Dub’s Vintage Storybook Nursery

accidental okie storybook themed nursery

Dub’s nursery is a mishmash of everything I love. It’s my revenge at the universe for getting married before Pinterest was invented. (Seriously, I had to come up with all my wedding ideas on.my.own.).

My friend Liz, the first of us to have a baby, said she designed her daughter’s nursery for her, because she’d be the one in there exhausted in the middle of the night. Liz is as brilliant as they come.

So this – this is my baby-themed sanctuary.

Books were so integral to my childhood. Even now, master’s degree in writing in hand, I prefer children’s and young adult books over adult books. They are full of magic and wonder, and I want our Dubs to experience all those special books The Professor and I still enjoy reading. This is where our theme began.

I also wanted a design that was flexible. I didn’t want something so specific – like burlap and trains or something – that I couldn’t put it in the nursery if it wasn’t burlap or a train. Vintage storybook really turned into something special and unique. It is vintage storybook, but then there are some nautical elements, gold polka dots and different kinds of stripes. There’s modern fabric and very traditional elements, and art new and old.

It is me. Sorry, Dubs. 

accidentalokie nursery 2

 

accidentalokie nursery 1

The paint is Sherwin Williams North Star. It only took me five paint samples to find the perfect shade of not-too-blue, not-too-gray. The guy at the paint store finally gave me my very own swatch book. He said it was customer service, but I suspect it was pity for the eight-month pregnant lady who kept waddling in and buying sample after paint sample.

However, after this experience, I am a total believer in buying paint samples and not just going off the swatch. If you want proof, find one of my recipe posts and look for my kitchen.

It was supposed to be turquoise. But it’s like TUUUUURQQQQOOOOOOOIIIISSSE. 

Our chair is a glider recliner. It was a gift from my aunt, and I sleep in it about as much as I sleep in my bed. When looking for one, I searched high and low for something with a tall enough back for the Professor – he’s got ten inches on me. It works great for both of us.

I found the pouf ottoman on sale at Target for 50 percent off. Sometimes I prop my feet on it when rocking when the chair isn’t reclined. Other times it holds a book or a blanket. I know someday Dubs will think it’s his own special seat. The rugby stripe rug is one of my savviest purchases ever – Pottery Barn Kids. 50 percent off. Boom.

The gold polka dots came from someone on Etsy who had them for about a tenth of what they are at Land of Nod.

accidentalokie nursery horizontal book case 1

My vision for this space included monochromatic colors and very bright accents. As a part of the storybook theme, I wanted books on the wall, not only as art but aslo just as, well, books! By creating horizontal book shelves from Ikea RIBBA Picture Ledges, Dubs’ books become bright art in the room. As books come down and are put up, the arrangement always changes. In the coming years, the shelves will change with him.

I love every part of these bookshelves. 

accidentalokie nursery horizontal book case 2

The Take Heart plaque was a gift from some of our closest friends who brought it to the hospital when Dubs was born. The anchor refers to our fertility struggle. God gave me beautiful anchors as a standing stone in prayer and in remembering our sweet babies lost to early miscarriages. It’s a subtle but very special reminder of the journey we’ve walked and the grace we’ve seen.

accidentalokie nursery bench 1

In the ultimate test to our marriage, The Professor and I upholstered that bench by ourselves. It was just us, two Pinterest tutorials, a staple gun, foam, batting, fabric, and three arguments. But we did it! I know, right! The bench is an Ikea Kallax bookshelf, which can be used both standing up or on its side.

The wood-grain fabric is a little modern and a little traditional, and it fits perfectly in this space. The bins are from Target. They hold plush toys, plastic/wood toys, extra pillows and a few other odds and ends. The slots and bins are square, so some day when Dubs grows up, the whole thing can be stood up.

But for now, I have this vision of him being a little boy, tucked on his reading bench, digging into The Boxcar Children.

I know. It’s a romantic vision, but I’m sticking to it.

Accidental Okie nursery monogram

I selected a Jenny Lind crib. I liked it for a few reasons. It’s timeless, relatively inexpensive, made from sustainable New Zealand wood, and does not turn into a full-sized headboard, bunk bed or space ship. I’ve had too many friends buy a super fancy crib that they plan to use for decades to come, only to have their teething kid attack it with the ferocity of a rabid beaver. 

It was a gift from my parents and one of our longest family friends, Wendy. My mom called Wendy after she had me. She didn’t say, “It’s a girl” or anything social acceptable like that. All she said was, “Don’t do it, Wendy. It hurts too bad!”

Our giraffe is so cute and special – a gift from my amazing work team. I haven’t named him yet, but I’m leaning towards Mr. Neck, an ode to The Mindy Project.

Every kid who sees Mr. Neck is completely entranced, and it was Dub’s first buddy. He’s watched it ever since he started noticing the world around him. It serves as a sort of mobile that he can look at while he’s falling asleep. Just another reason I’m glad I didn’t buy a mobile. Not only are they expensive, but it turns out that you don’t need one if you have a ceiling fan! (Seriously people, ceiling fan = hours of baby entertainment).

I ordered our monogram from an Etsy seller. We got it unpainted, so it was crazy inexpensive. After the many hours spent attempting to achieve a flawless, glossy finish, I wish I paid to have it painted.

The native Californian in me still freaks a bit at the thought of having something hanging above the crib. But each of those monogram elements – which are all quite light – are held on by several 3M stripes that are each supposed to hold 20 pounds. So, I think we’re good. 

