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DIY Summer Boredom Busters for Tweens

DIY Summer Boredom Busters for Tweens

summer boredom busters for toddlers and tweens My sister Kelsey and I are 8 years apart; when she was heading into her pre-teen tween years, I was still a toddler. My parents did an amazing job of keeping us (and our brother in the middle) entertained during the long, hot summer days by coming up with things that we could all do together.

tween summer boredom busters
Siblings are a forever friend | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jenn Evelyn-Ann

Often, these activities could be separated into four categories and were scattered throughout the days of the week to keep boredom from ensuing. We had a nature category, one for arts and crafts, a baking and cooking one, and the “do something nice for someone else” category. My mother’s favorite phrase during those years growing up became, “You don’t have to be bored—you’re choosing to be bored.”

Whether we were busying ourselves by making clay figurines, baking a batch of cupcakes for the lady at the post office, or searching through the grove to find fallen citrus for orange lemonade, I don’t recall having too many summer days where I ever felt like there was nothing to do. So, from ice cube tray ice cream to thumbprint flower pots, here are a few of my favorite summer boredom busters for tweens—that don’t leave out the toddlers.

Summer Boredom Buster #1: A Nature Scavenger Hunt

Summer is an invigorating time to awaken kids’ senses to nature: the flowers are blooming, the fruits of nature’s springtime work are plentiful, and the days outdoors are long and warm.

A nature scavenger hunt is an educational way to get kids outside and doing something fun this summer. You can customize the nature hunt with things that abound in your area. For the younger kids, keep the scavenger hunt basic with items like “butterfly” and “bird.” For the tweens, make it more challenging with items like “Monarch Butterfly” and “Ruby Throated Hummingbird.”

nature hunt summer boredom buster
Getting out in nature is never boring | Image courtesy Etsy seller CraftivityDesigns

Here are some good items to add to your scavenger hunt, depending on what you see during the summer season in your neck of the woods. For the tweens, be sure to make this list more specific.

  • Butterfly
  • Wildflowers
  • Honeybee
  • Feather
  • Bird  
  • Green grass
  • Mushroom
  • Moss
  • Animal tracks
  • Dandelion
  • Pinecone
  • Ants
  • Spider web
  • Berry bush

Summer Boredom Buster #2: Ice Cube Tray Ice Cream

Some of my sweetest summer memories as a kid revolve around eating ice cream cones. As I grew into my tween and teen years, I began experimenting with making big batches of homemade ice cream, everything from lavender and vanilla to double chocolate raspberry to simple and fresh strawberry.

tween summer ice cream boredom buster
I scream, you scream | Image courtesy Unsplash user Igor Ovsyannykov

I’ve made ice cream in all sorts of ways over the years, both with an ice cream maker and by experimenting with methods like the freeze and stir. But, the one that kids of all ages seem to love is ice cube tray ice cream. This method is a good one because not everyone has an ice cream maker handy—and it’s also an activity that lasts for a couple of days and gives the family a sweet treat to anticipate.

Ice Cream Instructions:

  1. Begin with any ice cream recipe that kids can make, reserving one cup of your liquid in the fridge.
  2. When you reach the point in your recipe that says, “pour into an ice cream maker,” have your little ones pour the mixture into ice cube trays instead. Most recipes should fill about two trays.
  3. Let the ice cream freeze in the trays overnight and, the next day, have your kids use butter knives to gently nudge the frozen cream out of the trays and into your blender. You may need to help them speed things up, as the ice cream does melt quickly.
  4. Next, add your remaining cup of liquid into the blender alongside your cubes and blend until smooth.
  5. Pour this mixture back into a container and freeze for an additional 12 hours.
  6. When you’re ready for your treat, top a bowl of it with fresh fruit, find a shady spot underneath your favorite tree, and enjoy!

Summer Boredom Buster #3: Thumbprint Butterfly Flower Pots

Growing up, summertime in my home meant it was time for the plants, produce, and flowers to come alive. We had everything from avocado and pineapple trees, to banana plants and endless rows of purple and white daisies, as well as herbs like chives, parsley, and basil.

