Date Nights


A few weeks ago I was grumbling about how “I just want to go home” and I’m tired of living at someone else’s house. Well, there are also a lot of perks of living with my parents. I also mentioned those in my complaining post. One of the best aspects is the ability to leave the house while Ali is sleeping (when one or both of my parents is home, of course). This has been really helpful with all the running around we’ve had to do with the new house. Often during her nap one of us is running down to the house to check on something or other. My favorite is when we’ve been able to put her to bed at 8:00 and then slip out for a few hours. It reminds me of our pre-parenthood days and it’s just lovely. A few times we’ve popped over to our friends’ house either to watch their kid so they could go out, or to have some adult time after their kid is asleep, too. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a busy travel time for Jason and my intense deadline time at work, we were able to grab a late dinner at our favorite Indian place. It was peaceful, delicious and romantic. Despite our busyness, I felt refreshed—like I had just had a weekend in the middle of the week (it was a Tuesday night).

Jason and I have always been intentional about date nights, even during the first 8 child-free years of our marriage. At least once a month we’d spend a little extra (sometimes that meant $30 budgeted instead of $15) and spend some set apart one-on-one time. We continued that habit when we had our first foster placement, a toddler just a bit older than Ali is now. My parents offered to babysit for us one evening early on and it was a precious time for Jason and me to reflect on everything that was happening. Once baby Ali was placed with us, we found it to be quite easy to take her with us on date nights. We could still go to our favorite restaurants, take our time and have great conversation. It’s a bit different now. The more busy we get with work, home building and an active toddler, the more date nights alone have become essential. We can really feel it when we haven’t had one in a couple months because we need it. We crave that time of quiet undivided attention, away from the distractions of home. Thank you to my parents for demonstrating how important date nights are and for valuing them enough to offer to babysit for us!

Our Love Story – 1:6


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 6 of 6.

Jason and I started talking everyday after school on the phone and on AIM chat (the text messaging of our day…) late at night. We shared everything with each other about our struggles at school, drama with friends, tension with our parents, dreams for college and beyond. It was clear that God had answered my prayer.  I got my best friend.

From the beginning, Jason shared with me that he wanted to take it slow and not rush into anything. It hurt. I assumed that meant he liked me, but he didn’t like me like me. But he kept calling. And we kept getting closer.

Jason had a job at a McDonalds inside of a Wal-Mart (talk about double-yuck!) and as my mom and I were on one of our frequent mother-daughter shopping dates, I suggested we stop by and say hi to him. She kindly obliged. We probably ordered fries or a milkshake. That I don’t remember, but I do remember seeing Jason in his purple hat and polo shirt and thinking he looked so cute!

The Saturday after our first double date, Jason and I went out again, just the two of us this time. We went down to the peninsula to watch the sunset over Lake Erie—my favorite place in Erie, PA. I remember sitting on a lifeguard chair together and talking about the awesomeness of the sunset and how the sky changes colors. We pondered the marvels of God and the complexity and beauty of Creation. This guy was a deep thinker and I loved that we could share this awe of our Creator together.

Back at my parent’s house we watched TV with my dad. When he left the room, I let Jason pick what he wanted to watch. He landed on Emeril on the Food Network and I learned that he loved cooking and was considering becoming a chef. Seriously? This guy is an amazing musician, writes poetry, can spend an hour marveling at the sunset AND he loves to cook? I was in heaven. Emeril’s show was just starting to get popular back in 1999 and he would say he needed to “kick it up a notch” every time he was adding more spice, and “bam” as he tossed it into the dish.

As we sat there on the love seat together, across from Emeril Lagasse on the TV, Jason asked if I thought we should “kick it up a notch. You know, make it official.” He was asking me to be his girlfriend! I don’t think Jason was certain of it quite yet, but God had answered his prayer, too. He didn’t want to date another girl unless she was his future wife.

Our Love Story – 1:5


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 5 of 6.

Monday after school I called my friend Lindsay to discuss homework, youth group, the usual…and why did she think Jay hadn’t called me yet? Was he going to ask me out on a date? We tossed around a plan that maybe we could invite Jason and the guy Lindsay liked, Matt, to hang out and make it seem like it was just a group of people from church hanging out…not a date or anything.

About that time, the call waiting beeped. Hang on, Lindsay. There is someone on the other line. Hello? Is Martina there? This is. This is Jay Ahlbrandt. Heart. Beating. So. Hard. His voice sounded incredible. So different than hearing my brother’s or my dad’s voice on the phone. He was speaking soft and clear, right into my ear.

We made small talk for a few minutes then he asked if I’d like to go to a movie the next Saturday night. I was glad he couldn’t see the ridiculous giddy grin on my face. I’d love to! Not sure if I was ready for a solo date with a boy—I was only 14, remember—I suggested we make it a double date and invite Lindsay and Matt. Jason was the only one of us with a license so he offered to pick everyone up. I arranged plans with Lindsay and then Matt (still letting him think it was just some friends hanging out).

