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DIY Summer Wedding Favors Guests Can Take Home

DIY Summer Wedding Favors Guests Can Take Home

DIY summer wedding favor ideas

summer wedding DIY favor ideas
Sweet summer weddings | Image courtesy Unsplash user Tom Pumford

From outdoor receptions under the sun to an ice cream cart for guests and bouquets filled with peonies and lavender, summer weddings fill the air with a refreshing warmth and relaxation.

As I daydream about my own wedding, I’ve started to love the idea of DIY summer wedding favors for guests to take home—a tiny tidbit to remind them of the day and to thank them for coming.

From foodie favors, like mason jar jams and herbal salts, to nature-inspired gifts like macrame plant hangers and hand-painted place settings, there are so many creative ways to bring the season’s bounty to your special day.

DIY Edible Summer Wedding Favors

Food is the perfect favor idea during the warm summer months: From barbecues to potlucks and late night dinners on the patio, chances are your guests will have a reason to put these gifts to a delicious use.

Spread the Love with Sweet Strawberry Jam

DIY Jam summer wedding favor
Spread the strawberry love | Image courtesy Etsy seller WooGarden

Mini mason jar jam is a cute gift that guests can throw in their purse or their back pocket when they’re done dancing the night away under the glow of the moon. And from strawberries to peaches to honeydew melon, you can certainly find seasonal fruit that goes with your unique wedding color scheme!

Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite simple summer jams, a strawberry basil jam that’s made in a slow cooker (which means you can throw it on and save time as you run around in your pre-wedding craze).

The Ingredients List:

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • ½ cup fresh basil, chopped

The Cooking Directions:

  1. Place all your ingredients in your slow cooker and stir to combine. Cook on low for about 2 hours.
  2. After 2 hours, stir the jam again, mashing the strawberries with a fork if you’d like it to be smoother.
  3. Cook it uncovered for an additional 2 hours until it reaches a thick consistency (it will still be a bit runny, but that’s okay).
  4. Let the jam cool and, once it reaches room temperature, store it in your containers (i.e. mini mason jars) and place them in the fridge overnight. Gift and enjoy!
infused sugar wedding favor
Orange you glad you’re having a summer wedding? | Image courtesy Etsy seller VenasFizzHouse

Summer Citrus Infused Sugars

Infused citrus sugars are one of the sweetest ways to celebrate summer—and they’re amazing when thrown in drinks or used in baking. You can store the sugars in small glass jars with a tag that shares the recipe, allowing your guests to venture home with a gift they can easily make every summer. And, every time they do, they’ll be reminded of your own sweet summer wedding soiree.

The Instructions:

  1. Choose your star ingredient (like lemon, lime, or grapefruit zest).
  2. Let them dry out on wax paper overnight.
  3. When you’re ready to create your sugar, simply alternate layers of zest and sugar in a sealed container.
  4. Let the sugar infuse for a few days before gifting!

Summer Wedding Favors DIYs Inspired by Nature

Give your guests a nature-inspired gift to take home that will flourish through the months of warm summer sunshine, lighting up their home or garden.

Let the Love Grow (In Terra Cotta Pots)

love grows wedding favor DIY
Where love grows | Image courtesy Etsy seller ShopHomeHarmony

The idea to “let the love grow” is the perfect sentiment to send home with your guests as the wedding night draws to a close. And you can easily represent this idea in party favor form with some soil, seeds, and mini terra cotta pots. This favor, in particular, makes for a perfect last minute homemade gift if you find yourself in a time crunch.

The Supply List:

Place the soil and seeds in your terra cotta pots, then attach a note with some raffia or twine. The note can be a simple, handwritten phrase on a piece of rustic brown paper that reads, “Let the love grow.” This will encourage your guests to water the soil and watch as the flowers come to full bloom under their loving care.

A Simple Macrame Plant Hanger

The macrame craze is in full force and what better way to embrace it than by making a bunch of easy macrame plant hangers for your guests!

macrame summer wedding favor DIY
Summer wedding macrame DIY | Image courtesy Etsy seller GritNGoldCollective

The Supply List:

Macrame Directions:

  1. Begin by cutting 8 pieces of rope (24 inches each). You’ll want them long enough so that some rope can hang at the bottom of your pot and lots of rope can hang above. Also keep in mind the extra length that will be needed for tying knots around the pot.
  2. Next, bring all pieces of your rope together and tie a knot a few inches from the end of the rope pieces to bundle them all together.
  3. Turn your pot upside down, place the knot in the center of its bottom, and divide your strands of rope into groups of two. This will divide your pot into four pieces, like a summer pie!
  4. Tie a knot into each of those four groups of two right below the bottom edge of the pot and secure the rope in place with tape.
  5. Grab one rope from one set and another rope from the set next to it and tie those ropes into a knot (this is where you’ll start to get the macrame feel). The new knot will rest directly between the two old knots. Repeat this all the way around the pot until you have your next level of knots.
  6. Tape them in place to the pot and repeat, creating your third level of knots. Depending on how large your pot is, keep going with this pattern until you reach the top edge of the pot.
  7. Turn your pot over and hold your rope ends in your hand. Tie a knot at the top of the rope wherever you’d like it to hang. Make sure that all the ropes are even and that the pot hangs evenly, too. Take off your tape. If you’d like to see what it looks like, use your screw hook to hang it. Or, set it aside as a wedding favor and move on to the next!

Note: This is the perfect craft to do with a group of friends or family. Though by the directions it may seem a bit complicated, once you’re doing it, you’ll get the hang of it quickly!

Hand-Painted Place Settings Double as a Wedding Favor DIY

painted DIY summer wedding guest gift
Mini summer floral art | Image via Etsy user artbyasta

Hand-painted floral place settings are a delicate way to bring DIY artistic flare to your tablescape. And even if you don’t fancy yourself a Picasso, you can still try your hand at some simple flowers.

Try doing this craft on mini canvas held up at the table with wooden easels. If you’d like an interactive wedding activity, you can even put paints out and encourage the guests to make their own DIY place setting to take home.

During the summertime, the options for food and nature-inspired gifts are bountiful and offer an ode to our beloved season of warmth and sunshine.

Like the wedding day itself, sending your guests home with a party favor sparks celebration, inspiration, and a bit of magic. And, whether you’re mixing summer sugars and jams or spending time in the world of macrame and paints, easy DIYs that offer gratitude to your guests are a wonderful way to say thank you.

For more creative wedding gift ideas, explore our Happy Couple Gift Guide or set up an online gift exchange with friends and family. You can also connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Celebrating National Sugar Cookie Day With Recipes That Kids Can Make

Celebrating National Sugar Cookie Day With Recipes That Kids Can Make

celebrating National Sugar Cookie Day recipes Comedian Gary Gulman said it best when he said, “Every cookie is a sugar cookie. A cookie without sugar is a cracker.”

creative sugar cookie recipes
Sweetly decorated sugar cookies | Image courtesy Etsy seller Sweetsillustrated

Sugar cookies have a reputation for being a bit basic in the baking world but, for me, they conjure up all sorts of delicious food memories from my childhood. There were the long days spent at my grandma’s house, when my mom would send me over with a box of sprinkles and all the makings for a basic recipe, and the spring breaks spent at my sister’s first apartment, where we’d bake sheets of them together in her little kitchen for hours on end. In college, I remember mixing the dough with the little ones I babysat, their happy faces covered in flour. And today, I love watching my nieces and nephew reach their hands into the cookie jar for the most coveted after dinner dessert: a perfectly soft sugar cookie topped with buttercream frosting.

The art of crafting sugar cookies has long been something that soothes my sweets-loving soul. National Sugar Cookie Day takes place on July 9th and this year I’ll be celebrating by hosting a baking bonanza with my youngest family members. To switch things up, I’m branching away from the classic sugar cookies—like drop and cut outs—and diving into a world of unique variations.

Here are a few of my favorite (and craziest) ways to add a fresh twist to this classic dessert so you, too, can host a sugar cookie bake off. It’s a sweet party idea for toddlers, kids—and the young at heart. So, without further ado, here are some National Sugar Cookie Day recipes that even kids can make.