The beautiful lamb elements – the sheet, changing pad cover, pillow and blanket – were all gifts from a sweet family friend, Tiff, who saw my mood board and then saw that set at Land of Nod. She surprised me with it, and I love it all so much. I’m super picky and sort of a snob and usually when people surprise me with things for a well-planned anything, I’m not a happy camper. But somehow, Tiffany got in my head and somehow knew. She’s cool like that. Not only are the lambs subtle and beautiful, but it provides a further zen feeling to our calm room.

accidentalokie nursery crib 2This little guy came to us just a few weeks ago to solve the problem of the toy pile next to the bed. Now I just toss all of Dub’s toys he plays with in his crib into this perfect basket. Then I put the whole basket in the crib with him to play.

When did I get so smart?

accidentalokie nursery gallery wall

Our gallery wall is where the vision for this room really started – a mix of vintage and whimsey. 

The Winnie the Pooh prints are original pages from 1939 editions of Winnie the Pooh, purchased off Etsy for a shockingly small amount of money. The jump-roping foxes and kite-flying whales are from a Brooklyn artist. There’s custom calligraphy, and new born pictures of Dubs, who doesn’t even look like that anymore. (sniffle) 

accidentalokie nursery dresser 3

Our dresser is the Ikea Hemnes. It holds all the things.

accidentalokie nursery dresser 5

My official organization style is called “good intentions,” so having a dresser that’s made to fit Ikea’s organization dividers, it’s super helpful. 

accidentalokie nursery bunnyBunny.

accidentalokie nursery closet

The closet is also my attempt at sustainable organization. It’s working so far.

accidentalokie nursery look 2

Before I was gifted with the beautiful lamb bedding, this is what I bought for the room – bright-lettered sheets to match the books, and an anchor changing pad cover to carry our anchor theme and match the navy blue accents.

By the time Dubs has such a giant blowout that we need to wash the changing pad cover, it’s time to change the sheets. So we go back and forth between lambs and letters/anchors. I like switching it up between subtle and bright.

Dub’s room works so well for us. It’s peaceful every time I walk in there at 3 a.m. It’s bright in the morning and calm at 10 at night.

 But of all my favorite views in the nursery, these are my favorites.

accidentalokie nursery dubs 2

accidentalokie nursery dubs

Budget Binder (And Free Printables)

the reluctant budgeter

My reluctant budgeting continues.

The first time I met with my budget mentor Pat, we talked about the benefits of the cash system.  Money can seem theoretical when it’s electronically zipping out of your debit card.  A few dollars here and a little stop at the store there, and you’ve unknowingly blown your budget.

So we’re working on the cash system.  Not for everything.  We’re not taking dollars and exact change to the mortgage company, but we are using cash for everything except bills, charitable giving and gas for our cars.  It’s divided into five categories:

  • Groceries – food, cat stuff, toiletries, household cleaning supplies
  • Clothes & Makeup – including my more expensive hair-care products
  • Entertainment & Eating Out – this how we feed our Thai food addiction.
  • Play Money – a little pocket money for The Professor and me during the week.
  • Gifts – Because we have a lot of nephews and nieces, we’re putting $40 back each month for gifts and hoping that this will cover birthdays all year and Christmas.

Pat told me that I needed to figure out an organization system.  She said a budgeting system has to have two important elements: it must work for you and you must like it.

Translation: make it pretty.

Yes, you heard right…straight from my mentor’s own lips.  Her reasoning is this: who really wants to spend all that time budgeting?  But if you have to do it, it’s easier when you have created an inviting system that you can tuck into once a week.  Now, I’m sure there are accountants out there who just love spreadsheets and feel at home amongst those white and black lines, but I’m not one of those people.

Being me, I couldn’t find paper and organizers that I liked.  I knew I wanted things to be color coded.  I knew that I needed to keep details to a minimum, and I knew I wanted thick paper.  So, being me, I made my own system.

budget binderIt started with a regular-sized, 1-inch binder with the clear front pocket where you can slide in a cover sheet, some plastic binder pouches to serve as money envelopes and binder dividers.  (In case you long to be just like me, I put the links to the exact things I bought.  You know, since everyone wants to be like me.)  Then I designed my system.  Each of the five categories of the cash budget has a section within the binder that contains three items.

budget binder | www.accidentalokie.comFirst, there’s the cover page.  This is important because this where I defined my categories.  When I told Pat my grocery budget, she said it was a little high, but when I explained that it included things like cat litter, cleaning supplies and toothpaste, she said that it was actually  accurate.  (Score!)  Having all these things lumped together works for me because I buy a lot of them in the same place. Also, I knew I needed my system to be as simple as possible, or I wouldn’t use it.

budget binder ledgerNext is the ledger where once again I kept things simple.  It has three categories: date, details and dollars.  I’ve simplified things further by not recording my purchases by date, but by week.  I section off each month and write how much money we’ve budgeted for the category.  Our grocery budget has seen an increase since my sister has moved in, so we’ve been learning how to adjust for a third eater and a second gluten-free eater.

In the details column, I write down notes.  This is especially helpful if my bill was especially high.  One grocery trip, I had to buy allergy medicine and supplies for a big pizza party.  That will be good to remember when I’m reviewing the month.  I also keep track of cat expenses, so I have a better idea what to budget for Charlie and Pippa.

budget money folderFinally, each category has the cash, stored in the convenient plastic pouch from Office Max.  The goal is for these envelopes to accrue cash – for us to not spend to the limit every month but to build a cushion for a rainy day (or when we want to buy rib eyes or other splurges).

I tried the cash system once before and carried all the cash with me.  This didn’t work for two reasons: First, I was stressed about carrying several hundred dollars with me.  But second (and the real reason), I would be like “Oh look how much money I have!  I should get a coffee,” or “We can totally afford eating out again this week month.”

budget binder percentages

Another thing Pat and I talked about was deciding how much to spend on each category.  She gave me the generally accepted guidelines, which I designed as part of my binder.  My hope is to do quarterly check ups of our spending against this guide.

