretty romantic.”

“Yes, you are right, ” I said. “It was cheap, though cheap wasn’t part of my rules. I just wanted to read about great dates in general. And you are right in that there was an element of romance … as well as motorcycles and old cars. It was a clever date. I can see why you boys thought it was great!”  I laughed.  “I think what attracted Maddie and I to the Italy date is that it was all about what the woman desired. The guy was creatively giving her what she wanted, even though he really couldn’t give her a trip to Italy. And someday I hope you meet a young lady that gives you a desire to romance her heart.”

“Maybe you should have two winners,” Jon suggested.

I completely agree!  So to my friend John Mark and his wife Janelle … I’d love to send you a copy of $10 Great Dates as well! (John Mark, please contact me, using the “Contact Paige” tab,  with your mailing address and I’ll be delighted to send a copy of this book to you and your lovely wife.)

For my readers, please take the time to read how John Mark took Janelle to “Italy” on their first official date. (The rest of John Mark’s blog, The Artistic Christian, is pretty awesome as well. It’s one of my very favorite blogs to read each day.)

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Thank you again to every person who shared a great date story. I laughed and cried (happy tears) and wished so much that each person could have told me their story face-to-face. I am grateful you allowed me to have a peak into these special moments.

The thing that amazed me the most is that all of the dates were shared by married couples, several who had been married longer than 20 years and one from a writer married for 50+ years. I am once again in awe as I remember how God created marriage as a picture of His perfect love for us, His bride, the church.

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. ~Song of Solomon 8:7

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Time is Running Out! Enter Today!

Time is running out on my first blog contest and give-away …

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

In case you aren’t aware, I’m host in a Great Dates Contest. One lucky winner will receive a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp ten dollar bill to use on a great date of your own.

You can read all about this fantastic resource for married couples, as well as the “official” rules here. But the basics are to tell me all about a great date you had, either in the comments or on your own blog (being sure to ping back to me).  Entries are due by August 31st and the winner will be announced on Monday, September 1st.

Go ahead … don’t be shy! Enter today!

The Great Birthday Date … Part 1

Yesterday I told Part 2 of  The Great Birthday Date.  If you didn’t read that one, you might want to take a few minutes to read it first.

(I know. I know. Generally readers expect Part 1 to come before Part 2. But I switched things up and told it backwards. That is a special technique known as “Writer’s Privilege” … and lucky you getting to see such a wonderful writing tool at work right here on my blog! Actually, knowing Part 2 first will not really  make a huge difference in understanding the story. I just happen to like Part 1 a tad bit better than Part 2,  and since the order didn’t make a difference, I decided to tell the story in reverse.)

Anyway, here’s Part 1 of my personal Great Date story. Enjoy!

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My first marriage unexpectedly fell apart the summer before my 35th birthday. To be honest, I don’t remember much about being 35, or 36 for that matter. Those years are lost to the blur of emotions and trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.  But as I drew closer and closer to my 37th birthday, it was as if my soul had begun to awaken again.

The summer I was 36  marked two years since I had first gone into receiving Christian counseling. Generally, we talked about how to function as a single parent, learning to forgive, letting go of what I couldn’t control, giving my fears to God, among other things. However, now that I reached the two year mark of single parenting and the divorce was officially over and done, my counselor began to suggest that I might soon be interested in dating.

Initially, I was put off by the very idea. Already rejected once, I couldn’t envision putting myself and my children through something like that again. However, my counselor encouraged me to think and process about whether or not I might truly want to live the next 50 years alone … and at 36 years old, the possibility of living another 50 years wouldn’t be all that unusual.

It didn’t take much thinking for me to realize deep down I wanted to have a special relationship with one man, a relationship in which we loved and cared for each other while living life together. It’s a normal desire for any person to have. Despite my experience with my previous marriage and divorce, my longings hadn’t really changed.

And yet, even as I admitted that I had the desire, I was scared of the very idea. I felt anything but lovable. I felt used and discarded, like the old clothes at the Goodwill Stores. Sometimes there are treasures for the taking in those places, but you gotta look through a lot of junk in order to find them. And deep down, my own sense of self-worth was beat up. I felt like I was just another piece of tossed trashed, not a rejected treasure waiting for someone else to realize my true worth.

Who on earth would want to love a woman like me? 

I remember during that summer before my 37th birthday doing a lot of soul-searching, praying and asking God to teach me about how to be a woman of worth, to be satisfied with His love whether or not any man ever loved me again, and to grow in my own self-respect so that I could reflect His great love.

Along with these hard prayers, I read a lot of books by a Christian author by the name of Angela Thomas. (If you are a Christian woman who is also a single parent, you simply must read her book My Single Mom Life. I promise you it is the most encouraging book out there for a woman trying to parent after divorce.)

Between my counselor, the books and the prayers, I was approaching this cautious place in the very depths of my soul in which I wanted to be loved, and believed I was worth loving … and yet I was still fearful the second part wasn’t true. This was the state of my emotions in the month prior to my 37th birthday, which brings me to the actual “date” that was so wonderfully great.