A Sugar Cookie Recipe for Anyone Nuts for Donuts

Sounds a bit wild but there really are such a thing as “donut” sugar cookies. I first made these a few years ago as a birthday gift for a friend who was donut-obsessed and they sparked a lively conversation of donut-related stories. Mine had to do with my first attempt at homemade pasta dough, which was disastrous, and ended in a gourmet dinner of donuts down the street.

These are fun for everyone to make—and they’re fun to eat, too (especially paired with a cold glass of milk). Plus, kids seem to get a kick out of making donut cookies because they sound like a 2-for-1 treat!

donut sugar cookie recipes
Getting do-nutty with sugar cookie recipes | Image courtesy Etsy seller GingerSnapMarket

Ingredients List:

For the cookie dough:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • Extra flour for rolling
  • Round cookie cutters in two sizes

For the buttercream frosting

  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Food coloring

Baking Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350º F. In a large bowl or mixer, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg and vanilla.
  2. Mix your flour, baking powder, and salt then add to your first mixture. If your dough feels too sticky, add a bit of flour.
  3. Sprinkle a surface with flour, then roll out your dough to ¼ inch thick.
  4. Using your larger cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles and transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Using the smaller cookie cutter, cut the center out of the cookie to form your donuts.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
  7. While the cookies cool, make your icing by mixing all the ingredients together. If the mixture is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If it’s too stiff, add more milk.
  8. Once your donut sugar cookies are cool, frost then top with sprinkles for the full donut effect!

Putting the Fun in Sugar Cookie Recipes With Funfetti Ice Cream Sandwiches

I’ve always found any excuse I can to pair ice cream with cookies—and the little ones in my family are quick to back me up. I love crushed chocolate chip cookies on top of a big bowl of vanilla ice cream, a scoop of caramel on my snickerdoodles, or a hefty serving of strawberry ice cream nestled between two chocolate wafers.

My fiancé has a child-like love for all things funfetti that I hope he never outgrows (and requests it for his birthday cake every year). He also shares my deep appreciation for ice cream sandwiches. So, this year for his half birthday I enlisted the help of my niece and we mixed all three of his favorites into this ultimate treat: funfetti sugar cookie ice cream sandwiches. It’s a mouthful to say, but tasty to eat! The recipe for my new favorite sugar cookie ice cream sandwich is:

ice cream sugar cookie sandwich recipe
Sprinkling fun into sugar cookie recipes | Image courtesy Etsy seller LaBelleVieByLaura

Ingredients List:

  • 6 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • ½ cup cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups vanilla ice cream
  • Sprinkles

Baking Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400º F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar together. Then add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Mix in the flour, baking powder, and salt next, then fold in your sprinkles.
  3. Shape the dough into a 12-inch log and wrap it in plastic wrap. Place it in the freezer for 40 minutes.
  4. Slice the cookie dough into 20 equal slices (to make 10 sandwiches) and place your slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. When completely cooled, scoop ice cream onto the bottom of 10 cookies. Top with the remaining 10 cookies and place in the freezer for 20 minutes before serving.

A Sugar Fortune Cookie Recipe for Good Luck

Although the mention of sugar cookies may not initially inspire visions of fortune cookies for you, it sure does for me. They’re made with the same ingredients, after all—sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla and flour—and when I was a kid, I’d ask for the “good luck sugar cookies.”

Making these treats homemade is a lot easier than you may think, and definitely a sweet treat your littles can help you make. For an extra dose of magic for this National Sugar Cookie Day recipe, you can even have your kids write messages or secret wishes for each other and place them inside the cookies when they come out of the oven!

fortune sugar cookie recipe
Fortune favors the sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller TreatsByTaryn

Ingredients List:

  • 3 egg whites
  • ¾ cup cane sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp. water

Baking Directions:

  1. First, have everyone write out some fortunes on small pieces of paper.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375º F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a large glass bowl, whip your egg whites and sugar with an electric mixer until they become frothy. Then, reduce the speed and mix in your melted butter, vanilla extract, and flour. The mixture should be somewhat like pancake batter in consistency.
  4. Spoon the batter into circles on your baking sheets (careful: the batter will spread).
  5. Bake for 6 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.
  6. Remove from the baking sheet, place your fortune in the center, and fold in half to form the classic fortune cookie shape (like a horseshoe). If you’re having trouble getting the cookie to stay closed, place them in a cupcake tin until they set.

From donut cookies to funfetti ice cream sandwiches and fortune cookies, there’s a whole lot of sweet homemade delight to be experienced with kids and found in these unique spins on one of the world’s favorite desserts: the sugar cookie.

This year, on July 9th, I’ll put on my apron, turn on some upbeat baking tunes, and fall into a deeper love for all things sugar cookie with the youngsters in my family. And the best part about food celebrations is that they’re imaginative holidays that encourage celebrating whatever inspires you. From all of us at Elfster, however you decide to celebrate National Sugar Cookie Day this year, we hope it’s a fun day filled with lots of sweet memories. Happy baking!

For more creative cookie ideas, explore our Sweet Foods Gift Guide. Or, connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

The Best Fourth of July Party Theme Ideas for Food, Fun, and Decor

The Best Fourth of July Party Theme Ideas for Food, Fun, and Decor

fourth of july party ideas

fourth of july theme ideas
Light up your backyard party this Fourth | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jakob Owens

Fourth of July gatherings have always had a special place in my heart—the smells of the barbecues and sunscreen; the sights of folks in their red, white and blue attire; and the sounds of the crashing beach waves or the splashes of the swimming pool all add up to my favorite summer memories. Growing up, we’d alternate between wildly festive block parties at my aunt’s house and holidays spent at a little green cottage on the beach in Southern California.

For the last ten years or so, my Fourth of Julys have been celebrated in the big cities of San Francisco and Portland. But this year I’m back in the land of pool parties, beaches, and backyard barbecues. And I’m breaking out all my favorite Fourth of July party theme ideas to throw the best, most memorable gathering I can. The only question is, which theme should I choose?

From a Cape Cod-style beach bash to a Sandlot-inspired backyard barbecue, or a classic Fourth of July pool party, here are three hot summer kickoff party theme ideas that will help you throw a fantastic gathering, wherever you are.

Cape Cod-Style Fourth of July Party Theme Idea

To me, Cape Cod-style soirées seem to scream summertime. There’s the seafood bakes spread out on big picnic tables covered with newspaper, the games held on the sand often under the stars, and the simple yet elegant decor. There’s a certain fanciful casualness to them that I just love.

If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July near the beach this year, here’s everything you’ll need to throw a Cape Cod style party. And, luckily, if you aren’t hosting your party near the sand and sea, many of these ideas can easily be transferred to a lake, a park—or even your own backyard.

The Party Food: A Seafood Bake or Boil

Make a statement with a seafood bake or boil complete with lots of corn on the cob, big loaves of rustic bread, crab cake bites as an appetizer and, of course, bowls of butter and big coolers full of cold beverages. If you’re looking for a recipe for the crab bites, here’s one of my tried and trues:

cape cod fourth of july
As American as a seafood spread | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jefferson Pires

For the Crab Mixture

  • 6 oz crabmeat
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

For the Bisquick Mixture

  • 1/2 cup Bisquick
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs

For the Aioli Mixture

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

The Baking Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375° F and prepare 12 muffin cups, oiled or sprayed.
  2. In a bowl, mix the crabmeat and paprika. Sauté the onion and bell peppers in olive oil and add the crab mixture. Stir until it’s heated through and let cool before adding the cheese.
  3. In another bowl, blend the whole milk, Bisquick, and eggs until blended.
  4. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the Bisquick mixture into each muffin cup and top with the crab mixture. Then, add another tablespoon of the Bisquick mixture to the top.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan and let cool.
  6. Mix the mayo, paprika, and lemon juice to create your aioli and serve each crab cake with a dollop on top. Enjoy!
beach party fourth of july
Nautical patriotism | Image courtesy Etsy seller SableSol

The Party Games: Beach Bonanza Fun

Beach games are a wonderful activity for all ages, from kids to adults, especially on the Fourth of July when beach days tend to be an all-day activity. If anyone gets tired of swimming and frolicking in the sea, here are some playful ideas for games:

  • A bean bag toss
  • A mega game of sand Scrabble
  • Three-legged races
  • Classic Horseshoes
  • A bottle ring toss

The Party Decor: Nautical and Bright

With a Cape Cod-style party, simple decor is the way to go. Set bowls of beautiful cherries out on the tables, vases of yellow sunflowers, and an arrangement of sand dollars for your guests to take home as gifts. Pull together the nautical and the patriotic theme with red, white, and blue anchors as your fabric print of choice.