I’ve been on the system for about a month now.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • A cash system does not work if you forget to get cash before you leave the house.
    I’ve had to learn to give The Professor and me our $20 of play money at the beginning of every week so that we don’t use our debit cards for little purchases.  I’ve also had to make sure to get grocery money before every trip.
  • I can afford things.  
    Before I started the cash system, I spent a lot of time being frustrated because I couldn’t afford things.  I’d tell myself it was the plight of a teacher’s wife.  Now that we have entertainment and play money budget categories, I’ve been able to buy little things that I want.  I was at Target last weekend and saw the soundtrack to the Les Mis movie (the only movie I’ve seen twice in the theatre since high school), and rather than feeling sorry for myself, I bought it with my play money.
  • I spend too much.
    I’ve already pinpointed areas of over-spending, which I’m now able to address.  Also, I was spending money on things I didn’t know about.  For instance, I had a Weight Watchers membership.  Who knew?
  • Grace
    Pat told me that it will take about three months of doing this consistently before I’m not overspending every month.  In the interim, I’m remembering to have grace with myself.
  • I feel empowered!
    Maybe this reluctant budgeter is becoming a little less reluctant.

Because I love all my followers and because I hope this is helpful for you, I’ve created printables so you can have a beautiful budget notebook, too!

budget binder printables | www.accidentalokie.com

Below are PDFs so you can create your own budget binder.

binder cover
percentages
cover groceries | groceries sheet
cover clothes | clothes sheet
cover entertainment | entertainment sheet
cover play money  | play money sheet
 cover gifts | gifts sheet 

If you want to make your own modifications to the sheets, I used AlexandriaFLF Font throughout the budgeting sheets. It’s a free font you can download here.

Update: July 2013

Due to popular demand, I’ve released a series of completely customizable budget sheets! You can see them here:

Customizable Budget Binder | Accidental Okie

Dont’ miss Reluctant Budgeter Post 3: Weekly Meal Plan Organizer and Free Printables

Gift Wrapping Tutorial: Part One

cover

Gift wrapping is one of my favorite parts of Christmas.  I love putting in the effort to make each gift, as small or grand as it might be, something special and cherished for the recipient.  Plus – let’s be honest – I just like making things pretty.

I spent my college years working in high-end retail where proper gift-wrapping technique was drilled in me.  Substandard wrapping jobs were torn open by the shop owner and wrapped again and again until perfect.  I learned how to wrap fast and efficiently, and how to select wrapping materials that are as frugal as they are beautiful.  And now I’ll share all my tips with you!

I worked with Brandi from Life by Brandi, a natural-light photographer in Oklahoma City, for these photos.  I couldn’t possibly take pictures of a step-by-step wrapping tutorial, and I was thrilled when Brandi said she’d help me!  If you live in Oklahoma, you should check out her awesome photography.  She does a lot of family and little kid portraits, and said she enjoyed working with me because she didn’t have to bribe me with candy to smile.  Or so she thought…

We took so many photos of several wrapping tutorials that I’m splitting them up into two posts.  Today, we’ll look at basic wrapping, utilizing tissue paper and a six-loop bow.  Post two covers utilizing double-sided paper, four-loop bows, working with tulle, and selecting innovative and environmentally friendly gift bags!

There are a lot of photos in this post.  I wanted to give you as much information as possible without insulting your intelligence.  Sorry if I ere on the side of not enough details or too many.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

Okay, put on your Santa hat.  It’s time to delve in!

Assembling Your Materials

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping tutorial

Pull out ribbon, wrapping paper, tissue paper, tulle, tape – any old scotch tape will do, scissors, stickers and gift tags.

For the sake of simplicity, I didn’t add gift tags to this tutorial, but I will show you which step to add the tags to your bow if you’re using a hanging tag and not a sticker tag.

I prefer the thickest wrapping paper possible.  If it’s not thick, you can’t pull it tight around the gift box – it will just tear at the corners.  I get my wrapping paper from Hobby Lobby during Christmas.  It’s 50 percent off, which makes it about $5 for a huge roll, and I only buy patterns that can be used year around.  Now every year I buy one roll to add to my collection.

Wrapping on a hard surface is best.  Sometimes I wrap standing up.  Sometimes sitting down.  Sometimes sitting on the floor, although my back regrets it afterwards.

Gift One: Wrapping a Shirt Box

Most of my loose gifts – ones not already in their own package like a board game – go in a shirt box.  I get a big pack of multiple sizes from Hobby Lobby every year.

tissue paperFirst, make a tissue paper lining.  Lay a two-layer stack of tissue paper over your assembled box to measure the length.  Then fold the stack under until the paper is as long as the box.

tissue paper

On a flat surface, lay out the paper and give it a strong crease along the fold you measured.  The key to working with tissue paper is to keep it sharp and unwrinkled with strategic creases and folds.  Sure you’ll smush up tissue paper if protecting and packaging a breakable item, but more often than not, flat, creased tissue paper is the way to go.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Most tissue paper isn’t wide enough to be wrapped around the box, so make a second folded tissue paper stack for the other side of the box.  Place them box in the box so that there is room on each side of the box for a tissue paper flap.  Place the item your wrapping in the box.  Make sure to fold it nicely.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Now bring the two sides together.  Fold the top layer of tissue paper over so that it meets the bottom layer about half way across the box.  Make sure when you fold the tissue paper that you make a crisp fold.  Secure it with a sticker or piece of tape.  I got these fun mustache stickers at Hobby Lobby, but you could do anything from festive striped tape, funny stickers or monogram stickers.  The world is your oyster…err sticker!

