dating on a budget

datenight-01 Matt and I are for sure on a budget, but we're also in a season of life where we so desperately want to soak in some serious quality time, since come September it will no longer just be us two (and Scout!) While we do have a small date budget each month, we're finding creative ways to build in date nights weekly that are free or super cheap. I absolutely believe that you can cultivate true intimacy in your marriage and have super fun and quality date nights without dropping $60+ on a restaurant dinner. Here are 15 of my favorite ideas!

  1. Have a game night // There are plenty of games that are plenty fun with just two people. Some of our favorites include gin rummy, Boggle, Scrabble (or speed Scrabble or Bananagrams) or Skip Bo.
  2. Watch a movie // Have Amazon Prime? There are tons of movies on there that come free with your membership, including some great oldies. Don't have Amazon Prime? You can rent movies on Amazon for $4 or $5 if you don't want to leave the house to get a Redbox. Pop some popcorn, snuggle up under a cozy blanket and turn all the lights off. Who needs the theater?!
  3. Make pizza together // A Friday night tradition that we accidentally created is the Friday Night Pizza Dinner. We get a pizza kit (gluten free, although you can also make your own dough recipe totally from scratch. I'm sure there are a thousand recipes on Pinterest) and have fun getting all floury and seeing who can have the most perfect arrangement of pepperoni. We each make one for ourselves. Mini pizzas would also be fun--the combinations are endless!
  4. Have a cook-off // Pick one dish or one category, and compete with each other to see who can whip up the best dish. Whether it's salad, baked chicken or something on the grill. You'll get creative, probably have a food fight and at the end, have TWO delicious entrees to eat. And, all the ingredients can come from your normal grocery budget, because you have to eat dinner anyway, right?!
  5. Play video games // Yeah, I'm serious. You can usually rent video games from your library for free, and who doesn't love some old fashioned Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers or an in-house FIFA tournament? Plus, if you guy is anything like mine, he'll be SHOCKED and AMAZED that you are suggesting video games willingly as a date night.
  6. Take a walk // Grab the dog's leash or just head out, the two of you, for a walk around the neighborhood or town. It might seem obvious, but it's amazing the kind of rich conversation you can have while aimlessly wandering around. I love to walk new routes with Matt, and point out houses we've never noticed before.
  7. Take a drive // I'm super interested in architecture and get so inspired by houses and neighborhoods, so a great cheap date night idea is picking up some milkshakes and driving to a cool part of the city to drive around and look at all the cool old houses. Snap photos of your favorites--you might even find yourself working some ideas into a future house design or search someday!
  8. Check out what your city or town has on tap // Most cities and towns have a full calendar of events and happenings, usually free, for people to take advantage of. From free nights at the museum to First Friday art gallery walks to interesting talks on the art of love letter writing, there's probably tons to do for free right in your own hometown. Your Chamber of Commerce or visitor's bureau should have a calendar on their website.
  9. Go hiking // Any nature trails or state parks nearby? For a few bucks entrance fee, you can hike the day away. We are so lucky to have a couple state parks within close driving distance (and a bunch more within a few hours!) so it's super doable to spend an evening hiking and even pack a picnic dinner!
  10. Watch your wedding video or look through your wedding memories // Seriously, this one pulls out all the feels. How often do you look at your wedding album? Once a year, if that? You paid mucho dinero for those memories to be captured, and as a former wedding photographer myself, I can say that they are truly meant to be enjoyed, and often! So watch your wedding video on a random Tuesday. Look through your wedding photos other than once a year on your anniversary. Ask each other what their favorite part of the wedding was. Ask each other how they felt as you saw each other for the first time. Ask each other what their favorite part of being married is. These are some of my most favorite date nights, when we're just sitting across the table from each other but having these conversations. It never gets old!
  11. Go bowling // Go on late date to the bowling alley. A lot of bowling places offer discounted rates after their peak time (around here, it's after 9:30pm) where you can bowl for as little as $1 per game + a couple bucks for shoe rental. For 10 bucks, you could bowl a few games and have a super fun date night out.
  12. Look at the stars // I know, I know, this sounds so cheesy. Until you actually do it! Pack a blanket and some beverages and head out to a deserted country road to look at the stars one night. It's easy, free and nothing makes me feel more connected to God and the universe (and my husband!) than holding hands under that huge starry sky.
  13. Check out a baseball game // We have a Triple A team here in Indy (the Indians!) For $10 per ticket, we can sit in the lawn, bring our own food and drinks, and watch the free fireworks show afterwards.
  14. Watch cartoons // Yes, I'm serious. Matt has never seen Rugrats because he didn't have cable growing up, so you can bet that one of our upcoming date nights will be spent renting a Rugrats DVD from the library and introducing him to the awesome that is Tommy Pickles. We've also watched his childhood favorite, Tom & Jerry. Pick out a dvd of our fave cartoons from when you were a kid and spend a night on the couch pretending you're 5 again. It's the best. Because you can also have ice cream for dinner and no one can tell you no.
  15. Volunteer together // Whether it's helping with a river clean-up, serving food at a homeless shelter or walking dogs at the humane society, volunteering together can be such an awesome experience and it's totally free!

