Experts Series: Infertility

TeressaThank you for tuning in to the next installment of the Accidental Okie Expert Series

Teressa’s expertise is in something not wished for by anyone: infertility.  

I asked Teressa to write a post on how to talk to someone going through infertility – what to say, what to not say. What she sent me was infinitely better. Because she sent me her heart. Her emotions. Her experiences.

I hope reading it will help you, should you be on a similar journey, or help you gain insights into the great trials Teressa and Ryan and others like them are muddling through. Stepping into her shoes for a minute, maybe you can be better equipped on what to say to a friend in this same situation.

Teressa and Ryan live in Seattle. Ryan is a teacher and Teressa is the owner of Cashmere Floral Designs.

– – – – –

They said it would be easy. 

We made a plan.  Slated five days to fly to Seattle from our home in Sitka, Alaska.  Checked into a really fancy hotel.  Told our family and friends that we were trying, that we had finally accepted the fact that we were using a sperm donor and that we finally chose one.  We had a bastion of prayer warriors.  Ryan bought me a pedicure at a spa. 

The doctors were going to inject sperm, and this would be the beginning to our lives as parents.  So long married life of two… hello parenthood. Statistics show that it takes usually three tries to achieve one pregnancy.  We wanted three kids.  At $500 each vial, we purchased nine.

We thought it would be easy.

Two exciting and forever-lasting weeks pass, and it’s time to pee on the stick that is supposed to herald the news:  Congrats!  Your life is about the change.  Your someday has arrived! 

teressa 1

3:30 a.m. – I couldn’t take the suspense.  I pee on the stick, planning to surprise Ryan. 

Pee.  Wait. Wait. Wait. 

As the one bar darkens and there’s no sign of a second, I let out a low moan in denial.  Then wake Ryan and tell him that this test must be defective.  The dear man rises from a dead sleep, dons his shoes, and heads out the door to the grocery store to buy another test.

It wasn’t broken.  I wasn’t pregnant.  This was August of 2010, and that was vial one.

Since we were committed to work in Sitka until October, and since my work as a florist allowed only a small window of due dates that avoided wedding season, we held off trying until we moved back to Seattle. 

Dec. 24th.  My ovulation predictor kit shows it’s time again.  Two more exciting and hopeful weeks pass.  Pee again.  Another silent piece of plastic tells us the news.  Happy 29th birthday to me.  Vial two is gone.

Family and friends are constantly asking for updates.  We’re happy to share because we cannot wait to be celebrating good news together.  Early February, try again.  Another miss. 

The first three vial, all portioned for baby number one, are gone.

At this point, we become a little more private.  The doctor is suggesting an HSG test to determine if I have a blockage of my tubes, or cysts or fibroids that could be causing a problem.  That sounded great, until we learned what it meant:  $800 out of pocket and one of the most painful diagnostic tests available.  The second opinion of another doctor is against the test. We decline. 

We’ll try for one more time.  It’s bound to happen.  God is the author of life right?  And God can do anything.  Plus, there’s nothing wrong with me.  And this next try is sure to take.

Another two weeks.  We’re house-sitting and dog-sitting because we can’t afford a place to live because God still hasn’t provided a living for Ryan.  I’ve felt all the things one’s supposed to feel in pregnancy.  I’ve obsessed online over all the symptoms.  This is definitely the time.  The stick comes out of its sacred foil package.  One line. 

Neither of us had ever felt that hopelessness.  No job.  No baby.  No silver lining. 

The dogs I hate come over to lick my tears off the floor as I sit in the middle of a stranger’s kitchen, sobbing.  We didn’t turn any lights on that night.  Ryan lay on the peach sofa and stared in the sunset sky.  I spoke no works and lay on top of him.  Staring.  Crying. 

He takes a deep breath and hollowly, despairingly mutters, “The only difference between the days for us is that the sun comes up and goes back down.” 

I have never seen him that hopeless or distraught.  The man who battled cancer, with its consequences and recurrences, who looked forward to each day as progress and hope, had just committed to the dark side.  Normally one of us is up when the other is down.  But this day, we were both defeated.  

That was vial four.  Only five chances left.

Fast forward one year.

A blessing of a doctor came into our lives. He learned that my hormones were out of whack.  I guess moving from Alaska, having no job or no home, starting a new business, recovering strained relationships after living in Alaska two years, living with in-laws, moving nine times, and having nothing to show for all of the hard work, can place certain stress on a person.  Compounded was a five-year-old nephew with a brain tumor, a dad struggling with dementia, and both parents in an airplane crash.  As it turns out, this all can upset the reproductive system.

So, we do natural hormone treatment and weekly b-shots.  A year goes by, and Dr. Matt says with a smile, “I think you’re ready to try again!  Everything looks great!”  The hope swelling inside of me couldn’t be contained.  I burst into happy tears and he prayed over me.  I go home and tell Ryan.  This was a good couple of weeks. 

In the meantime, my nephew Jack spends his fifth birthday in the hospital for brain surgery.  My prayer is for God to save my sister’s baby and knit together a baby for us.

Jack got his miracle.  I got my period.

Vial number five. Gone.

With each try and fail, the devastation only deepens.  Our eyes and hearts are bloodshot.  Our bank accounts and arms are empty.  Our home is still quiet, and we’re still hovering over our two-year-old “kitten” because she’s all we have to nurture with our own last name.  Our hearts are sick. Our hope, continually deferred.  And as we struggle, we are surrounded by 31 pregnant or nursing mothers.

We are in such need of discernment, and feel very alone and very much too tired to know where science and God’s hand meet.

While I detest this period of meaningless infertility, I do pray for and treasure the gifts that are sure to rise up from it. 

I will be able to tell a better story. 

Whatever the outcome of all of this, I will be able to tell a story about God.  He is giving me what I need.  Lies of hopelessness are lodged in my direction and God, with his truth and with the strength that comes from his goodness, gives me what I need to dispel them. 

Alas, I’m tired.

Three viles left.

That was about a year ago when Teressa penned those words onto a tear-stained journal. During the interim, a doctor discovered one last problem, which was resolved. Here’s an update.

teressa 3

Two vials left.

 

Experts Series: Fist-Pounding Poetry

james mcnamaraWelcome to the Accidental Okie Expert’s Series. Throughout this summer series, you will meet some of my friends who are vastly more interesting and knowledgeable than me. They’ll be sharing their areas of expertise, be it serious or lighthearted or just plain useful.

First up is my friend James McNamara. James, or Jamie as we call him, married my friend Rebecca. They met while both getting their doctorates at Oxford. They talked about smart people things amid the spires and gardens of Oxford and fell in love, as you do. Excuse me. As one does.

Jamie’s area of study is in vivisection imagery (dissecting something still alive) in the writings of John Donne, Jonathan Swift and George Eliot. As you will read below, Jamie does study the sissy side of poetry.

As someone who understands approximately three poems, I’ve asked Jamie to help us learn to appreciate poetry in all its glory.

Fist-Pounding Poetry

I blame the Romantics—those big-shirted, river-floating bastards with their sobbing over daffodils and getting drunk on skies. As a young man in Australia—beer-swilling, boat-rowing—a love of poetry wasn’t something to advertise. Except to girls. But even the girls thought you a bit soft. And it was all because of the Romantics. I have to confess to sometimes hefting the book across the room when I read Wordsworth on daffodils or Shelley on anything. It’s all so saccharine and twee. And it gives poetry its reputation as something for wispy dilettantes who look searchingly at the horizon, look back to make sure their companion is watching them, then keep brooding, hoping for the tear to squeeze out. Ultimately, they dab the eye with a tab of hot-sauce or Vicks, and then everyone has to go to the emergency room. See what I mean?