Use this fancy tissue paper wrapping technique for anything you put in a box – clothes, china, books, picture frames.  Make sure to still include the tissue paper to protect breakables, just wrap it all in the beautiful folded paper.

6

Now it’s time for wrapping paper.

Only cut just as much as you need, and always cut an entire piece of paper.  Never cut out a square of paper, leaving a scrap left on the roll.  You can save your scraps, but save them in a separate roll.  It’s those scraps hanging off the roll that catch and cause large panels of your wrapping paper to get ruined.

Tape your first edge down really well.  This is going to anchor the rest of the wrapping, so make sure the tape is secure.

If you have a little extra paper on the length of your package like I had here, fold it over rather than cutting it off.  Folding the paper gives the edge a strong look, and hey, it’s less work!

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Now turn the package so the untaped flap is facing towards you.  Trust me.  It’s a small but important step.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Place a piece of tape on the flap.  The sticky side of the tape will be facing you and affixed to the inside of the wrapping paper flap.  Fold the tape over, pull the paper tight around the package and affix the folded tape to the box.  Repeat to the right and the  left of the tape if it’s a long box.

9

You’re halfway finished and there is not a single bit of visible tape on the package.  Fold in the corners, tape them down (no folding the tape this time since the flap will cover any tape) and and fold up the top flaps.  Repeat on the other side.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Stand the box on it’s edge and tape the side flaps down the same way as the center fold – with the tape folded under the wrapping paper and hidden.  Once again, it works best if the flap is facing away from you.  Repeat on the other side.

22

No tape!  Look at those sharp lines!

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Now it’s time for ribbon!  Conventional wisdom/wrapping etiquette (if there is such a thing) says the ribbon should cover the back seam.  So this package’s bow is on the long-side of the package since the seam was also on the long side.  I try to always do this.  But sometimes I’m running low on ribbon, so I don’t.

Take your ribbon and measure out enough to wrap around the package plus enough for a good bow.  Tie a knot.  This is where you can tie on a gift tag.  I tied on this cute jingle bell I found at Pier 1.  Tie another knot to secure the tag or bell.  (Skip this if you didn’t add anything).  Then tie a bow!

24

You can make the bow perfect after it’s tied by grabbing the loops of the bow in one hand and the tails in another and giving them both a gentle tug.  That should help everything to even out.

Gift Two: Tying a Multi-Loop Bow

31

The bigger the package, the bigger the bow! I wrapped this board game with a two-inch thick ribbon.  It’s a great size for big bows.

Start by measuring out your ribbon.  You’ll need enough to tie a bow around the package’s length and width with about eight inches of excess on either side.  I like to measure my ribbon by wrapping it around the package.  Then I cut it, pull it off the package, establish the exact middle of the ribbon and start again.  Remember when tying these wrap around bows, you’ll need to turn the package upside down and start at the underside.

The bigger the package, the bigger the bow!

Tie one knot.  Now it looks like this.  It’s pretty, but look at how nicely tufted the tied ribbon is.  And look at how sad and out of place the flat bottom ribbon looks.  Sad faces all around.

This important step will make it all right.  It will also keep you from having to ask someone to stick their finger on your ribbon.

I learned this step my first week working at one of my college boutiques.  I asked a sweet lady named Sadie – a seventy-year-old African American woman who could have walked straight out of a Harper Lee story – if she could hold a finger on my bow.  She said, “No, honey child.  You’ve got to learn to do that yourself.  We’re all too busy to stop and do that for each other.”  She showed me this step and I never looked back.

Start by identifying the ribbon forming the top of the knot.  For me, you’ll see that my right hand is holding it.  Next, thread that ribbon under all of the ribbon to the exact opposite quadrant of the package.  It’s going to go to where my left hand is.   Notice my green guiding arrow.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Now it looks like a complete mess.  Have no fear!

I’ve switched the ribbons in my hand.  Now my left hand is holding the ribbon that was threaded, and my right hand is holding the bottom ribbon, which has naturally moved into the top right quadrant of the package.   Tie it into a knot.  Magic is about to happen.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapping

Magic!  Now all four ribbons are pulled into the knot, not just the top ribbon.  This is a little trick that makes a huge difference in the appearance of your gift wrap.  Do it a few times and you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.

This is also when you would tie a gift tag on.  You want the gift tag to be on a fairly long string, because the bow will be a few inches on either side.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrap

To tie a bow: take a length of ribbon and make your first loop.  Scrunch it together at the end, twist the ribbon an entire turn and make a loop on the other side, making sure to scrunch and twist the ribbon at every step.

36

Soon it looks like this.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrap

Place the bow on the knot of the ribbon already wrapped around the gift.  Hold down the center of the bow on the knot.  Remember how I said to leave about eight inches of excess ribbon when you wrapped ribbon around the box?  Grab that and tie a knot around your bow.  Tie it really tight.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrap

Now it’s affixed.  You can fluff it and mess with it until it’s perfect.  Trim the excess.

www.accidentalokie.com | gift wrapwww.accidentalokie.com | gift wrap

And there you have it!  It looks so special and decadent!

I hope this was helpful to you and all your ribbon-tying endeavors!  Don’t forget to check out Gift Wrapping Tutorial Part Two!

 

Teacher Gift Ideas From a Teacher’s Wife

I remember the last day of school before winter and summer breaks when my mom would load me up with gifts for my teachers.  Later, I remember bringing special things for my high school teachers and a few special college professors.  These days, I’m on the other end, helping my husband, a high school science teacher, carry in the gifts he receives from students.