What are some other ideas that you've heard of, done or loved? I'd love to hear! We're always looking for new ideas :)

*this post contains Amazon affiliate links, which may provide a teeny commission to me at no cost to you. thanks for making vallarina creative possible! // photo by lisa walker, pre pregnancy, because #beer. 

our family photos

I never quite understood when people called themselves a family, but had no kids. It's been a funny revelation to realize that "families" don't have to mean two parents and a couple of little ones. The minute Matt and I said "I do," we became a family. Typing that brings the biggest smile to my face. We remind each other of that often--WE'RE a family now. We're starting traditions that we'll someday, God willing, share with our kids...but our new family tree has already begun. So it's fun to share these "family" photos with you all. We met the sweet Caitlin Sullivan a couple weeks ago on a beautiful Saturday morning and wandered around cute, quaint downtown Zionsville. We had our Christmas photos taken right before we adopted Scout and he wasn't in them, so we needed some shots of our whole family unit! Suffice it to say, I am in LOVE with these photos. The scrunchy face laughter, the ones of Scout with his grumpy face or doing some goofy thing, I look at these photos and they sum up everything about this season of life...which I know will be gone before I know it. Photos are SO powerful, people. I'm so grateful for souls like Caitlin who share their talents and hearts with the world and give us gifts we'll cherish for a lifetime!

5 months \\ 5 things

Matt and I have been married for five months today. Five months. On one hand, it feels like the wedding was FOREVER ago, especially now that the winter weather advisory has kicked in and the balmy July days feel like they were ages ago. On the other hand, it's hard to believe it's already been five months. I remember being so excited on the honeymoon for Christmas (haha) and now here we are, 20-something days out, 5 months later. Time is weird! In the spirit of my 2014 goal of authenticity, I wanted to share some things I've learned in these 5 months. I know I've definitely struggled with the transition to newlywed life. And it feels like that's taboo to say. If you're in your young 20s and married and your response to "how is newlywed life" is anything but "ohmygosh, SOOO perfect!" people automatically assume you jumped in too quick, were too young, and are getting divorced. It seems like everyone is trying to propagate this image that newlywed life (or really, any phase of life) is picture perfect, totally blissful, Pinterest-come-to-life. I'm guilty of creating that illusion myself, what with my carefully selected Instagrams and Facebook posts of "perfectly" styled dinners, "perfectly" decorated apartment and "perfect" cute dates together. I was having a conversation recently about the role social media plays in our lives, and it was pretty alarming to me, how much we're putting a whole lot of illusion out there onto the internet, and how we're all eagerly lapping up each other's illusions and convincing ourselves that our lives, our beautiful, wonderful, blessed lives, are not enough. So, you'll probably be seeing less posts from me. And more real-life reflections, like this one. Here goes.