The day of our date, my mom got a call from Lindsay’s mom. Karen had all kinds of questions for my mom. How well did she know this Jay? Was he a good driver? How old was he? Where exactly were we going? What time would we be home. My mom laughed. Lindsay is the first born in her family and I’m the youngest of three in my family. “Should I be more concerned?” she asked me jokingly. “I guess I’ve already been through this with your sister and brother and I just trust you.”

I paced around my bedroom, sneaking peeks out my window towards the driveway every 15 seconds. When I’m nervous, I have a constant urge to pee. I think I went to the bathroom three times before Jason’s blue Acclaim pulled into the driveway. Another quick swipe of deodorant. Check myself in the mirror one more time as the doorbell rang. I let my mom answer the door so she and my dad could fulfill their parental duty of inspecting a guy before he takes their daughter out on a date. I walked down the stairs a minute later, even though I knew my parents weren’t going to be obnoxious and intimidating; it just wasn’t their nature.

We picked up Lindsay and then Matt and headed to the dollar theater—the one that showed movies a few months late for a greatly discounted price. It was becoming clear that Matt still didn’t think this was a double date. While Jason bought my $1.50 movie ticket for She’s All That, Matt just bought his own. We sat in this order: Matt, Jason, Me, Lindsay. It was a cheesy high school romance movie but it totally spoke to me. It was about a cool, popular guy who ends up falling in love with a quirky, shy, artsy girl after a mean bet from his best friend who challenged that he could make any unlikely candidate the prom queen. There I was—a shy, nerdy, artist—being pursued by a cool, confident, rockstar. The song Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer that played at the end of the movie instantly became my new favorite.

We got a late dinner/snack at Burger King afterward and then went back to Emily’s house to say hi to some other friends. At this point, I think Lindsay was completely frustrated with Matt’s avoidance and decided she’d get a ride home from someone else. Jason took Matt home and then me. We both agreed we had had a really nice time and should do it again. After a friendly hug goodnight from across the car, I floated into the house. I don’t remember specifically what I did but I’m guessing I went up to my room and straight for my journal to recount the night and draw hearts around Jay’s name with colorful markers. Because that’s what 14 year old girls did back in 1999. Or at least one did.

Our Love Story – 1:4


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 4 of 6.

For the rest of the day after the post-prom sleep over, I couldn’t think about anything other than Jason. I went to a planning meeting for an upcoming house building mission trip to Mexico and then went to the beach with some other youth group friends who were also going on the trip. We ate pizza and watched the sunset but my mind was consumed with that cute boy I had danced with the night before.

After church the next day, Jason came over to say hello. We made small talk for a few minutes. I had been doodling on my bulletin during the service with a random carpenter’s pencil I found in the pew. I made some joke about how it probably got flattened by a steam roller or a fat person sitting on it (I don’t remember specifically) and he laughed and asked if I would use my flat pencil to write down my phone number for him. My heart started pounding even harder than it already was…my number! He wants my number! He’s going to call me!

As if my mind wasn’t already consumed enough with this guy, now I had to wait by the phone for the rest of the day. I’m pretty sure I spent the afternoon sunning in the backyard with a few magazines, the portable phone by my side, you know, just in case. In the evening a classmate came over to work on a debate for English class the next day. We were supposed to be preparing to argue how it was impossible that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy. The grassy knoll. The magic bullet theory. The Warren Commission. I couldn’t care less. All I could think about was the phone. When was it going to ring?

Our Love Story – 1:3


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 3 of 6.

There was a dance coming up, hosted by the local Christian radio station called the Christian Prom—kids from any school were welcome, the music was all Christian and of course…no funny business. Me and another girl at our church (who apparently also had a crush on Jay) convinced him to go. We all called him Jay instead of Jason back then and until I found out he preferred Jason.

We each showed up with different groups of friends. A few of my friends were seeing Jason for the first time and one of them insisted I needed a picture of him for my scrapbook, at all costs! She marched right up to him, snapped the photo with no explanation, turned around and came straight back to the table where we were all sitting…waiting and hoping we’d get asked to dance. The red glow was caused by the photographer’s carelessly placed finger. I love the what the?! look on his face.

It was getting late. Jason was running out of slow songs to make his move. Finally, half way through a song—I couldn’t tell you which one because I wasn’t listening to it at all—he made is way over to us and asked if I could like to dance. We walked out to the dance floor together and bobbled back and forth in awkward rhythm, Jason with his hands on my waist and me with my hands around his neck, a good 12″ between us. (Why didn’t my bold friend take a picture of this?)