I appreciate poetry of a different sort, the poetry of fist pounders and shouters of songs, grabbers of life. It’s a poetry with a similar focus on the natural world to the Romantics—reveling in pollen-dusted rivers, eyes underneath the hedgerows, furry backs that fix you with a black-eyed stare before loping off—but it’s gutsier. I’m going to write today about three poets—Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, and Robin Robertson, respectively Irish, English, and Scottish—who exemplify what I most enjoy: first, a sense of immediacy, of being there, now, in the poem, smelling the soil and blood and blossom; second, a celebration of nature in all its beauty and cruelty; third, the use of Anglo-Saxon poetic techniques—such as compound words and a rhythm born of alliteration and assonance, not pretty-ended rhymes.

I start with Seamus Heaney because he takes us directly to the Anglo-Saxons in his stunning translation of Beowulf. Beowulf is a narrative epic in Old English about the haunting of King Hrothgar and his Danes by Grendel, a ‘prowler through the dark’. In the extract below, Hrothgar discusses the monsters’ lair with the Geat hero Beowulf, who’s going to try and slaughter the ‘hell-dam’, Grendel’s mother. ‘A few miles from here,’ King Hrothgar says,

 a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch

above a mere; the overhanging bank

is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.

At night there, something uncanny happens:

the water burns. And the mere-bottom

has never been sounded by the sons of men.

On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:

the hart in flight from pursuing hounds

will turn to face them with firm-set horns

and die in the wood rather than dive

beneath its surface.

For me, I’m there. The mere (lake), still and freezing, the deer (heather-stepper / hart) stopping, terrified, when it realizes where it’s strayed, then plunging into the dogs instead of the water. You’ll have to read the poem to see whether Beowulf jumps in… But while we’re at this point, note that none of the line-ends rhyme. It flows, though, doesn’t it? That’s because of the alliteration (use of the same starting letters of words) and assonance (use of similar internal sounds of words): the ‘wood waits and keeps watch’; it hasn’t been ‘sounded by the sons of men’. And the compound words let us gulp the world in shot-glasses: the light-footed deer, ‘heather-stepper’ pausing, smoky-breathed; the ‘frost-stiffened woods’, waiting and watching the silence, the mist rising from the freezing lake.

Heaney’s good at waterways. In his later poem ‘Moyulla’, he writes of the Moyola river:

In those days she flowed

black-lick and quick

under the sallies,

the coldness of her

 

like the coldness off you –

your cheek and your clothes

and your moves – when you come in

from gardening.

 

She was in the swim

of herself, the gravel shallows

swarmed, pollen sowings

tarnished her pools.

 

Again, there are no traditional rhymes, but the compound word ‘black-lick’ and its assonantal pair, ‘quick’, contrast nicely with ‘flow’: she ‘flowed / black-lick and quick’ gives us a sense of the river’s physical movement—eddies at the banks, splashes over rocks, but deep and slow in the middle. When we add in ‘sallies’, there’s a nice restoration back to the longer, juicier sound of ‘flow’—‘flowed / black-lick and quick / under the sallies’. Heaney’s river is feminine—its temperature contrasted with the cold cheek of (perhaps) his lover coming in from the garden. She also revels in her beauty—‘She was in the swim / of herself’—a sensuousness that carries the luxurious fertility of water, the life-giving of a river to its human bank-dwellers.

Ted Hughes—to whose memory Heaney dedicated his Beowulf—is renowned for the way he portrays nature as both beautiful and wild, neither good nor evil. It’s difficult to take excerpts from Hughes because his poetry is so good that you get consumed and distracted and taken away into this poem and that. But I’ve been stern with myself and chosen some pieces largely from his 1976 collection Season Songs. Hughes, I think, is the master of immediacy, and that’s the aspect of his writing I focus on. His style is similar to Heaney’s in its use of Anglo-Saxon poetic techniques and in the way he draws beauty from the simplest things. Take, for example, the last stanza of ‘Sunday Evening’, where the speaker stands in a world on the cusp of spring:

I stand among puddles

Beneath these trees filling and brimming the air,

These staggering bouquets nobody knows how to accept.

There’s a sense here of man overwhelmed by the world around him, by a beauty at once simple and irreducibly complex, too wonderful to process; there’s a message, too, about the need for us to share in his humility.

In ‘March Morning Unlike Others’, spring is in full-swing and Hughes’s poetics owe something to the Impressionists: he dabs with words, and those suggestions, those brushstrokes, give more detail than a chapter in a book:

Blue haze. Bees hanging in air at the hive-mouth.

Crawling in prone stupor of sun

On the hive-lip. Snowdrops. Two buzzards,

Still-wings, each

Magnetised to the other,

Float orbits.

 I don’t know about you, but I’m there, on that March morning, looking out at the blue and those birds in the air.

‘March Morning’ gives a lyrical picture of spring, gentle and glowing. ‘Spring Nature Notes’ begins that way, with ‘the whole air struggling in soft excitements / Like a woman hurrying into her silks. Birds everywhere zipping and unzipping’, but later we see Hughes bring out the raw fecundity of nature:

Spring bulges the hills.

The bare trees creak and shift.

Some buds have burst in tatters –

Like firework stubs.

 The use of bursting, tatters, fireworks, gives us the bright, glorious, blooming of the season. The violence of a firework—explosive, hot and soaring—carries the power of the buds, busting through the soil and into bloom. And the firework simile encapsulates the fate of these bright flowers—soaring into the sky, a flash of brilliant colour, and then nothing but a trail of smoke against the night, or a stalk left blowing in the wind.

Hughes’s talent for metaphor is particularly well-demonstrated in ‘Deceptions’, another spring poem. Here, like ‘March Morning’, Hughes anthropomorphizes—or makes human—the season:

 With the cherry bloom for her fancy dress

Spring is giving a party –

And we have been invited.

We’ve just arrived, all excited,

When she rushes out past us weeping, tattered and dirty –

Wind and rain are wrecking the place

            And we can only go home.

Whereas in ‘Spring Nature Notes’ the season is like a lady, ‘hurrying into her silks’ before some distinguished gala, in ‘March Morning’ spring is a teenage girl in a new dress, excited for her party but then disappearing in a flood of tears. The woman of ‘Spring Nature Notes’ gives us the dusk before a wondrous night-time celebration; the teenager and her changing moods brings the capriciousness of English spring—blue-skies glowing and chilling with clouds on the sun. The metaphor carries, too, the sense of a season on the edge of summer via the teenager on the brink of adulthood.

Hughes handles summer with the same skill as spring, and has a facility for describing waterways that reminds me of Heaney’s:

The swallow of summer, cartwheeling through crimson,

Touches the honey-slow river and turning

Returns to the hand stretched from under the eaves –

A boomerang of rejoicing shadow.

You can nearly taste the Anglo-Saxon poetics in ‘Work and Play’—they fill the mouth: ‘swallow of summer, cartwheeling through crimson’, ‘Touches the honey-slow river and turning / Returns’.

Before I leave Hughes for my final poet, Robin Robertson, I want to quickly show you the next two seasons, autumn and winter, in excerpts from ‘Autumn Nature Notes’ and ‘Wind’. In the former, a bonfire shows the end of summer, the rising cool and preparation for the snows of winter:

 Under ripe apples, a snapshot album is smouldering.

 With a bare twig,

Glow-dazed, I coax its stubborn feathers.

A gold furred flame. A blue tremor of the air.