The Sandlot-Inspired Fourth of July Party Theme Idea

My brother and I used to watch The Sandlot every Fourth of July. To me, there’s nothing more All-American than our beloved baseball movie complete with Fourth of July fair scenes, block parties, and all things Babe Ruth. You can easily transform your backyard barbecue by giving it this theme through fun Baseball game day food, Sandlot bingo, and a photo booth.

The Party Food: Classic BBQ

For the food, set up a concessions stand with a hot dog bar and all the fixings—and big pitchers of homemade lemonade. Of course, no Sandlot party would be complete without s’mores for dessert. To put a spin on this classic, offer unique variations, like strawberry banana s’mores or caramel s’mores made with cinnamon graham crackers.

sandlot fourth of july party theme idea
Legends, like your party, never die | Image courtesy Etsy seller PIPGoods

The Party Games: Movie Bingo Fun

Here’s the most important part of this party: the movie itself. Set up a projector screen in the backyard to stream the movie and encourage guests to bring blankets and pillows to lounge under the stars. From there, let The Sandlot bingo ensue. Create simple Sandlot bingo cards filled with objects from the movie (like a ferris wheel, a baseball, a home plate). As people get a bingo, they receive party favors. Here are some ideas on what to hand out:

The Party Decor: Photo Booth Silliness

For the decor, keep it festive and baseball-inspired with baskets of Big League Chew bubblegum and Cracker Jacks which can then be taken home by guests at the end of the event. Set up a Sandlot-inspired photo booth with cutouts of the stars’ faces on popsicle sticks and props like baseball bats and conversation bubbles with quotes from the movie. “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

Classic Fourth of July Pool Party Theme Ideas

Sometimes, a Fourth of July party with the classics—pasta salad, a pool, and beach ball bowling—cannot be topped. When I was growing up, it seemed that the few friends who were lucky enough to have a pool were also those who ended up hosting most of the summer parties. Or, we’d set up a mini pool in the backyard, which proved to be just as fun.  Whatever form of pool you’re celebrating by this Fourth of July, read on for some red, white, and blue inspiration.

The Party Food: Summer Grilling

Summer party foods like grilled kebabs and pasta or potato salads are perfect for the quintessential outdoor pool party. To bring a bit of unique flare to the gathering, set up a snow cone bar with a variety of syrup flavors, making sure to include red and blue. And, if you want to make things extra fun, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the bottom of the snow cones for the full festive feel.

The Party Games: Beach Bowling, Baby

For a fun party idea, try setting up a game of beach ball bowling using empty metal soda cans (Pepsi and Coke to go with the red and blue 4th of July theme work well) and white noodle tubes as the bumpers. This can be set up on the lawn or somewhere in the backyard where you have a good amount of space for guests to move around.

The Party Decor: Classically Patriotic

Growing up, my mom used to decorate year after year with simple mini American flags (and a flag cake to match) because sometimes, when it comes to patriotic party ideas and all things Fourth of July, you really can’t beat the classics. Go with simple red, white, and blue decor to give your pool party that timeless feel. Here are some decoration ideas:

fourth of july beach party theme
Classic pool party shenanigans | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jakob Owens

Regardless of how I’m celebrating, what the Fourth of July always symbolizes to me is good food and games enjoyed with family and friends in a festive atmosphere. From a Cape Cod-inspired beach party to a Sandlot soiree or a classic, All-American pool party, I hope these ideas have given you some inspiration to go forth and create a memorable and unique gathering that’s all your own. And as the sun sets, celebrate with fireworks as they light up the sky—and perhaps a slice of the most divine red, white, and blue cake you can find.

From all of us at Elfster, happy Fourth of July!

For more summertime inspiration, check out our Summer Fun Gift Guide. Or, connect with Elfster on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Canadian-Themed Party Food and Game Ideas to Celebrate Canada Day in the USA

Canadian-Themed Party Food and Game Ideas to Celebrate Canada Day in the USA

canadian themed party game ideas

canada day party celebration
Oh, Canada! | Image courtesy Etsy seller RusticallySigned

On July 1st 1867, the nation of Canada was officially born with the enactment of the Constitution Act. Today, the country celebrates July 1st with all things red, white, and Canadian. And this year, the holiday marks Canada’s big 1-5-0 birthday party. Celebrating the holidays of other nations, from Israel to India is a fun way to explore pieces of history from an array of cultures that abound around us—like our red and white neighbors up north.

Let’s help our friends celebrate with Canadian-themed party food and game ideas. Whether you’re celebrating up north in Vancouver or Montreal, or anywhere throughout the USA, there are many festively fun ways to get in the maple leaf spirit. Explore how the elves will be hosting their very own Canada Day soireé complete with maple, bacon, Balderdash, and more that’s sure to make guests happy from their bellies to their souls.

Classic Canadian-Themed Party Food Ideas for Canada Day

One of my favorite things about food is its ability to bridge gaps in geography. That’s why when it comes to celebrating Canada Day, the menu is my favorite part of the party planning process. From appetizers to dessert, here are a few classic Canadian-themed party food ideas.

apple and cheese canadian appetizers
As Canadian as apple pie, add the cheese | Image courtesy Unsplash user Annie Spratt

Apples and Cheese

For an appetizer, try setting out this simple yet entirely Canadian combo: tart apples and sharp cheddar cheese. Canada has a long history of apple growing, with Nova Scotia dominating the industry early on and more recent additions of apple growing provinces like New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. They’ve created such apple varieties as the Crimson Beauty, Fameuse, McIntosh Red, Spartan, and the Arctic Apple.

So, too, have they had a longstanding relationship with cheese, with the introduction of cattle by Samuel de Champlain at Québec in the early 1600s. And, in addition to using this beloved and history-rich combo for an appetizer, Canadians often serve a slice of sharp cheddar alongside their apple pie—or right on top—for a wildly tasty flavor explosion!

Maple and Bacon

Canada is known for its intense love of bacon and maple syrup—a part of Canadian cuisine that has now become an embraced cliché. The maple leaf, after all, is the iconic symbol that represents Canadian pride on their flag and elsewhere. And, Quebec is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world, accounting for about 80% our maple syrup supply.

For one of the best tasting and most well-received Canadian-inspired party foods of all time (really, I keep making it again and again) try this pairing of crisp bacon and sweet maple syrup.

Cooking Directions:

  1. Lay your bacon out on a baking sheet topped with parchment paper.
  2. Drizzle it with pure maple syrup.
  3. Pop it in the oven for 25 minutes at 425 degrees.
  4. When you’re ready to serve, you can stand them up in glasses so your guests can pluck out the sweet slices.

Gravy-Slathered Poutine.

canadian poutine for parties
I scream, you scream, we all scream for Poutine | Image courtesy Unsplash user Brooke Clark

If you want to get well and truly Canadian, serve Poutine (french fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds). It’s a dish said to have originated in rural Quebec in the 1950s and has since taken on a life of its own with many variations, from cheesy lobster poutine to cheeseburger poutine to poutine hot dogs. If you’re bold enough to experiment with this well-loved Canadian classic for your own party, check out the directions below:

Cooking Directions:

  1. For basic poutine, first layer cooked french fries into a dish.
  2. Mix in cheese curds.
  3. Pour hot beef gravy over the top.
  4. When the cheese melts, it’s time to eat.

Blueberry Grunt Dessert

Canada is actually the world’s largest producer and exporter of wild blueberries! This popular Nova Scotia dessert is made from just blueberries and flour dumplings. You cook it on the stovetop and as the biscuits steam, the blueberries make a “grunt” noise as they move through the dough. If you’d like to take your Canada Day par-tay outdoors, you can even make this one over a campfire!

Ingredients List:

For the blueberries…

  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg

For the grunt…

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbls butter
  • ¾ cup milk

Baking Directions:

  1. In a skillet, combine your blueberries, sugar, and water, then bring to a boil. Let the mixture simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes until it becomes jam-like.
  2. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  3. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Cut in the butter and stir in the milk, making sure not to overmix.
  5. Roll the dough into balls and drop them into the berry mixture.
  6. Cover the skillet and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

Canadian-Themed Party Game Ideas for Canada Day

Over the course of my travels, some of the most fun-loving and ready for a giggle folks I’ve met are Canadians. That’s why when it comes to board games, it’s no surprise that some of the best and most hilarious ones out there are made by Canadians. Here are my favorite Canadian-themed party game ideas for your Canada Day party.

