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What Do You Get a High School Graduate: Trendy, Inexpensive Graduation Gift Ideas

What Do You Get a High School Graduate: Trendy, Inexpensive Graduation Gift Ideas

inexpensive high school graduation gift ideas

The first time I felt like I had really and truly become a part of my husband’s family was when my mother-in-law gifted us with a family heirloom—a beautiful quilt painstakingly sewn by her mother. I teared up, thinking of the hours of work that went into creating the quilt; it was like a connection between me, a novice quilter, and my husband’s grandmother, who I never got the chance to meet.

trendy graduation gift ideas
Celebrate your high school grad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Juan Ramos

I immediately ran to our room to spread the blanket on our bed. It was like a physical manifestation of a big hug, and I felt so loved and lucky that such a precious gift had been entrusted to us. Even though it didn’t cost any money, and even though I’ve been given flashier gifts in the past, it’s still one of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received.

So, what do you get a high school graduate for a congratulations gift? While they probably need things like a laundry bag and new textbooks, the best gifts for new grads are the ones that will give them a connection to home when they’re feeling a little lost amidst the uncertainty of their new lives. Sounds daunting, right? But one kid’s old blanket is another kid’s family treasure, so as long as you take their personality into account, coming up with meaningful, even inexpensive, high school graduation gift ideas for your newly minted adult (that will also look trendy and cool in their new dorm room) won’t actually be difficult at all.

Kitchen Gadgets for (Almost) College Students

One of my earliest memories of my mom is watching her wash a huge batch of chopped kale leaves in the sink, preparing to make a big pot of her special Portuguese kale soup. We were always in the kitchen together, my mom the head chef and I her assistant. As I got older, I would make family meals on my own from scratch, inviting my friends over to gab while I worked on turning out a big pan of cheesy lasagna or a tureen of chicken and dumplings.

recipe gift ideas for grads
Cooking up new friends | Image courtesy Etsy seller WoodburyDesignCo

Then I went to college. The dining hall at my school was fine, but I missed being able to do the cooking myself. And with my insane schedule, I often found myself sleeping when the dining hall was open, and famished when it was closed (but lacking the funds to go out for a meal).

Giving kitchen gadgets for college students isn’t just a way to make sure they’ll stay fed even when they sleep through dinner. It’s also an opportunity to give them a little taste of home, so they can recreate their favorite dishes in the comfort of their dorm room when they start feeling homesick. I guarantee it’ll make them popular with their dorm mates, too—anyone who’s turning out cheeseburgers or homemade soup at 2 am during midterms is bound to make a lot of new friends!

The best kitchen gadget gifts can be used for more than one thing. A slow cooker, for instance, can be used to cook up just about anything, from oatmeal to brownies, roast beef to baked potatoes. And an electric coffeemaker is a great survival tool for following the collegiate food pyramid: coffee at the bottom, followed by ramen in the middle, and the occasional hot dog at the top (both of which you can make in an auto-drip coffeemaker). To personalize the gift, consider this add-on: a cookbook from the family collection filled with the recipes they grew up eating.

Inexpensive, Design-Driven High School Graduation Gifts

dorm sweet dorm high school grad gift
Dorm Sweet Dorm | Image courtesy Etsy seller SisBoomBaa

I spent years decorating my childhood bedroom to reflect my style, taping Velvet Underground CD inserts above my bed and letting my friends write notes and sign their names on the small space of wall that was hidden when you opened the door (shh, don’t tell my mom). So when I got to college, I was definitely ready to put my decorating touch on the bare-bones, cinderblock-walled room I was sharing with a die-hard Mariah Carey fan.

First things first, great lighting to add a cozy glow to your kid’s dorm room will be a welcome alternative to the standard fluorescent lighting—and can be an inexpensive high school graduation gift. A desk and a floor lamp are pretty essential, and you can find all sorts of styles, from rose gold and glitter for a classic feminine style to a shade decked out with the logo of their favorite sports team.

Practical gifts, like washi tape for hanging pictures of the friends and family back home in a colorful way, a tech gift that helps them stay in touch with friends and family, and blackout curtains in a fashionable print (so kids can sleep through the day after staying up all night studying) may seem like no-frills presents, but your new high school grad will be seriously thankful that their room feels like a functional home away from home, and not just a temporary room they’re staying in while they focus on their studies. When the homesickness kicks in, they’ll feel better surrounded by comfort instead of the blank canvas they moved into at the beginning of the school year.