The apples are still ripe, but you can almost smell the fall smoke and cold. Again, human life reflects and augments the progress of the natural world: the poem’s speaker has reached a point in his life similar to the season—the end, perhaps of a love—and burns the album like the gardener burns fallen branches.

And then it is winter, brought to us via the metaphor of the house as a ship at sea in ‘Wind’:

 This house has been far out at sea all night,

The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,

Winds stampeding the fields under the window

Floundering black astride and blinding wet.

 

We’ll leave Ted there, storm-wet and probably having to fix a few tiles, to discuss the Scottish poet, Robin Robertson. I’m running out of space for Robin, but I don’t suppose he’d mind my giving most of the article to Heaney and Hughes, his literary progenitors. Robertson’s work has a similar Anglo-Saxon influence and quality of immediacy, and it shares Heaney’s and Hughes’s concerns with the darkness underlying natural beauty. I’m going to take three short bits of his poems to demonstrate this. In ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’, Robertson begins:

 A bright clearing. Sun among the leaves,

sifting down to dapple the soft ground, and rest

a gilded bar against the muted flanks of trees.

In the flittering green light the glade

listens in and breathes.

 

A wooden pail; some pegs, a coil of wire;

a bundle of steel flensing knives.

This poem recounts the Greek myth (best known from book six of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and, later, Titian’s painting) about the punishment of the satyr Marsyas for challenging Apollo to a flute-playing contest. Not best pleased, Apollo has the upstart flayed alive. Robertson establishes this violence wonderfully via his portrayal of the wood. ‘A bright clearing. Sun among the leaves’ has the immediate ‘we’re here!’ effect of (very good) film-script big-print. So we’re standing in the ‘flittering green light’, but there’s a hint of something wrong in the air—‘the glade / listens in and breathes’. And then we see why—there’s a bucket of surgical tools ready to put ‘Blade along the bone, find the tendon, nick it and peel, nice and slow’. Having been placed directly in the scene, we watch ‘Marsyas écorché, / splayed, shucked of his skin / in a tug and rift of tissue.’ The immediacy used to set up the wood makes the torture more awful, both through the disjuncture between beauty and blood, but also in the way Robertson has beckoned us in to this ‘gilded’ glade and made us stumble on a murder, to watch as bystanders. The wood’s presence in that evil—the agency it has in ‘listen[ing] in and breath[ing]’—shows the darkness beneath that ‘bright clearing’.

This would be a grim place to end, so I’m going to give you two further pieces of Robertson’s poetry—sans mythological characters being butchered.

The first speaks to me of that moment when spring becomes summer—‘Affair of Kites’ is full of the heart’s gladness as the season turns:

I sit, astonished by the pink kite:

its scoop and plunge, the briefness of it;

an escaped blouse, a pocket of silk

thumping like a heart

tight above the shimmering hill.

The sheer snap and plummet

Sculpting the air’s curve, the sky’s chambers.

I don’t know about you, but I’m there, watching it swoop and dive.

The last poem, ‘Making the Green One Red’, is about autumn. It starts:

The Virginia creeper has built its church here

in the apple tree: vermilion

lacework, pennons, tendrils

of scarlet and amber,

hung through the host like veins.

Spangled and jaspered, shot with red,

the tree filled with sun is stained glass:

a cathedral of blood and gold.

At the end of the poem, we discover that ‘the apple tree is dead’, killed by the vine. Robertson’s religious imagery leaves us uncertain as to how we should feel about this triumph over the apple tree—the abnegation of temptation from the fruit? The corruption of the Church a distraction from Jesus’s teachings? The poem becomes more complex still when Robertson compares the roots of the creeper (and not the tree, as one might expect) with Christ. The poem’s ambiguity, together with the contrast of human (religious) themes to botanic ones, leads us to think about the nature of nature, the difficulty of assigning it goodness or evil, of untangling its glory from its cruelty. Is this the conquering of a boring apple tree by something more beautiful? Or the sullying of knotted wood and green fruit by the ‘blood and gold’ of a brightly-coloured parasite?

To finish properly, I’ll leave you with one of the Romantics who, in a sweeping generalization, I told you were rubbish at the start. Obviously, lots of foamy-mouthed critics would take umbrage with me, and I know you can’t really dismiss a literary period in a sentence or two. But this is an article about what I like, not what’s objectively good in the eyes of the literati. So, here’s Wordsworth wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’…

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way…

 

See what I mean?

 James McNamara received his doctorate in English Literature from Oxford, where he was a Clarendon Scholar. He has been published in or is currently writing for The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The West Australian, and the Australian Book Review.

 

Fist-pounding poetry, © James McNamara 2013

 

Weekly Meal Plan Organizer (And Free Printables)

If you’ve been following my epic budgeting series, you’ll know this is step three in my journey. First, I had to sort through the emotional junk that comes with budgeting. Next, I created a beautiful and functional budget binder that I made available to you. Now, it’s time to tackle the grocery budget.

The Professor and I realized our grocery budget seemed to be the area where money constantly seeps out. Does this happen to anyone else?  

As we looked at our schedule and our pattern of over spending, we noticed several things were happening. On Saturday, I’d plan our week’s meals and go buy the ingredients. But then as the week progressed, I’d forget what that bell pepper or that can of tomatoes was for. Heck, I’d forget what meals I was planning on cooking period. Then I’d open the fridge to a confusing sea of ingredients and come to the conclusion that we had absolutely nothing to cook for dinner. Logical, right?

Please, please tell me I’m not alone in this vicious cycle!

There were a lot of victims to my failed endeavors: the many bunches of cilantro that never realized their life’s zesty purpose and instead turned to stinky goo.  The salad dressing ingredients that were left dusty on the shelf.  The once-crunchy cucumber that finally succumbed to the moldy pocks covering its skin. But hands down, the biggest victim was our budget.  

Once we realized the first problem, another issue surfaced. I would plan meals – not elaborate meals, but from-scratch, 30-40 minutes prep and cook-time meals.  On nights when we were both busy, those meals were too difficult to make, so we would end up grabbing Thai food or burgers. And it only gets worse from there. I take almost exclusively leftovers for lunches. No dinner means no leftovers, which means eating out for lunch too. It’s a one-two-three punch that left us realizing why all our money kept disappearing down the drain…or to the back of the produce drawer.

Not good for us. Not good for the budget.

The Professor and I decided to go through our weekly routine and designate which evenings needed a quick dinner, which could have a sit-down dinner, and which nights we needed to fend for ourselves. With this schedule, I could more specifically plan meals.

There was also the matter of forgetting what I bought at the store.  I needed to solve that problem. And then, as if through divine intervention, I had an idea. Like all the best ideas, it involved ingenuity, a bit of elbow grease and chevron stripes.

Budget Dinner Plans 6

This is our weekly meal planner. It lives on the fridge. It has a pretty frame. It works with dry erase markers.  And I love it.  After literally dozens of tries in different lighting, I can’t get a great photo of it. Sorry.

The meal planner has helped immensely. The Professor and I both know what’s for dinner during the week. We can quickly change plans and reorder when we need to, and now we know why there is cilantro in the fridge. It also allows me to use a lot of a certain ingredient in different ways. As you might guess, the week photographed here started with a pack of chicken breasts.

It also lets me sneak in some of The Professor’s less favorite meals. He doesn’t like my sushi rice bowl recipe, so I cooked it on a night he was out. I got my sushi salad and lunch for the next few days, and he didn’t have to eat it. 

Budget Dinner Plans 3

For the paper backer, I didn’t want it too frilly, but I also wanted it to be custom and fun and special. With that in mind, I used a script font with fancy glyphs and a simple sans serif font for the days of the week and details. I also wanted it to coordinate with my budget binder, so chevron stripes were a natural choice in a background. Everything is bordered within an 8×10 inch box that can be cut out and used with any 8×10 inch picture frame. 