Canadian games are memorable | Image courtesy Etsy seller Julesmonpoissonbulle
Canadian games are memorable | Image courtesy Etsy seller Julesmonpoissonbulle

Canadian-Created Board Games

For a no-brainer party game on Canada Day, consider busting out the Canadian-created Trivial Pursuit, created in Ontario by Chris Haney, a photo editor for Montreal’s The Gazette. Or, how about the board game of bluffing, Balderdash, created by Laura Robinson and Paul Toyne, also from Ontario. (Maybe there’s something in the water up there.)

Put a Canadian playlist on in the background (think: Neil Young, Celine Dion, Leonard Cohen, and Arcade Fire) and let the classic fun of board game playing ensue. You can even serve your cheese and apple appetizer alongside your board games, or you can wait until the end of the night and serve your boardgames with a side of Blueberry Grunt for dessert.

Canadian-Inspired Scavenger Hunt

For an always fun and hilarious party game, go with a Canada-inspired scavenger hunt either outdoors or in. Have guests search for hidden Canadian treats that they can then take home as party favors.

Canada is oh so sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller EastMountainMaple
Canada is oh so sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller EastMountainMaple

Here are some ideas:

This July 1st, celebrate all things food and games with a red and white-colored Canada Day party. Not only will you introduce your guests to the sweet and tasty nature of Canada, but you’ll inspire them, and yourself, to continue to learn about the spirit of other nations.

With a bit of history, a few games, and a whole lot of tasty food, there’s a lot of festive ways to get in the Canadian spirit and ring in the big 150th birthday of that friendly place north of the USA. Celebrating community and life’s joys—sounds pretty nice, eh?

For more ideas on unique holiday inspiration, explore our Other Holidays Gift Guide or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

DIY Father’s Day Gifts from Daughter: Easy Last Minute Homemade Gift Basket Ideas

DIY Father’s Day Gifts from Daughter: Easy Last Minute Homemade Gift Basket Ideas

3 Easy DIY Father's Day Gift Ideas for Dad

easy handmade father's day gifts for dad
Sparkling fun with dad and daughter | Image courtesy Unsplash user Caleb Jones


“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person — he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano

When I think of my father, there are poignant and particular things that come to mind: There’s the beep of the coffee maker when it’s finished brewing, and his hands pouring the hot coffee into his favorite sunshine yellow mugs from Hawaii; the countless warm San Diego evenings spent on the front patio where he barbecues chicken drumsticks or flips homemade burgers; and his belief in the power of a clean car to make you feel good about life, especially when it’s washed by hand on the driveway.

Father’s Day is a time when we celebrate our dad’s unique quirky life lessons. As the youngest daughter in a large family, I was in a constant state of watching and observing my dad and the things he loved and that inspired him. I’d give gifts for holidays that reflected his ever-growing collection of interests, like a bright ceramic toucan mug, a turquoise buddha to look over his homegrown pineapple plants, or a book on architecture or tropical smoothies.

Regardless of the gifts that came and went, there were three favorite DIY Father’s Day gifts from his daughter that never failed to be appreciated by my dad (and, I would suspect, most dads)—homemade coffee syrup, car wash soap, and barbecue rubs. To me, these are easy DIYs that offer gratitude and seem to scream “dad.” There’s a timelessness about them I love—and a feel-good emotion that comes along with handmade Father’s Day gifts and gift basket ideas he can actually use.

DIY Homemade Vanilla Coffee Syrup Recipe to Gift a Wakeful Morning

My dad is an early morning coffee appreciator. He’ll get it all set up the night before so that when he wakes up, he just has to press a button (a habit I’ve enjoyed myself). While the coffee brews and the scents permeate the air, he takes a moment to saunter around the front yard, talking to his palm trees, plumerias, and banana plants.

DIY Coffee Syrup gift for dad
Coffee syrup for a tasty morning | Image courtesy Etsy seller LesCharlatansCanada

He typically drinks his coffee black, but he does love sweetening things up every so often on special mornings. That’s where this simple DIY homemade vanilla coffee syrup recipe comes into play. He’s a fan of vanilla, though you can also experiment with flavors like caramel, pumpkin spice, or chocolate, if that suits your father’s fancy.

The Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

The Recipe:

  1. Over medium-high heat, whisk sugar, water, and the vanilla bean together in a saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat.
  2. Simmer on low until the sugar dissolves, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and mix in your vanilla extract.
  4. When cooled, take out the vanilla bean and pour the syrup in a glass jar.
  5. Keep in the fridge to give dad’s coffee a bit of morning magic!


To turn this gift into a coffee lover’s dream gift basket, you can include the following in a vintage coffee canister:

Homemade Dry Spice Rub Recipes: Gifts for the BBQ Dad

As an avocado grower and botany enthusiast, my father lives outside. On warm evenings (and even some rainy ones) he can be found at the barbecue. He grills up everything from huge salmon steaks in fish baskets to chicken drumsticks slathered with BBQ sauce, racks of ribs to hot link sausages that he slices and hands out on toothpicks before dinner. Many of the dads I’ve met over the course of my life share a somewhat similar, almost ceremonial, appreciation for lighting up the barbecue.

To help up his barbecue game, and to make grilling even more of an event, try a couple homemade dry spice rub recipes as a Father’s Day gift this year. Dry rubs add tons of flavor to meat, fish, and chicken and can be easily customized so you can get really creative.

Here are a few of my favorite dry spice rub recipes:

handmade dry spice rubs for dad
Spice up Dad’s BBQ game | Image courtesy Etsy seller SpiceExpressions

Blackening Spice Rub Recipe

  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1/4 cup thyme
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 tsp oregano
  • 4 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper

*Try this on beef, chicken, seafood, or pork—anything you can grill!

Lemon and Herb Rub Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp parsley
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 4 Tbsp lemon pepper

*Try this on salmon served with tartar sauce

The Everyday Rub Recipe

  • 6 Tbsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp mustard powder
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

*Try this on chicken drumsticks drizzled with a bit of maple syrup

Here are some other gift ideas to craft a gift basket for the BBQ master:

DIY Car Wash Soap Alternative for Dad’s Sparkling Clean Ride

When I got my first car, my dad was a big advocate for keeping it clean from the inside out. I’d drive up our long meandering driveway, park in my spot outside, throw on some old clothes, and get ready to wash.

There’s something therapeutic about filling up a bucket with warm soapy water, rinsing the car, then towel drying it—especially when dad and daughter are doing it together. Making your own DIY car wash soap alternative is an often unexpected gift that will have your dad saying, “I didn’t know you could make homemade car wash soap!”

But, you can. And it’s super easy!

car wash diy soap for dad
Cheers to clean cars on cards | Image courtesy Etsy seller FeltTails

The Supplies:

  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup dishwashing liquid
  • Water
  • 1-gallon bucket or jug

The Directions:

Pour your baking soda into your jug then add the dishwashing liquid. Add enough water to fill the jug almost up to the top. Shake well, then when you’re ready to wash your car, pour 1 cup of the car wash soap into a water bucket and add water. Then, wash away!




If you want to turn this into a dad kit gift basket, here are some more sudsy gift ideas for the car wash enthusiast:

  • A microfiber wash mitt
  • A car wash sponge
  • Microfiber towels
  • Liquid wax
  • Car polish
  • Tire shine
  • A cool bucket to hold all the gifts, and then the sudsy water


When I think of my dad, I think of early morning coffee dates on the front patio talking about school and future dreams, nights spent barbecuing with the entire family while a bonfire glows in the fire pit behind us, and the feeling of freedom that a new and clean car gives.

Whether you’re making coffee syrup, BBQ rubs, car wash soap, or all of the above, my hope is that these gifts inspire you to give dad a homemade gift this year that’s from the heart and that speaks to the special relationship you share.

