Thursday, January 2, 2014

Homemade Christmas Part I: What do you make for a twenty-something fellow?

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year! It's hard to believe it's 2014.... 2013 was a busy year -- we kicked it off on the first day of the year with Sam's father getting married, in May I finished my first year of business school, in August I spent a week with my mom and stepdad on their new sail boat (which they now live on full-time, right now in the sunny and warm Bahamas), in the fall Sam got a big promotion at work, in November we ran the Philly Marathon (my first full marathon, Sam's second), we hosted our fourth annual family Thanksgiving in Boston, we spent time in VT with my family and in PA with Sam's family over Christmas and New Year's, and throughout it all we shared a lot of joyful moments with family and friends. There was also sadness and loss, most notably my uncle passing away unexpectedly at the beginning of December. It was comforting to take some time over the holidays to reflect.

We did a lot of travel over the holidays and it was wonderful to see so much family, but we're also glad to be back in Boston. I can lose sight of what a blessing it is to have a safe, comfortable place to call home, especially when I spend so much energy trying to improve it. Being away from it for weeks definitely reminds me that we're very lucky. That doesn't mean there aren't home projects in store for 2014, though! But before I get ahead of myself, I thought I'd share some DIY updates from the tail end of 2013. This year I decided to make all of my Christmas presents for my family, which was a bit of a rollercoaster. There was excitement. There was frustration. There was despair. There was pride. All things considered, it was totally worth it -- but having a full week between the end of the semester and leaving for our holiday travels definitely helped, so it likely won't be feasible again in future years when I have less free time.

Anyway, I thought I'd post about each project over the next few weeks. First up: the coasters I made my brother.

Figuring out what to make for my brother was one of the toughest presents. I really wanted to make things that first and foremost people liked and that secondly happened to be homemade, not just things that people felt obligated to like because they were homemade but didn't really speak to their interests or passions. But I was struggling to come up with something that my 23-year old brother would like. He has his own apartment and there are probably plenty of things I could do decor-wise for the space, but I wanted it to be something that he would enjoy having in his apartment, not just something that thought would be nice looking. Maybe I was overthinking this, but I just didn't want to send a message like "I think you need to have new art," or "I think you should have different curtains."

Anyway, I ended up coming across an idea for DIY beer coasters that I thought fit the bill. My brother is a beer connoisseur, having visited all of the 21 breweries in Vermont (twice), so I thought he would enjoy some functional home goods that show off his interest in beer.

The only supplies I needed were some ceramic tiles, felt, six pack holders, and mod podge. We happened to have some six pack holders left over from a recent holiday party and I already had some felt and mod podge on hand in my craft closet, so all I needed was ceramic tiles. Easier said than done since none of the hardware stores within walking/public transit distance of my apartment carry supplies like this -- they tend to have basic tools, paint, etc, but not the materials you'd need for tiling and other bigger renovation projects. I was prepared to rent a car to go to Home Depot but wanted to avoid that if possible, so while I was out running errands one afternoon in an area I don't go very often I stopped in a small hardware store just to see if they happened to have anything that fit the bill. They didn't, but suggested I ask at the flooring store next door that installs carpets and hardwood floors. They also didn't sell tiles, but the owner happened to have some ceramic tiles on hand for a personal tiling project he was doing in the upstairs of his store that he was willing to sell me for a grand total of $5 for six of them. So let it be known that the owner of Cambridge Rug and Flooring Company is an incredibly kind and helpful person, and if you're in the market for new rugs or floors I hope you'll consider them (I can't actually speak to the quality of their rugs and floors, but they have great reviews on Yelp).

In any case, with my supplies in hand, I tackled this extremely straightforward project.

First, I cut pieces of felt slightly smaller than the size of each tile. Then I coated the bottom of each tile with mod podge and stuck the felt on (this is to protect whatever surface the coaster is placed on, since the tiles have rough, grooved bottoms). The mod podge dried within a few minutes.

Then I took my six pack holders and cut out six squares the size of each tile. I applied mod podge to each square, and pressed them firmly down on the tiles. My method was to hold each square in place for ~1 minute while the mod podge firmed up, then stack a book on top to keep the corners of the cardboard flat while the glue dried completely. I just stacked all the coasters up at the same time with a book between each one, and let them dry for about 15 minutes.

Lastly, I applied 4 coats of mod podge over the top of each coaster, letting them dry completely between coats. This is to make sure they are completely waterproof so they don't get ruined when actually used as coasters. I used a high gloss modge podge so they are very shiny (which I love), but you could also use matte mod podge if you prefer.

And that's it, tada!

My brother has beer labels that he's collected from all the breweries he's visited and I told him it would be really easy for us to make more coasters using those if he ever wants, so it could be an expanding coaster collection over time.

There are plenty more presents where this one came from, so stay tuned to learn about what else cooked up in the week before Christmas.