Movie Rental Night


Growing up we used to ride our bikes down to the local video rental store and load up with movies for the weekend.  That was before Blockbuster came onto the scene and became the industry leader.  After we were married, we signed up for Netflix.  That was back in the day when they would mail you DVDs.  Going to the mailbox was like Christmas Day.  I would always forget what movie was up next in our queue so it was a surprise.  The worst part was when you had a TV series that had cliffhanger endings.  We watched the first season of “24” with Kiefer Sutherland and at the end of every episode something would happen that hooked you (why crazy things only happened at the top of every hour is beyond me).  If it was the last episode on the DVD you were stuck until you could mail it back and get the next one!

This isn’t really about the history of movie rentals, but I had a very easy to plan date with my youngest daughter.  We simply rented a movie.  We were planning to go see “Abominable,” but it wasn’t until I started checking showtimes that I realized it wasn’t out yet.  So Lesson #1 for today: “Plan your date in advance.”

Earlier this summer we watched the two newest Spiderman movies and she really liked them.  She was interested in watching Avengers, but there are too many characters she’d have no clue about.  My wife mentioned that she might like “Shazam.”  It is about kid superheroes and it is pretty funny.  Lesson #2: “Just because your wife suggests it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check the ratings and reviews.”  It was rated PG-13 for quite a bit of inappropriate language.

I picked up McDonalds and we ate while we watched the movie and then paused it halfway through to pop some popcorn.  This was an easy way to spend time together.

The movie had quite a few easy Biblical connections to it so we got to talk about that after the movie and then it led to several other conversations.  We ended up talking about the cartoons I watched growing up and listening to NF songs.

Obviously this isn’t a creative date idea, but it led to intentional time after the movie that was pretty great!  And the best part is, almost anyone can do it.


McDonald’s for two           $13.00
Movie rental                         $6.00

Total                                      $19.00

Add Some Creativity to Your Anniversary


Did you know that each wedding anniversary has a gift assigned to it?  I don’t know how it was decided and there isn’t even one definitive list, but I adopted one of the lists a few years ago.  Our 18th wedding anniversary was coming up so I figured I’d buy something that matched the 18th year.  It was “appliances.”

Now my wife has actually asked for a Swiffer before on her birthday.  One of her spiritual gifts is cleaning and I think she finds great joy in it, so I wasn’t too worried about her being offended by me buying her an appliance of some sort.  The problem was that I didn’t know of an appliance that she actually needed or wanted.  After a little searching, I came upon the perfect gift . . . not just for her, but for our family.  I got a sno cone maker!  Now before you gather the pitchforks and a mob, it wasn’t the ONLY thing I got her.  It was just one thing that matched the theme.

The next year was the Jade Anniversary.  I searched Amazon and there was nothing she would like.  I googled idea and came back with the same result.  So creativity kicked in.  I found out there is a place where you can find jade in northern California, but with all the things happening around our life that year, a trip wasn’t in the cards.  So instead, we went to Jade Restaurant in Austin.  For what it’s worth, it was a fantastic restaurant.

This was our 20th anniversary and it was the China Anniversary.  We don’t use china in our house.  It’s odd to unwrap a Taco Bell burrito and place it on such a fancy dish.  Taking a trip to China wasn’t going to happen either, so I used Trip Advisor to find the highest rated Chinese restaurant in Austin that was not in the $$$$ category.  So for our 20th anniversary we went to Wu Chow for dinner.  If you ever plan on going, make sure you make a reservation.  I had the foresight to do that, but the people in front of us at 6:15pm on a Tuesday night had an hour and a half wait.  I also ordered some envelopes that are traditional gift giving envelopes in the Chinese culture and I put her presents in those.  It is our twentieth so we’re also taking a trip to Boston next month, but we had to do something before that.

If you want to start adding creativity to anniversaries, here is the list I use.  The 21st anniversary is “fire” so make sure you check back in a year for now.  I’m going to burn something down!!!!


