Personalized Coffee Mugs

You know those gift suggestion lists for “the person who already has everything”? Somehow I feel like parents always seem to fit that category, and sadly, the aforementioned suggestion lists never seem to help. Fortunately, this year, my parents had both made specific requests (Mom wanted a duster like mine, and we’ve gotten Dad into Stargate SG1), but the perfect Christmas gift for Jordan’s parents was eluding us. Then I remembered a blog post I’d read on A Beautiful Mess and mentioned the idea to Jordan. He loved it (and thought they would too), so this is what we did.

How to Make Personalized Coffee Mugs

Step 1: Find the mugs

We searched high and low for the perfect mugs. We wanted white ceramic in a non-ornate style. Hobby Lobby had some in the style we wanted, but they were *huge*–as in, bowl sized. Target had some with ridges, which make for a poor writing surface, and they also had some that were rather fancy–scalloped handles and so on. Target also had one that came with… a sweater (say what?). The sweater could be easily removed, and the mug was otherwise perfect, but there was only one left. We finally settled on a pair that was painted inside, but the outside was perfect.

Obviously this technique doesn’t have to be limited to mugs if, say, you wanted to decorate some plates or something else instead.

Step 2: Buy ceramic markers

I cannot emphasize this point enough. You need dishwasher-safe markers. No other kind will do. These may be marked as glass, ceramic, or porcelain markers, but I believe they should all work the same way. Hobby Lobby didn’t have any, and when I asked a store employee, she recommended oil-based Sharpies. So we bought a red and a black oil-Sharpie, and after painting on our design and letting it set for at least 48 hours, I took a wet washcloth to it (no soap) to wipe off extraneous pencil marks, and the marker started to flake. So we had to go to Michaels to get the right markers.

Step 3: Plan out your design

I drew the design on a piece of paper, then used a pencil to initially sketch it onto the mugs. I finished by going over the pencil with the ceramic marker. You could freehand the whole thing if you have confidence in your artistic abilities; I read somewhere that you can clean up mistakes if you keep a damp rag close by to take care of them quickly. I actually wish I’d just freehanded it because I ended up with some weird pencil flaking under the paint.

You’ll also notice in the picture below that we made one of the mugs left-handed. That’s the beautiful thing about decorating the mugs yourself–you can make them exactly tailored to your recipient!

Step 4: Let the design cure

Depending on the markers you buy, the instructions may differ. The markers we bought required at least 8 hours at room temperature, then baking for 40 minutes in a 375-degree oven, after heating up the oven from room temperature *with the mugs inside.*

Step 5: Fill up your gift basket

Use your imagination! We went simple with a couple bags of ground coffee and hot chocolate packets and put the whole thing into a pretty Christmas box. I don’t have a picture of the whole basket (oops!), but here’s how the mugs turned out. (This is with the oil-based Sharpies, but they were much the same with the ceramic markers.)

Love Mugs

I’d love to hear what gifts you made this Christmas!


Oh, Christmas Tree!

This isn’t our first Christmas in our house, but it’s the first one with any semblance of sanity. Although we don’t have a huge stash of Christmas decorations, we took advantage of the slower pace this year (read: not moving into a new house!) and made a nice little Christmas corner in our living room.

First, the tree.

$40 Thrift-Store Tree!

$40 Thrift-Store Tree!

We got our tree at the local thrift store. We also bought some lights there, but it turned out they were intended for bushes, not trees (they’re arranged in a mesh rather than a string), so we went out and bought some strings too.

Jordan’s coworker said wrapping lights around the trunk makes it look like the tree is lit from the inside.

Trunk-tastic lighting

Trunk-tastic lighting

Then we wrapped another string around the outside.



And can’t forget the ornaments, of course!

Can't forget the ornaments!

Can’t forget the ornaments!

We have a tradition we started our first year of marriage of buying a special ornament each Christmas to represent the year that’s past.

Our first year we bought a "J"

Our first year we bought a “J”

Our second year (not pictured) was an ornament from the university where we got our Masters.

Last year was a house

Last year was a house

And this year was very special to us as it represented the little life that is no longer with us.

Baby Bean

Baby Bean

I also finally got the nativity set I’ve been wanting for years (it was 75% off!) and some cute stocking hangers. Here’s the view of our mantle.

I love having a mantle at Christmastime!

I love having a mantle at Christmas time!

The kitties enjoy Christmas too–it means warm fires in the fireplace!