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My 37th birthday started off with my three wonderful children decorating my cake. They had already asked me if they could do the decorating, so the night before I baked a cake. Now that it was cooled, they got up extra early so that they would have time to add the icing and decorations before school.

Just look at those sweet babies of mine! Early morning hair, sticking up everywhere. Joel is all wrapped up in a quilt, still sleepy. To this day, I get all mushy inside whenever I think about those wonderful children wanting to make me a special birthday cake.

Joel, age 9
Joel, age 9
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Nathan, age 7
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Julia, age 6
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My fantastic birthday cake!

The cake was really enough to remind me that I was indeed a loved woman. But there was that question of worth. Was a I woman any man would ever again find worthy? I can’t say that was on the forefront of my mind on that morning, and yet it was the burning question in my mind for which I was seeking an answer from God.

He didn’t fail to respond.

That morning, I got to work and before I hardly sat down at my desk with my cup of coffee in hand, a delivery of a large bouquet of flowers arrived for me.  I opened the card to discover they were from my sister.

I was still gushing over the flowers when there was a short knock on the office door. There was my dad, standing in the hallway with a box of chocolates in his hands. “Chocolates for the birthday girl!” he grinned.

I figured the birthday surprises were over, but in fact the day had only gotten started.

My co-workers had unknowingly gotten together and each brought dishes to work so that we had a birthday lunch right there at the office … complete with cake and ice cream!  I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember laughing and enjoying the time with those wonderful ladies.

Flowers and candy
Flowers and candy

On the way home, I was thinking about my gifts.  I laughed as I shared my delight with my Creator.  “Today I received every typical gift a beau gives to his girl … flowers, a box of chocolate, a wonderful meal.  The only thing missing, Lord, was jewelry!”

Arriving at home, I opened up my mail to find a package from a friend of mine who lived several states away. As I ripped into the box, I found a beautiful pair of silver drop earrings with a sapphire stone. As I fingered the earrings, I heard a whisper in my heart:

Forget? Did you actually think I would forget the jewelry? You are worth much more than any of these gifts to me! There is more, much more to come.

I looked over at the pile of mail. There were six or seven birthday cards and not a single bill or piece of junk mail to throw away. Everything that had arrived that day had been just for me. With tears already flooding my eyes, I began to open up each card and letter.

Each card made me smile or laugh. Tucked away in a few were small bills of money. Others contained notes of love. But the last envelop I opened took my breath away. As I pulled out the card inside and opened it up, I saw a familiar handwriting and signature.

Happy birthday! I love you – “Mammie” (Juanita Terry)

My grandmother. The card was from my grandmother. But she had died nearly 3 years earlier. How on earth?

Glancing to the left side of the card, I saw another handwritten note, but I had to wipe away the tears in order to read it.

“Dear Paige, Recently I found this card your grandmother sent to me several years ago. I thought you might like to have it and so I’ve been saving it to give back to you ever since. Wishing you a happy birthday! Love Jean E. Mitchell”

Mrs. Jean E.  …  My 4th grade teacher and friend. I had known her all my life and looked forward to her birthday cards since I was a tiny girl because most of the time there was a piece of gum included inside the card. There wasn’t any gum in this card, but that didn’t seem to matter because I had already received more than I ever imagined possible … right down to the birthday wish from my grandmother in heaven.

In my heart again there was a whisper:

I Am …  the Lover of your soul. I created you, knit you together to be the exact person you are. My love for you is undying. I will never reject or leave you. I am with you always, looking out for you even when you don’t know it or understand My ways. And you are worth it.

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For as long as I live, my 37th birthday will remain my favorite. It was the year the Lord took me out on an amazing date, treating me to everything a woman’s heart could possibly desire.

Within a month, Jon Hamilton would ask me to be his girl. I’m glad I decided to dare to love again because it worth the risk.

But more than that, I’m glad I learned that God wants me to be His girl first. And that His love for me is more perfect and wonderful than any other love a girl could ever want.

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Do you have a Great Date Story to share? If so, you could win a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a new great date adventure. Contest rules are easy: just share your favorite great date story, either in the comments section of my blog or on your on blog (please ping back to me).

Hurry! The last day to enter is August 31st!

 

A “Great Dates” Review … along with My Very First Give Away!

Walmart is not exactly high on the list of places to go for a great date.

Yet, believe it or not, Jon and I spent part of our very first date at Walmart picking up a few items one of us needed … perhaps school supplies for a child’s project or maybe it was to replace necessary household gadget or gizmo. I can no longer recall the exact purpose. All I remember was wandering through Walmart thinking how natural it felt to shop with this man and how strangely odd it was for a first date.

Even stranger is that our second date included a trip to the grocery store. And please don’t think it got more exciting from there because on our third date we spent time together searching for Christmas gifts for our children. (At the time, we didn’t know much more about each other’s kids than their names and ages. We actually learned quite a lot on that date … not that we had any idea at the time that someday these would be our future step-children!)