The days of the week include details specific to our schedules. For the free printables, I left off our details but didn’t adjust the spacing. If you want to add your own details, you have room to either write them or type them in using text boxes. I used Clemente Font for the body text, which you can download for free here.

meal planner | www.accidentalokie.comNext, it was time to find a frame. Hobby Lobby has these gorgeous shaped frames I’ve been swooning over for a while. They’re in the wall frame section, not the stand-up frame section. I got one during one of their many half-off sales, making the frame around $10.

Budget Dinner Plans 2

To hang a big picture frame on your fridge, you need a big magnet. In my first attempt, I hot glued a bunch of those tiny super-strong magnets all over the frame. That was an epic disaster. Luckily I have several Container Store Spot-On Magnet Hooks for such moments in life. This is seriously a great magnet. It. Does. Not. Move.  And it’s pretty cheap. Buy one. No buy three.

Budget Dinner Plans 6

This little project has already saved us so much money and sanity and cilantro. I hope it helps you organize your life and budget, too!

meal planner | www.accidentalokie.com

I’ve created two options for you.  The pink, which has been shown throughout this post, and a very chic yellow and gray version.

Yellow Weekly Meal Plan Organizer Free Printable (PDF)

Pink Weekly Meal Plan Organizer Free Printable (PDF)

Happy {reluctant} budgeting!

Oh, and I showed you several products from several stores, but they didn’t sponsor this post. This is just me telling you all the things that have worked for me!

xoxo,
Sarah…The AOK

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

The Uncomfortable Budgeter

the reluctant budgeter

Several weeks ago, I was the guest blogger at Lark and Bloom.  I wrote about my adventure into the world of budgeting and my journey of becoming a budgeter.  Well, a reluctant budgeter.

After a month of trial and error, I have some things to share in the coming days, but in case you missed it, here is the guest post, which served as an unofficial kickoff to the series.

Go to Lark and Bloom to read my original post, or check it out below.  Well, go to Lark and Bloom anyways.  You’ll find it to be one of the most genuine, kind and all-around interesting blogs written by an equally genuine, kind and gosh-darn interesting person, Elizabeth.

 * * * *

Everyone, meet Sarah Warren! I am beyond happy to share the first of several guest posts for An Uncomfortable January. Sarah has been a friend of mine since college. We were freshman who were equally obsessed with Jane Austen, fine china and bowls of pad thai.  She went on to get her masters in writing and now writes at The Accidental Okie.  This means that she sees the hundreds of grammatical mistakes I make on my blog & loves me anyway. Sarah also is the one who did the design for Lark & Bloom, for which I am eternally grateful. Give her a big Lark & Bloom welcome & join in her discomfort.

Sarah- The Accidental Okie and Uncomfortable Budgeter.

I’m on an uncomfortable journey: learning to budget.  Let’s not mince words.  I hate it.  I’m growing to embrace it, but I still mostly hate it.

A combination of being a stereotypical creative right brainer, not excelling at numbers, and hanging on to hefty emotional baggage led me to pass off budgeting responsibilities to my husband.

Last semester he started teaching a college class for extra income. That’s on top of being a high school science teacher.  He didn’t have time to do the budget anymore.  It was ignored for a few months and gross overspending ensued.  I needed to take something off his plate and we realized the person spending the money really should be the one setting the budget.  Since I do all our shopping, I was the natural, albeit reluctant, choice.

I’ve already had a few successes and failures, which I’ll be documenting on my blog over the coming months, but here is a preview of what I’m learning in this uncomfortable journey.

Tackle Demons

For several years of my childhood from middle school to the first year of high school, we were poor.  To this day, thrift stores and canned soup literally cause my heart to beat faster as I momentarily relive those meager days.

Most people walk into a thrift store and think about cool vintage finds.  I remember the year I had to buy my new school clothes at a thrift store and nothing fit my awkward mid-puberty body correctly.  I remember having to work three weeks of babysitting jobs after a friend stole my graphing calculator because she thought it would be funny.  I remember my friends asking why we always had the exact same groceries, and me never telling them that we stood in line for our box of groceries every week at the food bank.

For me, budgeting equaled counting pennies, which equaled feeling all those things again.

When I think about budgeting, I think about my parents arguing about money.  Any time my husband brought up the budget, I was sure he was mad at me.  Our monthly budgeting meetings consisted of him trying to talk and me defensively evading every question.  Not super productive.

The practical steps of setting up a budget are important, but for me identifying and dealing with my own junk and establishing new ways of thinking have been equally necessary.  In my soul searching, I realized I’ve been more secure overspending than budgeting because if I could overspend, it meant I wasn’t helpless like before.

Seek Wisdom

I’m not doing this alone.  Once a week I meet with a mentor at Barnes and Noble.  Pat and her husband’s life story revolves around coming out of major debt, and now they enjoy helping young couples avoid the traps they found themselves in.  We drink coffee, pore over my budget, look at spread sheets and share tips – well, she shares tips with me and I write them down.  Bottom line – if I was doing this alone, I probably already would have given up and gone back to my old ways.

It seems that no matter the uncomfortable journey you find yourself on, there is someone who has wisdom to share.

These days, I’m a reluctant budgeter.  Maybe someday I won’t be so reluctant.  It seems the only way to get from here to there is to continue on this uncomfortable journey.  I might even go shopping at a thrift store by the end of it all.

****

If you have any budgeting tips, I’m all ears!

Christmas Gift Giving Guide: John, The Connoisseur

www.accidentalokie.com

CameyDr. Camey, what can I say?  He knows about all the best things.  The best suits, best cigars, best wines.  When we worked together, I enjoyed seeing him and his fellow professors stand around and compare their smart phones and (somedays almost matching) Joseph A. Banks outfits.

His advice will help you find gifts for the dignified, classy men in your life.  His gift buying philosophy is low maintenance and will resonate with most of you guys.  Consider Dr. C. your new guru.  Because he wrote an awesome preamble to his blog, he needs no further introduction!

Preamble

When I agreed to pen a Christmas shopping blog for my friend and colleague Sarah, I did not anticipate the high quality, detailed blogs that her other invitees would provide. Suffice to say I was feeling a bit intimidated until I reminded myself that I am one of the GUYS  she asked to the dance.  When it comes to Christmas shopping most of us guys are considerably less detailed.  If we are married, our wives graciously do most of our shopping for us or tell us what to buy.  If we are single, we try to ignore it until the last minute.  So, I will share my philosophy (approach) to gift selection, mention some generic gifts that guys might (should) like and finally toss out a couple of guilty pleasures.

Philosophy

Far too much time and effort is put into finding out what people need or want for Christmas.  The truth is that in most cases if it is something we really need we can get it for ourselves.  As for “wants” one has to use discernment to decide if it is really only a temporary desire or something that will be a hit.  I generally try to ignore both of these.

Gift giving at Christmas is an opportunity to share part of you.  Give something that represents who you are. For example, anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of books.  Years ago I started giving books for Christmas.  Not just a few books either.  I give books to every single person in my immediate family from the youngest to the oldest.  I give books to friends, colleagues and even former students.  I pick books that I like or am interested in and want them to have.  In the past I have tried to get the books purchased early enough that I can read them if I want and sometimes make margin notes as I do.  Do they like it?  I’m not sure but they haven’t complained and I certainly enjoy it.