Five Things I've Learned in Five Months of Marriage

1. A prioritized pet-peeve list is helpful for everybody :: Write it out and stick it on the fridge. Because when you say "ohmigod that is LITERALLY my BIGGEST pet peeve!" What you really mean is: a) figuratively and b) it's really your fourth biggest pet peeve, so if your spouse has to choose between leaving the toilet seat up after using the bathroom, leaving dirty socks on common surfaces like the coffee table, throwing trash in an overflowing trash can or storing bread in the microwave, he should pick the socks, the trash or the microwave, because the toilet seat is FOR SURE the biggest, which he would know by consulting the fridge-list. Not that my husband is guilty of any of these, of course ;)

2. Your marriage is not anyone else's marriage ::  And yours will probably look nothing like theirs. And that's great, because you are not them. And God loves you. And them. But there's no reason for you to be like them. And it's really harmful when you start thinking because your marriage doesn't look like theirs, you're doing something wrong. Maybe you are doing something wrong. Or, maybe you're not. Maybe you're just different people and therefore your life looks different. Marriage is under attack by society on so many levels, you can't let yourself start attacking it from the inside, too. Which brings me to number three...

3. Put your relationship first :: I always heard this advice, but never understand why it would be hard to follow. Oh man, is it hard to follow. When you're young and newly married, and have lots of friends and family who want to spend time with you, and you're trying to work as much as possible to pay off debt and get your finances in order, there is precious little time to invest into your relationship. There are weeks (lots of them!) where it feels like Matt and I go five straight days without a substantial conversation. And there's pressure (lots of it!) to continue to make time for our friends and family, and rightfully so. But at the end of the day, when there's only so much time to split between so many people, your marriage has to come first. It has to.

4. Talk. Really talk. :: On Sundays, we try to ask each other the same five questions. Sometimes (more so in the beginning of "real life" after the honeymoon) it's over a long dinner. Most weeks, especially lately, it's at 11 p.m. on Sunday night right before we fall asleep when one of us remembers. These are the questions we ask each other: How did you feel loved this week? What does your week look like? How can I pray for you this week? How can I love you better this week (specifically in your love language?) How will you best feel pursued in intimacy this week? Those are my favorite conversations. So much of our conversing is filled with "did you see what so-and-so posted on Facebook?" or "oh my gosh, I saw the funniest thing on Twitter!" that it's super important and truly necessary to talk about what's on our hearts, what we're feeling, and to listen to each other too. It's hard, but when we make the choice to put the iPhone down and tune in to each other, it's so rewarding.

5. "Pray without ceasing" ::  This verse in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is perhaps my favorite of all. It's just so…common sense. Like if there was no other advice or direction from God, this could be it. And it's been SO important in our marriage. One thing that was heavily emphasized to us during our marriage prep, and ceremony, is that a marriage isn't just between two people. It's not just me and Matt against the world. There's three of us here in Casa Keinsley--Me, Matt, and God. It's not just Matt and I making decisions together about how to spend our time or how to invest our money. God's at the center of it all, and I couldn't imagine a life or a marriage where He wasn't. It's just too hard! The stresses of life are seriously too much for me to handle on my own, even with Matt by my side. Between the job search for Matt that feels endless, the financial decisions, trying to figure out decisions for our future and our future family, it just gets overwhelming! But when we take it back to prayer, it all evens out. After all, I truly believe that my marriage isn't about me, or Matt. I didn't marry Matt so I could live happily ever after. I married Matt because I saw a wonderful, Christ-like spirit, and I knew that God was calling me to build His kingdom with this guy. Maybe that means traveling the world and doing mission trips, or maybe it just means that we raise a family of God-like kids and be good people and parents and make the world a better place in that way. I think marriage is a vocation, just like being a priest or a nun is a vocation. They're called to serve the Lord by serving through their church position, I'm called to serve the Lord through my marriage. And at the heart of that service, without a doubt, is prayer.