Family Mementos Are Trendy Vintage Dorm Room Decor

I remember going down to the basement one summer to look for some old pool toys when I stumbled upon a strange assortment of large, black CDs in a milk crate. I asked my parents what the strange discs were, and they explained to me that before cassette tapes and CDs, everyone listened to music on vinyl albums. Well, flash forward to the present and vinyl is back in a big way. I used to think it was really weird that my parents held onto their old record player and albums—I mean, music is digital, for Pete’s sake! But the joke’s on me because even I have a turntable of my own now so I can spin everything from novelty Christmas albums to the music of David Bowie.

retro high school graduation gift idea
Old is on trend | Image courtesy Etsy seller thelittlebikers

Look around your house and see if you have any similar vintage gems tucked away that could give your kid major bragging rights when they leave the nest for their new place. Everything old is new again—even Friends-themed parties and gifts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, so maybe that old poster you have in the basement could work as a present.

The gift could be a handmade quilt that’s been in the family for years (shabby-chic is very trendy), something cool like a record player, vintage sports team memorabilia, or a quirky vintage knick knack that can be a conversation starter for your child and their new dorm mates. So many family mementos could work as a trendy dorm room decor.

You know your kids best, so you’ll be able to pick something that has meaning attached—but it should also be something they’ll be proud to display in their new digs, too. If you aren’t sure what’s currently trending, just head to the local mall and browse the big box stores. Most of them will have back-to-school sections for new college students. Take a look there for inspiration to see if you have anything that could double as both stylish decor and a gift to remember home by.

When You Don’t Know What to Get Your High School Graduate, Gift Experience

The first time I spent a few nights away from home with no adult supervision wasn’t when I left for college, it was right after graduation. My parents had gotten together with some of my friends’ folks and chipped in to rent us a run-down cabin on a lake near our hometown as a post-graduation present. It wasn’t anything fancy, but nothing could take the place of the memories we made falling out of canoes, searching for constellations, and cooking dinner together on the rickety stove.

trip gift for grads
Experiences last forever | Image courtesy Unsplash user Ashim D’Silva

The gift of experience, if you don’t know what to get your high school graduate, will last forever, whether it’s a multi-day trip or an afternoon of fun to share with the close friends they’ll soon be leaving. Choosing something isn’t that hard—just think of things your kids already like doing with their friends, and then kick it up a notch or two. Music lover? Get them a few tickets to an upcoming concert or music festival. Outdoorsy types will be thrilled with everything needed for the perfect day hike: road trip money that covers gas and coffee, and a gift certificate for dinner once they make it down the mountain. A white-water rafting or paddleboarding adventure are perfect for water babies, and theater kids will be ecstatic to see a local production with their besties. You could even plan a fun day for your graduate to spend bonding with a beloved pet they’ll be leaving behind when the leave the nest. Those first few nights at college, they’ll be able to seek comfort in the memories of the time spent with their high school besties, and get inspired to meet new buds while at college, too.

Leaving for college wasn’t easy; I cried for a solid hour when I said goodbye to my best friend. But once I got to school and set up my new room (my roommate was very tolerant of the goth phase I was going through at the time, bless her Mariah Carey-loving heart), complete with pictures of my friends smiling down at me from the walls and a blanket crocheted by my aunt at the foot of my bed, I felt excited. This wasn’t the end of my old life, it was the beginning of something new—and my friends and family would always be there when I returned home.

The best way to get the perfect gift for your graduate isn’t flipping through a catalog, it’s thinking about what you really know about them and their interests, and finding the gift that fits them. Sometimes it’s as simple as an electric griddle so they can make pancakes on Sunday mornings just like at home, and sometimes it’s that vintage hockey pendant that’s been hanging on the wall of the family room their whole life. They’re not just dorm decorations, they’re a way for your graduate to stay connected to what matters most—home.

Brighten up any graduate’s special day with a little something from our Off to College Gift Guide. You can keep up with all things Elfster on Facebook, and don’t forget to visit us on Twitter @Elfster and Instagram @Elfstergram.