Alternatively, gift selection is an opportunity to share that you really know the person.  Pay attention throughout the year to what they like to do or where they like to go or dine.  Select a gift that lets them know you pay attention.  Think about some of the gifts you have received.  Isn’t it much more pleasing to think, “How did you know?” rather than, “What were you thinking?”

Gifts Guys (Should) Like

Art of Manliness Book

Books
This is pretty well addressed in previous posts.  If you give a book now you have to make some effort to find out if the recipient is an ebook person and, if so, which reader they prefer.  Amazon makes gifting easy in that you can give the book as a gift and print out the gift card/code to give directly to the recipient.

iTunes

iTunes Gift Card
If you are buying for an Apple person (iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc.) there are few better more appreciated gifts than this.  The card can be used to purchase books, movies, music and apps.  Trust me.  This will be a hit (and not just with men!)

ties

Clothing
Most grown up men appreciate clothing for Christmas.  Our wardrobes can pretty much always use some spiffing up with dress shirts, ties or accessories.  Men don’t obsess about their wardrobe too much but let me make a suggestion.  Before you go to J.A. Bank, Dillard’s or even Nordstrom, try going to a real men’s clothing store where you will get personalized service and advice.  In OKC I recommend The Pinpoint Resource in 50 Penn Place.  Tell the owner Chris Khrais I sent you.  Ask around if you are not in the OKC metro.  There are always good local haberdashers.

Personal Accessories

  • Personalized note cards – everyone should have them and most do not.
  • Leather Portfolio – I received a number of gifts when I completed my Ph.D. This is the only one I still have and I think about the good friends who gave it to me every day.
  • High End Shaving – I recently started using The Art of Shaving supplies.  You can get a starter kit.  He will need a good double edged safety razor as well.  The Merkur long handle is a good one.  Don’t forget a selection of blades as well.  Oh, there’s nothing “safe” about a safety razor.  A styptic pencil would make a good stocking stuffer.

Dart Board

Guilty Pleasures
WARNING: I don’t know you or for whom you are buying, so you may find some of these to be inappropriate.

  • Remote Controlled Anything – Helicopters, cars and tanks are pretty popular right now.  If you go here don’t cheap out, especially on flying toys.  Nothing is worse that a remote controlled toy you really can’t control.
  • Dart Board – Everyone loves darts and you can get a board for soft darts at attractive prices.  It can go in the den, family room or maybe even in his office.
  • Wine – Wine can signal who you are or what you know about the person and can range from under $10 to infinity in price.    This time of year Beaujolais Nouveau is an inexpensive and fun gift.  Lindeman’s Bin anything is safe as is anything from the Russian River Valley if you don’t know much yourself.   If you are a wine person pick something you would like to give.  When in doubt ask your wine merchant he/she is always a good resource.
  • Liquor/Cigars – Only you can judge here.  Suggestions?  Single Malt Scotch, Small Batch Bourbon, Rocky Patel or Fuente Opus.

Epilogue

There you have it.  What can I say?  I’m a guy.  I hope you all have a Merry and Blessed Christmas filled with family, fun and successful gifting.

Christmas Gift Giving Guide: Matt, The Guy

www.accidentalokie.com

www.accidentalokie.com

Ladies, it’s the week you’ve all been waiting for in the Accidental Okie Gift Giving Series.  Yes, it’s testosterone week.  It’s the week when the veil is lifted and we get to learn from guys what they really want for Christmas.  Can I get a hallelujah!

Let me give it to you straight: Matt is probably cooler than you.  He most certainly is cooler than me.  He and his awesome wife Charissa are downtown dwelling folks who embrace city life and all the hipness that comes along with it.

Ladies, Matt has insightful gift ideas for your man or brother or son.  Men, he also has suggestions that will make you look like a knight in shining armor (or skinny jeans and a scarf, if you’re a hipster) to the lady in your life.

Take it away Matt.

I buy gifts for:
My wife, the sibling-in-law not-so-dirty-santa gift exchange (which is usually a knife or a flashlight), and the Fry family member whose name I draw. I also provide input on gifts for our nieces, aunts and uncles, and probably others that I’m forgetting.

My gift-buying philosophy is:
Here’s the thing, It’s not that I dislike giving gifts, it’s just that I over-think it. I put too much pressure on myself. I always think I have to get some unimaginably perfect gift, which leads to putting it off until the last possible moment, which results in a crappy, last-minute gift, which is not fun for anyone and only reinforces my neurosis. So I tend to just buy other people things that I think are cool and include the tags and receipt. I basically give out really big, oddly-shaped gift cards.

My favorite part of Christmas:
To be honest… I’m not a huge fan of Christmas. The holidays were typically a stressful time for my family. We didn’t have a lot of money, which tends to make buying things much less enjoyable. One year when I was 9 or 10, my mom tried to get creative and decided we were having a “Symbolic Christmas,” where we’re all supposed to hand-make gifts that represent how we felt about each other. So obviously my dad and brother and I went to the mall on Christmas Eve, where we decided to pool our money and buy Mom a new Crock-Pot. We all laugh about it now, but when she opened it, she burst into tears. Apparently no woman wants to be symbolically represented by a 4-quart Crock-Pot (this is also true for vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and washing machines). I also worked at Hobby Lobby for several years in high school, where I was waist deep in glittery ornaments, festive holiday potpourri, and non-stop Christmas Muzak  from August to February every year. So that might be the real source of my Grinchy feelings about The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

My favorite Christmas movie:
Die Hard

Matt’s Gift Ideas

knife

Gerber Evo Jr. Serrated Knife
I own a lot of knives. Don’t ask why; that’s not important. What is important is that, out of the many, many knives I own, I keep this knife on my person at all times. Just don’t take it to the airport. They don’t like knives much there. Especially if you have one in your pocket and three more in your backpack.

Foot Cardigan

Monthly Subscription to Crazy Socks from Foot Cardigan
A delightfully unusual pair of socks, not of your choosing, sent every month! Who could POSSIBLY resist?? Okay, full disclosure: a few friends and I started Foot Cardigan back in June. But just because this is blatant self-promotion doesn’t mean it’s not an awesome gift!

https://lh3.ggpht.com/jPeaul_KTKj_kjatDzBARycVXKRI0duR3tewQN1Mcwi2w1ZYMjP5PXR3ESlEgtC1rFw=w499

Google Nexus 7 Tablet
There’s this newish trend towards smallish 7-inch tablets (eg: Kindle Fire, Nook Color, iPad Mini) but the Nexus 7 is the best of them and at $199 it costs less than most of them. I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s got the best screen, the fastest speeds, and the Android Jelly Bean operating system makes it (in my opinion) the most enjoyable to use. It does everything a Kindle or Nook can do, and much more. And it costs almost half the price of an iPad Mini. For more technical details, go here.

klean

Klean Kanteen 16oz Insulated Bottle
Between the two of us, my wife and I have five of these. My only complaint is that the klean kanteen keeps my single origin direct trade organic yirgacheffe french press too hot to drink for almost the entire drive to work because this thing insulates so well. UGH. Oh, and don’t forget the cafe cap.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71fylbI63bS._SL1500_.jpg

Casio Men’s MQ24-7E Classic Analog Watch
I love this watch. It’s classic and nearly indestructible, but who cares if it does get destroyed because it only costs $10. Heck, buy two.

http://www.tiffany.com/shared/media/products/24944387_D_1.jpg

Elsa Peretti Diamonds by the Yard pendant
For women, you can’t go wrong with a diamond-anything that comes in the iconic blue box from Tiffany’s. And for $200, it won’t break the bank either. And if you really want to make all your buddies look bad, Charissa says to mention there is also a matching ring for $395.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61rqNcnNryL._SL1000_.jpg

The Gift of Warmth

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Five Love Languages, but I think Gary Chapman left out the most important one (for my wife, anyway): the gift of not being cold. Every Christmas and birthday, I include some kind of warmth-inducing item. Here are a few of my favorites:

http://static.tastykitchen.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Tasty-Kitchen-Blog-Chocolate-Chip-Skillet-Cookie.jpg

Image via.

