Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Savoring Time With Friends, Plus A Chance To Win $100 from Serve

This post is sponsored by Serve from American Express. Sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account!

It seems lately that everyone I know is going through the same "lean years" of marriage and friendships that my husband and I are. If you don't know instinctively what that phrase lean years means, 1.) I envy you, and 2.) it's that time in a marriage or life when the kids are a bit older, possibly even more emotionally exhausting than they were as toddlers, and have more activities that they need to be driven to, jobs are more intense as the drive to earn more money becomes more intense so you can pay for life you've grown accustomed to and college—which is looming on the horizon now—all of which conspires to make less time to hang out with your spouse or friends. 

My husband and I work hard to make sure we always get some time for just the two of us every week, but I feel like the only time I really get to catch up with anyone else is at the bus stop or during book club—and as much as I love 2 and a half minute conversations and shouting my latest shopping conquest over a glass of pinot, I crave a closer connection with my girlfriends.

Enter: A dinner for four. It seems nuts that this might be a foreign concept, but usually going out is all about big groups for birthdays, just me and my husband, or us going out with one other couple. For this night out I really wanted two of my neighborhood friends to spend time with a friend who lives further afield. I had a hunch that they would all get along really well, but hadn't been able to connect them in previous attempts made at parties with too many people in attendance—a party for four would be perfect.

And [patting self on back], I was right.

Our friendships had developed individually through the prism of motherhood... but as our eldest children turn into teens and our youngest start school, each of us is now stretching our wings and working on redefining ourselves as women with other goals and ideas. Designs that are still enveloped in the over-riding need to care for our families, to be sure—but the desire to make our individual marks on the world has surfaced and we've started taking steps toward achieving them. Steffani (aka @stitchcoach) has published a book in the past year, Terri has been back at her OT job part-time, and Mel has created Mel's Green Garden (@melsgreengarden), which grew from her passion for organic gardening.

It is such a gratifying thing to see the whole of my friends, not just the entertaining, cheerful or harried moms that used to arrive at weekly play dates or the slightly inebriated, "everything's great!" off-duty wives of book clubs past. I like seeing the ambitious strivers peeking through the relative comfort we all live in as "stay at home moms"—it makes me feel like I'm getting to see them when they were young and hungry to establish themselves in their careers. And that makes me love them all the more.

So, mission accomplished: we had a fabulous time over dinner at my favorite place, Lombardino's. After the dinner, instead of embarrassing myself, as usual, trying to split the bill with painfully slow mental math, we used the handy bill + tip calculator that the Serve app has built into it and paid for dinner. The trick here is that I had actually promised to take them out... my treat. But I didn't have the money to do so because I was so busy last month I apparently gave the wrong email out. Several times. So I didn't have the  money in my account that I thought would be there!

Yeah—I'm that friend. 

But with Serve, it totally wasn't a problem—because the next day, when I got the money deposited in the right account (phew!), all I had to do was open up the Serve app on my phone, find them in my contacts (which the app automatically detects on my phone) and then email each of them the $49 that they had put in for dinner the night before. So much easier than if I'd had to write checks and deliver them to each friend... or make them wait a month until I saw them again... or the hassle of going to the ATM to get cash and then manage to somehow not spend it before I actually them again.

Did someone say cheese for dessert?
Please tell me I'm not the only person here who has gone almost five months before paying back a friend for covering me at a dinner. Anyone? Please? 

A Serve account is ridiculously easy to set up online (www.serve.com/blog)—you can transfer money into it from your bank and then send that money to friends (who also have accounts) via their email address. The money in your account can either be transferred out or it can be spent via a linked Serve credit card that is accepted anywhere American Express is (you get the card in the mail just a few days after setting up the account online). It makes handling money among friends really easy—so you never have to worry about hunting someone down to give them a check again. It's like analog payments among friends has finally gone digital! Something I can totally get down with.

As you know, I was sponsored to try the Serve account, but I am recommending it to all my friends because it really is the easiest way to pay people back in this busy world we live in. Now, go sign up and then leave a comment so you can hopefully win $100 to help pay for some of your holiday goodies. :)

Remember to sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account! Official sweepstakes rules and regulations may be found by clicking here. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.