As a summer vacation tradition, my siblings and I always painted and decorated terra cotta pots—usually with butterflies. Us “little ones” (as my mom called my brother and me) used the thumbprint method, but my older sister found some quiet painting contemplation while she worked on more complex, free-hand butterfly designs.

painting is a summer boredom buster
Paint and pottery kill summer boredom | Image courtesy Etsy seller brilliantexpressions

The Supply List:

The Directions:

  1. Use the black paint marker to draw the butterfly’s body.
  2. Squeeze a bit of paint onto a paper plate and have your child dip their thumb into it before pressing it to their pot four times to make the butterfly’s wings. You can repeat this around the outside of the pot as many times as you’d like. For the tweens, have them work on free-hand butterfly designs instead. Perhaps have them work on the wing pattern of a Swallowtail or Painted Lady Butterfly.
  3. Once the paint is dry, fill it with soil and seeds for flowers, plants, and herbs that will attract real butterflies. Encourage your kids to water the seeds as needed and watch the magic unfold as things bloom and attract their new insect friends.

What to Plant to Attract Butterflies:

  • Daylily
  • Catmint
  • Lavender
  • Pansy
  • Zinnia
  • Lilac
  • Sage
  • Delphinium
  • Alyssum
  • Butterfly bush
  • Calendula
  • Aster
  • Cosmos

Summer Boredom Busters #4: Random Acts of Kindness

During the summer months, a feel-good way to combat boredom is by encouraging your kids to come up with random acts of kindness, a small way to teach them about generosity. Tweens may roll their eyes at this one at first, but it’s good to reinforce the idea that compassionate acts, no matter how small, no matter what age, always matter!

To make it a family affair, make homemade chicken noodle soup for a neighbor who doesn’t feel well or go through your closets to donate outgrown clothes to a local charity. To make it exciting, make a list. When the list is complete, reward yourselves by doing something fun together as a family, like going to a movie or spending the day at the beach or lake.

do good as a summer boredom buster
Good luck pennies to share | Image courtesy Etsy seller MalletAndMadrel

An Inspirational List for Do-Gooders of All Ages:

  • Leave good luck pennies on the sidewalk
  • Donate pajamas to a local charity or shelter
  • Make a meal for someone who isn’t feeling well
  • Make a card for a friend who needs it
  • Take a plate of treats to the fire or police station
  • Plant something and give it away
  • Buy a family in need a meal
  • Read a book to someone
  • Hold the door open for someone
  • Feed the birds

When you’re used to having your tween in school, summer vacation days can seem long, with endless hours to fill. Luckily, there are lots of creative ways to keep your little ones and their tween siblings happy and excited over the long summer. Whether you’re venturing outside for a nature stroll amongst the trees or turning to homemade ice cream to make your afternoon sweet, finding boredom busters that everyone from tweens to toddlers can take part in is an essential cure to the summertime doldrums.

And, just remember, like my mother used to say, you’re only bored if you choose to be! From all of us at Elfster, wishing you an adventure-seeking, creativity-inspiring, kindness-giving, treat-making summer ahead!

For more ideas on all things summertime, explore our Summer Fun Gift Guide. Still want more activities to keep ‘em all busy? Read up on the rules of Secret Santa, then get an online Secret Santa game started! You can also connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram

How to Plan a Neighborhood Block Party This Summer

How to Plan a Neighborhood Block Party This Summer

How to Plan a Neighborhood Summer Block Party | The Elfster Blog

summer block party game ideas
A neighborhood gathering should include sidewalk chalk | Image courtesy Unsplash user Tina Floersch

When I was growing up, we’d pack into my mom’s car and venture from our home in the countryside exactly one hour north to my auntie’s house in the suburbs. We’d arrive at her cul-de-sac in the warmth of a late summer afternoon, kids outdoors playing basketball or hockey and the sounds of laughter floating out from backyard swimming pools. More often than not, the sweet smell of barbecued burgers and hot dogs was also permeating the air.

A few times a year, my auntie’s neighborhood would come together to host a big block party. Between the invites, the group games, the street decor, and the food, I always thought there was something truly magical about those gatherings. So, thanks to some childhood inspiration from my aunt and her neighbors, here are some of my favorite ideas for how to plan a sun-sational neighborhood block party this summer—complete with bacon potato salad.