Cookie Mix + Mini Skillet

Charissa has been working on gifts for co-workers, admins, aunts, and other female-type people. A good chance to be all pinteresty and do-it-yourself-y. And if you’ve never had a cookie pizza made in a mini-skillet, you’ve never lived.

http://images.anthropologie.com/is/image/Anthropologie/073732_000_b?$product410x615$

Homegrown Monogram Mug from Anthropologie + Spiced Chai

The mug by itself is a great gift for bosses, co-workers, and in-laws. Just $8 and it usually goes on sale a few days before Christmas (but they sell it year round). Throw in a pack or two of Big Train Chai and you’ve got yourself a top-tier gift idea. It really is the best chai you’ll ever taste. Charissa has a bi-monthly subscription from Amazon, so we get a two-pack of two-pound cans every other month.

http://www.welcomepup.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/puppypile.jpg

A PUPPY!!!!

Who wouldn’t want a puppy??

Proof 1:

Proof 2:

Here is our puppy being adorbs and generally making the world a better place through her cuteness and happy tail-wagging:

Christmas Gift Giving Guide – Reb: The Expat

This post is part of my 2012 Gift Giving Series, running from November to part of December.  I’ve asked people from all walks of life, tastes, styles and budgets to recommend ten unique gift ideas.

Remember that time I said my friends are cooler than me?  Well, here’s some more proof.  Meet Rebecca.  We went to Baylor together, and to the same church and were in the same sorority.  We also formed a Facebook group called Patriotic Ex-Patriots United.  Only she actually became an expat.  I became an Oklahoman, which is similar in the eyes of many Texans.

Rebecca knew she wanted to be a professor of medieval English, but in our last weeks at Baylor, rejection letter after rejection letter came from every graduate school she applied to, and Rebecca saw her dreams slipping away.  But then when all hope seemed lost, she received a hand-delivered letter from the postman.  From Oxford.  The number one school in the world to study medieval English.

So, Rebecca went to Oxford where she got her Ph.D. and met her husband, who, among other things, is taller than her.  This is a big deal since Rebecca is nearly six feet tall.

Now they live in Australia where, ahem, Dr. Rebecca is doing post-doctoral research on suicide in the middle ages and how the medieval writings about it can be integrated into modern suicide prevention material.  You can read an article she wrote about it here.

I hope you enjoy meeting Rebecca!

I buy gifts for:  husband, parents, brother and sister, parents- and siblings-in-law, my bestie in Texas, old college roommates, a few co-workers (and if celebrating Christmas with extended family in America: a small something for grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins)

My gift buying philosophy:  My gifts tend to fall into two categories: exotic or (and?!) delicious.  I love watching people experience new places and things, so I’m on the lookout all year for interesting local items I can pick up when I’m traveling (overseas or to a neighboring state/city) and save to give as Christmas gifts.  Whether it’s ornamental or edible, it’s fun to show a loved one that you thought of them while traveling, and they get to keep a little piece of some foreign locale for themselves.

I also enjoy stocking loved ones’ reading lists with new books I think they’ll enjoy—I keep my eyes on the recent releases and read book reviews to take note of who might like what.  And I adore making and gifting homemade treats in clever packages.  I like to give baked goods, homemade truffles, or mixes for quickbreads, muffins, or soups.  It’s all in the presentation, too!  A well-presented gift, even if it’s a small, inexpensive item, just seems a little more personal and meaningful when it’s beautifully packaged.

My favorite part of Christmas:  After spending the holidays in many different places and cultures, I know without a doubt my favorite part of Christmas is just being with family.  I am blessed with a close, loving immediate family, a big extended family on my mom’s and dad’s sides, and a fantastic set of in-laws.  Being able to spend a few days of quality time with them—preparing meals, baking treats, watching silly movies, sipping wine and chatting late into the evening—it’s the best, and something I treasure even more since spending the last seven years living oceans away from relatives.

My favorite Christmas movie:  Home Alone… or Miracle on 34th Street… or Love Actually… and my (mostly male) cousins and I have a tradition of watching cheesy action movies together on Christmas, think Rambo or something starring Bruce Willis.

Reb’s Gift Ideas

Books!

You can never have too many, and it’s a great way to exercise your deep knowledge of your loved ones and their interests.  Scour the NYT book review section http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/index.html, the London Review of Books http://www.lrb.co.uk/, New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/books?intcid=books, and the New York Review of Books http://www.nybooks.com/.  Something is bound to jump out at you that’s just right for one of your friends or relatives.  Books I would pass on include Peter Carey, The Chemistry of Tears, and of course Kathryn Stokett, The Help.  You might also consider gifting a luxury edition for an extra-special present.  Look at the shelves of hardbound classics in bookstores and choose a book (judging by content AND cover!) that will suit your giftee.  Make sure to personalize it by writing a message in the front flyleaf.

Cookbooks

(Different category than the last by my reckoning.)  I have to do an Aussie plug here and recommend some of my favorite Antipodean cookbooks.  Foodie/photography blogger Katie Quinn Davies has just released her first, and it’s full of beautiful pictures and funky write-ups of her delicious, down-home cooking.  Her Irish-Australian recipes are perfectly suited to a family meal or a dinner party for a crowd.

Bill Granger was Australia’s first masterchef winner, and his restaurants serve simple, beautifully-prepared food that showcases the best of what’s in season.  I own ‘The Best of Bill’ and have enjoyed experimenting with his ‘modern Australian’ cooking.  He specializes in fresh produce and seafood—with a Southeast Asian flair—and that Aussie favorite: brunch. His newest cookbook, ‘Easy’, looks fab, and would be ideal for the busy chef, as each chapter focuses on staple ingredients (a rotisserie chicken, a can of beans, fillet of fish) and turns them into healthy and flavorful dishes.

Personalized Charity Gifts

It’s easy to arrange a charity donation on behalf of a friend or loved one through organizations such as Unicef, Oxfam, and the Red Cross.  These gifts are a thoughtful way to express holiday cheer while reaching out to the larger global community.

Last year, my sister-in-law arranged charity donations for each member of our family, creatively personalizing each donation so that it resonated with her intended giftee.  It was one of the sweetest gestures.  I love to cook, so she made a donation in my name to a charity that would provide food for a family for some months.  My brother-in-law is training to be a teacher, so her donation in his name went towards a charity that would provide children’s education.  My Aussie husband enjoys a cold one : )  For him, she wrote the funniest card explaining that she couldn’t find a charity that provided beer, so she made his charity donation to an organization that provided clean drinking water.

Custom BobbleHead

This is just as cheesy as it sounds, but there is likely a person in your life (little brother? Husband? Dad?) for whom a custom bobblehead is the ideal gift.  My brother just received a look-alike bobblehead of himself from his wife as a birthday gift, and he’s already proudly taken it to display on his teacher’s desk at his high school.  The resemblance is uncanny.

Houseplants

My mother-in-law is a botanist and gardener extraordinaire.  She is slowly teaching me how not to kill every green thing my thumbs come into contact with. Her faith in my gardening abilities has given me a new enthusiasm for plants.  Giving a pot of flowers for the patio, trio of herbs for the kitchen widowsill, or a little terrarium is a gift that will last long after Christmas (hopefully!) and will brighten the home of your giftee.  Better Homes & Gardens has a handy houseplant picking guide and a make your own terrarium tutorial.

