The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us

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New Blog

Hello friends! We want to invite you all to view our new blog–Parenting with Bells On. We aren’t getting rid of this blog, but it will now primarily be used for family updates.


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Monastery Retreat

Last fall, Bill sent me away for a whole week to the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Bardstown.  It was by far the longest period of silence I have ever had, and it was wonderful to spend that much time praying, reading, and listening to sermons and music (O.K. so I guess I didn’t have total silence).  Here are some things I did:

  • Went through the retreat chapter in “Shopping for Time.”  I have gone through this evaluation each retreat I’ve taken, looking at my personal godliness, family, church, friendships with both believers & non-believers, attending to my work, and my health.
  • Read several articles by Mark Driscoll, Carolyn Mahaney, and Tim Keller
  • Read all or parts of “Love That Lasts,” “Simple Hospitality,” “Grace-Based Parenting,” Start Here” (I’m going through this with the young woman I’m mentoring), & “A Praying Life
  • Memorized lots of scripture
  • Journaled
  • Listened to sermons by Matt Chandler and C.J. Mahaney

I don’t know if all monasteries are the same, but this one is completely free (donations gladly accepted) & you can either stay Monday-Friday or Friday-Monday.  You can schedule up to four months in advance and pretty much have to schedule that early to get a reservation.  All food is provided.  It’s a great option for some time away.

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Praise Factory

Several months ago, Bill used a curriculum called Praise Factory with our children.  I used this curriculum when I was the children’s director at our previous church, but they began offering the program and all resources for free a while back.  It was written by Connie Dever (Mark Dever’s wife) and is basically systematic theology for kids of all ages.  It’s a bit confusing to navigate through at first, but you eventually get the hang of it.  The program is set up to be used with a classroom of children, but we have modified it to be used during our family worship time.  We only did it a few nights a week.  The first night Bill told the story of the week (an OT, NT, and more “modern” story for each Big Idea), the next time he would reinforce the story, usually with drama but sometimes with a craft, game idea, or snack.  We would usually learn part of the scripture memory song and use the VIPP (very important prayer person) suggestions to teach our children how to pray for our church leaders.  It would be a lot of work to try to do everything she suggests each week for your personal family, so if you go this route I would encourage you to only pick 2-3 ideas for your family. 

One more thing, the music is seriously cheesy sounding to Bill and me.  Honestly we hate it (good grief we can be judgemental when it comes to music!), so two things have happened.  Either Bill has rewritten the music so it sounds more appealing, or we realize that the only ones who don’t prefer it are us, the parents.  The kids don’t care and rock it out to anything.  It’s still a great way to hide the word in their hearts.  🙂


Affordable Dating

Though I have mentioned in previous posts about how to get babysitters free and have given resources that list cheap things to do on dates, I have not addressed how to have a less expensive date if you do have a bit of money to spend.  There is a not-well-kept secret I am about to let you in on.  I really love eating out.  Even with all the weight loss I have experienced over the last year, I still love it, maybe even more.  Now I love going online to search the menu and look up nutrition info so I can choose the best dish for me, & then I daydream about that food all day.  🙂  The more children we have and the more God grows us with our stewardship, the less we find ourselves in a restaurant.  So I kind of feel like eating out is a “must” for our dates out.

There are a few ways you can save some bucks doing this.  One is to follow a coupon blog or two.  These blogs don’t just benefit huge couponers but have something for everyone.  They will often list when restaurants have some big mark-downs (many of these happen on holidays & birthdays) or offers they give to facebook fans, for instance.  We will frequently go to a restaurant with at least a $5 off coupon for orders of $20 or more, not terrible for a “sit-down” restaurant.  A few I follow are:

Money Saving Mom

Mrs. Moneysaver


Another great resource is “The Entertainment Book.”  These are put out every year, and you request ones that are in your area.  They are full of huge discounts on restaurants, amusements, movies, shopping, etc. where you live.  They are fairly expensive if you buy them in the beginning of the year ($35.00), but considering there are many “buy one get one free” entrees, you could quickly make that money back.  Also, the longer you wait in the year, the more the price of the book goes down.

Don’t forget to take advantage of  You can often get a $25 gift card for $2 if you use a coupon code.  We are sitting on four coupons right now and just used one at the end of last year to go to a restaurant we love, love, loved!  It’s especially a great opportunity to try out local restaurants.

Most of you probably know about Groupon, but if not, you should sign up.  You get a daily email with the deal for that day, often this is half off a purchase, and it’s mainly for local establishments.  You have to sign up for the groupon the day it’s advertised, but the groupon often doesn’t expire for a year or so. 

Finally, date at times that are not typical.  Because of our babysitter’s schedule, we almost always go out around lunch time on Saturdays instead of the evening.  Often, you can eat off the lunch menu for cheaper and still get huge portions.  If you do go at night, many restaurants will let you have lunch-size portions for the lunch price if you request.  You just have to ask.


How Do You Plan Dates?

One thing I have had to learn about dates is it’s not about the event we do together but the time to reconnect.  This was a hard lesson to learn because I’m an explorer by nature.  I love trying new things and seeing new places, so in my heart I would be discouraged any time Bill and I got away and the date wasn’t “perfect.”  You know the ones, either you have no money so you can only walk around a park with $1 sodas from McDonald’s, or your plans just didn’t work the way you had hoped.  I would have considered those (which are honestly most of our dates) an epic fail.  Slowly, though, God has changed my heart to love any time I get with my Bill no matter what is going on around us.

One of the things that has served us is preparing some discussion questions we can use with one another while we’re out.  Truthfully it is rare that we get to these.  We usually have plenty to discuss!  However, sometimes the conversation isn’t flowing as well, especially on days one or both of us are tired, so the questions help us push through to have meaningful conversations in spite of how we feel.  It’s amazing how much we have learned from each other through these questions we never would have thought to ask.

A few resources we have used for question ideas are “40 Unforgettable Dates with Your Mate” by Gary & Barbara Rosberg, “Devotions for Couples” by Patrick Morley, & “201 Great Questions for Married Couples” by Jerry Jones. 

One word I will say here.  We don’t go to the movie theatre often.  Don’t get me wrong–we LOVE movies.  But except for a few important exceptions (Harry Potter, many comic book movies, etc.) 😉 we don’t find it to be a good use of our time together.  Movies=no talking, and it usually takes up half the time or more of our dates.  There have even been times we have left a restaurant after walking in because it was such a loud atmosphere that we couldn’t hear each other.  That is just to say, be careful when planning your dates that you choose options that will make for optimal conversation.

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Dating Resources

Since dating is becoming more and more important to us the larger our family gets, we have invested a bit of money toward books with date ideas.  I have already listed a few in a previous post here.  We have added to our collection since then and will list our updates below.  Obviously, some are better than others, but we have gleaned ideas from all at one time or another.

All of the books I have listed are written by Christians; however, we also own several written by non-believers, too.  I’m not listing them here because they contain a few ideas that would not bring glory to God if practiced between a married couple, and to set you at ease, we don’t practice them.  🙂  Unfortunately, though, putting those ideas aside, secular books are often the best places to find good date ideas because they aren’t afraid of doing or talking about things many Christians fear, like sex, alcohol, or dancing.  🙂  That’s just to say that those books have been good resources for us, but if you are going to purchase them, do so prayerfully and with discernment.  We have many times blacked out inappropriate suggestions or torn out pages, mainly to guard our own hearts.

2002 Things To Do On a Date

365 Great Date Ideas

The Little Book of Great Dates for Mates