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Author: Jeni W

Inspirational Gifts That Keep on Giving to Connect Long Distance Family and Friends

Inspirational Gifts That Keep on Giving to Connect Long Distance Family and Friends

heart shaped necklace
A simple, heartfelt necklace | Image courtesy Etsy seller meitaltoledo

On the eve of our high school graduation, my three best friends and I knew we wanted to do something special to mark the end of an era. We would all be spreading out across the country to attend different schools—the days of watching One Tree Hill at Andrea’s after school or cheering on Lea at her volleyball games were over. But, regardless of what roads we would travel in life, we were bonded, a team. So, we came up with the idea of a “traveling necklace.”

Inspired by one of our favorite movies, The Sisterhood of the traveling Pants, we all pitched in to buy a necklace that would be shared amongst the four of us. Buying jewelry to fit four unique tastes was no easy feat, but we eventually settled on a simple gold chain with a symbolic heart. Each one of us would wear the necklace for two weeks at a time and then send it to the next person—except Pamela, who always managed to stretch her two weeks into three.

Over the years, the necklace has journeyed with us all, from my backpacking trip across Europe to Pamela’s volunteer stint at a medical center in Honduras, while Lea danced the night away at a music festival, and even Andrea’s walk down the aisle to her true love. Together or apart, the necklace connects us through all of life’s big moments. That’s the best part about meaningful, shared gifts—every time I open my mailbox to that necklace, it’s like receiving a much-needed hug from all three of my best girlfriends. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Start Your Own Traveling Tradition

As much as we loved the movie and thought our friendship was magical, my girlfriends and I knew there was no way we would all be able to share a single pair of jeans—not with Lea’s Salsa-dancing booty, Pamela’s long torso, and my extra five inches of height. But a necklace? Perfect! It’s easy to mail back and forth, and there would be no issues with fit.

Friendship journal
Friendship is forever… | Image courtesy Etsy seller CulturalBindings

To start your own tradition, you’ll need:

Once you’ve gathered your besties:

1. Introduce the idea. If your friends are anything like mine, they’ll be super excited to share a necklace and keep in touch with old-fashioned letters.

2. Buy your necklace. This might take a bit of compromise, especially if you have someone in your group like Andrea who’s allergic to certain metals or Pamela who loves statement jewelry. But if you can find a necklace that your entire group agrees on, you can do anything!

3. Write out your rules. You’ll want to have the basics written down, like a rotation schedule, how long each person will get the necklace, and some fun ones of your own. Here are a few of our special rules:

  • You may never wear silver jewelry with the gold necklace—that’s just tacky.
  • Only the wearer of the necklace may take it on or off. No help from boyfriends
  • You can’t think you look ugly while wearing the necklace.

4. Host a necklace ceremony party. This is one of my favorite parts of our tradition. Each year we get together to hold a “traveling Necklace Ceremony.” We each read a letter from the box of notes we’ve sent over the years, pulling them out randomly so we can reminisce about that boy Lea was dating back in 2012 or what test Andrea was studying for last Christmas.

Celebrate the Un-Hallmark Moments

Our necklace travels between people and places, but milestone letters travel through time. I first heard of this idea at my aunt’s baby shower. Every guest was given a blank card and assigned a different milestone for which they would write the baby a letter.

gold gift box
A modern treasure box | Image courtesy Amazon seller Wald Imports

But our version of these milestone letters is a bit different—what about the “milestones” there are no hallmark cards for? Lea came up with a great play on this classic baby shower game for her last birthday. Instead of asking us to write her letters for birthdays or a future wedding, she asked us to write her letters for those out-of-the-box moments when she would truly need our support.

Some of the milestones Lea included were:

  • When she gets her heartbroken—and couldn’t we all use a card for this one…
  • When she lands that big promotion at work
  • When she takes her first solo trip overseas
  • When she just plain misses her best friends

Lea assigned a milestone to each of us and asked us to write her a letter for that moment in her life, then she collected them in a beautiful, wooden treasure box. I loved the idea of writing a letter for my girlfriend to help her celebrate or get through a big moment in her life that I likely wouldn’t be around for. It was wonderful to think we would be contributing to her future memories regardless of where we were physically when they happened.

A Tried and Tested Cookbook Curated with Love

A traveling gift for kitchen pros or amateurs alike is a curated cookbook. Pamela, who I mentioned isn’t great at staying on top of her calendar, is great at whipping up delicious desserts in the kitchen. She inspired this idea.

First things first, gather your group of pot stirrers and ingredients choppers. For Pamela, it was her siblings. She’s in St. Maarten to attend medical school, her sister is in Vancouver studying to be a counselor, and her brother is living in Toronto—they’re perfectly spread out to appreciate a traveling gift shared amongst the family.

recipe cards
A blank cookbook, awaiting inspiration | Image courtesy Amazon seller Cooking Gifts

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A blank cookbook or recipe journal
  • Writing utensils
  • A favorite recipe
  • A group to share it with

And then the gifting begins! Pamela had the book first, so she wrote out the recipe for her heavenly Oreo cheesecake. She included the ingredient list and baking instructions, then mailed it off to her sister in Vancouver, who tried her hand at recreating Pamela’s famous dessert. After giving it a go, her sister added her own notes to the recipe, like substituting chocolate chip cookies for Oreos and not forgetting to set the oven timer. She added some photos of the finished result as well—a few snaps of her serving Pamela’s cheesecake to her midterm study group. Then, she added her own recipe for a new dish to the book before sending it on to Pamela’s brother, who would follow suit: trying out his sister’s new recipe, adding his notes, including photos of his attempt at his sister’s dish, writing down a recipe of his own, and then sending it back to Pamela to keep the circle going.

The awesome thing about a curated cookbook is that not only are you putting together a family recipe journal, but you’re taking the time to connect. How fun will it be for Pamela to get it back with two brand new recipes, her sister’s fun variation on the cheesecake, and a photo of her brother with a burnt pan because he forgot to grease it.

Gifts that travel with you through life and between family and friends are especially meaningful because they instill and inspire a connection and a bond that’s at the root of all gift giving. I’m never more excited to check my mailbox than when I know it’s my turn to receive the necklace.

And every time I catch a glimpse of that silver chain around my neck, I’m reminded of the deep bond I share with my girlfriends back home. The best gifts aren’t always the ones that cost the most money, but the ones with a personal connection—a connection I’m reminded of every time I latch a certain, special necklace around my neck.

What gift traditions do you have with your loved ones? And which one of the traveling gifts would you most want to receive? Let us know by connecting with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram.

Uniquely Useful Gifts to Ease the Minds of First Time Parents

Uniquely Useful Gifts to Ease the Minds of First Time Parents

A thoughtfully handmade “Do Not Disturb” sign | Image courtesy Etsy seller WoodWorxDesigns
A thoughtfully handmade “Do Not Disturb” sign | Image courtesy Etsy seller WoodWorxDesigns

“Cupcakes,” I said quite exhaustedly, “all I want is sleep, baby cuddles, and cupcakes!” My mom should have known that I wouldn’t be able to come up with a better response to her question in my post-delivery, overtired silliness.

It was still six weeks before my youngest son’s expected due date—the baby shower had come and gone, the nursery was nearly together, and I thought I still had at least a month to get my hospital bag packed. Boy, was I wrong.

Due to complications, my ever-vigilant doctor recommended he deliver my son at the 34-week mark—and I was suddenly very under-prepared, completely stunned by his premature arrival. What I learned through my experience was the immense value of a thoughtful and practical gifts for still-in-shock new parents, whether their babies arrive early, late, or right on time. Because, as I lay there in my hospital bed, all I could think was, “I am so hungry.”

While we loved and appreciated every congratulatory gift that family and friends brought by in celebration of our new baby, there were a few that will forever stand out in my mind. They were the gifts that went beyond kind gestures of excitement meant to decorate our hospital room, and had immediate usefulness.

Thoughtful Necessities to Brighten Spirits

breast feeding gift box
The Breastfeeding Mama Support Box | Image courtesy Etsy seller GiftGenieExpress

As soon as she heard my son was delivered early, my best friend Kate knew I would be stressed out that I didn’t have time to get some much-needed breastfeeding supplies, and she made it her mission to help. When she arrived, I felt a wave of calm opening the box of nursing necessities she had dressed up in coordinating blue ribbons and bows, to brighten up the sterile hues of the hospital room.