Tubing Down The Comal


I’ve been down the Comal a dozen times with the youth ministry and our kids have gone before with the youth group, but this was the first time that we did it just as a family.  The student leadership team at our church hasn’t put it on the summer calendar in several years so it was like a brand new experience for Emerson (our nine year old).

This was one of those Family Days where we let our kids each invite a friend, so the six of us loaded up and head to New Braunfels on a Monday in the summer.  I would highly recommend that if at all possible.  The river still had quite a few people on it, but it was not overly crowded like it can be on some summer weekends.

This time we purchased tubes from a Groupon that was connected to Comal Tubes.  It was my first time with that company.  The Groupon stated that you had to reserve 24 hours in advance.  I didn’t realize that because I’ve never had a Groupon like that.  I tried to reserve online and it didn’t work.  I called and the lady who worked there tried to make me a reservation.  It didn’t work either.  She gave me the number to the office.  I left two messages (and they still haven’t called me back a month later).  I finally called the lady back and explained my predicament . . . we were already on the road headed that way.  She called down to the river and they informed her that you didn’t need a reservation at all!  That was good news after what was quickly becoming a debacle.

One other odd thing about Comal Tubes is that if you go to their website you can rent a tube for $20 or upgrade to a tube with a backrest for $25.  When we were there, you could pick any tube you wanted and everyone took backrests.  I would have hated to pay the extra $5 per person when you apparently don’t have to (at least not on a slow weekday).

Comal Tubes puts you in at the park which is a shorter float than we usually do.  The river was running fast so that made it a very enjoyable for our kids.  It was easily over an hour float (probably closer to two), but it didn’t feel like it at all.  There was very little paddling.

The Groupon made it worth it, but if I was paying full price, I’d go back to Rockin’ R River Rides.  It cost $3 more per tube, but it’s a longer ride down the river.  When you put in at the park you go through the tube chute and have a couple of other rapids, but the further up river you put in, the more rapids you get.

Floating down the river with the kids was a great time to hang out, talk, and enjoy some pretty scenery.  The water was really refreshing on a hot day and it was a great experience.  I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing this one again.  Raley’s friend, who had never been tubing, finished the day declaring “this is my favorite thing to do!”

We were able to use the Groupon for four tubes and paid regular price for the two friends.

Tubes: $100 (includes transportation to and from the river)

Waterproof pouch for phone : $10

Austin Zoo


A couple of weeks ago I took our youngest to the Austin Zoo.  The big picture idea here would be to visit any zoo that is local, but I’ll tell about our experience at this particular zoo.  As is the case for so many of the dates I plan, I got a deal off of Groupon.

Emerson is nine years old and is the right age for the Austin Zoo.  If a child is too much older than that, it may not be as exciting.  The Austin Zoo isn’t your typical zoo.  Most of the animals there are rescue animals.  They had owners who could no longer take care of them, were injured/abused, or were found and needed some special care.  It is a small zoo, but it has lions, tigers, bears, and some great animals to see.  There is a pretty large area for feeding animals (and a lot of animals to choose from).

Walking around the zoo gave us a lot of time to talk.  We were able to talk about creation and God’s incredible imagination when he created animals.  We also got to talk about our favorite animals and the ones that we thought were boring (that would be the birds for me).

t took us nearly an hour to get to the zoo (and an hour home) not counting our lunch stop.  We spent between 90 minutes to two hours in the zoo.  We didn’t ride the train, but did just about everything else.

Pro Tips:

  1. It may have its address in Austin, but it is much closer to Dripping Springs.  Plan accordingly before you go.
  2. Don’t go in the heat of the day.  A lot of the animals are trying to find shade or are sleeping which makes them hard to see.

Total Cost: $14.50 for two people with the Groupon (plus gas and lunch)

Dave and Buster’s


Several months back, Amanda and I went on a date where we were throwing axes at Epic Fun.  They gave us a game card to play some free video games.  There were hardly any people in the venue so we used all of our game card on the Jurassic Park video game.  We kept swiping the card until we beat the entire game.  We had a lot of fun playing the game so when Groupon offered a deal on “all you can play video games” at Dave and Buster’s, I jumped on it.