Basically, you should think of me as an expert in the world of teacher gift giving.  Well, sort of.

With the help of experience and after extensive polling of The Professor and a few of my teacher friends, I have some tips for memorable teacher gifts.

1. Notes and Cards

The Professor is scary smart and could have been whatever he wanted, but he chose teaching, and he loves it.  Between teaching, grading, planning and helping students, he works about 70 hours a week.  He’s happy when his students do well and frustrated when they do poorly.

When he gets a note from one of the students he invests so much in, it really makes his day.  The Professor keeps every one of the cards he’s ever received.  He reads each one and has them filed away at the house.  Notes are simple and inexpensive and very meaningful.

2. Homemade Treats

Teacher gifts don’t need to be expensive or elaborate.  Homemade cookies or peppermint bark are nice ways to thank a teacher for his or her dedication throughout the semester.  If your kiddos are younger, homemade craft projects are equally special.

If you’re an over achiever, Pinterest is full of amazing teacher gift craftiness.

3. Gift Cards

This may come as a shock, but teachers, they’re not in it for the money.  Gift cards for restaurants, bookstores, Starbucks, movie theatres, Bath and Body Works, and other little luxuries make great gifts.  Gift cards say – you work hard for our kid who we know talks too much in class and picks his nose, so go have fun for a change!

I know when giving a gift to your sister or spouse or bestie, gift cards seem impersonal, but they make an excellent teacher gift.  Teachers (and their spouses) really do appreciate them.  Just try to stay away from gift cards that have a lot of strange conditions.

I especially like it when The Professor gets Starbucks cards because he doesn’t drink coffee.  But I do!

4. Personalized Stationery

Teachers write a lot of notes – to parents, to other teachers, to students.  Personalized stationery would be a wonderful gift to any teacher, and something they probably wouldn’t buy for themselves.

And let’s face it, sometimes teachers have to lay down the law and be the bad guy.  No one likes doing that, but if a teacher has to write bad news to a parent about a kid misbehaving, nothing softens the blow like pretty stationery.

5. Classroom Supplies

Most teachers spend their own money to buy classroom supplies.  The Professor has even gotten in trouble once for going through too many dry erase markers.  Whether you give stage makeup to a theater teacher or a big box of colorful dry erase markers to a science teacher, you will be buying a thoughtful and useful gift!  Big boxes of tissues are also welcome!  Every year, The Professor gets a box of red pens and colorful dry erase markers in his Christmas stocking.

Similar to classroom supplies are subject-specific books.  The professor had so much fun at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago buying cool books about physics like this one.  There are so many fun reads useful for classrooms!  Some teachers like to have them sitting out for students to read during breaks, others give them to high-achieving students who need exciting extra work, and other teachers might incorporate them into their curriculum.  If you see a fun book on sale, grab it and keep it for a gift.  It will be appreciated!

Things Not to Get

Contrary to popular opinion, all teachers do not decorate with apples, wooden necklaces and potpourri.  Sorry to disappoint you.

I’ve seen a lot of teacher gift ideas that consist of a beach towel and sunscreen and a little note about relaxing all summer vacation.  Seeing those gift ideas honestly made my heart hurt just a little bit.  Many teachers do get to rest and relax during the summer, and if you know your child’s teacher is among them, a pool set is a great gift idea.  But here in Oklahoma where teacher salaries are really low, summers are a time to make extra income.  The Professor and most other teachers I know go straight from teaching to summer jobs.  So, as a teacher’s wife, my request is to not jump to the conclusion that your kid’s teacher is going to be sipping Mai Tais by the pool all summer.

Also, avoid alcohol.  I agree that a nice bottle of wine is a great gift, but because most schools are no alcohol zones, you wouldn’t want your child or child’s teacher to get in trouble for having alcohol on school grounds.  Same goes for fireworks, throwing knives and fighting stars.

. . . .

Any other fun ideas out there?  Let’s hear them!

DIY Wedding Flower Tips

This is my sister-in-law Beth – The Professor’s youngest sister.  Isn’t she beautiful!  Like the rest of the people in The Professor’s family, she’s incredibly tall, coming in at a respectable six feet.  Sometimes I want to hate her, but I like her too much. Plus I’m holding out that our children will get some of those genes.

photo courtesy of BenTakesPhotos

Although I can’t take credit for her radiant bridal beauty, I can take credit for her bouquet.

With a wedding on a budget, everyone in the family pulled together to help throw them a beautiful spring wedding.  I’m no flower expert, but I helped with wedding flowers once before, and I got tips from Teressa, one of my besties who also happens to be the mastermind behind Cashmere Floral Designs, a top floral design company in Seattle.  Seriously, she’s legit.

Armed with creativity, a few skills, a few tips, and my penchant for recklessly plunging into the deep end of projects, I volunteered to do Beth’s wedding flowers.  Do it yourself wedding flowers was an exciting experience, and I learned a lot in the process.  These lessons I am now going to share with you!

Disclaimer: This post does not cover how to actually make bouquets and boutonnieres, but explains the process of doing your own wedding flowers.  Once you decide what kind of flowers you want to use, look for tutorials that feature those specific flowers.