She also brought me a shoulder-saving Boppy pillow for support under my babe, and a fresh batch of yummy oatmeal chocolate chip lactation cookies she picked up from a local bakery. Such wonderfully supportive gifts really assisted in my start to breastfeeding, and helped to curb my “hungry new mom” sweet tooth.

A couple of close friends, Monica and Alexa, had helped out with my baby shower registries, so knew I hadn’t received all of my baby must-haves. They quickly shared a link on Facebook to a last minute wish list for anyone wanting to bless us with baby supplies we hadn’t already received. This was a gift in and of itself—not having to try to communicate to every well-wishing family member and friend wanting to know how they could help us through the whirlwind of an early delivery was an immense blessing.

Monica also brought a cute canvas bin, that could later be used for toys or clothes, filled with binkies and chocolates to encourage quiet moments for both baby and mom. It included a handmade “Do Not Disturb” front door sign to ensure uninterrupted baby napping once we brought our son home from the hospital, giving us a great chance to score some uninterrupted downtime.

How to Bake Up the Onesie Cupcake

Alexa, being a little extra craftier than the rest of us, came to our birth suite bearing a box of preemie onesie “cupcakes” and a teeny crocheted hat she made. Not quite the edible confectionaries I had requested from my mom, but such an adorable decoration to have in the room—and to be able to put to use right away since we had no preemie-sized clothing on hand for our son.

cupcake gift set
Bakery-boxed Onesie Cupcakes | Image courtesy Etsy seller Baby Bottom Creations

Pulling these sweet little “cupcakes” apart to dress my son for the first time, I could see how I might make them for my own gifting in the future:

  1. Have onesies, coordinating socks, and cupcake liners ready for assembly.
  2. Fold the sleeves in on each side, creating a long strip of material.
  3. Place a pair of socks at one end of the strip, hanging over each edge of the onesie just a bit. One of the socks should have the opening facing out, and the other the toe.
  4. Starting at the end with the socks, roll the onesie strip up.
  5. Fold the open end of the sock over the onesie roll to make the cupcake “paper.” A sock toe should be sticking out the other end, to resemble frosting.
  6. Place the onesie cupcake into a cute cupcake liner (silicone liners work best) and place in a bakery box for added flair!

Celebrating Bringing Baby Home

The Cowboy Mustache Pacifier | Image courtesy Amazon seller Mustachifier
The Cowboy Mustache Pacifier | Image courtesy Amazon seller Mustachifier

My parents-in-law knew we would be coming home tired, hungry, and ready for some alone time. While we were still at the hospital, they collected menus from several takeout and delivery restaurants in our area and had them fanned out on the kitchen table—along with matching gift cards—ensuring we didn’t even have to heat up dinner if we were simply too wrapped up in cuddling our new bundle of joy.

My brother-in-law, Jake, who has two little ones of his own at home, showed up with a Daddy-only toolkit: diaper cream with an “application spatula,” safety goggles, and a dozen of my partner’s favorite energy drink for overcoming the grogginess sure to follow regular 2am changings. Always a prankster, he also brought me a selection of mustache binkies, knowing they would help soothe baby and make mama smile.

Paying It Forward with Practical New Parent Gifting

The incredible way our nearest and dearest were able to set our sleep-deprived minds at ease by addressing our most pressing needs for the first couple weeks of our baby boy’s life really set the bar for any future new parent gifting I do myself. So, when my good friend Leslie gave birth to her little girl, I knew just what to bring baby Ava and my frazzled new mommy friend.

oversized throw blanket
An over-sized, baby friendly throw | Image courtesy Target

Taking a cue from the fabulously functional gifts I had received, I assembled a gift basket specifically designed to take stress off the new mom and dad. Using a bright pink laundry basket, because baby will need her own laundry bin, of course, I rounded up the following to bless the newly expanded family:

  • A full-sized cozy blanket: Cuddling under the teeny, baby-sized ones, precious as they are, leaves parents in the cold.
  • Dry shampoo and hair ties: No reason mom can’t feel pulled together when company stops by, even if the shower got skipped!
  • A package of paper plates and plastic flatware: No dirty dishes for at least a week!
  • Hand sanitizer: Everyone’s now prepared for speedy germ removal.
  • A box of tissues: Being a new parent brings on lots of crying, from tears of joy to sleepless sobs.
  • A Starbucks gift card: Loaded and ready, this card offers a much needed caffeine fix or two.
  • A bottle of wine: To toast getting through 9 months without, and to celebrate the newest family member.
  • Some healthy snacks: Chocolate is a must, but so are granola bars, fruit, and nuts.

As much fun as little outfits, stuffed bears, and colorful balloons can be to crowd into a hospital room, my family and friends have shown me that thinking a little beyond the expected can offer a gift that both comforts and lends a hand. There’s no doubt any gift brought to welcome a new baby into the world will be met with warm gratitude, but there are those special gifts that leave lasting impressions by becoming a part of memories made, as life with a precious new babe begins… and that is really something to treasure!

Need a little inspiration to help you create a praise-worthy present for new parents? Let the elves assist you in perfecting the art of useful baby gifting! Check out our new parent must-haves, make wish lists of your own, and discover memorable gift ideas on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Imaginations Take Flight: Ideas for a Children’s International Storytime Party

Imaginations Take Flight: Ideas for a Children’s International Storytime Party

safari book
We All Went on Safari | Image courtesy Amazon Seller and Author Laurie Krebs

“We all went on safari, over grasslands damp with dew…” Little minds will fill with wonder as the story We All Went on Safari unfolds in detailed descriptions and colorful pictures, transporting wee ones to the foreign land of Tanzania on the wings of their imaginations—and with the help of author Laurie Krebs.

Reading stories about traveling and people living colorful lives in foreign countries allows us to explore the world in ways not always open to us in real life, sending us into grand adventures with each turn of a page. These literary encounters provide the perfect platform to teach our kids about places and cultures beyond their home country, expanding their vocabularies and geographical knowledge over an afternoon bonding with a community of friends. So get ready to board a flight for a grand adventure, right from the comfort of your living room.

An Invitation to Experience the World

Deciding to get fully immersed into storybook travels with our kids, another book-loving mom friend and I hosted an “Around the World” luncheon, with a book gift exchange, to give our children a taste of the wide world beyond their doorsteps. We invited a handful of other families to join us, along with their little travelers, for an adventurous storytime and some international eats by sending out “A Passport to Read the World” invitations.

passport invitation
A passport to adventure | Image courtesy Etsy seller SproullieDesigns

These fun mock passports can be made with some blue cardstock, just a few sheets of paper, staples, and stickers:

  1. Using blue cardstock for authenticity, we sliced each page down the middle to make two covers from each sheet.
  2. Repeating the process with plain printing paper, we cut five pages in half to fit between the cover sheet.
  3. Lining up the blank white pages with the blue cover, we stapled them down the centerline to make a binding.
  4. Once stapled, we folded each booklet in half and decorated the cover with foil markers and passport stamp stickers to craft them into the perfect tickets to guide the way for our reading travels.

Inside the front cover of each passport-inspired invitation, families were asked to go online and sign into our book gift exchange to find out which family they’ll be gifting with their favorite cultural tale. Then, they’ll bring a new book, gift wrapped for the exchange, as well as their own beloved copy to read to the group. We even included an option to donate a second new book to our local library so our entire community can expand their horizons.

Finally, we made sure to remind the guests to bring their invitation, nay passport, along with them to the party—their mini world travelers will be filling up the blank pages with all the fun things learned about exotic locales as we read about them.

A Space to Seek Adventure—and Treats—Together

For our trip around the world, we pack the living room with comfy places to sit, centered around one large armchair that acts as the pilot’s seat for the featured storyteller as they take us on the escapades of their chosen book. To add an element of traveling whimsy to the decor, we enhanced the armchair to look like the front end of an airplane:

vintage airplane poster
Vintage Airplane Whimsy | Image courtesy Etsy seller Mirabilitas
  1. Using a couple cardboard boxes, we fashion two sides of a plane and a pair of wings by tracing the general shapes and cutting them out.
  2. Grabbing the markers and stickers we had leftover from making passports, we adorn the wings and label the sides of the plane “Storytime Air.”
  3. Once our plane parts are decorated to our liking, we fasten the wings to the sides of the plane using clear packing tape.
  4. Now that each side of our plane is assembled, we prop them up against either side of the armchair, and we’re ready for takeoff!