Dave and Buster’s was pretty crowded so there were some games, like air hockey, that were pretty crowded all night long.  Amanda was very excited because she beat me in basketball multiple times (and she beat me in some racing game where you blow people up with missiles).

There are a lot of games that you cannot use the card for (primarily the ones that have tickets), but there are enough games to keep you busy for a while.  The nice thing is that you could choose to eat at Dave and Buster’s while you are there, but we went just for the games.

Total cost: $25.00 for a two person game card

Bike Riding


This is an easy one that can be done with as much or as little prep as needed.  For us it took some preparation because we had some hurdles to overcome.  First, I don’t have a bike.  I started to research online and discovered that you can check bikes out from our local library.  I drove over the week before just to check it out (and to renew my library card).  I’m glad I did because I discovered that checking bikes out is just a theoretical concept.  All of the bikes at our library are apparently broken.  They referred me to the Visitor Center for our city.  I called and they only have one bike that works.  The rest are broken as well.  Luckily it is 2019 and social media was able to come to the rescue.  A post on Facebook landed me several bikes I could borrow from friends.

We got up in the morning, loaded our bikes, and drove over to one of our city parks that has trails.  We started riding and it was fairly clear we had two different sets of intentions.  I was wanting to ride all the way to the lake, hang out, and then ride back.  My oldest was looking for a short leisurely ride . . . but why go to all the trouble for a short ride, right?

When we hit the 1.5 mile mark she suggested we go to the two mile marker and then turn around and go back.  My mind still wanted to go all the way to the lake, but my butt spoke up and said, “Great idea!”  I was already starting to get uncomfortable from the bicycle seat that was foreign to my everyday experience.

After the bike ride, we grabbed lunch and spent some time talking about the morning.  I’d highly recommend this virtually free dad/daughter date!  It is great conversation, exercise, and gets you outdoors.

City Scavenger Hunt

Austin Texas Sunrise Golden Hour Skyline Cityscape Perfect Morning

Now that we have a middle school student in our family, we are morphing some of our family days to include friends.  The City Scavenger Hunt was our first family day that included some of our daughters’ friends and it ended up being a lot of fun.  In fact, we discovered that, unfortunately, our own children may be a little spoiled because our guests were much more excited (or less jaded) about the scavenger hunt.

This was another idea that came from Groupon and it is very easy to use.  In fact, we had booked our appointment about a month or so in advance, but as the day was approaching . . . so was a storm cell with torrential rain.  I made a call to the company that sold the Groupon and they said that it was not a problem at all and had me call when I was ready to reschedule.

When the day arrived, we loaded up four kids and headed to Home Slice Pizza.  It has been rated as one of the best pizza places in the United States so Amanda “wanted to take the girls there.”  Interestingly enough, she loves pizza and loves eating there so I’m not sure her motives were altruistic.  After lunch we drove up Congress Avenue and luckily found a spot pretty close to the Capitol.  Our instructions were to download the Goosechase app.  It is an app that facilitates scavenger hunts and we’ve used it several times already for church and personally.  After that, we were told to head to The Old Bakery and Emporium and upon arrival we would text a code to a phone number that would launch our Scavenger Hunt in the app.

The Scavenger Hunt was fairly generic.  You were taking pictures of stop signs, certain words on signs, and some people in certain professions.  We were playing as one team, and even though we had set a score that we wanted to attain, it helped to have other people from around the country playing as well to give you other goals.

I had two complaints with the game itself.  One of the great features of GooseChase is that you use it to upload pictures of what you have found or videos of what you did during the Scavenger Hunt.  A moderator then reviews your submission and will validate your score.  There was no moderator on duty for this game.  That meant you could take any picture you wanted and assign it to any category you wanted.