For more creative ideas on Father’s Day gift giving, check out our Father’s Day Gift Guide. Or, connect with Elfster on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

For FREE Father’s Day printable coloring sheets for dad and grandpa, courtesy the elves, click here

Pet Lovers Gift Basket Ideas for Dog and Owner to Dig Into Bonding and Adventure

Pet Lovers Gift Basket Ideas for Dog and Owner to Dig Into Bonding and Adventure

gift basket ideas for dog and owner
A dog and his human | Image courtesy Unsplash user Yingchou Han

Growing up, we had a good-natured yellow labrador named Woody who happily traipsed through the trees and rolling hills of the neighborhood with us as if it was all his backyard. Being the youngest in my family, I had a habit of often pretending that Woody was my little brother or sister when my siblings weren’t around. I’d dress him up in tiaras when I wanted to play princess fairytales, capes when I was more in the mood for superheroes, a big straw hat or paisley print bonnet when it was time for a tea party.

Woody became my best buddy, the one who’d sit next to my stuffed animals and listen intently when I was conjuring up ideas for a new story or a cookie recipe. The one who was always up for anything, any game, I had in mind.

If you’ve ever had a dog like Woody, you know there’s an inexplicable bond between dogs and their owners—a loyalty, a friendship, an unspoken understanding. In my twenties, my friends started becoming dog owners before they started having babies, and their new furry family members quickly took up space in their hearts—and in mine. I found myself celebrating first birthdays and anniversaries of adoption dates, usually gifting presents I thought would be fun for both pet and human. My pet lovers gift basket ideas for dog and owner fall into one of three categories inspired by my meandering days with Woody: primping, rainy day relaxing, or city adventuring. Read on for some kibbles of dog-spiration so you can also have everyone howling with delight.

New Dog Welcome Basket: Primp With Your Pup

As a kid, I used to host spa days for Woody and myself. He’d sit next to me as I painted my nails and ate a scoop of ice cream—the ultimate in relaxation for me as an 8 year (and still as an adult). I’m not sure if poor Woody felt a little left out of the festivities, but I now send what I call a “Primp With Your Pup” new dog welcome basket to adopted pet parents. It’s a gift basket full of primping indulgence for both owner and pet to help them relax and get to know each other. Here are my spa essentials to include in any welcome home pet gift basket:

paw balm dog gift
Pawsitively relaxing balm | Image courtesy Etsy seller PawsitiveVibesBB
  • Tropical fruit scented shampoo and conditioner: For the pup mama, you can include a mango, passionfruit, or plumeria scented combo. For pup, try a shampoo with a fresh scent specifically designed for a furry friend. Tropical scents will relax and rejuvenate pet and owner, leaving them both in a sea of bliss.
  • Moisturizing balms: Add any sweetly-scented lip balm for the human, but don’t forget the paw and nose balm to keep pup living the spa life, too.
  • Clippers for pawfect nails: Pet and owner will both feel fancy with a manicure and paw clean up. Include a new pair of stainless steel dog nail clippers and a manicure set for the human.
  • Cozy socks: Keep newly clipped paws perfect by including a pair of pup socks—and maybe a matching pair for the dog mama or pops as well.
  • Ice cream: You can find Puppy Scoops Ice Cream mix for dogs in flavors like maple bacon, vanilla, and peanut butter. A pint of vanilla bean, or maple bacon if you can find it, for the human will round out this soothing spa treat basket.

Rainy Day Relaxing Pet Gift Box Ideas

Some of my best days spent with Woody were rainy ones. We’d cuddle up on the couch, his nose wet from the San Diego drizzle, and we’d watch movies, read books, and sometimes, bake a cake or order a pizza. Over those lazy days, magical memories were formed and the idea for this basket was born.

pet treats for gift basket
Comfort food for rainy days | Image courtesy Etsy seller AddiktiveDogGoodies
  • An animal-inspired classic read: Told from the point of view of a dog, The Art of Racing in the Rain is the perfect novel to read on a rainy day. It will encourage gift recipients to cuddle up with their pups and unwind with words. Marley and Me and Because of Winn Dixie are some other classic favorites to toss in your basket because rainy days always call for more than one book.
  • A movie starring a cute canine: Nothing’s better on a rainy day than curling up for a snuggle and a good movie. Watch labrador Wesley on screen try to reunite his humans in You’ve Got the Dog. It will keep a restless pup entertained and fill an owner with warm feelings about the ways in which pups can mend hearts and mold relationships.
  • A snuggle blanket: This one needs no explanation, except to say, make it big enough for two!
  • Comfort food: For pups, this might include bacon-flavored biscuits. For humans, the same.  
  • An indoor game: Celebrate and reward a pup for good behavior if he’s been trapped inside all day. Include mini doggie treats in your gift basket and directions for a game of “Find the Treats.” Thanks to a dog’s uncanny sense of smell, the treats can be hidden, and the pup can search for them. You can also include a cotton rope toy for a classic game of rainy day tug-of-war.

A Pet Lovers Adventure Gift Basket for City Explorations

Growing up in a rural neighborhood, walks with Woody included trots through the citrus groves up the hill or visiting the horses down the street. Though fashion and walkability weren’t exactly our first concern, many of my city-dwelling friends in Portland and San Francisco love this basket—and the adventures it brings to them and their pups.

matching pet outfits
Doggone adorable | Image courtesy Unsplash user Tamara Bellis
  • A leash that helps homeless pups (and looks stylish): The Found my Animal brass leash is stylish for both dog and owner while out for a stroll, and also promotes pet adoption. Including this philanthropic gift in your gift basket gives good feelings to all, from the gift giver to the gift recipients.
  • Matching accessories: Help a pooch and their pal look exceptional when they head out for their city stroll with matching bandanas.
  • Pizza, duh: Every city has a favorite pizza joint. As a funny gift, throw in a plush pizza toy for the pup and a gift card to the pizza place for the owner. For an extra special doggie date, make sure the pizza place is pup-friendly or has outdoor seating, and bring along some Pup-Peroni so everyone gets a savory treat.
  • A portable water bowl: A collapsible water bowl in case pup gets thirsty while you’re chowing down on your pizza.

  • A walkable city map: No matter how long the duo has lived in their hometown, there are bound to be new places to sniff out and explore!

When I help new pet owners celebrate finding another furry family member to welcome home, I feel like I’m honoring Woody, and each and every dog that’s ever been playmate, best friend, or shoulder to cry on for their humans. He was a loyal listener and fun enthusiast who still holds a spot in my heart—and always will. May these baskets inspire you to also celebrate all of the pups who have graced your life.

For more ideas on pup-erific gift giving, explore our Dog Lovers Gift Guide or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Tech Gifts for Teenage Guys: The Benefits of Social Media on Interpersonal Relationships

Tech Gifts for Teenage Guys: The Benefits of Social Media on Interpersonal Relationships

When I was about 10, technology began to infiltrate my childhood when we got our first computer. We’d already been venturing to my grandma’s, who had a slow giant of a desktop stationed in her dining room, whenever my sister needed to write her high school papers or when my brother and I wanted to create books on story software. But having our own home computer at our fingertips, along with all of the forms of technology that would follow after, brought a new connection with the big broadness of the world to us in our little corner of San Diego.

photography tech gift for guy
Capture the moment | Image courtesy Unsplash user Clem Onojeghuo

Growing up on a rural avocado farm pre-social media and smartphones, my siblings and I had to get really creative when we got bored. Often, this meant acting out scenes from The Flintstones on a big rock in front of our house, searching through the grove for imaginary dinosaurs, or falling back on the old classics of playing basketball or reading books. Times have changed, though, and kids are now more likely to virtually binge-watch their favorite TV shows together on social media than to meet up at the corner of the block for a recreation of the latest episode.

My experience has been that technology doesn’t actually make us less social, as many would argue about teen and millennial culture these days. No, it just changes the way we socialize. And the way we make wishlists and give gifts. Teen boys are well-known as difficult to gift for but, almost without exception, tech gifts for teenage guys are a hit. And that’s wonderful! Because gifting a camera rig system can help them create a community for themselves while they explore their artistic inclinations, a GPS tool can encourage hiking with friends or siblings, and a waterproof speaker can help spark conversations about music—a timelessly popular topic among teens.

There are benefits of social media on interpersonal relationships. If we reframe the way we look at technology in the hands of our kids, and why and how we gift them tech-based gidgets, gadgets, and whatsits, we’ll see the incredible ways in which they actually encourage socializing, creative expression, and a strong sense of self.