When it’s storytime, we’ll explain to the kids that each of their books is a special “flight map” able to take us on a unique adventure all over the world with the turn of a page. We also lined up a couple tables along the wall in the back to display the international cuisine we would sample for our storytime luncheon. We spread out book pages and maps to act as a table runner, hung extra books over a clothesline as a banner, and propped books up in stacks topped with a globe, a telescope, and a compass to inspire us in our explorations ahead.

Navigation Through Narration

Now that the room is staged for a grand adventure, the little ones are ready to dive into the pages of their favorite tales from afar with their friends. As we read aloud, parents are encouraged to help their kiddos make journal entries about our travels in their passports. The little ones can draw pictures while parents write in fun facts their adventuring babes loved from each story so they can revisit them again and again, taking note of the titles for future book purchases.

international flags
The (Mini) Flags of All Nations | Image courtesy Amazon seller Fun Express

Lily and her mom Rachel read Ruby’s Wish, a Chinese-inspired tale, taking turns on a few pages so 6-year-old Lily could practice her out-loud reading. Ryan could hardly wait to pass out the “passport stamp” stickers he brought along to match his favorite book, and jumped up to start the moment his dad turned to the last page of The Cat Who Walked Across France. Other amazing international reads the group brought were:

The Post-Flight Meal

There’s no easier way to introduce other cultures to kids in a tangible manner than through food. After our flights of story fancies, we enjoyed a luncheon Sarah and I prepared of finger foods inspired by worldwide cuisines. Options included a few familiar looking choices in the form of a French cheese tray, English tea and biscuits, Italian pasta salad, Australian fish and chips, and a Caribbean fruit salad—and a couple not-so-common dishes like Indian Chicken Marsala, and Moroccan lentil soup cups.

All dishes were clearly labeled with the names of the food and marked with small flags from the country of origin to help kids match the dish to its culture. And the variety of flavors and textures gave the kiddos a chance to taste what their favorite characters from the day’s stories might be enjoying.

Exchanging the Tales of Our Travels

A Walk in London
A Walk in London | Image courtesy Amazon seller Salvatore Rubbino

Once every family had an opportunity to read their book, and all had their fill of the tasty lunch assortment, the kids got to share in the joy of giving a copy of their favorite story to the friend they were assigned in the exchange online. Having learned which child they would be gifting a book to before the event, but not who would be giving a book to them, left all of the kids super excited to find out which story they would end up with.

Sarah’s son Kale was thrilled when he found out Michelle had picked him in the book swap since he fell in love with her tale Are We There Yet? during our storytime. Isabell couldn’t have been happier to discover that she would be going home with A Walk in London, having thoroughly delighted in the tea and biscuits at lunch.

New tales of travel in hand, and young minds full of wonder at the world, we part ways with a renewed love of the written word. Wanting to make every effort to spread that love, many of us brought along a second new copy of our favorite book to donate so even more kids can fly to far off places and explore interesting cultures thanks to their nearby library.

Everyone left our storytime with a renewed sense of adventure to discover more of the fascinating worlds to be found in books. I know I was more than happy to oblige when my son asked to revisit our new storybook again before bed—and I’m sure we’ll all dream of spectacular world travels as we drift off to sleep tonight.

Looking for new adventures to share with the little ones in your world? Let the elves at Elfster help you create a globe-trotting reading gift guide and find lots of colorful ideas for an Around the World party of your own on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Colorful Keepsakes: Make a Personalized Coloring Book from Your Favorite Photos

Colorful Keepsakes: Make a Personalized Coloring Book from Your Favorite Photos

flamingo wrapping paper
Flamingo fun printed wrapping paper | Image courtesy Etsy seller Clare Shrouder

It was just days away from my best friend’s birthday and not only was I short on her favorite flamingo-printed tissue paper, but I didn’t even have a good idea for her present. After some serious mulling, I decided I wanted to give Ellie a gift that expressed how much fun I always have with her, whether it’s an afternoon coffee date or our trip to the Caribbean last summer. We had taken some pretty amazing shots on our island-hopping journey—if only photo albums weren’t so passé and framed photographs didn’t tend to fade into the background on overstuffed shelves.

I thought about having our faces printed on a mug, but Ellie hates kitsch, especially in her kitchen. I wouldn’t win any best friend points there. No, what I wanted was to make her something beautiful, surprising, and emotive—not to mention fun—all of the things Ellie represented to me. But with limited time, I started to have visions of slipping a gift certificate into a store-bought birthday card—and that just wouldn’t do. Then, inspiration struck when I remembered discussing the new craze for adult coloring books with her on our last trip to the bookstore.

Nothing Beats Nostalgia

adult coloring book
Make them smile with cute imagery | Image courtesy Etsy seller StudioMagdaPolakow

The best gifts are ones based on little hints the person has dropped, whether intentionally or unintentionally. My own favorite strategy for gift giving is to sneak off during a shopping trip to discreetly purchase something my shopping partner was salivating over, but wouldn’t buy for themselves.

Ellie definitely had a glimmer of childish glee in her eyes when looking through the adult coloring book section at the book shop, but I could tell she felt too silly to actually buy one. Remembering that happy gleam, I started to devise a plan to reduce my best friend to a giggling schoolgirl—with the help of a color pencil. I use the mantra nothing beats nostalgia” when picking out presents, so I decided to incorporate photographs of our adventures, like our recent Caribbean vacation, into a personalized coloring book for her. The only problem was, I had no idea where to start.

Crafting a Personalized Coloring Book, Step by Step

How does someone with a few ingrained craft skills, but not much else, make their own printed coloring book from scratch? Turns out, it’s pretty easy. Here are my start to finish tips, based on my own coloring book conundrum.

Step 1: Choosing a Theme

For Ellie’s coloring book, I decided to forget drawing my own images. But, if you want to give freehand drawing black and white outlines a try, all you need is a black fine tip felt pen and some patience.

Try drawing things that are colorful in real life, and also try to pick large-scale, easy to decipher images, like animals, plants, or nature scenes. But, to keep my project personal, I decided to turn my favorite friendship photos into Ellie’s coloring book pages.

Step 2: Transforming Your Photos

I decided that pictures from our Caribbean vacation would take center stage in the pages of Ellie’s birthday coloring book. I picked out some of the most interesting shots, with lots of detail and funky shapes to fill in. Then I scanned and uploaded them onto my laptop so I could use free online software to convert the color photographs into simple black and white outlines at the simple touch of a button.

photo before and after
A photo “Before and After”

Step Three: Printing Your Pages

I put Ellie’s pages in order based on when the photos were taken so they would walk her down memory lane, although you could order yours based on events, themes, or level of difficulty.

I also spent some time designing the front and back covers using photoshop, although it could also be done in Microsoft Word, or by hand if you’re a little extra artistic. And, don’t forget to add a personal message or two!

Printing out your pages is easy, and can be done right from your home printer. Once printed, check the arrangement of your pages, making sure they’re all right side up, including the front and back covers. And, for the cover, pick a heavier and slightly larger piece of paper, to give your book that quality, professionally-made feel.

Step Four: Basic Bookbinding

Once printed, the final step is to bind your pages together. For this, you’ll need a few simple craft supplies:

hand-bound books
Cute binding with simple needle and thread | Image courtesy Etsy seller emilyjtillustration
  • A paper cutter or cutting board
  • A pencil
  • A bone folder or ruler
  • Thread or string
  • A large sewing needle
  • A bookbinding awl

First, fold your cover. The best way to fold paper accurately is to use a bone folder, or, if you don’t have one of those, a ruler. Fold the paper cover in half, making sure to line up the edges exactly. Hold your bone folder or ruler at a right angle to the paper and press down firmly. Take your time with this, as the neater your cover, the neater your finished coloring book will be.

Next, hold the coloring pages in order with a large clamp or paper clips secured at the side (not the spine), making sure not to damage the paper. Using a ruler, measure out five points at equal distances down the spine. It may be a good idea to find the center point, then work your way out on either side. Then you’ll use the bookbinding awl to poke out five holes at the points you marked.