DIY Wedding Flowers – 10 Tips

1. Assemble your tools.

tools

  1. Floral Tape – black and green.  This tape gets sticky when it’s stretched and wrapped on itself, but doesn’t stick to anything else.  Use the green to wrap up bouquets and the black to wrap up the boutonnieres.
  2. Floral Knife – these inexpensive knives are great for de-thorning roses and trimming flowers.
  3. Flower Shears – many of the stems you’ll be working with are very thick.  And you don’t want a blister on your wedding day from manhandling a dingy pair of scissors.  The shears cut floral wire too.  Consider them a necessity!
  4. Ribbon and other embellishments – Make sure you have a lot of ribbon to wrap all your beautiful creations!  Get creative.  I found this beautiful pearl embellishment that I knew would be a great final touch to Beth’s bouquet.
  5. Green Floral Wire – you’ll use this to wire flowers before incorporating them into arrangements and to reinforce stems.  Really, this is just useful stuff.  I used 20 and 26 gauge wire.  Straight wire is the best.
  6. Buckets –  Lots of buckets.  I got a bunch from the dollar store.
  7. Pins (not pictured) – long pins go into the bouquets to hold the ribbon into place.
  8. Labels (not pictured) – label the corsages and boutonnieres.
  9. Flower food (not pictured)

Clean buckets, knives, scissors and shears with bleach water and soap before using them otherwise bacteria could get into your flowers, causing them to die!

2. Don’t do it yourself.  Assemble an army.  As the bride, it would be hellish to assemble bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages by yourself the night before the wedding.  Get a group of friends together willing to help.  Be a part of the planning and vision, do what you can in the days before, but don’t plan to do it all.  The night before your wedding, either hand the task off to your friends or have a flower assembly party with your girlfriends.

It also helps to have friends with various skills.  I was very comfortable making the bouquets but terrified of making the corsages and boutonnieres.  Beth and The Professor’s Aunt Patty, on the other hand, were corsage making masters.  Together, we made a great team!

3. Order your flowers in advance if you can.  Whether you have a friend who can order you flowers from a flower market or if you order them from an online wholesaler or club store like Sam’s Club, order the flowers if you can.  Generally they arrive unopened.  This means that you can schedule their arrival for a Thursday or Friday, timing it so they are at their loveliest during the big event.  Flowers from the store are usually at their peak on the day you buy them.

4. Learn as much as you can.  Which flowers will be in season during your event?  Did you know tulips never stop growing after they’re cut, which means they’ll be an inch higher than the bouquet if you assemble 24 hours before the big event.  You can encourage blooms of some flowers by putting them in lukewarm water and discourage further blooming of other flowers by putting them in cold water.  Certain flowers need specific temperatures.  You will need to reinforce some flowers with wire.  Research research research.

Before the wedding weekend came, I spent hours talking to friends, watching YouTube tutorials and reading everything I could about arranging the bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages in general, and working with our selected flowers in specific.

Photo courtesy of BenTakesPhotos

5. Be creative!  Use lots of colors and textures.  Just because you’re doing your own flowers, you don’t have to be limited to bouquets of solid red roses – unless of course you want bouquets of solid red roses.  Play with textures and colors.

Beth chose a bright and beautiful color palette of red and turquoise, so we worked to select red flowers that didn’t look Christmasy. We achieved this by using blue shades of reds, yellow shades of reds and some dark purple-hued flowers.

For her bouquet, we used red anemones, purple dahlias, red ranunculus, red tulips, red intuition roses (red and dark red striped), white freesia, white ranunculus,  black mini calla lilies, cream mini calla lilies and red hypericum berries.  For the bridesmaid’s bouquets, we saved money by using red tulips and red intuition roses.

The boutonnieres and corsages were made from the mini callas, ranunculus and some green leaves.

6.  Order more than you’ll think you need.  We ordered a lot of flowers – eight bunches of tulips, two bunches (eight each) of mini callas, 25 roses, several bunches of ranunculus, two bunches of anemones, one bunch of dahlias, two bunches of freesia and a bunch of greenery.  From those flowers, we made one bridal bouquet, four bridesmaids bouquets, one groom’s boutonniere, four groomsmen’s boutonnieres, and about 10 corsages and boutonnieres for parents, grandparents, the wedding planner, the pastor and various family members.

We used every last flower, including the roses we originally planned to use as rose petals on reception tables.  Plan for some flowers to be too bloomed, others to be broken, and one or two to be eaten by bugs.

7. Mix in a few high-end flowers for a dramatic punch. We used a lot of tulips and roses, which were very affordable.  But it was the mini callas that made the bridal bouquet and corsages and boutonnieres quite stunning.  Splurge a little on a few mini callas or orchids or peonies.

8. Flowers are expensive.  They just are.  Some of the flowers, even getting them at cost, were out of our price range.  Be prepared to spend several hundred dollars.

9. Manage your expectations.  I think Pinterest can be both a blessing and a curse.  Look online for inspiration and ideas, but don’t expect that you will suddenly bloom into a master florist.  On one hand don’t plan on creating a super technical bouquet and on the other, don’t become so paralyzed by fear that you assume you can’t do your own wedding flowers!

10. Have fun! After all, you are getting married!

Photo courtesy of BenTakesPhotos

If you want to learn more about their awesome photographer, check out his Facebook Fan Page!

After You’ve Been Diagnosed with Gluten Intolerance

I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 2006.

It was before there were multiple types of Udi bread – or any great gluten-free bread – readily available at multiple stores.  Before many restaurants had gluten-free menus.  Before you could buy gluten-free cupcakes at the neighborhood cupcake shop.  Before you said “gluten free” and anyone knew what it meant.  Before regular grocery stores had gluten-free pasta or Target carried gluten-free cookie mixes.

After nearly twelve years of stomach problems, chronic illness and social embarrassment, I finally had answers. But now there were new problems.