Tech Gifts for Teens Into Artistic Photographic Expression

modern retro tech gift
Modern-Retro tech at its best | Image courtesy Amazon

Photos and videos beautifully blend together the world of art with the world of tech. A camera rig designed to work with cellphones, for instance, is a “smart” gift idea for a teen guy who either loves photography and videography already, or who has expressed an interest in exploring it. Opening up an opportunity to become part of a worldwide artist community, this gift can bring teens together as they direct and act in movies in an affordable, fun, and easy-to-learn way. It encourages getting out there to shoot and exploring your surroundings—from nature shots to clips of their favorite hangout.

Try the Beastgrip Pro if your guy is an Oscar award-winning cinematographer in the making. It works with virtually any camera phone on the market, a versatile and adjustable system that provides the ability to shoot amazing movies right from your smartphone. There’s also an online Beastgrip community they can plug into which is dedicated to the relatively new art of phoneography.

Other gifts that bring teen guys and their friends together through the art of photography and movies include digital cameras that allow for seemingly endless snaps of their everyday life with friends and a Smart Phone Projector so they can plan an old school movie night with the help of modern tech. Or, you can really combine a vintage experience with the modern need to document everything and gift them a retro-gone-modern instax camera (Bonus gift that comes with these instant cameras: The gift of self-control. This film isn’t cheap and typically comes in packs of 10).

Tech Gifts for Teen Explorers

We tend to associate technology with holding us hostage to a screen indoors but, actually, it can help to get us outside exploring, too.There are great tech gifts on the market for outdoor enthusiasts, nature obsessed kids, or teen guys who enjoy hiking and spending time under the trees and in the fresh air. Tech gifts that encourage a sense of exploration are also a stealthy way to encourage your gamer or Netflix addict who may have gotten a little too attached to the game controller and the sofa to get out and get some fresh air while still nurturing and supporting his love of tech.

light up technology gifts for guys
Light up their next adventure | Image courtesy Amazon

The goTenna is a cool tool that provides GPS for smartphones, even when there’s no call service available, like on a wilderness hike when reception is low or nonexistent. And, it also allows groups of teen adventurers to send and receive text messages so they can disconnect for a bit, but still find each other for a meet up on the trails.

This gift would come in handy not only while hiking or climbing, but also if your teen is caravanning on a road trip to visit a college, celebrate spring break, or kick off the start of summer. Pair with a GoPro HERO waterproof camera or the Powerlight by Biolite and your guy will be a true road (or camping or hiking) warrior.

High-Tech Music Gifts Are Pitch Perfect for Teen Guys

acoustic guitar tech gift
Acoustic meets digital | Image courtesy Amazon

From rock concerts to school dances to karaoke in the car with friends, music is one of the most poignant ways that teens connect socially. Think back to your high school days, the songs you listened to and the people you listened to them with. I bet memories of music easily float back to you, no matter how far from that era you may be now.

Long afternoons spent by the pool or on the warm sands of a beach during the sunny summer months are also quintessential moments in the life of many teens. Instead of throwing in a pair of headphones and tuning out the world while lounging, encourage your teen guy to play DJ the next time he heads to the pool. Music is a surefire way to spark conversation among teens, and high-tech music gadgets are a top ten hit when it comes to gifting.

The Superstar Backfloat Speakers can be thrown straight into the pool, providing party tunes for the musically and tech inclined. They’re high-def, Bluetooth speakers that connect straight to your teen guy’s smartphone, aka his favorite playlists. They can also float in the jacuzzi, tag along with a group to the beach, or even be toted to various backyard gatherings, like Memorial Day BBQs and block parties.

teen guy interpersonal relationship social media
Friendship in the digital age | Image courtesy Unsplash user Anna Vander Stel

If you’re looking for other musical tech gifts that are fun for the whole crowd, consider a guitar sidekick smartphone mount so your teen can venture out for an open-mic night at the local coffeehouse. Or, maybe he’d love the portable Crosley Messenger Turntable to bring a bit of soul-filled vintage flare to his best friend’s birthday celebration or a couple graduation parties.

Like Mitch Albom says, “Devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” This is the true essence of these tech gifts for teens guys. The well-known rumor that technology makes us less social often makes us hesitate when we think of purchasing a tech-based gift for someone, teen guys in particular. Though the gifts themselves are cutting edge and cool, I think it’s important to remember what these gadgets really offer: Community, bonding, creative expression, and an opportunity to explore the world around them as they dive into young adulthood.

For more ideas on tech gift giving, explore our Video Games Gift Guide or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Teaching Generosity to Kids: The Giving Tree Party Ideas for a Fun Lesson on Kindness

Teaching Generosity to Kids: The Giving Tree Party Ideas for a Fun Lesson on Kindness

“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.”

― Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

the giving tree generosity lesson
A childhood classic | Image courtesy Amazon

Over 50 years ago, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein took root in the world. It’s a small, green library classic that has since been gifted at birthday parties, baby showers, and graduation celebrations countless times. Though the exact meaning has been debated, most of us can agree that the overarching lesson is an important: Teaching generosity and kindness to kids.

When I was a little girl, I’d curl up on my grandmother’s floral print couch and pour over the pages of this book. As an adult, I carry with me some very valuable lessons I learned from it, like reminding myself to go barefoot (as the boy in the story does) or focusing on the things I need rather than the things I want. And, perhaps most importantly, this book taught me to be willing to sit next to those who need support, even in silence.

When teaching kids about generosity, like with most things in life it is better to show them than to try to tell them. Children, it seems, often have a natural spirit of giving that can be seen in the way they offer a friend half of their sandwich at lunch or their younger sibling a taste of their ice cream cone. But sometimes the idea of generosity is one that can use some guidance to really bear fruit. And, that’s what’s behind this Giving Tree Party: An opportunity to teach little ones about kindness, sharing, and selflessness with the help of one of the most well-loved books of all time.

Here’s how to pull off a simple yet meaningful get together inspired by The Giving Tree, a storytime party that lets imaginations, and hearts, take flight.

A Giving Tree Lesson Idea: Donating Books to Charity

In The Giving Tree, one of the main lessons comes from the tree who continues to give and give to the boy according to his needs as he moves from one life stage to another. Books themselves are similar in their abilities to influence and affect us: I can pick up certain books from childhood and get just as much meaning from them as I did years ago—sometimes even more with a little more experience and wisdom under my belt.

kids book lessons
Guess How Much I Love You… | Image courtesy Unsplash user Annie Spratt

Books help shape the backbone of a child’s thoughts, experiences, and creative ideas. They have an amazing ability to challenge and question the way a young mind views and connects with their world. So when you send out invites for your generosity gathering, encourage each little guest to bring a copy of their favorite book. Mine, for example, would be any book dreamed up by the imagination of the wondrously wordy Dr. Seuss.

At the party, ask the children to inscribe something simple inside the cover like a quote or a few lines of their favorite passage from the story. What did this story teach them? Why do they read it again and again? What do they hope someone else can learn from it?

Let the children know that, after the party, you will be gathering all of the books up and donating them to a charity, school, or the local library. Sharing a piece of themselves through their favorite story will resonate with your young guests. It’s a simple, yet thoughtful way to give something personal and timeless, to experience reciprocal altruism and learn it can be better to give than to receive. And that is what this activity is meant to inspire, just how simple it can be to give of ourselves from time to time.

Easy DIY Flower Pot Ideas to Watch Generosity Grow

generosity blooms
Generosity sprouts and grows | Image courtesy Unsplash user Alisa Anton

When I was a young girl, I’d spend hours at a time in my grandma’s rose garden picking flowers to create elaborate bouquets for our neighbors alongside all the other nature obsessed kids on the block. It was clear how touched people can be by something as simple as a picked flower delivered to their doorstep. This party activity is an easy DIY for kids of all ages, from toddlers to middle schoolers, but the adults will enjoy it too!

The Supply List:

  • Small watering cans
  • Soil
  • Wildflower seeds

The Directions:

Have each child fill their watering can up with soil, then plant the seeds. These mini wildflower gardens-to-be can be donated to a local business they visit on a regular basis. It’s a unique way for them to see how their generosity grows—literally. The next time your little one ventures in for a dentist appoint or to pick up a gallon of milk, maybe they’ll see their seeds in bloom. This exercise in watching the continued effects of their generosity is one way to help keep them interested in reaching out and sharing a bit of themselves with those around them.