Finally, thread your thick sewing needle and insert it into the center hole. Pull the thread almost all the way through, leaving some excess length to tie it off at the end, then go through hole 4, pulling the thread through. Next, poke your needle through hole 5 before going back through hole 4. Now pull the thread tightly. Inside the center fold, push your needle through the center hole again, then, from the outside, push your needle through hole 2 and pull your thread tight. Thread hole 1 from the inside page next, and then through hole 2 from the outside. Finally, thread your needle through the center hole one more time and pull the thread to the outside. Tie it off by looping it around the thread between holes 3 and 4 and then pulling it back to the inside to hide the knot.

Step Five: The Finishing Touches

colorful art supplies
Don’t forget the color pencils to up your gift ante | Image courtesy Etsy seller ColorprismArt

An artist grade box of color pencils or pens is an essential add-on to your gift, as well as wrapping it all up in brightly colored tissue paper for a subtle hint at what’s inside. You can even personalize the gift wrapping by matching the colors of the tissue paper to the theme of the coloring book.

Go ahead and really shock someone with a fun, creative—and colorful—gift guaranteed to bring out anyone’s inner child. Whether your friends are the serious, professional type or tend towards silly and creative, the adult coloring book is definitely a new trend perfect for the savvy gift-givers’ repertoire. I was so delighted with the finished result that I’m planning to make one for yet another unsuspecting loved one—my mom. I just hope that she loves it as much as Ellie did! I can’t wait to gift my mom with countless hours of joy spent coloring in her fondest memories, one little detail at a time.

 

Let Elfster help you pick the perfect, colorful gift from any of our featured gift guides—and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on twitter @elfster, for more thoughtfully creative gifting tips and tricks.

Hit Rewind: A New Year’s Eve Party That Turns Back Time

Hit Rewind: A New Year’s Eve Party That Turns Back Time

Rifling through a box that I’ve yet to unpack in the two years since buying our home, I pull out a stack of old photos from my high school days. I can’t help but wonder how time possible could have passed so quickly. As I pull a second handful of pictures from the box, a few CDs become visible—and they give me a brilliant idea for ringing in the new year with a trip down memory lane.

With photographic proof of my past stylish decades in hand, and tunes from 1993 blaring out of my stereo speakers, I conjure up a plan for a New Year’s Eve party that will hit the rewind button, if only for the night. My friends and I will revel in the past before stepping into the future unknowns of 2017.

An Invitation to Travel Back in Time

new year's eve party invite
An time traveling invitation | Image courtesy Etsy seller DebsPrintables

Along with an invitation to join me for the traditional countdown to the new year, I posed a challenge to my friends to see if they could show up dressed as they would today, and bring along a few simple items that could easily transform their look to fit a trend rocked in every decade from 2000 all the way back to 1970.

My best friend from grade school, Vanessa, helped me come up with the timeline for the night:

  • 7:00pm: Guests are to arrive and live it up in the now, i.e 2016.
  • 8:00pm: Time starts to slip backward, and we find ourselves in 2010.
  • 9:00pm: Another decade falls away and it’s 2000. Y2K 2.0 anyone?
  • 10:00pm: We’re partying like it’s 1990 (through ‘99).
  • 11:00pm: Suddenly, the scene is 1980—and we’re living in a material world (and I am a material girl).
  • Midnight: Happy 2017—or is it? 1970 lives again as we celebrate the new year as happy little hippies!

Attire That Rings in Each Era of Fun

Coming up with a great outfit for a themed event can be almost as fun as the party itself. So figuring out six looks for our time warp New Year’s Eve celebration really spread that fun all through the month leading up to the big day. I settled on a stretchy black maxi skirt paired with a simple white cami and shimmery silver cardigan that is comfy for dancing, but stylish enough for an evening partying with friends—and can be altered in any number of ways, depending on the decade.

For my first fashion switch-up of the night, I channeled my early 2000s self and swapped my silver cardigan for a velour zip-up hoody, pinning my hair up with a few butterfly clips. When the 90’s rolled around, the velour was traded out for a well-worn band tee and flannel, and my hair was let loose according to the 90s grunge fad.

neon bracelets
Bright accessories of days past | Image courtesy Amazon seller Super Z Outlet

To bring my outfit even further back to the 80s, the flannel and tee became a slouchy sweater worn off one shoulder. I also folded my skirt up and pulled on a pair of leg warmers and neon tennis shoes. Of course, I throw my hair into a side pony and add a couple jelly bracelets from my purse to finish off the ensemble. Finally, by pulling my maxi dress up over my bustline, removing my sweater and cami, and adding a fringe scarf at my waist, some chunky heels, circle shades, and a few colorful beaded necklaces, I’m suddenly 70s Boho-chic.  

And I have to throw a little praise at Andrew for the creative way he turned his attire of a pair of blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt into outfits that completely took us back in time. His addition of a Von Dutch trucker hat and pyramid studded belt for the early 2000s were replaced by a color blocked shirt the Fresh Prince himself would’ve envied in the 90s, buttoned only at the top. A lime green windbreaker, and coordinating neon visor, topped his newly cuffed jeans when he switched into 80s mood, and he finished out the night in a 70s’ striped brown and green sweater vest and loafers that I can only imagine lived in his father’s closet for the last 45 years since they were so spot on for the decade.

Foods of Parties Past

Needless to say, all of our wardrobe changes were pretty comical to watch, and all that laughter had us working up an appetite. So I laid out a spread spanning the decades with flavor trends that have stood out over the years.

fondue
Retro grub to fuel the party | Image courtesy flick’r user Krista

Appetizers ranged from the potato skins and mozzarella sticks of now, to fondue, pickle roll-ups, and jello molds that were the groovy way to snack at parties in the past. The 80s nods of Dunkaroo dip and Sloppy Joe sliders will disappear quicker than 2016, knowing how much my buddies Emma and Steve from high school loved the lunchroom classics back in the day.

Our dessert for the night was straight from the 70s and a huge hit for its miniature size: individual pineapple upside-down cakes that I made in a cupcake tin.

 

 

 

To make these delicious disco-era treats, I rounded up:

  • A box of yellow cake mix, oil, and eggs—as instructed on the box
  • One stick of butter, softened
  • One packed cup of brown sugar
  • A can of pineapple rings in juice (drained, but juice saved and set to the side)
  • A small jar of stemless maraschino cherries

The baking instructions are fast and easy to follow:

  1. Preheat oven to the temperature listed on the box for cupcakes.
  2. Mix up the cake batter, substituting the water for the pineapple juice that we set aside.
  3. In a separate small bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter, and divide into the bottoms of each cup evenly.
  4. Press a pineapple ring into the sugar mixture of each cupcake and add a cherry to the center of the ring.
  5. Pour the cake batter over the pineapples, filling each cup by about a two-thirds.
  6. Bake according to the cupcake instructions on the cake box
  7. Once cooled, flip the pan and remove the cakes to reveal their cute, decorative tops.

Music That Moves Us Through the Decades

With each hour that passes, taking us closer to the midnight countdown, a scene-setting playlist of music to cue the “current” decade will start, as we mingle and munch treats. Top 40 hits of today will ignite the night as my guests arrive, excited to share our plans for the new year ahead. As we get closer to saying “Bye Bye Bye” to 2016 and shift into the hits of the early 2000s, appetizers and champagne will “Get the Party Started” during cocktail hour.

decades of music
Anthems of the decades | Image courtesy Target

I’ll be breaking out a karaoke mic so everyone can sing along as we rock the 90s anthems—Vanessa and I will be taking center stage in flannel and matching Nirvana tees when our favorite Alanis Morissette tracks play, and I’m positive every lyric will come to me just as naturally as they did back in high school.

With the clock nearing the stroke of midnight, we’ll “Bust a Move,” throw on our neon LA Gears, and dance like we’re part of a “Rhythm Nation” to more unforgettable jams from the 80s until the ball drops, taking us back to our final destination of the 70s for a little dessert and disco. We’ll welcome in 2017 while doing the “Hustle” and our best Soul Train moves in our fringe vests and flowery headbands.

Our journey through the music and fashion of the past decades winds down as we wish each other a happy New Year and applaud the fashion morphing skills we witnessed throughout the night. Getting to relive the tastes, trends, and musical greatness of our pasts made finally unpacking that random box of memories totally worthwhile. And now we’re all energized to step into the future, where new memories are waiting for us all.