Would I be able to eat at a restaurant ever again?  What about the routine of eating during the busyness of real life – schedules, graduate school, work, last-minute get togethers with friends.  What about my favorite comfort foods, like the chicken and dumplings recipe that’s been in my family for five generations.  And then there were the things that graced our table on special occasions – green bean casserole, carrot cake, chocolate chip cookies, stuffing at Thanksgiving.  I thought about the future and the celebrations I hoped would come.  And then I sat on my sofa and cried, wondering if I would ever eat cake at my wedding.

That was six years ago.  Since that time, I’ve modified my family’s chicken and dumplings recipe, learned how to navigate daily life with relative ease and minimal pity parties, I’ve mastered gluten-free sauces, and all while I’ve felt better without the poison in my system.

If this is the boat you find yourself in, here are some tips to help you.  This is not an exclusive list, but it is what worked for me.

1. Know the basics

Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, barley and contaminated oats.

Those are the easy ones.  Then there’s all the ingredients in which gluten hides.  Modified food starch, food starch, cereal, wheat starch, malt flavoring, and wheat protein.  And that’s just scratching the surface.  Here’s a comprehensive list.

Foods on the high suspect list are: lunch meat, some already-cooked frozen chicken, bbq sauce, soy sauce, many brands of canned chicken broth, beer and malted alcohol, salad dressings, fake “krab,” ice cream, low-fat dairy like low-fat butter or low-fat sour cream, powder sauce/dressing mixes like taco seasoning or Alfredo sauce mix, fruit flavored candies like Twizzlers, pudding, and gravy.  Really, anything that comes in a package is suspicious.

In just a few months, you’ll be able to read a label in two seconds flat!

2. Clean Out Your Kitchen

Throw out your wood cutting boards, which harbor bits of bread crumbs in the boards’ grain and cuts.  Scrub the burned off bits on your cookie sheets (or just replace them).  Buy a new toaster.

If you have non-celiacs in the family, set up controls in your kitchen.  In my house, the only wheat is The Professor’s bread.  I make his sandwiches on paper towels and then throw the paper towel away.  We go through a lot of paper towels, but it’s a small price to pay.  We also have his and hers peanut butter, so that I don’t get peanut butter laced with bread crumbs.

Donate gluteny items to the food bank: cereal, bread crumbs, sauce mixes, spice mixes, enchilada sauce, bread, toasters, canned soup, pasta.  It’s all got to go.  If you go gluten-free by just forgoing bread, and still eat gluten in other forms, you’ll never get better and you’ll never see how you feel after your body is completely empty of gluten.  It’s all or nothing.  Some people may find that they are low on the gluten intolerance spectrum and can tolerate a little gluten, but before jumping to that conclusion, you’ve got to go completely off.

3. Restock Your Kitchen

I think I’ll do an entire blog post about this, but here are the basics:

  • Bread – Udi’s Flax & Fiber is my favorite, but there are a lot of great options out there.
  • Cereal – most Chex cereal is gluten free, so are Cocoa Pebbles.  They also have gluten free Rice Crispies.  If you head over to the health food store, you’ll find a plethora of choices.
  • Flour Mix – more on that soon
  • Gluten-Free chicken broth.  Yes, many brands of chicken broth contain gluten.
  • A few boxed baking mixes while you’re getting your gluten-free sea legs on
  • Gluten-free spaghetti, corn tortillas and other pantry staples
  • Gluten-free soy sauce
  • New butter, peanut butter and jelly – and anything else that could be harboring cross-contamination from double-dipped knives.

4. Gather Resources

Find books and websites you like.  Here are a few of my favorites

  • Gluten Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts – this is my go-to book for baking (Except for chocolate chip cookies.  I prefer my recipe, but my sister prefers Annalise’s recipe).
  • Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern – this is my favorite of Shauna’s books because she so eloquently explains the attitude of acceptance and adaptation needed to successfully venture into this gluten-free world.  If food can make you sick, food can make you better.  Her book goes through the very real mourning process, and the renaissance she experienced with food.  Check out her website too!
  • Gluten-Free on a Shoestring – this is my favorite new blog

The best resources I found after diagnosis were people – friends who also have gluten intolerance.  They were the bearers of tips, givers of recipes, and incredible encouragers.  Find a local support group, make it known far and wide that you’ve been diagnosed.  You’ll be surprised how many friends of friends you meet.

5. Make Some Cookies…Immediately

www.accidentalokie.comThis is a photo from my local Target!  Can you believe it!  I think I counted nine different gluten-free brands!

Yes, go make cookies.  Now.  Or brownies.  Or cupcakes.  Now.  Hope is not lost.  In the emotional days after diagnosis – when you have no idea what to eat, how to cook, where to eat, what to tell your friends –  it’s an important reminder that life won’t be as different as you think.  Make some cookies.

I have a few favorite mixes that are great for a pinch, when in the midst of a pity party or when you’re new to all this:

I haven’t tried all the gluten-free mixes, so please give me your reviews in the comments section.

6. Change the Way You Grocery Shop

You have two choices: exist on expensive, high-fat, high-sugar gluten-free processed foods whose tastes vary from great to horrible, or change the way you shop and think about food in general.  That’s a tall order, I know, and I am not trying to minimize how difficult this is.

This change means shopping for ingredients, not convenience foods.  It means trading your favorite brand of taco seasoning mix for salt and cumin and chili powder.  It means shopping the perimeters of the grocery store.

It also means getting savvy of the gluten-free friendly brands.  Kraft, for example, labels any gluten item.  Even if an ingredient list says modified food starch, you can know that it is made from corn or potatoes or tapioca.  That means Kraft olive oil mayo is safe.  So is Jell-O pudding!  And Kraft brand ranch dressing.  Rather than researching the gluten content of every bottle of salad dressing, find a few safe standards and stick with them.  Develop your gluten-free grocery list.

