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Notes on the Valley

By Monith Ilavarasan

E-mail Monith Ilavarasan

About this blog: My parents, brother, and I moved to Pleasanton when I was in the seventh grade. I then graduated from Amador Valley High School, went to college at UC Davis and started out a career in tech. After several years working in large co...  (More)

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Made in home

Uploaded: May 11, 2022


After my IKEA cutting board started splintering I was in the market for another cutting board. Every time I decide that I need to get something new I can never just go out and buy it. I always spend hours checking multiple lifestyle blogs, reading review after review, and comparing all products out there to make sure I’m getting the perfect one.

My partner has observed this and also realized that my birthday was coming up. She killed two birds with one stone and thoughtfully booked a woodworking class for us where we made our own cutting boards. That was about four years ago.

Growing up I was never really connected to a culture or practice of making items that you would use around the house. I wouldn’t ever describe our household as “handy” and tasks like putting in a new water filter or faucet was a weeks-long process.

However, my mom is the queen of making sure every single thing she gets is reused in some way shape or form. In fact, you walk into any Indian person’s home and you’ll see all the spices we use stored in 10 year old Smuckers jars. She always had a passion for not letting things go to waste. That’s probably what drove my need to get the perfect product, I wanted something I could use forever.

Since the initial woodworking class, my partner and I slowly explored making more household items with our hands. We dabbled in woodworking again, making side tables for our living room. This gave us the confidence to build our own coffee table (after many, many trips to local furniture stores where we both couldn’t agree on one).

We expanded into crafts next. My partner’s grandma and my mother were heavily into cross stitching and embroidery. In my partner’s parents house you would see these beautiful framed hand stitched pieces. I was inspired. Since my mom had the materials lying around I started cross stitching while watching NBA games.

While I was focused on that, my partner started watercoloring, her specialty became colorful flowers and round birds. We began framing and gifting these to close friends and family for birthdays and holidays. We always got rave reviews.

Finally we both started ceramics courses. I’m terrible now, but my eventual goal is to replace our thrift store dinner set with handmade bowls & plates. Hopefully I can get there in a few years.

Working with my hands has given me a newfound appreciation of the effort that goes into making something. For the longest time to me things were just things, and they didn’t carry a piece of the person who either designed it, built it, or brought it to your door.

We live in a small apartment which has taught us to be mindful of what we get. We don’t have much space or storage, so each piece of furniture or item has to have a place and a purpose.

I now spend my time looking around the house and thinking if I could make some of our store bought furniture from scratch. I now spend my free time watching youtube videos of people making bookcases and have successfully become the most boring person in the world.

Making (some) of our own stuff has saved us money, helped cut down on clutter in our space, and has given me an appreciation for what goes into producing something. It’s a practice I hope to foster and grow as I look into the future.
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