A Friends-Themed Party and Coffee Lovers Gift Swap to Brew up Some 90s Fun

A Friends-Themed Party and Coffee Lovers Gift Swap to Brew up Some 90s Fun

In the small New England town where I grew up, “great” coffee came from the local convenience store or Dunkin’ Donuts. I didn’t taste my first latte until I was in college, although I definitely pretended I knew what the mysterious milky espresso beverage was in front of my new friends. Until then, I had been convinced that the freeze-dried instant coffee granules my Papa drank were the epitome of chic. The only thing that clued me into a world of coffee I might be missing out on? Friends.

friends having coffee
A warm cuppa | Image courtesy Unsplash user Joshua Ness

Like all of the kids in our middle school, my sister and I were Friends obsessives, quoting our favorite funny lines from the show. The biggest revelation of the show, though, was that if you lived in The City, you got your coffee at a coffee house, and a fluorescent-lit temple of beige linoleum and packaged snack cakes where we were used to getting our (decaf) coffee fixes.

When I actually did up and move to The City, I was shocked to see that places like Central Perk really do exist—cozy coffee shops serving up lattes, single-origin brews, and the occasional muffin or scone, cozy couches and chairs for lingering over every last sip of your cappuccino or Americano strewn about the room. I fell in love with the coffee culture, buying a French press for my dorm room and begging my favorite cafe to grind the bags of artisanal beans I bought from them so I could have a great cup of joe while studying late into the night.

Luckily, a lot of my friends are caffeine junkies like me, and we usually sit at our favorite cafe mulling over the news of someone’s romantic exploits at least once a week. We’ve even got our own Gunther, a tattooed and pierced barista who is definitely more bark than bite (and probably has a crush on one of my friends, but don’t let him know that you know). As Friends portrayed, coffee and socializing just seem to naturally go together, so I decided to throw a themed party and coffee swap. Friends, friends, and coffee—it was like the glamorous yet silly adult life shown on the show I idolized as a kid was finally mine!

Which Friend Are You?

I felt a long chunk of my hair fall to the ground, the air filled with the snip, snip sound of a sure pair of shears. My stylist knew exactly what she was doing; she’d given “The Rachel” to hundreds of people in the past year. But as a 13-year-old, getting a haircut inspired by the most fashionable character on Friends was a groundbreaking rite of passage for me. Goodbye, pigtails! Now, I was a woman.

rachel monica mug
Besties for life | Image courtesy Etsy seller FranklyNoted

Well, not quite. I still had a maturity level that combined the cluelessness of Joey with the whiny sarcasm of Chandler, but at least I felt like I looked good. While I wouldn’t suggest anyone actually get their hair cut to look like a 90s sitcom star in order to attend your party (though I’d say that would earn an extra bag of coffee during the gift swap at the end of the night if they did), it’s always fun to dress up in character. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a pricey costume, though. Here are some Friends costume ideas so simple even Joey (or, better yet, Marcel the monkey) could pull one together.

Ross

  • Lots of hair gel, for that signature wet-look coiffure
  • A blazer, to look extra professorial
  • A dinosaur t-shirt to wear under the blazer, because Ross totally would

Phoebe

  • A long, hippie maxi dress, but with a turtleneck underneath (Phoebe loved her layers!)
  • Lots of chunky, mix matched jewelry—extra points for crystals, especially those with “healing” properties
  • A guitar, so you can serenade your friends with your own cover of “Smelly Cat” all night long
coffee art framed
Frame your love of coffee | Image courtesy Etsy seller STANLEYprintHOUSE

Gunther

  • The most colorful button down shirt you can find paired with a clashing tie
  • A platinum bald cap/wig combo to get that fuzzy-headed ‘do that Gunther always sported
  • A French press, because you’re serious about your coffee
  • Don’t forget to tuck a picture of Rachel in your wallet!

Chandler

  • An oversized bowling shirt because it seems like that’s all he owned
  • A pocket protector since you’ll need it for your job in, um, what exactly does Chandler do, anyway?
  • A couple of (candy) cigarettes hidden your wallet, just in case a craving strikes
  • Some gum, because gum is always “perfection”

Joey

  • The easiest costume of all: a roomy plaid button-down, jeans, and a meatball sub from the best Italian joint in town.