7. Change the Way You Think

There’s thinking changes that need to occur.

First, change your definition.  When someone says gluten free, most people start racking their brains for gluten-free alternatives – gluten-free cookies, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free shortcrust, gluten-free cream of mushroom soup.  People forget that a lot of what they eat is already gluten free.  Chicken with olive oil and lemon pepper is gluten free.  Pork tenderloin with balsamic vinegar is gluten free.  Salmon with dill and butter is gluten-free.  Baked potatoes are gluten-free.  Rice (not rice mixes) is gluten free.  Keep it simple.

Second, change your expectations.  Everything will be different.  I remember Shauna James Ahern’s words in her book, Gluten Free Girl.  She said that foods might taste better or they might taste worse, but no matter what, they will taste different.  Release yourself from the expectation that through your superior gluten-free baking skills/voodoo magic, everything will be the same.  It won’t.  On the flip side, you won’t be sick either.

There was a long time that being gluten free was incredibly hard – where every day was an obstacle of where and what to eat.  Then one day, I woke up and it wasn’t about what I couldn’t eat.  It was about what I could eat.  The world opened up – fresh fruits and veggies, new grains like quinoa, every type of rice, fresh herbs, exotic spices, pomegranate syrup, homemade salad dressings, rich gluten-free soy sauce, the world’s best pie crust.

And yes, wedding cake.

Gluten-free friends, what are your tips?  Do you have any favorite mixes, recipes or resources?  Let us know in the comments!

Sock Monkey Baby Shower

I’m not sure when baby showers became competitions.  All I know is that my friends and I are in it to win it.

We recently threw a shower for my sister-in-law.  She has a few loves: her husband, her boys, God, football, her giant TV (direct quote: “I want to be able to read the player’s tattoos!”), couponing and, of course, monkeys.  She loves monkeys.  If it’s her birthday and you find a monkey card, you’re golden.  It doesn’t even have to be a birthday card – it can be a retirement party or a second birthday card.  If there are monkeys, she’ll love it.

When it came time to throw her shower, we made the theme sock monkeys, polka dots and lots of vintage embellishments.

On Amazon.com, we bought cupcake liners, red and white paper straws, and red and white lollypops.  One of the hostesses made themed pinwheels, which were amazing!  I raided the dollar bin at Target when they featured Paul Frank bins and marker boards, and all the hostesses brought every stuffed monkey we had for decorations.  It takes a village to throw a shower.

First was the invitation – monkeys, white linen paper and Rockwell font.  Have I ever told you how much I love linen card stock?  I love it.  It is classy, it adds a special touch, but more than that, ink just seems to stick to it.

The back of the invitation is red polka dots, and the invitation was complete with craft paper envelope with a red envelope liner.

The food was amazing.  Fruited water and frozen coffee punch in glass bottles with red and white straws.  Fruited water sounds so fancy.  I love it.

The lollypops and the twizzlers were so festive and color coordinated!

We had two kinds of cupcakes: vanilla with strawberry lemon filling and cream cheese frosting and chocolate with espresso buttercream.  Both gluten-free!  I made them, and if you want the recipes, I’ll try to find them, but here’s the reader’s digest version:

Vanilla strawberry cupcakes:  Two boxes of Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix, made in cupcakes per the instructions.  Make really thick strawberry compote with the juice and zest of a lemon – put some corn starch in there to make it good and thick.  Use one of these (which Amber gave me for my birthday) to core the cupcakes and fill with the compote.   Make cream cheese frosting and ice.  Top with a strawberry slice and look like a hero.

Chocolate cupcakes with espresso butter cream: Make chocolate cupcakes.  I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix.  Make buttercream frosting, but add about a tablespoon or so of instant espresso that has been dissolved into a bit of water.  Top with a coffee bean.

If you’re wondering how I got the icing so pretty, I was given one of these as a wedding present.  It’s the love child of a caulking gun and an icing bag, and I love it with my whole heart.

Now you know all my secrets.

Here is the menu we put together:

Savory:
Tortilla roll-up sandwiches with flavored cream cheese and lunch meat
Chips and homemade salsa (gluten-free)

Sweet:
Cupcakes (gluten-free)
Chocolate-covered pretzel rods
Chocolate-covered pretzels (gluten-free)
Lollipops (mostly for decoration)
Cherry Twizzlers
Fruit rainbow kabobs (gluten-free)

Drinks:
Fruited water
Coffee punch (gluten-free)

When planning a shower where you know there will be people with food allergies, don’t worry about making the entire menu safe.  Your allergy-suffering guests will appreciate if you have at least one savory and one sweet item they can eat.  Always have the safe items labeled and always be extra careful that they are indeed safe.

Happy party guests, bunting flags, cupcakes, polka dots, tortilla roll ups and monkeys.  It’s sort of like heaven.

Presents!

We held the shower in our church gathering hall, which is about two stories tall.  The balloons gave a lot of decoration bang for the buck and extended the decor higher, which made it feel like it took up more space.

Cupcakes!  We have a lot of gluten-free friends, so gluten-free labeling was a must at the shower.

The table decorations were done in an innovative flurry by the some of the hostesses, who are insanely creative.  Paul Frank bags (from the dollar bin at Target), leftover wrapping paper from the dollar store, shredded paper from the dollar store, homemade pinwheels and monkeys from people’s homes.

I love showers.  It is a time for the community to come together and tangibly bless someone in preparation of big things – babies and weddings and adoptions.  We shower with love and presents and advice.  And monkeys.   Always monkeys.

A big thanks to MacKensie who made the pinwheels and some of the yummy treats.  She also was our official photographer of the day!