 

Step #1: Creative Invites for Your Summer Neighborhood Block Party

I’ve always been a fan of elaborate homemade invites. I can still recall getting a glitter-dusted mermaid invite to a friend’s 7th birthday and how excited I was as the actual event approached.

At first, inviting neighbors to their own neighborhood block party might seem a bit silly. But, someone has to do the organizing, and starting the fun off with a creative invite will get folks eager and excited to participate. This summer, ditch the traditional envelope and card invites and go for one of these unique variations when planning your block party.

summer block party invites
Popsicle stickers will stick in their minds | Image courtesy Etsy seller StickerdoodleShop

Door Knob Invites

Custom door knob invites are sure to be noticed as they’ll be the first thing to greet your neighbors when they arrive home. Keep it super simple with a phrase like, “You’re invited to our annual neighborhood block party!” Just be sure to include the date, time, and food and game details. Include an icon of a barbecue or a picnic spread if you want to get fancy!

Popsicle Invites

A forever-festive way to invite folks to a summer soireé is by jazzing up your invites with a theme—like popsicles! To create popsicle invites, simply cut bright card stock in the shape of a popsicle (or, basically, an elongated “U”), write out the event info on the front of the popsicle, then glue a popsicle or craft stick to the back.

Sidewalk Chalk Invites

The easiest way to get the whole neighborhood’s attention is to make like a 5-year-old Banksy and get to work laying out the party details, in large print, right there on your street’s sidewalks for all to see!

 

Step #2: Plan Neighborhood Block Party Games

When I was a kid, our driveway was roughly 1/4 mile long, and it wasn’t too often that we got folks making the trek up it unless it was pre-planned. When we’d venture to my aunt’s, though, whether for Christmas, a 4th of July get-together, or block parties, her lawn was front and center for all to see.

Block parties are simply made for group games and contests that will get everyone mingling. Here are a couple ideas to jumpstart your imagination:

games for a neighborhood block party
A neighborhood-sized game of tic-tac-toe | Image courtesy Etsy seller WildYouthLLC

A Front Yard Decorating Contest

What better way to celebrate summer than by replicating the sandy feel of a pristine beach on your own lawn?

The idea is simple: decorate your front lawn to resemble a tropical beach paradise. Ask all the neighbors who want to participate to chip in $5 for a prize. Then, on the day of the block party, everyone gets to vote on who the beachiest neighbor is. The winner gets a beach-related prize, like a one-night stay at a nearby coastal hotel or new matching bathing suits for the family, depending on how much prize money you collected.

A Giant Lawn Tic-Tac-Toe DIY

Sometimes, on those long and meandering days of summertime, nothing can beat a giant game of tic-tac-toe out in the sun. It’s relaxing and entertaining, not requiring too much energy when you just want to take it easy. The best part about the lawn version of this game? You can create the board and playing pieces with anything you have on hand. My brother and I used to make our grid out of rope and use beach balls and hockey sticks as our X’s and O’s.

For giant lawn tic-tac-toe, you can also spray paint your grid onto the grass, use yarn, or even pool noodles! For the X’s and O’s, try cutting them out from big pieces of cardboard. If your neighborhood is green and tree-filled, you can collect sticks and rocks as your playing pieces.

 

Step #3: How to Decorate for Your Neighborhood Block Party

decorating a neighborhood block party for summer
String up your excitement | Image courtesy Etsy seller FreshLemonBlossoms

Street decor lets the world know you and your neighbors are ready to party! For a simple idea with a big impact, pick an original block party name that you can print on a banner, like The Birch Street Annual Bash or The Party-Til-You-Drop on Pear Avenue. Hang the banner from two tall ladders or trees and surround it with big bunches of helium balloons to make a statement.

The best part is, this setup can also double as a spot for family portraits. Ask around to see who has a camera and set it up with a self-timer on a tripod. Or, if someone in the group is a self-proclaimed photographer, have them run the “photo booth” station complete with props and inspirational poses.