Giving Tree Activities Teach Generosity to Kids

kind acts on leaves
May your kind acts be like leaves on a tree | Image courtesy Etsy seller SunnyLuLuDesign

This Giving Tree activity is an interactive, hands-on way for kids to see how small acts can make a big impact (especially, when we all work together).

Before the party, draw the outline of a bare tree on some butcher paper and hang it on the wall. Then, after everyone has settled down from seed planting, give each child three leaves and have them write down something kind or generous they will do for someone else on each leaf. When they’re finished, read the leaves out loud and tape them onto the bare tree one by one. In the end, you’ll get to see the beauty of how big the tree gets when each person does just a few small acts of kindness.

As an added bonus, keep the tree up for a few months and, amongst the parents, casually keep track of the kids as they follow through on what they committed to. You can even surprise each child with a thank you gift once they’ve completed their three acts of giving to show that our kindness often comes back to us in unexpected ways. Maybe they get two tickets to the movies to share with a friend or two passes for an afternoon ice cream outing with a sibling. It’s a wonderful activity to show how one small act of giving often leads to another.

The Giving Tree Read Aloud Storytelling (With a Sweet Snack)

The read aloud storytelling is my favorite part of The Giving Tree gathering, where we all get to immerse ourselves in the imaginative world of Shel Silverstein. But, before we finally dive into the book, let’s first bake up a sweet snack together.

peach means generosity
You’re a real peach… | Image courtesy Etsy seller BeckeysKountryStore

Below is a simple recipe for a peach pie. Peach blossoms symbolize generosity, so this is a wonderfully symbolic snack to treat your guests to, although you can also substitute apple as a filling, ala the fruit offered by the Giving Tree itself.

The Ingredients List:

  • Pastry (enough for a 9-inch double crust pie)
  • 5 cups fresh peaches, sliced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp butter, diced
  • 2 tbsp sugar

The Baking Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Stir flour, cinnamon, and 1 cup of sugar together.
  3. Peel and slice the peaches and mix them together with the dry ingredients.
  4. Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry.
  5. Place peach mixture into the pie pan and top with diced butter.
  6. Layer on the top crust and cut three slits. Seal the edges, then sprinkle with sugar.
  7. Before placing the pie in the oven, cover it with foil so it doesn’t brown. During the last 10 minutes of baking, remove the foil.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is perfectly golden and the juices are bubbling.

After the pie has cooled, if the day is nice you can throw open a few blankets under a backyard tree and read the featured story while the kids each enjoy a slice of fruity pie. You could even make it a popcorn reading where one child reads a few sentences and then passes the book along to someone else to read the next paragraph or so.

One of my favorite quotes of all time (aside from those scattered throughout The Giving Tree) is by Simone de Beauvoir who writes, “That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.”

The Giving Tree Party is an uplifting and warm gathering. It’s a way to come together and show kids firsthand how simple and wonderful a little generosity and kindness of spirit can be. May we all go out into the world—whether with the help of peach pie, watering cans, or sweet, simple stories—and give our all to generosity, encouraging our kids to do the same.

For more ideas on encouraging kids to give generously, explore our For Kids Gift Guide. Or, connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Creative Hostess Gift Ideas: Easy DIYs Offering Gratitude at Summer Dinner Parties

Creative Hostess Gift Ideas: Easy DIYs Offering Gratitude at Summer Dinner Parties

“I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer—its dust and lowering skies.” – Toni Morrison

dinner party summer spread
Savory summer bites | Photo courtesy Unsplash user Brooke Lark

As the sensations of summer loom on the horizon—the blooming of roses, strawberries making their way to the stands at the farmers’ market, spring sweaters staying put in the closet and being replaced by sundresses—I begin to daydream of summer dinner parties.

As with each new season, my favorite part of summer tends to revolve around gatherings, time spent sharing meals and stories with friends and family. In the warmer months, the options for dinner party dining are plentiful, from tables inside adorned with fresh flowers, to picnic blankets on the lawn, to twinkle-lit decks and patios.

When I receive a summer dinner party invite, I like to be prepared with some creative hostess gift ideas that feel genuinely thoughtful. From a s’mores kit, to a treat yourself lounging bucket, to a picnic basket filled with goodies, here are three of my favorite gifts I like to bring along with me to summer parties. But, more important than the gifts themselves, are the feelings I hope they leave behind: contentment, gratitude, and a little bit of self-indulgence.

A Make Your Own S’mores Kit for the Sweetest Hostess

The tradition of s’mores is one I’ve loved and looked forward to every summer since I was a kid. Whether I’m roasting marshmallows at the beach or around a backyard bonfire, it’s still the sweetest-smelling dessert I’ve ever made. And, as they’re usually reserved for the summertime, they’ll forever remind me of the season of sand, sea, and sun.

s'more summer treats
S’more summer, please | Photo courtesy Etsy seller FavorBoxParty

I love putting together seasonal cookie kits as gifts (a mason jar filled with layers of flour, sugar, and Halloween sprinkles in the fall, anything green and red for winter, and pastel colored M&M’s in the spring), but in summer, I step out of the box, and the jar, and wrap up the makings for ooey-gooey s’mores.

They’re fun to have on hand for last minute camping or beach trips, and they don’t require any time on the recipient’s end spent measuring ingredients or sweating over an oven when it’s hot outside.

The Ingredients List:

  • 1 chocolate bar
  • 2 big marshmallows
  • 2 graham crackers
  • A piece of clear cellophane
  • A length of cute baker’s twine or raffia

To put the kit together, break the chocolate bar and graham crackers in half. Then, on an open piece of cellophane, place two pieces of graham cracker, followed by a piece of chocolate, then the marshmallows, then another piece of chocolate. Top it all off with the last two halves of graham cracker and there you have it! Now just wrap it all up and gift to a lucky hostess.

Hostess Sand Bucket, er… Gift Basket… Ideas

gift basket for summer
Poolside lounging in style | Photo courtesy Etsy seller InfinityLOVECo

This hostess gift is for your friends and family who could use some rest, relaxation, and a bit of lounging. It was inspired by my sister who chases three kids around daily and always feels like a million bucks when she’s able to paint her toenails, slather on some sunscreen, and lay her head back to lounge in the sun with a good book.

Sometimes, summer calls us all to take a few simple moments to unwind and enjoy being by some form of water—and that is exactly what this gift is offering your favorite hostess.

What to Put in a Beach Bag Gift:

  • A pair of flip flops
  • Nail polish
  • Sunglasses
  • Magazines or a new book
  • Sunscreen or lotion
  • A new beach towel

Stuff all these goodies in a sand bucket or woven tote and gift it to a hostess who may be in need of some summer poolside rest and relaxation. Remember, if you don’t want to go with this detailed of a gift, any one of these single items will make a beautiful hostess gift on their own. You know your hostess best and what will encourage her to get footloose and fancy free this summer!

Picnic Basket Gift Ideas for Summer

a summer picnic gift
A picnic ‘neath the shady trees | Photo courtesy Unsplash user Bonnie Kittle

My love for summer picnic baskets started a few years ago and now it knows no limit. Summer evenings spent in Portland always meant packing a basket with favorite things from the local market down the street before venturing to concerts in the park or outdoor gatherings with picnic party foods. We’d grab a baguette, a few selections of cheeses (like bacon cheddar or dill Havarti), a bottle of San Pellegrino, and top it all off with some kind of sweet or tangy spread, like tomato jam homemade from the spring or summer season’s bounty. Throw in some raw vegetables and salumi and you have all everything you need for an easily transportable meal.

This gift is wonderful to bring your hostess in the summer; perhaps it will spark the idea of getting together as a group to venture to some neighborhood outdoor activities. Even if a live concert isn’t on the calendar, there’s still something so nice about spreading a picnic blanket down on the grass, opening a basket, and spending a few hours of the day chatting and eating bit by bit as the summer sun goes down.