Now that you and your friends look like the cast of Friends, it’s time to get your coffee on.

Homemade Coffee Ice Cream Affogatos Add Childlike Fun

The first time I had a great cup of coffee, I…hated it. Back then I was used to drinking iced coffee year-round, loaded with cream and sugar thankyouverymuch. My first taste of a strong brew, an expensive single-origin pour over cup of coffee, shocked my palate.

ice cream coffee
Ice Cream + Espresso = LOVE | Image courtesy Etsy seller narinnatephotography

These days I’ll still drink a cup of joe from the drive through in emergencies, but I can tell the difference. It turns out that the good stuff is an acquired taste, but once you get used to it and can tell the difference between “good” bitterness and the over-roasted stuff, there’s no turning back.

A lot of my friends are the same way, but honestly? We can almost be too serious about our coffee. It’s just a drink, after all! So, for my party, I decided to try to take our passion from the serious realm of Ross to the fun zone with Joey, keeping a little of Monica’s culinary integrity in the mix for good measure.

My solution? Decadent affogatos, crafted from a simple homemade coffee ice cream made with coffee-infused whipped cream. You’ll want to save the ice cream recipe for your next Ice Cream Sandwich Day Party (and, no, that’s not a made up holiday). These affogatos are part after-school snack, part caffeine jolt, and just the thing to keep your party feeling more like the carefree Central Perk and less like Frasier’s Cafe Nervosa.

coffee and chicory
Shake things up with chicory-infused coffee | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGivingButterfly

The Ingredients:

  • 1 cup very coarsely ground dark roast coffee beans
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • A 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

The Ice Cream Directions:

  1. Pour the heavy cream over the coffee beans in an airtight container. Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.
  2. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.
  3. Use a stand mixer or electric beaters to whip the cream until peaks form.
  4. Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla to a large bowl. Fold in half of the coffee whipped cream; once incorporated, fold in the rest of the whipped cream.
  5. Transfer to the freezer. After 45 minutes to an hour, stir the mixture to break up any ice crystals that have formed. Freeze until firm, about 2 hours, stirring vigorously every half hour or so to keep the mixture smooth.

To make the affogatos, just add a scoop of ice cream to each cup. Top with a shot of espresso or strong coffee, then sprinkle with crushed amaretti cookies to serve. Now that you’re ready to settle in for a long day of relaxing (seriously, didn’t anyone on Friends have a job they had to be at in the morning…), it’s time for a gift swap.

A Yankee Swap That Makes Serious Coffee Lovers Smile

I may have become accustomed to getting a $5 coffee when I’m at a cute indie coffeehouse, but my small town, convenience store coffee roots still show when I try to bring myself to buy a whole bag of expensive beans. Coffee is an investment, and branching out can be kind of scary. I know a lot of my friends stick to getting the same roasts from the same coffee shops week after week, but I thought hosting a coffee swap could help get us all out of our ruts.

We’d done a coffee mug gift exchange before, but this one would be all about the drink itself. All we had to do was buy a bag of our favorite beans, wrap them, and get ready to enjoy something new in return. You can even use an online gift exchange site to organize everything, so you can keep your focus on the fun, not on setting up the swap. To throw a coffee gift swap:

  1. Buy your coffee: Every person should buy a bag of whole bean coffee in the $12-$20 range. Extra points for those who choose beans from a local coffee roaster!
  2. Wrap the beans: In a Yankee swap, part of the fun is in the mystery.
  3. Set them out: Place all of the wrapped gifts in a pile on your coffee table.
  4. Draw a number: Have everyone draw numbers from a hat. The lowest number gets to go first.
  5. Choose a gift: The first person should choose a wrapped gift from the pile and open it.
  6. Make a choice: The second person then gets to decide if they want to keep the coffee beans the first person opened, or choose an unwrapped gift. If they choose a new gift, they then unwrap it. If they decide to take the gift of the first person, the first person then picks another unwrapped gift from the pile.
  7. Keep going: As the game continues, each player chooses to either select an unwrapped gift or to take one of the already opened gifts from another player.
  8. The final turn: Once everyone has taken their turn, the person who drew #1 gets to make their final decision to keep the coffee beans they have or to swap for someone else’s.
coffee bean club
You can even subscribe to coffee | Image courtesy Etsy seller DriftawayCoffee

A Yankee Swap works really well for coffee because unlike a traditional game of Secret Santa, where everyone opens their gifts at the same time, each item is opened individually, giving the person unwrapping the gift time to tell the whole group about that bag of beans, from country of origin to the dominant flavor notes. And once everyone hears about the beans, the game gets more exciting as people try to swap for the coffee that suits their preferences. I know I can be pretty cutthroat if it puts me closer to a bag of Ethiopian single origin beans!