Want to travel back in time as you celebrate the New Year? Allow the Elves to usher you through the trends of the past with our retro gifting guides. Find party ideas that will have you dancing through the decades on our Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Keep Them Tied up with Laughter by Disguising Christmas Gifts in Prank Wrapping

Keep Them Tied up with Laughter by Disguising Christmas Gifts in Prank Wrapping

Christmas gifts under the tree
Mysteries under the Christmas tree | Image courtesy flick’r user ProFlowers

“Let me guess… Peanut M&Ms?!?,” my dad says, squishing the wrapped gift in his hands and shaking it ever so slightly. While they’re still his favorite treat, and a longstanding tradition I always include with his holiday gifts, I’ve had to learn the stealthy art of prank gift wrapping in order to stop dad from another year of, “Oh, I bet this is my candy,” as he tears into the paper.

The sneaky gifting tricks I’ve developed over the years, in an effort to fool my dad’s M&M detection skills, have come in handy now that I also have a snoopy little boy always trying to sniff out his presents under the tree. But neither will be successful in their attempts to guess their gifts this season—I’ve got a few new ideas to outwit them in the gift guessing game, with plans for Christmas gifts in disguise.

Cereal Wrapped Sneakiness

With the important men in my life continually ruining surprises, I have jokingly threatened to give them groceries from the pantry instead of their Christmas wishes. This year, I’m going to pretend to follow through on my warnings by using a fun little trick with cereal and cracker boxes to mask some of their easiest-to-spot presents.

Christmas Cap'n Crunch Cereal
Festive snacks for sneakily gifting | Image courtesy Amazon seller Cap’n Crunch

Common gifts like DVDs, books, CDs, and video games have shapes that, even when wrapped, are still pretty easy to guess if not disguised. So I’ve figured out a way to hide the obvious squares and rectangles of these gifts by convincing my conniving loved ones I really have replaced the new Sam Smith album with a box of Christmas Crunch:

  1. First, I round up boxes of cereal and snack crackers large enough to fit my gift-to-be-disguised, as well as a few gallon-sized Ziplock baggies.
  2. Next, I carefully open each box from the bottom of the package so that all flaps are free of tears.
  3. Then I empty the contents of each box into two Ziplock bags, leaving out a bit of the cereal or crackers to be eaten so there’s extra space in the box for the gift.
  4. Finally, I sandwich a wrapped gift between the two Ziplock bags and slide it all back into the box.
  5. Once everything is in place, I hot glue the bottom of the box closed and wrap the cereal or snack box to present to my unsuspecting family member.

This simple prank will leave their gifts looking and sounding like a box of food as they inspect them, trying to guess their contents.

Scaling a Gift Down to Hide Its Size

Hollowed book gift idea
A surprising read | Image courtesy Etsy seller HollowBooksByRP

Aside from giving them cereal boxes, literally, one of the simplest ways I throw my boys off the gifting trail is by making things appear out of proportion when wrapping their presents. Large wrapped boxes can be dead giveaways for certain wish list items under the tree, so I shrink things down with a little extra prep work. By only wrapping a small part of the present, I can really keep them guessing. While everyone enjoys a good laugh at the perplexed looks on their faces when they tear open the box, I pull the rest of the gift out of hiding for a big, surprise reveal!

And to really keep my son scratching his head at his gifts all Christmas morning, I took a little extra time to hollow out a random book he wouldn’t typically choose to read, and hid a new 3DS Zelda game inside. Bonus, the book also becomes a safe-keeping place for his smaller valuables, making the wrapping it’s own little gift.

Presents That Play Pretend

Another great way to keep my family on their toes is to use some of the awesomely terrible fake-out gift boxes available now. My dad cracked up for a good ten minutes when he thought he opened up an iDrive mobile device steering wheel mount last year. Although he wouldn’t dream of driving while using his iPad for real, it was a hilarious switch-a-roo when he discovered his actual gift inside the box.

prank gift boxes
Hilariously unreal gift boxes | Image courtesy Amazon seller CloseoutZone

This year, I schemed ahead of time and saved a shoebox from a new pair of boots I bought myself to use as a gift box for my son. Being a forever hungry and growing boy, my son loves to get pepperoni sticks and jerky as gifts, but I hate when he figures out that I stocked him up on snacks before he’s even unwrapped them.

To make it seem as though boots are the present hidden in paper, instead of protein packed snacks, I shaped the treats and a few other small gifts into two “boots” by taping them together. Covering the newly formed faux shoes in gift wrap, I masked my crude tape-job. Then I placed the pair of “boots” in the shoebox, folding the original tissue over them before wrapping it all to sit pretty at the foot of the tree. I know my son is going to think I mistakenly gave him the wrong gift when he unwraps the boot box in bewilderment.

For a final quick and creative gifting wrapping swap, I’ll recycle the DVD cases of crazy workout videos or kooky old cartoons to hide gift certificates or gift cards. It will add a few giggles to our unwrapping fun and make sure my family members are really surprised when their true gifts are discovered.

Concealing Gifts with Confectionaries

After getting my son’s favorite treats disguised, I finally decided how I would disguise my dad’s traditional Christmas peanut M&Ms. Instead of the usual great lengths I take to conceal his chocolate treasures, I made them a decoy for another gift I wanted to squirrel away for his grand finale: a smartwatch that links to his phone. In order to tie these gifts together, and create the perfect camouflage for his fabulous, gadgety gift, I’m using a sneaky (and sweet) way to hide any small, but special present. To pull off this fun Christmas trick I rounded up: 

christmas peanut m&ms
Holiday treats to hide gifts from dad | Image courtesy Target
  • A large, clear glass candy jar with a lid
  • Two cardboard toilet paper rolls
  • Two pieces of red construction paper
  • Scissors, tape, and ribbon
  • A few bags of my dad’s fave M&Ms

Once I had the supplies gathered, I:

  1. Traced the base of the jar onto two sheets of red paper and cut out the circles just inside the lines.
  2. Carefully taped a paper circle to both the bottom of the jar and just under the lid to hide what could be seen above and below.
  3. Cutting the two cardboard toilet paper rolls in half lengthwise, I wrapped each one around the gift I was hiding and placed it in the center of the glass jar, creating a barrier between the candies and the gift.
  4. Finally, I filled the jar with peanut M&Ms around the cardboard barrier, placed the lid on tight, taped it shut, and lovingly tied a bow around the whole thing.

My dad’s traditional gift of Christmas candies is now in plain sight, upping his anticipation for the sweet treats, while secretly hiding a wonderful surprise!

After working my camouflage magic on nearly all the gifts my sneaky dad and son will try to guess before Christmas morning, I’m excited to see how each of my elaborate tricks plays out. I can only imagine how amusing it will be to watch them investigate each present, wrongfully guessing their gifts, each festively wrapped and topped with brightly colored bows.

Try as they may to size them up and shake their presents this year, my family won’t be able to easily tell what gifts from their wish lists I’ve picked out for them—and I couldn’t be prouder of my pranking efforts. It will be worth every bit of my planning to know my dad and son will be completely surprised as they unmask each gift from the wrappings I’ve used as disguises this Christmas!

Want to keep your family guessing with creative gift wrapping this Christmas? Let the Elves help in your holiday mischief! Our That’s a WRAP Gift Guide has you covered with everything you need to disguise presents with pizazz, and maybe even play a holiday prank or two using ideas from our Facebook page, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram!

A Carry-On Christmas: Travel-Friendly Gifts That Pack a Punch, Not Your Luggage

A Carry-On Christmas: Travel-Friendly Gifts That Pack a Punch, Not Your Luggage

“Above the river and over the woods, to Grandmother’s house I’ll fly…” I can’t help but laugh at my own goofy rendition of the familiar holiday tune, all the while puzzling on how I can possibly fit everything I’d love to gift my family into my carry-on suitcase—without needing to oust my favorite outfit of worn-in jeans and a cozy flannel top.

Then it dawns on me. I don’t need to forgo my fireside comfies, nor will I have to check an enormous suitcase for an astronomical baggage fee. I just need to think a little outside the box—the gift box, that is—and I’ll have no problem fitting all my Christmas presents into the overhead compartment this year.

Big Things Can Travel in Small Suitcases

There are some petite, yet meaningful presents that can be tucked under rolled-up socks and folded tees—and I made sure to use every square inch of my carry-on to squeeze in as much Christmas cheer as possible, no matter the size of the parcel.