During the 14 months Jon and I dated, we did a lot of “errand dating” as we tried to make the most of our time. As single parents, we both understood it was infinitely easier to take care of business without our children in tow. While it may have created some rather strange and mundane “dates,” in the end I believe it was those every day sort of activities that really helped us get to know each other in a more realistic way than if we had just gone out for fancy dinners or to the movies.

photo credit: artemisinthecity.com
photo credit: artemisinthecity.com

To this day, “The Errand Date” is still the most frequent type of outing Jon and I share without the kids. It’s a quick way to get in time alone without spending a lot of money.  Often we will end by grabbing a cup of coffee or a smoothie, which makes it feel a little more like an official date while still keeping to our tight budget. But still, for the most part, we just take care of business in our time alone.

While I must admit that I love running errands with my husband and much prefer that than doing those same errands alone, I sometimes wish we had more money to spend on date nights. Between the cost of childcare, dinner out and any other activities we plan to enjoy, one night out can easily cost over $100. That’s a lot of money for most couples with children!

The bitter truth is dating your spouse on a budget is hard.

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Recently, Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of the book “$10 Great Dates: Connecting Love, Marriage and Fun on a Budget”  (written by two couples, Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp) in exchange for my honest review.   While I was excited about the opportunity to review a book on my blog, I had very low expectations about the book itself. I figured this would be another book filled with the same old tired suggestions for dates on a small budget.

I am happy to report that what I expected was not at all what I got when reading this book.

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

In fact, I was so delightfully surprised at the ingenuity and creativity of this book that I couldn’t wait to share it with my husband. Together, we spent several hours reading through the 188-pages which were filled with interesting ideas for dates and practical ways to grow closer to each other and God through marriage.

Writing especially for married couples, the Larsons and the Arps share 52 fun date ideas, giving you and your significant other a year’s worth of weekly dates.  The great date suggestions are creative and flexible, taking into account that certain activities may not be readily available in all areas. The various ideas really do take into account the $10 budget. The authors also included a section at the back of the book with fresh ideas and timely suggestions for ways to find inexpensive or free childcare.

The book is divided into eight categories of dates, such as adventure dates, at-home dates, romantic dates and even seasonal dates. Many of the date ideas are simple enough to plan and enjoy on the same evening, but others will require prep work which is why there are lists of things to do before going on the date to help with planning. There is also a list of things to keep in mind while enjoying your date, as well as ideas to further spice up the activity should you have more than a $10 budget.

Some of my favorite dates were:

~The Workshop Date: Find a free workshop on a topic that interests one of both of you.

~Parade of Homes Date: Go check out local homes for sale by attending an open house showing or even a larger parade of homes.

~Gifts on a Budget Date: Go together to a department store. Separate and shop for a set amount of time. Each person has $5 total (including tax) to use to buy a gift for the other. At the end of the date, find a special location or time to give your gifts.

However, my favorite part of this book was not the date suggestions.

Wait … don’t get me wrong! The date ideas were fabulous. In fact, there are so many great suggestions, I honestly don’t know where to start! Yet this book is much more than a list of ideas.

The Larsons and the Arps put together a complete resource to help couples strengthen both their marriage and their faith in God. For each date, there is a list of suggested talking points to help couples delve into a deeper relationship as well as to extend the date. These questions and discussion topics may be enjoyed during the date or at some point afterwards. Furthermore, each date suggestion ends with a “Great Date Takeaway” in which the authors share a truth from God’s word or an application for improving your marriage relationship that could be learned from the date.

This book is priced exactly right  … just $10!  Perhaps your first “great date” could be reading through the ideas with your spouse and deciding upon which date to try first. You can purchase this book at a number of online stores such as Amazon, Christian Book Distributers, and Mardel, among others. You can also order it directly from Baker Publishing Group.

With 52 great dates to choose from, there is something for every couple in this fantastic resource!

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Now for the fun part … my very first give away!

One lucky reader will receive a copy of $10 Great Dates (by Larson & Arp), along with a crisp $10 bill  which will cover the cost of a great date for you and your spouse.

All you have to do to enter is write about your favorite date. It can be your first date, a special date, a funny date, or a really bad date that somehow brings back fond memories. Share your date story on your blog.  Please be sure to ping back to me or put a link in my comments so that I can read your story on your blog.

(I know, I know … some of you are saying, “But I don’t have a blog!”  That’s okay. You can share your favorite date by writing about it in my comments section. Do this and I’ll enter you into the contest as well.  See … I am looking out for you non-bloggers too!)

Feel free to share my book review and contest with others you know who may need some fun, creative ideas for dating on a budget. (Yes, this is a shameless ploy to attract more readers to my blog, but I am offering the chance to win a great book so in reality it’s a win-win for all of us.)

Please note: This is not a random drawing type of give-away.  My husband, children and I will enjoy reading about all the great dates and then will vote on the winner.  Therefore, please only share family friendly versions of dates.

Entries are due by August 31st. Winner will be announced Sept. 1st.

Good luck!!!