Homemade Treats

This is the kind of gift I give to co-workers or extended family if we’re all gathered together for Christmas.  Food is always welcome, and baked good mixes are even better because they can be saved for after the holiday binge period.  Creative packaging makes these gifts even more special.  Pick up scraps of fabric, paper, ribbons, twine, and beads throughout the year so you’re ready to wrap up your homemade treats.

Last year I made this chocolate chip oatmeal bread mix for our cousins, stacking the ingredients in glass jars decorated with fabric and ribbon, with baking instructions attached. They all replied a few weeks or months later saying that the bread was delicious and that they appreciated being able to easily throw something together for a lazy weekend breakfast.

You can also arrange your favorite cookies in pretty tins (molasses cookies are perfect for the holidays: the Pioneer Woman’s recipe is the same delicious one my mom makes, and I’ll be posting my own vegan version on my blog soon, or make homemade truffles and give with a bottle of wine).

Oxfam Dove

Fairtrade Homeware and Clothing

Most shopping malls in Australia have a fairtrade store selling beautifully crafted homeware, jewelry, and clothing.  This is often my first stop for little, meaningful gifts—a beaded necklace from India, a scarf from South America, or a carved bowl from Africa.  These products are usually made from recycled or sustainable materials, and they empower people to earn salaries that will support themselves and their families.  This beautiful dove stamped with ‘peace’ in English and Khmer is made in Cambodia out of recycled bombshell fragments.  If you can’t find a fairtrade store near you, check out the FairTradeFederation gift guide.

Sydney Opera House

An Event

Movie, play at the local theatre, ballet, or concert—event gifts are fun!  Whether you give a pair of tickets so two lovebirds can have a date night on you, or give a friend one ticket and keep the other so you can attend together, this gift creates a space for quality time as well as a show your giftee will enjoy.  Look at the event guides for some of the big performance spaces in your city or at your city’s ‘what’s on’ calendar.  The Sydney Opera House even has a selection of event suggestions for Christmas gifts.

Ornaments

Maybe this one is cliché, but I love Christmas ornaments.  I have a treasured collection—some from my grandmothers who are now gone, a few of the macaroni and glitter ones I made as a kid that my mom gifted me with some of her own, nutcrackers and ballerinas galore from when I used to perform in The Nutcracker years ago, and now six years’ worth of ornaments from my three college roommates.  At graduation we decided that we would forgo purchasing birthday and Christmas presents for each other, saving the money instead to meet up wherever we might be in the world.  But we have a tradition of sending around four of the same ornaments so that our Christmas trees will look similar when we’re old!  I usually pick up a set of ornaments from a fun location when I travel—this year it’s painted wooden animals from Cape Town, South Africa.  Anthropologie has some beautiful vintage-style ornaments this year, loving the Aussie-looking black swan and fluffy pink coupe de gala kiwi.

Have fun choosing gifts for your friends and family, and I hope you’ve received a healthy dose of inspiration from Accidental Okie!  Blessings to you and yours for the holidays, whether they’re spent in cold or hot climes : )

Xx Reb (SouthernSpoonBelle @ www.southern-spoon.blogspot.com)

Christmas Gift Giving Guide: Sarah, The Best Friend

sarahThis post is part of my 2012 Gift Giving Series, running from November to part of December.

Sarah: The Best Friend.  That’s not a descriptive title compared to The Fashionista, The Etsy Queen, The Hipster.  But in a way, I hope it’s the most descriptive of all the titles in the gift-giving series because I hope you all have a best friend like I have in Sarah.  Sarah is someone who knows my secrets and fears and dreams.  She always remembers my birthday and anniversary, even though remembering things like that is not my greatest strength.  We get in busy ruts and don’t talk for two weeks, and pick up right where we left off.  We trek the eight-hour drive to see each other every year and stay up talking until the wee hours of the morning.  In short, I hope you all have a Sarah.

Sarah has great taste – I’d call it rustic chic.  She’s a true Texas girl and now she has her own little Texas girl.  I hope you enjoy her gift ideas!

I buy gifts for: My husband, our 20-month-old daughter, our parents, siblings (late 20s), grandparents, and whatever names we draw in our extended families.  If time and budget allow, I like to do a little something for close friends.

My gift-buying philosophy is:  Ideally, I start thinking about “the perfect gift” ideas around September, and just buy them as time and funds allow.  (If a brilliant idea arises beforehand, I write it on a post-it and stick it on the October or November calendar page.)  Over the last couple years, I’ve really attempted to shop earlier so that our December budget is relieved a bit.  Most of the people listed above receive a personal gift, but some extended family members are given a family or couple gift.  When deciding what to buy for each person (or family), I try to focus on something intentional that he/she would truly love and would remind him/her of my love for them.  Sometimes the gift is practical, sometimes it isn’t at all.  A general theme I do seem to follow, though, is that of personalization.  I love initials, special pictures, and monograms.   As an amateur photographer, it’s not uncommon for many gifts to include a pic that marks a special memory.  And, if possible, I try to support a small business.

My favorite part of Christmas:  My sentimental sappiness only climbs during the holidays, so I adore traditions- big and small.  With a young child, we are thinking a lot about what traditions we want to establish in our little family, since she is at the perfect age to recognize and remember what we do.  I pray that all the fun things about the holidays never overshadow the joy found in Jesus’ birth.  My hubby gave me the Willow Tree Nativity our second Christmas together, so that is the focal point of our décor.  I also love Christmas music, white twinkle lights (re: You’ve Got Mail), ornaments from each year representing a story/memory,  taking a ridiculous number of pictures, receiving Christmas cards, and special drinks and foods that remind me of every Christmas before.

My favorite Christmas movie: I grew up watching White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, and still make a point to watch them.  For modern flicks, The Holiday has become a fave as well.

Sarah’s gift ideas.

Picture Plates by Shutterfly

I just love all the fun gifts we can make with our own pictures.  Shutterfly is expanding beyond the traditional prints and books, to include personalized plates for your table.  Embrace a fun, whimsical design for kids or aim for classic with a single image of a beautiful bloom.

Gift Boxes from Penzey’s Spices

If you’re buying for a culinary genius or just someone who appreciates high-quality ingredients, check out the fabulous line of spices and seasoning from Penzey’s Spices.  They offer several themed gift boxes (cooking, grilling, etc) at a great value and in attractive boxes.  My husband and I especially appreciate that they list suggested uses on the spice jars.

Honorary Donation

Do you have a loved one who might literally have everything? If his home is busting at the seams or if giving beyond herself resonates with her heart, consider giving a donation to a worthy organization in your loved one’s honor.  If he/she cares deeply about children or families, give to Focus on the Family.  Or, maybe he would be thrilled to know that instead of receiving another tie, money will be buying an essential heifer or goat for a family in a third-world country.