After the dance, most of our youth group friends went back to Emily’s house for the night—one of the graduating seniors who had been an important influence on me. Finally, Jason and I had time to just talk and flirt and sit side by side. Somehow, I don’t remember any of our parents taking issue with 10-15 high school boys and girls all sleeping in one living room. I guess we were trustworthy enough and there was accountability in numbers. Jason slept on one end of a sofa and I on the other end…with the girl who also liked him in between us. When I opened my eyes in the morning—with a neck ache, I’m sure!—I saw Jason, sleeping peacefully just a few feet away from me. Before long everyone started stirring. I watched him open his eyes, look at me, blink hard and yawn, look at the girl was still asleep on his legs and make a raised-eyebrows face at me that said, “Oh boy…”

Our Love Story – 1:2


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 2 of 6.

In another part of town, Jason had had enough. He was 16 and already jaded from hurtful relationships. He wore his heart on his sleeve and subsequently had it crushed by a girl more than once. Many nights were spent scribbling poetry into spiral bound notebooks, allowing the tears to flow in the privacy of his bedroom. Thoughtful, creative Jason spent hours practicing scales, learning new songs and writing music. Sometimes he would even fall asleep on the floor with the guitar still strapped across his chest. “I don’t want to have another girlfriend until I meet my wife!” he told God.

He also played around town in a few hardcore/metal/punk bands…

(Photo courtesy of Facebook. That’s him on the right.)

We met at our church at a Wednesday night youth group gathering. I don’t remember who introduced us for the first time but I knew who he was months before we officially met. He noticed right away that my eyes are two different colors. I can tell a lot about someone based on this. One eye is blue and the other is hazel, but the difference is subtle. There are people who I’ve known most of my life who have never noticed. Jason was looking into my eyes;  he was really seeing me.

As our relationship started to grow and form in the weeks to follow, Jason insisted we take things slow and not rush into dating, remembering what he had told God and thinking he couldn’t possibly meet his future wife so young. He assumed the answer to his prayer would come in several years and he was OK with waiting.

Our Love Story – 1:1


I wasn’t sure if it would be of interest to anyone other than me, but this line I threw out got a couple of nibbles so, here we go…

I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 1 of 6.

It was the spring of 1999 and I was lonely. I was finally through the three straining, painfully awkward middle school years and making my way into high school as a 9th grader. In the process, I had grown apart from my childhood best friend Michele—the one I did everything with and had sleepovers with every weekend, the one with which we were often mistaken for twins—or boys. From third grade until sixth grade we were inseparable. But then, at different middle schools, with different groups of friends, we got disconnected.

(Picture from Grand Canyon 1997 of my mom, me, Michele and my dad.)

I was growing a lot spiritually and spending a lot of time with friends from youth group, many of whom were older. As I thought about some of the seniors who would be graduating soon and going off to college, I was sad. But I got even more sad as I realized they weren’t really my friends. They were significantly older kids that I admired and who had mentored me, but they were in a different world than I was at 14 years old. I felt so alone.

I crawled into bed one night after youth group where we had prayed for the graduating class and said an informal goodbye (it was May and they wouldn’t actually be leaving until fall). I pulled open my journal and a package of colorful markers and I poured out my feelings on paper in the form of a prayer.”God, I want a new best friend.” Michele had been just what I needed from 8-12 and I craved a new friend to walk with me through my teen years, someone with the same beliefs and convictions as me, someone I could share my heart, my dreams and fears with, someone I could laugh with and cry with and grow with.

Then, I met Jason.

The Importance of Date Nights


About a week after Jason and I became parents to Ladybug, my mom offered to babysit so we could go out. It seemed too soon to me, unnecessary even. After all, we had over 8 years of date nights as a childless couple. Jason and I discussed it and decided we would accept the offer. It turned out to be a really rich time for us to catch up and give each other focused attention over dinner without concerning ourselves with a food-flinging toddler.

My mama told me, “The most important thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse.” Date nights are really important.

Saturday night Jason and I got to go on our first date night since the arrival of Precious, 6 weeks ago now. We even planned ahead! We had a Living Social coupon for our favorite sushi place, RuSan’s—paid $15 for a $30 gift certificate. We both got salads with orange ginger, miso soup and fire cracker maki rolls (they’re too good to share) and another forgettable roll (unagi and avocado, I think.) Service was quick, thankfully, because we were rushing to get to a movie. We saw The Help. Excellent movie. We only go to the movie theater a few times a year and this one felt worth the $13.00. Yeah, that’s right we got discounted movie tickets through  my work. I should also mention that we’re sly about finding free street parking in the city. I remembered to wear boots instead of heels so I don’t mind walking a couple blocks. Our entire date night: dinner at a favorite restaurant and a movie, cost just $37. Not bad at all for an indulgent night out. Babysitting was free. Thanks mom and dad!

Do you go on date nights? Even before becoming parents Jason and I made a point of going on a date night at least once a month. We’re not extravagant but the time set apart together is really good for our marriage.