My sister-in-law will love her delicate, raw Aquamarine pendant necklace that matches a bracelet she dons at every holiday event—and this gift fit right into my purse for safe keeping on the flight. She definitely deserves a little sparkle for putting up with my brother and their busy brood all year.

raw aquamarine necklace
Sparkling Aquamarine adornments | Image courtesy Etsy seller AbizaJewelry

And, speaking of busy broods, Grandma will rave for months over the personalized photo book I had printed for her and Grandpa featuring all the antics our family has gotten into over the years. After searching photo bins stashed in closets and filtering through files on PCs, my siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles all emailed me their favorites family photos, along with explanations of the memories so I could properly caption each one.

Once I had the photos assembled, I:

  1. Meticulously sorted the pictures in chronological order, giving each of Grandma’s kids their own section to show off their own branch of the family tree.
  2. Uploaded the photos to an online photo shop where they were automatically filled into a beautiful template, arranged precisely how I wanted them—complete with silly inside jokes and family quotes.
  3. Finalized the order and, in about a week, had a gorgeously bound, but not bulky, photo book to lovingly wrap and tuck into my suitcase.

Lots of reminiscing will ensue as the family looks through the photo book on Christmas day between sips of eggnog and nibbles of turkey. I know I can’t wait to hear Grandpa retell the tale behind a picture of my cousin Aaron and me as children, caught climbing shelves in Grandma’s pantry, the ground covered in flour and cereal crumbs.  

Experiences That Last Long After the Return Flight

Living a couple states away means I don’t get to share in my family’s day-to-day lives, but that doesn’t mean I can’t always be there in spirit. A gift certificate for a new experience allows me to be part of an exciting adventure—even when I’m a plane ride away.

online photography class
Picture perfect photog supplies | Image courtesy Amazon seller Creative Live

Given his flair for adventure that’s continued well past our flour-coated, pantry-climbing days of old, I made sure to get Aaron a gift that would appease his inner adrenaline junkie. With a certificate for a rock climbing excursion, he can pick out his next climbing feat, and I know when he books that adventure he’ll think back to the pantry scaling we did together as kids.

Aaron’s wild ways are (usually) kept in check by his wife, who prefers calm crafting projects to daredevil outings, so, to soothe her nerves after his thrill-seeking endeavors, I bought her a certificate to a local spa, including a facial and 90-minute massage. That way, she can unwind and take a few deep breaths after Aaron returns safely from his climb.

And then there’s my Uncle Bill, who’s tinkered with his old cameras for years and has really developed a knack for capturing the perfect picture. Last year, one of his beloved cameras broke and, while he keeps it on display in his office, I happen to know that Aunt Helen upgraded him this year to a digital Nikon so he can get back to documenting life via his photographs. He loves learning about lighting techniques and which angles are ideal for each shot, so the gift of an online photography course will keep him up-to-date on the latest tricks of the trade.

Subscriptions Boxes Bring Christmas Joy Year Round

felt doll diy kit
Cute felt doll DIY kit | Image courtesy Etsy seller DelilahIris

Whether it’s photography, crafting, or collecting, everyone has a hobby that delights them. The gift of a subscription box means I get to inspire that joy multiple times throughout the upcoming year!

My sister, a true bookworm, will squirm with delight when gifted a subscription box of a monthly vintage read, with little extras like handmade bookmarks, cards, and a sweet treat of candy from the year the featured book was published. I think I’ve finally found a way to give her book stack a chance against her nightly binge-reading sessions!

Little Sis isn’t the only one that gets to revel in happy monthly mailings, though. Even the fluffy pomeranian pooch my Mom adores will get spoiled by goodies, pampered with a monthly gourmet dog treat box—I’m sure my Mom will be as tickled as her precious fur baby each month.

Memberships That Carry on the Cheer

As I readily check family off my list, I come to the pair that keeps me challenged, but, this year, I have the perfect present in mind. Since Dad is forever traveling for work, and Mom typically tags along to lounge at the hotel or nearby shops during his meetings, I thought of a way to make their trips a bit more luxurious and relaxing.

By getting my parents a membership for lower rates and exclusive upgrades on luxury hotels, each business trip they take next year will feel more like a vacation! They’ll be thanking me until next Christmas—it’s truly a gift that keeps on giving and a total parent present win!

Presents That Make the Trip Before Takeoff

Now that I have nearly everyone covered, with room to spare for my pair of sparkly holiday heels, there are just a couple more pint-sized members of my family I just have to go big for: my nephews Zachary and Zander. So, with a little heads up to my Sister-in-law to watch for the delivery guy, I made sure to order and ship their oversized gifts ahead of my arrival.

upgraded hotel room
Enjoying the suite view | Courtesy flick’r user Roderick Eime,Traveloscopy

Express shipping, and a little sneaky communicating with their mom, enables me to send the boys toys featuring their current character obsessions: a Mickey Mouse ride-on toy for Zack and a Thomas the Train Engine one for little Zander. I’ll wrap them up when I land, and they’ll never know the packages arrived before their auntie did.

It’s my favorite thing about the holidays, to leave lasting smiles on the faces of those I love well into the new year, so I went for gifts that make big impressions without taking up huge chunks of real estate in my luggage.

No matter if I am coming around the mountain—or flying over it—I know that when I reach my destination, singing my own merry little remix, I’ll be loaded up with plenty of Christmas cheer to share with all those I hold dear.

Trying to pack your suitcase with the perfect gift for everyone on your list? Let the Elves help you arrive prepared with our Christmas Gift Guides! Travel over to our Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram for tons of inspiration to carry with you this holiday season.

A Gift in Itself: Easy Eco-Friendly Christmas Wrapping Ideas

A Gift in Itself: Easy Eco-Friendly Christmas Wrapping Ideas

Red fabric wrapping paper
Reusable fabric gift wrapping | Image courtesy Etsy seller happywrap

As a child, Christmas was full of magic. I loved the gifts, the food, being with family—and collecting leftover wrapping paper at the end of all the festivities. I always asked my family and friends to unwrap their presents carefully so I could save the paper. Then, I’d spend long, winter hours indoors turning the sparkly, colorful, crinkly scraps into art projects.

Years later, I still love crafts and DIY, but I’m also more conscious about how wrapping paper affects the environment: it’s difficult to recycle because it contains glitter or foil, as do many cards, ribbons, and gift decorations. Fortunately, I’ve found plenty of eco-friendly alternatives to gift wrap, and, when wrapping can be reused, it becomes a gift in itself.

Fabric Is the New Paper

One of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received was a set of baking items—large spoons, a spatula, a silicon brush—all tied together with a bright red kitchen towel. As an avid baker, I loved that the towel was a functional part of the gift—and matched my kitchen perfectly.

pink knit shawl
Wrap it in wool | Image courtesy Etsy seller woolpleasure

Scarves, kitchen towels, and even shawls, can be used as earth-friendly alternatives to wrapping paper. You don’t need a special technique either: just wrap gifts as you would using paper, but fasten loose ends with safety pins instead of tape. And, for bonus points, use a scarf with fabric that complements the gift. For a grown-up Harry Potter fan, for instance, wrap a copy of The Cursed Child in a scarf printed with the Marauder’s Map.

I always buy my mother a new diary for Christmas, and, this year, I paired it with a novel (for some writing inspiration), then wrapped it in a knit shawl to keep her toasty warm while she reads in her favorite armchair. As a queen of resourcefulness, I know my mother will appreciate not only the inventiveness, but functionality, of my wrapping!

Replace Your Ribbons

For Kylie, my dear friend and fashion aficionado, I ordered a handmade jewelry box from a local woodshop. The woodworker unexpectedly gift wrapped it for me in recyclable, but simple, brown kraft paper, so I added a beaded wrap-around choker for flair.

The wrap-around choker trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As a ribbon detractor (it tears easily, it’s hard to reuse, and it’s even harder to recycle), I’ve started replacing it on all my gifts with a wrap-around choker—and a cute, handwritten tag telling my giftee how to wear it.

Fabric ribbons are another great eco-friendly option—and can come in any color, pattern, or style you can dream up (or pick up at your local fabric shop). They can be reused in many ways, from vintage-style headbands to bows for wreaths, and they’re easy to store, so you keep several on hand for use again and again.