Step #4: How to Feed the Masses at Your Neighborhood Block Party

One of my favorite aspects of block parties is that they offer a chance for people who perhaps don’t know each other all that well to come together—and nothing bonds like food at a neighborhood block party! The traditional staples for BBQ block party food are pretty simple, and there’s really no need to complicate them—burgers and franks.

food for a summer block party
BBQs bring everyone together | Image courtesy Unsplash user Matt Heaton

BYOC (Bring Your Own Condiments)

Encourage invitees to bring their own condiments as everyone tends to have their own family favorites. In my neighborhood, there is a long-standing debate over yellow or honey mustard! Guests can BYOC in empty cupcake tins, anything from ketchup and mayo to homemade dill pickles and chopped red onion.

The Main Dish

For the main dish, have a few neighbors volunteer to set up their BBQs on a couple adjoining driveways. Round up a handful of people who will be the chosen meat flippers for the evening and assign party-goers to bring one of the following: hot dogs, hamburgers, or buns. Don’t forget about the vegetarians, though!

The Sides

One of the best parts of pot-luck style food is the sides; this seems to be where people really let their creativity unfold. If you’re looking to stray from the traditional, make a note on the invites or spread by word of mouth that families should feel free to bring out their own unique variation of traditional sides to contribute to the meal. Some ideas include:

  • Jazzed Up Potato Salad: This might include crushed potato chips, bacon, or hard boiled eggs.
  • Elevated Macaroni Salad: This might call for green bell peppers or shredded cheddar cheese and diced ham.

Whatever guests contribute, whether through food, decor, or photo booth skills, block parties are an incredible opportunity to come together and build bonds within your neighborhood and community.

Maybe you’re observing a summer event, like the 4th of July or a group of August birthdays, or maybe you’re just looking for a way to enjoy one another’s company. Whatever the reason, we hope these tidbits and ideas have given you some creative block party inspiration. From all of us at Elfster, may your day be filled with sunshine and lots of tasty treats.

For super summer inspiration, explore our Summer Fun Gift Guide. For more ways to connect with your neighbors and friends, you can read up on how to play Secret Santa and then invite everyone to start a new Secret Santa game—anytime of the year! And, connect with the elves on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for daily gift and party inspirations.

The Best Gifts for Your Husband’s Birthday to Show Him Love

The Best Gifts for Your Husband’s Birthday to Show Him Love

best DIY gifts for a husbands birthday

best gifts for husbands birthday
Happy birthday hubbie | Image courtesy Unsplash user Anna Vander Stel

Like an over-eager child, I anticipate the celebration of any and all birthdays. I owe this to my mother who, on each birthday, would decorate the house with the same Happy Birthday sign, balloon-print napkins and plates, a bundle of helium balloons by the fireplace, and a rectangular homemade cake with sprinkles. It was nothing extravagant, but it was a tradition. A tradition that celebrated us individually, and as a family.

Today, as I begin my own traditions with my fiancé, I look back on family birthdays growing up. The thing that stands out to me as the best birthday gift to give anyone is simply this: just be together.

But, when it comes to gifts you can hold in your hands, nothing beats gifting a meaningful present that demonstrates just how much you love someone. So, from homemade cards to message balloons and a Funfetti pancake tower, here are my suggestions for the best gifts for your husband to show him that you love him.

“Open When” Cards: One of the Best Husband Birthday Gifts

“Open when…” cards are a timeless birthday gift idea that will never go out of style because we all have good days and bad days every now and again, and these little notes help us to either celebrate them or move past them with grace and a smile. Here is how to make one of the best birthday gifts for your husband so his next birthday is an unforgettable one.

Supply List:

birthday gift for him DIY
Open when… The best sentimental gift for husband | Image courtesy Etsy seller GreetingWithLove

Crafting Directions:

To make the cards, write the phrase “open when” on the front followed by phrases like:

  • …you need a laugh
  • …you’re burnt out from work
  • …you’re pushing hard for your dream
  • …you’re nervous
  • …you miss me
  • …you’re really hungry
  • …you need to make a tough choice
  • …your favorite team lost

Tuck an index card into each envelope with a relevant memory or note of encouragement written out. It can be a happy memory or an encouraging or silly one—anything that will spark conversation or bring on the happy vibes for your husband. You can also fill the envelopes with surprises, like a gift card to his favorite restaurant for the “open when you’re really hungry” envelope or tickets to a basketball game for the “open when your favorite team lost” envelope.