To stay local, adopt a family in need or a child from Angel Tree, a ministry that allows children of incarcerated men and women to have a Christmas gift, and take your loved one with you to purchase the requested items.  This can be a particularly valuable experience for children.  Let’s remember the groups doing significant work domestically and around the world during this season of giving.  (Be sure to use Charity Navigator to check an organization’s credibility/trustworthiness if you have not contributed to them before).

book

Children’s Books from “I See Me”

This innovative company has created a beautiful line of unique, personalized books for babies and children.  With vivid illustrations, I See Me teaches children how to spell their names, hosts a royal princess birthday party, and celebrates the fun of Christmas with your child in the story.  We ordered My Very Own Name for our daughter and she consistently chooses it to read.  Just recently, I ordered God Loves You!  and I am excited to give it to her for Christmas.  Be sure to sign up for email updates when you visit their website, and they’ll send you an immediate coupon code.

silhouette

Silhouettes

Even you’re just a tiny bit curious, you must check out these beautiful works of art by Tim Arnold!  Mr. Arnold hand-cuts detailed silhouettes from a picture starting at just $40.  These are not just for the log cabins in Little House on the Prairie.  Visit The Nester to see how she incorporates her children’s silhouettes into an awesome focal wall.   I’m excited to order one of these for our daughter now that she has enough hair.

monogram necklace

Pretty Things to Monogram

A monogrammed necklace or picture frame is the perfect go-to gift.  Traditional silver frames from Pottery Barn make a classic statement in a home, especially with a special picture to personalize it.

I learned about Vintage Pearl after inquiring about a friend’s necklace.  They create beautiful jewelry that can be personalized with initials, children’s names, or birthstones.  I’m not a jewelry fanatic, but I knew I had to have their name charm after my daughter was born.  I wear it almost daily!

magazines

Subscriptions

Magazines, Sirius XM, and Spotify keep giving all year-round.  If your loved one is a music lover or enjoys an entertaining read, a gift-subscription could provide the perfect escape during a busy day.  From cooking to sports, there’s a publication for nearly everyone’s favorite hobby or interest. (Consider if the recipient would prefer an e-subscription if he/she has a tablet of some sort.)

name puzzle

Wooden Name Puzzles

I love a good story, nostalgia, and sentimental things.  Surprised?  I didn’t think so.  Rootin’ Ridge Toymakers ties together these 3 elements beautifully with their classic wooden toys.  The husband & wife team have been creating children’s treasures for almost 40 years (!) in their adorable woodshop.  Strolling through their quaint-feeling shopping center, it’s easy to forget you’re in a busy part of Austin.  Anyways, the toys…  They make a variety of safe, high-quality items, but I love the wooden name puzzles.  What a great way for your little loved one to practice fine motor skills while learning to spell his/her name!  Rootin’ Ridge does accept online orders, but hurry if you want it for the holidays.

An Experience

I’m thankful that my parents emphasized quality time with family when I was growing up, and Christmas seems like the perfect time to be intentional about it.   As I’ve watched mine and my husband’s grandparents age, I have been impressed with the importance of spending time with them.  Many older folks aren’t able to enjoy the same activities and mobility of their past, and they would love the chance to see you and get out of the house, nursing home, etc.  If this sounds familiar, consider taking your loved one (young or old) on a picnic on a pretty day, shopping in a decorated mall, on a tour through your city’s museum, to a community play, or out to eat and looking at Christmas lights in a fancy neighborhood.  A quick Google search can help you find creative things in your town.  Know that the time spent will be worth gold to them.

The Family Gift

So I mentioned a family gift earlier, so let me offer a few examples.

The Movie Bucket:  Grab a cute bucket and stuff it with everything needed for a fun family movie night.  Movie-style candy, popcorn, a 2L of coke, and an age-appropriate movie are the essentials.

The Bleacher Family:  Collect fun things for the family who spends lots of time on the bleachers watching someone’s game (Snacks, sunscreen, ball cap for the team, pom-pom, drinks, memory card for the camera, The Sandlot movie).

The same idea could be applied for a family who looks forward to the summer beach vacations, people with a road-trip planned, or the die-hard college football fans.  All you need is a sturdy container to start and some imagination!

gifts

Registries

Don’t forget about unfinished registries for the nuptials or parents-to-be!

Merry Christmas & happy shopping!

You can read all the gift giving guides here!

Gift Giving Guide: Kylie, The Fashionista

Are you enjoying the Gift Giving Blog Series?  (You can click here to read the whole series, which will run every Tuesday and Thursday throughout all of November and part of December).

Today’s blogger is Kylie.  She’s a true fashionista.  She has a degree in apparel and fashion merchandising, has worked for Nordstrom and now manages a high-fashion boutique.  (Yes, we have those in Oklahoma).  In short, she’s legit, and she has amazing taste.  I went to her house a few days ago for the first time and nearly died on the spot and went to Pinterest/Pottery Barn/Anthropologie heaven.

Kylie has recommended classy and fashionable – yet affordable – gift ideas for men and women of all ages!

Introducing Kylie:

I buy gifts for: My parents, parents-in-law, my siblings, my husband’s siblings and their spouses, a few nieces, some of my closest friends, my boss, and a few others.

My gift buying philosophy: I LOVE gifts and gift-giving. There is something so special and magical about Christmas time and exchanging gifts. I like to plan well ahead of time so that I can give a gift that will be thoughtful and special for each individual. To me, gifts reflect what’s in your heart, and what you feel for another individual.

My favorite part of Christmas: Definitely decorating our Christmas tree. It is a long, time-honored tradition in my family to take a whole day and devote it to decorating our giant Christmas tree with all of our special ornaments, collected from over the years.

My favorite Christmas movie: The Polar Express. I was obsessed with the book as a child and now love the movie. The movie truly captures how special and magical Christmas-time can be for everyone, no matter your age.

Kylie’s Gift Ideas:

Yosi Samra Fold Up Shoes

Yosi Samra Ballet Flats
These have been featured in People Magazine many times as the most comfortable flats available. And they truly are.  Working retail 8-10 hours a day keeps me on my feet, and these feel like I brought my slippers with me to work. The perfect gift for any of the girls.

LuLu Lemon Boxers
These are for the guys in my life. Sounds strange, but every man in my family swears that these are the most comfortable and best boxers in the world. They are a little pricey, so it’s always fun to throw one (or a few) in as extra little gifts or even as fun stocking stuffers.

Penguin T-Shirts
Classic and cute, these are a throw-back to the originals from the 1950’s. All styles make great, comfortable t-shirts for brothers, brothers-in-law, dads, cousins, etc.

OU OSU Hats

College Sports Gear
My husband and I just moved to Oklahoma where he’s getting his master’s degree. Anything featuring Oklahoma sports is a great gift for people in our family who are all new fans!  Whatever your team, this makes a great gift for the guys in your life.

BareMinerals Lipgloss
These are great stocking stuffers. The best lip gloss in the world, isn’t sticky and has a great minty lip-plumping property.

Dogeared Pendant Necklaces
I’m obsessed with these right now. So cute and fashionable. There are so many varieties and options available to help you customize for any girl on your list.

Zella Infinity Scarf
Where my husband and I are from, it gets really cold. I’m still getting used to that idea that I’ll be experiencing my first “mild” winter in a while, now that we live in Oklahoma. But scarves ALWAYS make great gifts. They are cute, fashionable, and extremely useful and functional for the cold winter months.

Restoration Hardware Slippers
Slippers make great gifts! They aren’t something that someone would usually buy for themselves, but everyone needs a pair! Especially to make it through the winter. Restoration Hardware has really great, cozy slippers that are also very affordable. They have men’s and women’s styles. And anything from Restoration Hardware is always amazing.

Michael Kors Eau de Parfum
In my family we use Christmas as an opportunity to give gifts that an individual might not normally buy for themselves. This perfume is a staple for all the girls in my family. It’s classic and pretty, but not overpowering, something that you can wear every day.

Old World Christmas Ornament

Old World Christmas Ornaments
Obsessed. The only word I can use to describe my love for these ornaments. My family has been collecting these since before I can remember and each year they come out with many brand new ones. The best part; the family who owns and designs them is from my hometown. These magical ornaments are wonderful for any holiday housewarming party and are perfect to add to the top of any present. And there are literally hundreds to choose from!