Leather wrap necklace
A wrap necklace to replace your ribbon | Image courtesy Etsy seller EvitaMiaDesigns

To make your own fabric ribbon, start with a couple yards or so of fabric—this is a great way to destash some old fabrics if you’re a crafter! Then, follow these simple steps:

  1. Snip fabric on either side of the selvage line using fabric scissors.
  2. Gently tear off the selvage on both sides of your fabric, leaving a raw edge.
  3. Snip across the top of the fabric, every 2” or so depending on your desired ribbon width.
  4. Finally, gently tear strips of fabric, using the spots you snipped as your guide. Et voilà! Fabric ribbon!

Practical and Reusable Gift Receptacles

fabric jar toppers
Fabric scraps are reused as wrapping | Image courtesy Etsy seller BelleByJessi

I’m a huge fan of giving multiple small gifts instead of one large one—it shows how much you really know someone and all the small things they enjoy. If you’re a multi-gifter as well, mason jars, coffee flasks, and large water bottles are all reusable items ideal for housing a mish-mash of gifts.

For Christmas last year, I gave my sister a large, fancy water bottle filled with nail polish, socks, candy, lip balm, a small tube of hand cream, and some costume jewelry. What made it really exciting was that the water bottle was clear, so she got a little sneak peek at her gifts, building her excitement until she could open the bottle up and fully appreciate them all.

If you really want to go the extra mile, get an inspirational or humorous water bottle, or personalize a store-bought one with Sharpies. You can also customize jar lids with fabric scraps, or get really crafty and decoupage a coffee flask. Just remember that the container needs to have a wide neck so you can get the items in and out!

Any Bag Can Be a Gift Bag

I have a drawer full of the gift bags I’ve collected over the years. When I don’t have time to wrap a present, I often grab one and go. Sure, gift bags are easier to reuse than wrapping paper, but they’re just as hard on the environment. Most importantly, they lack a personal touch, which is really what makes a gift spectacular, right?

fabric bags used as gift wrap
Festive bags that are reusable and durable | Image courtesy Etsy seller sweetcitrushome

With some imagination, any bag can become a creative alternative to a gift bag. Canvas totes give a modern, rustic vibe, and often don’t cost any more than a standard gift bag. And who couldn’t use another grab-and-go tote around their house?

To add that personal touch, pick up some fabric paint and stencils at your local craft store and go to town. Just make sure to plan ahead—fabric paint can take up to 48 hours or longer to dry.

You can also buy premade, but equally crafty, fabric gift bags online. They’re designed similarly to duffle bags, with a pull string at the opening, meaning they can be reused as a gift, laundry, or book bag. The flexible shape makes them my go-to for unusually-shaped items. Plus, some online stores will even let you order a bag in a custom design.

For a friend of mine who loves wine, I filled a quirky, clear ice cooler bag with small gifts, similar to the water bottle idea. As someone who loves wine, I really appreciate the wine ice cooler bags—they’re lightweight, come in many beautiful designs, and can be reused to keep wine chilled. My friend and I both live in the southern hemisphere where summer peaks around Christmas Day—it’s the perfect time to bring out an ice-cold bottle of Chardonnay!

We often say that the beauty of Christmas is in giving gifts, not receiving them. This year, we can give back to nature, as well as our loved ones, by wrapping gifts in an earth-friendly way, without compromising on personality or style. Sounds like a win-win to me!

For more eco-friendly gifting inspirations, peruse our Wellness Gift Guide and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on twitter @elfster.

A Sneaky Elf’s Guide to Hosting an Anonymous Secret Santa Office Gift Exchange with Coworkers

A Sneaky Elf’s Guide to Hosting an Anonymous Secret Santa Office Gift Exchange with Coworkers

Godiva chocolate gift box
A scrumptious gift box of chocolates | Image courtesy Amazon seller GODVIA Chocolatier

This time last year, I had just started in a new department at work. Along with my orientation package came an invitation to participate in the office Secret Santa gift exchange. I was hesitant because I didn’t actually know anyone in my new office, but my boss encouraged me to take part—and I’m so glad I did! This fun office tradition truly helped me become a part of the team.

On the day of the gift exchange, I arrived at work and found a beautiful notepad, cute mug, and delicious box of chocolates waiting on my desk. I was delighted with such a thoughtful gift—what a great way to start the work day! My anonymous gifter must have noticed my love of fancy stationery, and dependence on the office coffee machine.

The thoughtfulness of the gifts gave me such a sense of being welcomed and accepted in my new role in the company, despite the fact I had absolutely no idea who gave it to me! I loved that added bit of mystery, and the fun of trying to figure out just who my Secret Santa really was.

So, to bring merriment and mystery to your own colleagues, I offer these four simple steps we use at my own workplace:

Step 1: Make Sure Name’s Are Top Secret

christmas wrapping paper
Image flick’r user Hade2K

The whole point of Secret Santa gifting is just that—to keep it a secret. I love spending the few weeks leading up to the gift exchange wondering who’s busy putting together a gift for whom. There’s a giddiness that takes over the office when we all receive a name of a coworker and start planning out their gifts. Everyone’s excited and, as hard as it is to keep our lips sealed, we know it’ll be worth it in the end.

In order to keep our Secret Santa truly anonymous, my office utilizes an online Secret Santa tool that distributes the names for you. Bonus: the online system has the master list of names in case someone, like my forgetful co-worker Laurel, forgets who her recipient is.

Step 2: Put Your (Sneaky) Elf Hat On

Here comes the fun part: “Operation Undercover Christmas.” You get to put on your elf hat and covertly find out exactly what your coworker would most love to receive for Christmas.

designer notebooks
Designer pocket notebooks | Image courtesy Amazon seller B-THERE

Here are a few great ways to get into spy mode:

  • Dig into their wish list: Many online gift exchange services will offer the extremely helpful option of having participants fill out a wish list. This was a lifesaver for me last year because I was new in the office and had no idea what my coworker Bryan, whose name I drew, would most enjoy. From his wish list, I learned that he was a huge coffee lover—something we definitely had in common.
  • Try to learn about their interests in casual conversation: This approach is a bit trickier, and should only be reserved for the sneakiest of elves, because, if you mess up, you could be found out! Luckily, I had a good “in” with Bryan. Upon learning we were both coffee lovers, I made it a habit to join him for a mid-morning coffee break, and we’d talk while the pot brewed. During these chats, I learned that Bryan and his family were gearing up for a tropical getaway over the holidays—information that came in handy later.
  • Do an office stake-out: But… make sure to keep your elf ears pointed up so you don’t get caught! Last year, I think my Secret Santa swung by my desk and noticed that I was using a boring company mug from the staff kitchen for my many, many cups of joe. They probably also laughed at the fact that all of my training notes were written on post-its, and realized that I could desperately benefit from a real notebook.
  • Gather intel: If you’re still stuck for gift ideas, it’s time to take your mission to the next level and bring in some reinforcements—it takes more than one elf to keep the toy shop running! So, ask around. If you don’t know your recipient well, but have some friends in common, covertly get their take on what would make a great gift. Throw them off the scent by getting gift recommendations for a few co-workers, not just your recipient. That way, you’re still able to maintain an air of mystery.

Step 3: Don’t Let Little Details Blow Your Cover

a self stirring mug
A fun gift mug | Image courtesy Amazon seller OliaDesign

By this point, I had the perfect gift all ready to go for Bryan, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t give anything away in the final stretch. I picked a unique way to wrap his gift using a map of the Caribbean island where Bryan and his family would be spending the holidays. I was sure he would enjoy the extra effort, and that the map of his vacation island would have him dreaming of sandy beaches and blue waves.

But, I didn’t want Bryan to catch me walking into work with wrapping paper he would later recognize on his gift. So, I made sure to hide the present in a plain bag so he wouldn’t suspect a thing as I dashed to my desk.

While I was pretty sure Bryan wouldn’t be able to recognize my handwriting, I didn’t want to take any chances. To keep things super secret, I typed up my card and was sure to keep my name off of it so even once he’d opened his gift, he would still be clueless that I was the one behind it. Adding a few extra steps to make sure the gifting stays secret is definitely worth the effort!

Step 4: Successful Delivery Should Be Followed by a Festive Fête

Luckily, last year my Secret Santa got to work before I did and was able to drop a gift on my desk anonymously. Or, if you’re one of the last ones at the office, you could leave your gift the night before to be found in the morning.