35 gifts for 35 years: The Best Gifts to Spoil Your Husband

piles of birthday presents for him
Piles of presents he’ll love | Image courtesy Etsy seller ByNikomi

Sometimes I venture to the dollar store for last minute gift basket ideas because I’m a firm believer in the joy that opening a bounty of wrapped presents can bring—no matter how small. Even your grown husband may be likely to revert back to his childlike state of mind and squeal with glee over this fun idea.

Change the number of gifts based on your husband’s birthday (i.e. 25 gifts for 25 years, 50 gifts for 50 years etc). The gifts can be tiny, like an old photograph, or they can be homemade, like a handwritten birthday letter looking back at all that’s happened over the past year. Try wrapping up things like a mini bottle of the ketchup or hot sauce he uses on his eggs every morning or a brand new pack of his favorite pens. Scatter the gifts throughout the house and, if you’re looking to get a little crazy, you can even hide them and throw a birthday treasure hunt.

The Best Birthday Gifts for Your Husband Should Include Balloons

best husband birthday gifts
Offer him your (balloon) heart | Image courtesy Unsplash user FreeStocks.org

For my birthday this year, my mom tasked my niece with picking out the birthday balloons that always decorate the fireplace when we throw a party. She chose the biggest heart-shaped balloon she could find, surrounded with a rim of pink feathers, as the pièces de résistance.

An enormous bunch of balloons, or even a single giant one, is sure to put a smile on the birthday guest of honor’s face. To kick the idea up a notch, attach photos to the bottom of the strings. Or, tie on index cards with sweet and simple notes about why you love him like, “I love you because you make the best French press coffee I’ve ever had!” Really, you can never go wrong with balloons.

A Funfetti Birthday Breakfast Gifts Your Husband with Sweetness

Birthday dinners, like big pots of homemade pasta or salmon thrown on the barbecue, used to be our yearly tradition. But, a few years ago, my fiancé and I started to go big with the birthday breakfasts, too. He’d cut my French toast into heart shapes while I’d make a smiley face with his sunny side up eggs.

Of all the birthday breakfast possibilities, perhaps one of the most festive is a Funfetti pancake tower bar. When you stack them up—and top ‘em with whipped cream, sprinkles, and candles—they look a lot like a birthday cake (and, really, every birthday morning should start with something that resembles cake). Using a simple boxed cake mix will give these pancakes a slight cake batter taste while maintaining the fluffy pancake feel we know and love.

pancake birthday gift for husband
Birthdays are for (pancake) lovers | Image courtesy Etsy seller InkAnthology

The Ingredients List:

  • 1 ⅓ cup flour
  • 1 box Funfetti cake mix
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbls cane sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅓ cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup sprinkles (plus more to top)
  • Whipped cream
  • Candles

Baking Directions:

  1. In a big bowl, combine your flour, cake mix, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a small bowl, mix together your butter, eggs, and milk.
  2. Add the ingredients together and mix until combined. Fold in sprinkles. For thinner batter, add an additional tablespoon of milk.
  3. When your skillet or griddle is greased and warm, ladle your batter and cook until the pancakes bubble. Flip the pancakes and, when they’re done, stack them on a plate to create your beautiful Funfetti birthday tower. Top with additional sprinkles, candles, and whipped cream if you’d like. And if you want to continue the Funfetti craze later on in the day, keep the celebration going with Funfetti ice cream cookie sandwiches, a recipe that kiddos can help make.

From a sweet and festive breakfast to thoughtful memories shared or a room full of brightly colored balloons, the art of crafting the perfect birthday celebration can change from year to year. The only thing that’s a must is to create gifts that are poignant, personal and, most of all, filled with lots of love.

One of my favorite parts about the tradition of birthdays is that every year, we get to look back and remember what we did the year before. From all of us at Elfster, we wish you a beautiful day celebrating with the one you love. Here’s to another year wiser and more grateful. May it be filled with cupcakes, sprinkles, and joyfully wrapped gifts!

For more ideas on gifts to give your guy, explore our For Him Gift Guide or start a gift exchange online with friends and family to celebrate gifting joy year round. You can also connect with the elves on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

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.

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.