The other complaint was the location.  It was billed as an Austin Scavenger Hunt, but the people we were playing against were not in Austin and, as mentioned before, the clues were all very generic.  We didn’t have to drive 30 minutes to find The Old Bakery and Emporium.  We could have played where we lived and probably done better.

The game officially lasts two hours, but the elementary and middle school girls were only interested for the first hour.  I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t drive some place far to do it.


Pizza for 6 at Home Slice Pizza           $60.00

Groupon                                                       $20.00


oThis could definitely be done as a date with your spouse, too!  I’ll probably do it and blog about it down the road, but I recently did this with my oldest daughter.

We went out to Central Texas Archery in Austin.  I got the idea from Groupon and it was a fairly cheap idea so I jumped on it.  You’ll need to lower your expectations of what you expect upon arrival.  This is an outdoor facility and I’m not sure “facility” is the right word. There is a large shed where you check in, but the rest of the venue is outdoor targets.  Don’t misinterpret that as it being a bad venue, but if you are expecting a building you might be caught by surprise.  Everything out there is well maintained and in great shape.

We signed up for the beginning archery class and we were put in a group of four (including ourselves).  We learned a few important things, like how to wear the arm guard, how to hold the bow, how to place the arrow (and all the fancy names for those things).  The staff was great.  They got the right bow and the right sized arrows for both us and then took us out to the course.

You have six to eight arrows.  I can’t remember the exact number now, but you shoot them all several times to warm up.  After a few warm up sessions (I’m not sure what to call it), then you start keeping score.

We were probably out there for about an hour or so, but it was a good amount of time.  Raley, my oldest, was “done” right before the clock officially ran out on us.  The staff was very friendly and helpful.  I’d highly recommend it as a different date with your kids!

Cost: $25 for two on Groupon, but you can add a discount code to make it even less.

Treasure Hunting

preview-lgWe started calling it “treasure hunting” back when my youngest was little.  Everyone else calls it geocaching.  I guess we should start with what geocaching is in case that is an unfamiliar word for you.  If you are a hardcore geocacher, please forgive my explanation, as it’s for those of us who are new to the idea.

People hide a container (air tight and water tight) some place and they tag the GPS coordinates to the place they’ve hidden it.  Using an app (mine is called “Geocaching” and is green with a four white squares) you can look at a map of your surrounding area.  On the map it will show location of caches all around you.  Some of the caches require a subscription, but there are a lot that are free.

The app will link you to Google Maps so you can drive to the general vicinity and then switch to a compass mode and follow the arrow until you get close.  You won’t end up right at the cache, but you’ll be pretty close.  Then you look until you find it.  After finding it, you open it up, sign the paper inside, and then put it back for the next person.

This is an easy and free date to take your kids on.  We’ve found parts of town we had never been to before and explored some fun places.  On our most recent date we went up Pickett Trail over by the river.  We had to walk through some brush and trees in order to find the cache, but the best part was the view of the river.  We’ve lived here for seventeen years and we’d never been on that trail or seen those views . . . and I’ll be going back.

Sno Cones and Games

348sThis is an easy one that any parent can do!  I grabbed our youngest and headed over to Target to pick up a couple of board games.  If you have games at home, you don’t need to do this step.  We have a TON of games, but I was specifically looking for some easy ones that wouldn’t take up a lot of table space.  We bought Yahtzee and Uno because both of ours had disappeared out of the game closet.

After that we headed over to Hula Cowgirl which is my favorite sno cone place in town, but you just need a place where you can sit, enjoy your sno cone and play!  We played a couple of games of Uno and then I had to teach her how to play Yahtzee.  That might even be something you do purposefully . . . find a new game to learn.

The cost is pretty simple:

Couple cheap games: Less than $15

Two sno cones: Less than $15 (we get ice cream, cream, and all kinds of “upgrades” on our sno cones, so you can do it for MUCH cheaper).

Bring your own games and get non-upgraded sno cones and you can do it for less than $10 total!