Even though my friends and I are serious about coffee, we can still have fun with it. While a typical tasting party brings out everyone’s egos (because everyone wants to prove they can discern the origin of a certain brew even while blindfolded), a Yankee Swap keeps things lighthearted; the whole point is that we all get to try something new, to feel like beginners again.

Friends always had that balance. Sure, Monica was living in a palace that would cost millions in real life and Rachel had a job as a fashion buyer for one of the ritziest department stores in the country, but even though they led glamorous city lives on the surface, at the end of the day they were still getting their heads stuck in turkeys on Thanksgiving and disagreeing over the definition of “a break.”

Friends reminds my buddies and me not to take ourselves too seriously, whether that means having some fun with our passion for coffee so we don’t become grumpy like Gunther or hosting parties that are more about Friends than foie gras. After all, at the end of the day it’s not about the coffee—it’s about the people sharing the cozy cafe couch with you day in and day out.

Make every cup o’ joe more special by checking out Elfster’s Coffee Mugs Gift Guide. You can stay up-to-date with all things elvish on Facebook, and don’t forget to check in with us on Twitter @Elfster and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Artful Just-In-Case Gifts to Keep around the House for Creative Birthday Gift Ideas

Artful Just-In-Case Gifts to Keep around the House for Creative Birthday Gift Ideas

I’m in elementary school and opening the hallway closet in my childhood home, which can mean only one thing—it’s time for a birthday party! The hallway closet is a magical place, stuffed to the brim with colorful wrapping paper, bows of all colors, gift bags, and the most glorious bounty of them all: a neatly stacked pile of white boxes, each holding a miniature porcelain doll.

handmade crayons
Kids can never have too many crayons | Image courtesy Etsy seller BeeLovelyBotanicals

The dolls are presents waiting to be selected, wrapped, and given as a gift to one of my friends on their birthday. Every year my mom would stock up, buying ten or so of the dolls for celebrations, choosing a different colored dress each year so none of my friends would ever be disappointed by a repeat.

When I was a kid, dolls were de rigueur, but these days I try to keep more stimulating, creative gifts on hand for kids; I’m always excited when my children are given toys that require active participation. When they give out presents and birthday gifts, I want to make sure what they’re gifting is interactive and inspirational. I also like to keep gender-neutral toys that aren’t blue or pink on hand so I can give them to any kiddo regardless of their gender expression—and don’t have to stock up on two colors of every item.

Now that I have my own gift closet full of artistically-stimulating toys, when celebrations come knocking, my kids and I just swing open the door and pluck out a present that is sure to encourage creativity and personal expression, no frantic trip to the store required.

Choosing Gifts That Inspire Expression

For kids, toys are tools. When my daughter was a baby, you could just see the wheels spinning in her mind every time she lifted her favorite popsicle rattle and tried to put it in her mouth. Her first toys taught her the basics, from motor skills to spatial reasoning. Older now, she and her brother both use toys to express themselves, whether that means inventing new worlds in their head while they play with action figures or laying their imaginations out on paper with the help of some paint.

ice cream rattles
Rattles instrumental in baby’s development | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheFoxintheAttic

I was forever breaking crayons and running out of my favorite colors of paint when I was growing up, so when I got a present that refreshed my art supplies, I was ecstatic. I loved opening a present and finding a colorful array of crayons or colored pencils inside—and I can still remember the fresh, soothing scent of a brand new pad of drawing paper just waiting to be filled with color. It didn’t matter if it was something I already had, either, because I knew I would need a replacement sooner or later. And having a plethora of art supplies in the house means your kids can make their own gifts for other people as well.