I'm so grateful for this guy and the patience, love, forgiveness and happiness he shows me everyday. It's been a beautiful, wonderful, HARD and sanctifying first few months. I'm so humbled to be sharing life with him.

Happy Thursday! XO.

3 years!

Today marks three years since the first time Matt and I hung out! In a very uncharacteristic move, I decided to hop in my car and drive almost two hours to Greencastle to hang out with a guy I'd only been texting/Facebook messaging for three months. We went to a cook-out on the quad, played cards with his friends and went to a high school baseball game. Needless to say, it was the beginning of an incredible journey for us! I had fun going all the way back to the beginning of our Facebook friendship this afternoon...check out our hilarious, shameless wall flirting! Too funny. (you have to read them from the bottom to top for it to make sense...)

I love you, Matthew James!


Today marks one year since Matthew James got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife! It seems surreal to me that it's already been one whole trip around the sun since that beautiful April day. I remember it like it was last weekend! Have we really been planning this wedding extravaganza for a YEAR?!

I packed my weekend bag and left Muncie right after my Friday class ended. Matt had asked earlier in the week if I wanted to go take pictures as soon as I got to campus. There is a spot out on a country road in Greencastle that had become "our spot." Poor Matt let me subject him to my endless whims of "Hey! It's pretty today! Let's take the tripod and go take silly pictures out on our road!" Even thought I protested that we'd been to that spot a hundred times, that's where he wanted to go. I thought it was a little weird that he'd be the one to suggest a photo adventure, so I painted my nails just in case. Mint green. But I didn't get my hopes up. I didn't expect a ring for another month, at least. I was leaving to study abroad for the summer at the beginning of June and I figured he'd try to surprise me at a going-away get together, or something.

I was wrong. Instead, he surprised on a warm Friday afternoon, on the side of a country road in Greencastle, the same spot where he asked me to be his girlfriend. There were these HUGE cows in a field nearby, I'm talking humongous. I thought they were buffalo. 

We took some pictures using the remote with the camera on a tripod. I was hungry and we'd been out to this spot a million times. And, okay, I was really afraid of those cows. I told Matt I wasn't feeling the photo thing today. Could we please go get some wings?

"There's one more I want to take! Just press the remote." I pressed. He knelt down. I screamed. I started laughing. I repeated over and over again, "what are you doing?! ohmygosh, what are you doing?!" even though I knew exactly what he was doing.

He asked me to marry him. I was praying he wouldn't drop the ring in the tall weeds we were standing in.

And suddenly there was a vintage, heirloom ring on my finger and the promise of a husband. Matt picked me up and spun me around. We called everyone we loved. I couldn't stop staring at my sparkly new accessory. Engaged. We were getting married.

I still feel as wildly giddy as I did a year ago. Still somewhat disbelieving of my good fortune. I get to marry this man. I get to be with him forever. This man who is patient, loyal, and kind. This man who regularly stops what he is doing to help out anyone who needs it without a second thought. Of course he'll leave the party early to give you a ride home so you don't walk in the dark. Of course he'll turn the TV off in the middle of the game to walk over and help you through your biochem homework. Of course he'll pick up your EMT shift so you can go trick-or-treating with your kids. This man who is a follower of Christ in a powerful but humble way. This man who has a servant's heart, albeit different than mine. He doesn't want to run off to Africa; he wants to serve right here in his own backyard. This man who believes in me, believes in the person I want to become, and who is forever invested in helping me get there. I get to spend every day with this man who makes me laugh, who listens to my wild dreams, who sends me emails all the time about exotic travel destinations, who comes over to hang out with me, only to have me fall asleep after being here 20 minutes, and stays another two hours with me just sleeping next to him. This man who is humble, smart, talented and respectful. This man is going to be my husband, and I thank God for him everyday.

I love you Matthew James. Happy engagaversary :)

when he asked me to be his girlfriend // when he asked me to be his wife