Every party needs a gingerbread house | Image courtesy Amazon seller Wilton Enterprises
Every party needs a gingerbread house | Image courtesy Amazon seller Wilton Enterprises

However, my boss had an even better option for this year’s Secret Santa. She renamed our meeting room “Under the Christmas Tree” and even went so far as to cover the table in a tree skirt. Instead of trying to drop off our gifts to our coworkers’ desks directly, we’ll bring them to the meeting room throughout the day, leaving the wrapped presents on the table. That way, they won’t catch us in the act—or discover who their Secret Santa is. I can walk Bryan’s gift in the plain bag into the meeting room before taking it out of the bag, and he’ll never know it was me who brought it!

At the end of the day, we’ll all gather in the meeting room with the pile of anonymous presents waiting for us. I’m really excited about this idea because not only does it maintain the surprise, but it enables all of us to open our gifts together. My favorite part of Secret Santa is watching my giftee open their gift—and I can’t wait to share that experience with the rest of my colleagues.

Plus, since we’ll already be gathered up, we’re just a few snacks shy of an office party. So now our Secret Santa gift exchange is going to double as a mini office Christmas celebration. I’m helping to arrange a potluck of snacks and baked goods to be brought in, spending the afternoon decorating the meeting room, readying my festive playlist, and even bringing some gingerbread house kits.

Getting to know, and love, your coworkers is the true gift of playing Secret Santa—to find a new coffee break buddy in Bryan, or learn the recipe for Cassie’s scrumptious scones. So why not sip a little eggnog and chat with your office mates as you open anonymously gifted presents? Because a thoughtful gift becomes all the more meaningful when you get to spend time celebrating with the ones who gifted it to you.

Let us know how you’re keeping the “secret” in Secret Santa by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for extra inspiration, check out our Coworker Gift Guides.

Christmas Shopping Tips to Help Soothe Sensory Overload in Special Needs Kids

Christmas Shopping Tips to Help Soothe Sensory Overload in Special Needs Kids

Christmas shopping lists
A merry little Christmas list | Image courtesy Etsy seller
paperandplaydesign

Christmas music chimes through overhead speakers, brightly colored lights gleam in window displays, and vast aisles of decor offer an assortment of musical novelty toys all belting out carols like a dissonant choir. Rushed shoppers are out in droves, lined up at check-out counters. As their treasures beep across the scanners, I hear them chatting on cellphones, or yelling to a spouse to make a run for a forgotten item while they hold down a coveted place in line.

The sights and sounds of festive holiday shopping trips can overwhelm even the veteran shopper.  But, for my son and many others with special needs, it’s sensory chaos. Navigating this over-stimulating environment as a parent with a sensitive child is not for the weak of heart, but since a strong offense is the best defense, here is my plan of attack to survive the holiday bustle with my little one in tow.

1. Make a Shopping List with Goals Appropriate for Your Child’s Needs

mega baby blocks
Blocks for a baby brother | Image courtesy Amazon seller Mega Bloks

As the parent of a child on the Autism spectrum who struggles with sensory processing, shopping trips can vary from difficult to harrowing, even on our best days. But, I can help set my kid up for success by taking a little time to gameplan before we even leave the house. By understanding my child’s needs and triggers, there are certain steps I can take to make the most of our shopping experience. For instance, I know my son can only handle about an hour of shopping, and a maximum of two stores, before his anxiety kicks in, so we keep our goal simple—a present for dad and one for his little brother.

We’ve also recently started asking our family members to make their Christmas wish lists online—it’s a terrific way I can include my son in shopping by letting him help pick which wishes we set out to grant for our family and friends. Plus, everyone on our list gets a gift they’re certain to love.

Once we’ve decided on gift ideas, I print out pictures of the gifts we’re hunting for, whether it’s a new pair of indoor/outdoor slippers, a tackle box, and a fleece hoodie for dad, or a few bath toys and a building block set for little brother.

Having a visual really helps my son to focus on the task at hand, and makes it more like a scavenger hunt as we make our way through the stores. My boy thrives with clear transitions in place, not left to wonder what is next. Having objectives clearly spelled out gives my son’s busy mind the peace it needs to function amongst all the commotion of the bustling shops during the holiday season.

2. Manage the Variables in Your Control

kids lure kit
Kid’s fishing kit | Image courtesy Target

Although it may seem simple enough, keeping to stores where my son is familiar with the layout helps tremendously in maintaining calm during a holiday shopping trip. Being familiar with where we find certain departments, or where the restrooms are located, keeps my boy feeling in control of his surroundings—loud dancing penguin decorations add enough extra stimulation, he doesn’t need the added stress of navigating a new location.

Avoiding the busiest times of day, when holiday shopping mayhem is at its peak, also keeps my son from falling into a fight or flight mode. The majority of people tend to hit the stores from noon to 4pm weekdays and from noon to 6pm on the weekends, so shopping first thing in the morning or right after an early dinner means less foot traffic and noise. Every choice I make to control the number of potential triggers while out seeking Christmas gems helps to make the trip more enjoyable and safe for everyone involved.

3. Plan and Practice with Kids at Home

Before we even load up the car to get going, I take a few minutes to discuss our list and shopping plan with my son. Spending this time going over the items we’re searching for, and the order of our destinations, helps act as a transition for him, so he’s ready to face the tasks ahead. With the holiday crowds being a bit more to contend with than the norm, we may even act out a couple instances that might occur (such as people bumping into our cart or cutting in front of us in line) to offer suggestions as to how we can handle the situation, should it arise.

Offering signals, such as a tug on a coat sleeve or a code word to say when my son is feeling uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or even unsafe, gives him the tools he needs to feel a sense of order amongst the pandemonium of Christmas shopping. These practice runs can be invaluable to him when he is nearing a neurologically overloaded state and would not otherwise know how to communicate his feelings in the moment.

And, while we plan, we provide some extra motivation by having a reward for helping complete our shopping goals. We also come up with planned “pit stops” at some favorite store sections, such as the book department for my avid reader or choosing a fun pack of stickers in the crafting aisle, to give extra incentive to finish out the shopping trip with a smile.

4. Provide a Means to Recenter and Refocus When Senses Run High

christmas sticker book
Christmas stickers are a perfect reward | Image courtesy Target

Holiday shopping can cause a plethora of signals in my child’s brain that he can’t effectively process all at once—the sights, sounds, and scents surrounding him can cause a sensory traffic-jam that makes him want to just shut down. Sometimes, finding a bench near the back of a store to munch a quick treat, and cuddle a lovie from home, can act as a reset button when he’s nearing a melting point.

Fuel for the trip is a good idea in general, so having had a healthy meal before going shopping and keeping a snack handy keeps blood sugars balanced and serves as a positive distraction. Granola or protein bars are my son’s go-to snack of choice and are portable energy boosts for those need-a-break moments.

During our quiet pause for a snack is a perfect time to give him praise for all we’ve accomplished. Positive reinforcement is so important in children with sensory processing disorders since they are extremely prone to anxiety and depression when trying to work through hyperstimulation. To combat these negative feelings, we make sure our son knows just how proud of him we are, and that we realize the great effort he is making to help with our Christmas shopping. Our vote of confidence in him can really support him through this challenging task.

5. Get Away From Sensory Chaos and Go Digital If All Else Fails

Even the best-laid plans often go awry, and that’s okay. I can’t predict how each day will unfold, nor can I always guess exactly how an ever-changing environment will impact my son. Bearing this in mind, I always step out with the mindset that if it all gets to be too much for my child, I can arrange to shop alone at a later date.

When the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping is more than my little man can handle, I couldn’t be more grateful for the awesome resource of online shopping! Being able to sit at home with my son at ease, and feeling included in the decision making as he scrolls through gift options, makes my heart sing. Utilizing the wish lists we had our family and friends make online, we have the perfect gift for each person on our list, right at our fingertips. We can finish our shopping without fighting through crowds or risking hyperstimulation for my son.

One thing is certain, whether we prepare and then brave the Christmas rush, or we use the helpful tools available to us online, our whole family can get in on the fun of holiday shopping, without sensory overload, when we do a bit of careful planning and preparation.

Want to help your kids set up their own holiday wish lists and find wonderful ways to get your whole family in on the Christmas shopping this year? The elves are at your service! Check out our tutorials on YouTube to get you started with ease, and take advantage of the many ideas shared on Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster this holiday season!