Basking in the glow of a dwindling fire

Basking in the glow of a dwindling fire

We didn’t do any outdoor decorations, but we bought a couple wreaths on clearance at the end of the season. I’m looking forward to being festive outdoors next year!

Why We Refinanced

We knew when we bought our house a year ago that we’d be refinancing our mortgage at the first-possible opportunity. Fortunately, we were able to do just that at the beginning of December. Some of the reasons to refinance were immediately obvious to us; others took some time to manifest themselves:

  • Our original loan was an FHA 203k loan. The 203k is a rehab loan, which was a good way to get the funds we needed to turn our long-neglected house into something livable, but it also came with a stupid (in my opinion) clause that the borrower *must* have mortgage insurance for the first five years of the loan, even if the loan-to-value ratio is less than 80%. (Most lenders don’t require private mortgage insurance when the amount owed on the loan is 80% or less of the home’s appraised value.) So we’d continue to pay an extra $238 fee every month if we didn’t refinance.
  • Our original rate was good, but not as good as the new rate. Our FHA loan was a fixed 4% loan. While this is a good rate, we decided this time to go with a 5/1 ARM (adjustable-rate mortgage), which offers better initial rates than a fixed-rate mortgage. The new rate is a whopping 2.75% for the first five years and, although it can adjust after that initial fixed term, it can never go any higher than 7.75%. (There are also caps on how much it can adjust per year.) There’s also a fixed-rate conversion option if we decide to play it safe after five years. But since we don’t know how long we’ll be in the area (not sure if Maryland is our “forever home”), a super-low starting rate is a good way to have affordable housing for as long as we’re here.
  • Our monthly payments were too high. Well, they weren’t actually high, per se, but we’d like to leave the option for me to go part-time or stay at home once we start a family, and the payments were too high to manage on Jordan’s income alone. The low interest rate combined with the new, lower principal make either of these arrangements achievable.
  • Our original bank was a comedy of errors. Let me count the ways: They didn’t send us statements on time for us to make payments, and they didn’t allow online payments. They misapplied our payments in various ways, once even applying the entire payment to principal and then telling us our payment was late because interest hadn’t been paid. They kept telling us to send them our hazard insurance information, even after we’d sent it to them *three* times. They sold our loan and didn’t tell us to whom they’d sold it, instead sending us a letter that said they’d sold it to themselves. (We didn’t discover this last one until we were trying to get the payoff to refinance.) By contrast, our new bank (credit union, actually) has been a pleasure to work with. Communication has always been punctual, professional, and precise. They offer a variety of payment options. Their title officer fought with the bank our loan was sold to (I was party to a conference call when this was happening) when they didn’t want to release our payoff until the middle of January (at which point our interest rate and application would have expired). Their closing options were flexible–we closed on the loan at 6:30 PM in the comfort of our own home.

How has your experience been with mortgages (if you’ve owned a home)? Have you had positive or negative experiences with lenders? Would you consider an adjustable-rate mortgate?

In Which Our Heroine Returns From a Two-Month Absence and Has No Pictures to Show For It

I certainly didn’t intend to be away from here for over two months, but, well, the best-laid plans and all that. Church is cancelled tonight due to snow (!), so it seemed like a good time to get caught up. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve been up to, and I’ll plan to go into more detail on some of the items in subsequent posts:

  1. We finished renovating our kitchen! We started mid-August and had hoped to be done by the end of September, but due to various bumps in the road didn’t end up finishing until the end of October. More on this in a later post.
  2. We refinanced our mortgage. We were able to refinance a little over a year after our purchase due to the larger-than-expected bump in our home’s value after the kitchen and other renovations (new roof, windows, HVAC, bathrooms, flooring, siding, …) and our double loan payments (knock out that principal!). More on this later!
  3. We got pregnant. And lost the baby at 4 and 1/2 weeks. This was, by far, the most painful event of the last two months, but I’m happy to say that our faith and family and friends and love for each other pulled us through it, and we came out stronger for it. I may (or may not) talk more about this later.
  4. We hosted Thanksgiving. We had our parents over for Thanksgiving, and I was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. Other than forgetting a couple ingredients in the stuffing (which still turned out delicious), there were no real disasters, and I think a lovely time was had by all. It was a much-needed time of relaxation and refreshment, especially coming the tail-end of our loss.

P.S. The title of this post is a bit misleading. I did take pictures of the kitchen renovation and will plan to share them in a future post (or posts). Stay tuned! 🙂