I was also quite musical as a kid and loved getting new cassettes to play in my boombox (I know, that ages me…). My sister and I used to belt out Annie for hours on end, much to my parents’ chagrin. And, I got pretty good at the theme from Titanic on my elementary school band recorder before upgrading to the clarinet. Both physical art and music helped me work through my emotions growing up; as a shy, introverted kid who got nervous about parties, having these outlets helped me to express myself in a way I wasn’t necessarily comfortable doing through talking and social interaction alone.

Whether it’s sketching, singing, or making 3D versions of their favorite Minecraft designs, all kids have some sort of artsy outlet that lets them express their imaginations and inner selves. Keep a few of these toys in your gift closet so you always have last-minute presents that nurture hobbies and help little ones explore their most authentic selves:

For Miniature Monets

Ages 3-5

  • Finger paints, for a hands-on experience that promotes sensory development and imaginative expression
  • Play dough, for squishy sculpting fun
  • Coloring books, to help build motor and spatial skills
play dough for kids
Kids can sculpt or squish to their hearts’ content | Image courtesy Etsy seller BeeUtifullyOrganic

Ages 5-8

  • Pads of drawing and construction paper, blank slates for creative expression
  • Crayons (because what kid doesn’t always need more?)
  • Art supplies with a twist, like scented markers, glitter stamp pads, and watercolor pencils
  • Modeling clay, so they can bring their imaginations into the third dimension

Ages 8-12

  • How-To drawing and painting books, so they can start to hone their craft
  • Acrylic paints and small canvases, to upgrade their art
  • Professional-level drawing pencils and erasers, so they can keep their art supplies separate from school supplies

 

For Mozarts in the Making

recorders for kids music
Recorders are the perfect first instrument | Image courtesy Amazon

Ages 3-5

  • Egg shakers, so they can learn to keep a rhythm
  • Tambourines, to jingle and jangle along with their favorite songs

Ages 5-8

  • Drumsticks, so they can turn any surface into their own personal instrument
  • A recorder and song book, so they can learn how to play
  • A harmonica, so they can let out their blues

Ages 8-12

  • Earbuds, so they can listen to their favorite tunes on their personal music players
  • Gift certificates to purchase their favorite songs and ringtones online
  • Bluetooth speakers, so they can listen to music even on the go

A Birthday Present Gift Swap

While my mom preferred to buy one gift item in bulk and give it to all of our friends over the course of the year, I like to have a wider variety on hand to give to my kids’ friends so that even last-minute presents can feel personal. But I’ve never wanted to have to spend a lot of time picking out a variety of gifts, so for the past couple of years my friends and I have taken turns hosting gift swap parties where the gifts are presents for other people, usually our kids and their friends.

flutter dance toys
Fluttering dance ribbons encourage movement | Image courtesy Etsy seller MamaMayI

Everyone has a different idea about what it means to be creative, which makes throwing a just-in-case gift swap party such a great way to add variety to your stockpile of presents. I might hear creative and think “art supplies,” but a friend might think, “Ribbon dancer! Finger puppets! Puzzles!” Even if your group has a lot in common, it’s surprising to see the different ways in which everyone’s minds work!

To throw a gift swap that will help my friends and I add variety to our present stashes, I tell everyone invited to bring enough of one gift for each person in attendance. To make sure that things don’t get too confusing, we track everything on an online gift exchange website, which helps us all stay on the same page. I always set a price limit since people can get carried away when they’re shopping for kids! I find $10 per item works for most people, and also give recipients a theme, like “gifts to inspire creativity.”

At the party, each person gives one of their gifts to everyone in attendance, and receives one gift from each person in return. At the end of the party, everyone goes home with a new batch of creatively inspired presents to stash away until a special occasion arises. It’s so much more fun than wandering cluelessly through the aisles of a store on your own!

These days, whether it’s a pack of crayons and a pad of construction paper, or a tambourine and set of bells, I feel great knowing that the gifts my kids give to their friends are going to help them express their imaginations and emotions through art. Even the sportiest and most science-minded kids need an outlet for their creative energy, and stocking up on gifts that will encourage their self-expression is the perfect way to make sure that your last-minute gifts are more than just toys, instead tools that will help them develop into well-rounded human beings.

Get more inspiring gift ideas for creative kids on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, don’t forget to check out our gift guides.