To properly pull this hostess gift off, you’ll need:

  • A vintage-style picnic basket (check your local thrift stores)
  • A fresh loaf of bread from a local market or bakery
  • Some specialty cheeses available at high-end marketplaces or local cheese shops
  • Bubbles, like a bottle of San Pellegrino or a light sparkling lemonade
  • Homemade tomato jam, or a locally crafted option from your farmers’ market

A Homemade Tomato Jam Recipe to Preserve Summer’s Bounty

While I like to include my homemade tomato jam in a picnic gift basket, your hostess would be equally delighted with a couple jars of this as a stand alone present as well. Here’s my go-to recipe for preserving summer’s fresh tomato bounty:

summer tomatoes make jam as a gift
Sweet and savory summer tomatoes | Photo courtesy Unsplash user Vince Lee

The Ingredients List:

  • 2 pounds of ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne

The Recipe:

  1. Add the ingredients to a large saucepan and bring it to a boil, stirring consistently so that the bottom does not burn.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir until the mixture thickens into a jam. Remove from heat and cool.
  3. Transfer to well-sealed jars and enjoy!

Arrange your jam alongside your other items in your hostess gift basket, or simply add some twine for a rustic bow, then gift as a show of your gratitude for the gathering.

Whether you’re making a sweet treat s’mores kit or pairing a cute pair of flips flops with a brand new towel, I hope these homemade hostess gifts have given you creative tidbits of inspiration for the season of summer dinner parties ahead.

The warm and sunny weather seems to bring along with it the best excuses to gather together and share a meal with those you love. And, it’s always more fun to arrive with full arms and a full heart, offering your own unique token of appreciation to friends and family who generously open their homes and kitchens to you each summer.

For more ideas on hostess gift giving for summertime soirees, explore our summer gift guide. Or, connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Patriotic Party Ideas for Your Memorial Day BBQs and Backyard Block Parties

Patriotic Party Ideas for Your Memorial Day BBQs and Backyard Block Parties

Memorial Day BBQ
A splash of a backyard gathering | Image courtesy Unsplash user Frank Mckenna

Memorial Day signifies the unofficial start of summer when light sweaters are replaced with swim suits and backpacks are replaced with beach bags. Growing up, this often meant holidays spent around a beach bonfire with roasted s’mores, grilled hot dogs, and homemade flag cakes. Some years, the holiday was spent at large backyard gatherings of close friends, with music, swimming, barbecues, and water balloon fights to fill the day.

However you celebrate on May 29th, in honor of those who have sacrificed for us, it’s a day of gratitude. We acknowledge what is most precious to us in life by spending time in the company of family and friends, usually outside with a backyard gathering or barbecue. Whether you’re hosting a small intimate party this year, or a large one, here are four of our favorite activities to enjoy the day in a patriotic way.

Patriotic Words and Phrases for a Memorable Game of Charades

I love charades for its promise of deep belly laughs and getting to look ridiculous while acting out silly scenes with family and friends. I remember the first time I introduced the game to my niece. We were coming up with ways to stay entertained in an empty house that my parents were moving into and, with no board games yet unpacked, we made up our own charades game on index cards. From acting out dolphin dances to pretending to be a scuba diver in search of rare mermaids, the game we created was definitely one with our own unique spin to it.

For Memorial Day, you can put your own twist on this classic game by making it patriotic. Write down the names of famous American places, people, and objects on red, white, and blue notecards, then get all your friends and family together to take turns acting them out. In this version, you can even include props for an overall experience bound to give guests of all ages a good laugh. Here are my favorite cue cards but, as always, feel free to fine tune them and let your creative juices flow!

patriotic photo props
Glitter-dusted liberty props | Image courtesy Etsy seller CraftingbyDenise

Famous American Places, People, and Objects Cue Cards

  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Firecrackers
  • George Washington
  • The Liberty Bell
  • The Constitution
  • Freedom
  • States
  • Picnic
  • Baseball
  • Pie
  • July
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Yankee Doodle
  • The Founding Fathers
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Hot dogs
  • Martin Luther King
  • Hamburgers
  • Ice cream
  • John Hancock
  • The Star Spangled Banner
  • Barack Obama

A Build-Your-Own Hot Dog Bar

Hot dogs will forever remind me of long summer evenings spent at the beach in Southern California. There’s something so quintessentially all-American about them—and the smell as they brown on a charcoal barbecue while you sip on something cool and refreshing. For a Memorial Day BBQ that sticks in your friends’ memories, an epic build-your-own hot dog bar will help keep things simple for you and fun for your guests.

We all know the typical staples—ketchup, mustard, perhaps some pickle relish. But, add some unique toppings and your hot dogs will go from everyday to holiday party fare. You can even buy some flag toothpicks as the pièces de résistance of your hot dog decor.

build your own hot dog bar
Hot dogs on the BBQ | Image courtesy Unsplash user Matt Heaton

The best part about this spread? You can arrange it all before the afternoon of your BBQ. Then, when it’s time to cook, just leisurely turn the hot dogs on the grill while you stand back enjoying the company of your guests. Here’s how I like to arrange my own hot dog bar masterpieces:

The Sauces:

  • Mustard—both Yellow Mustard and Honey
  • Ketchup
  • Garlic aioli
  • Chipotle sauce
  • Barbecue sauces in Smokey and Honey varieties
  • Hot sauces of all kinds

The Toppings:

  • Chopped sweet onions
  • Chopped bacon bits
  • Crushed potato chips
  • Crushed bbq chips
  • Baked beans
  • Chopped pickles or relish
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Grilled onions
  • Feta cheese
  • Cheddar cheese

The Buns:

Don’t hold back when it comes to your buns. There’s white, wheat, and even gluten free. Providing a variety of buns lets guests feel like they’re getting a slightly fancier version of the typical hot dog spread and allows them to fine-tune their meal to their own tastes.

The Dogs:

As I do with the buns, I throw a variety of hot dogs on the barbecue, from beef franks to chicken sausages to turkey dogs—even a vegetarian option.

Flag-Raisingly Fun Cake Decorating Party Games

american flag cake topper banner
Sweetly patriotic | Image courtesy Etsy seller SoSimpleSoSweet

When I was a kid, my mom would often include cake decorating as an activity at our birthday parties rather than having the cake pre-made ahead of time. She’d put out sprinkles, different colored frostings, and toppings of all sorts. To this day, she is still the queen of uniquely whimsical birthday party ideas—and of the annual 4th of July flag cake, which is what inspired this next idea.

Cake decorating party games are a sweet option to while away an afternoon, especially when sprinkled with a small dose of competition to make things exciting. For this activity, you’ll want to start by giving teams of two a small, pre-baked square cake and bowls of white frosting.

The point is for everyone to work together in teams to use red, white, and blue toppings to see who can come up with the most accurately patriotic American flag. Cakes can then be displayed a long table and a winning team selected by a panel of cake-judges. Whichever team wins can take home a prize, like a mason jar filled with red, white, and blue candies or a patriotic pint glass.

Flag-inspired Cake Toppings:

  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • cherries
  • raspberries
  • yogurt covered pretzels
  • coconut shreds
  • red sprinkles
  • blue sprinkles
  • red licorice
  • mini marshmallows
  • red, white, and blue M&Ms

Give your guests a time limit of a half hour and when the bell dings, time’s up and voting begins. Extra points for accuracy—and deliciousness!

Water Balloon Dodgeball

water balloons for memorial day games
A colorful assortment of water balloons | Image courtesy Unsplash user Aaron Burden

When my brother and I were growing up, hot summer days often meant spending hours filling the huge sink in the laundry room with massive amounts of squishy water balloons. Then, we’d gather a few friends from the neighborhood, venture outside amongst the lemon and avocado trees, and let the water balloon dodge ball dance begin.

For this game, you might want to encourage guests to come in swimsuits or have a change of clothes on hand as they’re bound to get soaked. Fill red, white, and blue water balloons and, to give the game a twist, hide a soft prize inside a few of them. Let the guests throw and dodge until all the balloons are gone and a winner prevails. Then, encourage everyone to search the lawn for the prizes. Whoever finds them gets to keep them, along with a gift card to a local movie theater to help beat the soon-to-be-summer heat.

Whether you’re celebrating Memorial Day with a few close family members or hosting a block party for the entire neighborhood, we hope these ideas have given you some patriotic party-planning inspiration. From charades to dodgeball to a hot dog bar, enjoy spending the long afternoon in the sunshine with the company of those you love.

For more ideas on patriotic parties and gift giving, explore our Memorial Day Gift Guide or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.