Wondrously Woodsy Birthday Party Favor Gift Bag Ideas for Nature Obsessed Kids

Wondrously Woodsy Birthday Party Favor Gift Bag Ideas for Nature Obsessed Kids

girl in flowers
The forest is a playground | Image courtesy Unsplash user Annie Spratt

My sister and I never loved the hot weather that comes with summer, so making tree forts in the cool shade of the forest was always our first project over long school vacations. But once we had each claimed our trees and made them feel like home (you can accomplish a surprising amount of interior design with leaves, sticks, twine, and a little imagination), we’d start exploring.

We discovered that when you peeled back the bark from a fallen log in the forest, it was like another world inside. Ants, potato bugs, and grubs were run of the mill, but we were the most delighted by the cute and curious little salamanders we’d find hidden in the logs. Looking for the little critters every day became our passion, our tree forts long forgotten as we abandoned the canopy for the forest floor. We even went to the pet store and got small plastic terrariums, filling them with pebbles, moss, stones—and live salamanders, of course. But my mother didn’t love the salamanders in the house and, after an incident where we turned the bathtub into a forest habitat, she made a “no creepy crawlies inside” rule.

Luckily, there was a work around. At my sister’s birthday party that August, we opened our party favor bags to find small plastic salamander figurines, colorful glass beads, and moss. We could keep making the terrariums we loved and, thanks to the toys in our gift bags, the salamanders could stay outdoors where they belonged.

I love throwing my kids parties that have a nature-based, interactive theme, giving little ones a link between the great outdoors and a fun celebration, sparking their imaginations to keep exploring the natural world around them long after the party is over. So, don’t fly off just yet! Explore these wild and woodsy birthday favor bags ideas that will have your nature lover bugging out.

Nature-Themed Birthday Party Favor Bag Inspirations

terrarium
With or without real salamanders, making terrariums is naturally fun | Image courtesy Etsy seller DayDreamsStudio

Growing up, if I wasn’t searching for salamanders in the forest, I was watching for hermit crabs down at the beach, leaving bundles of clover and baby carrots at the edge of my yard to attract rabbits, or mucking through the duck pond down the road to look for frogs and turtles. But not all kids love the crawlers and critters of the great outdoors. While my husband grew up exploring the mountains of Maine with his dad, and connected to nature that way, show him a salamander or a snake and he’ll start running, not making it them cozy terrarium.

If you’re throwing a verdant spring or nature-themed party, simplify things by choosing either flora or fauna as your focus. When you’re planning your decorations and party games, having the theme in mind will make your job a lot easier, and it can help you put together gift bags that tell a cohesive story as well.

Whether you have a “collecting earthworms after it rains” kid or a “pulling up the plants in the garden to see what their roots look like” youngster, these gift bag ideas will help any kiddo take a closer look at the wild world around them (Bonus hint: Use eco-friendly wrapping paper for an extra green party).

Cactus stickers
Stickers are the perfect way to help kids profess their plant love | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheCuriousCactus

A Bug Lover’s Bonanza

  • Plastic tweezers for picking up bugs (just because kids are interested in crawlers doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gung ho about touching them)
  • A miniature bug and insect coloring book, so they can draw the critters of their dreams
  • Plastic bug figurines, so they can investigate and play with insects in the house—without having to worry about any great escapes
  • Bug and insect stickers, so they can wear their passion on their sleeve
  • Use a small plastic terrarium instead of a traditional gift bag—kids can use it to house their latest finds or create elaborate homes for their new figurines

The Green Thumb Gang

  • A packet of quick-growing cat grass, or another plant that sprouts quickly, so you don’t test their patience too much
  • A small air plant to teach them that, even without soil, life finds a way (they’re easy to care for as well)
  • Stickers featuring a variety of plant life, so they can turn any surface into a garden
  • A custom coloring book featuring plants from your area (learn how to make a custom coloring book for extra DIY points)
  • Pack it all into a ceramic pot they can grow their seeds in

DIY Nature Walk Bingo

bug bingo
DIY or buy handmade | Image courtesy Etsy seller crazyfoxpaper

Getting a group of kids together, feeding them sugar, then locking them up indoors can lead to some interesting situations—just ask me about the chocolate cake stain on my dining room ceiling, I dare you. I’ve learned from experience that outdoor activities are essential when it comes to helping kids burn off all the energy of a fun event full of cake and ice cream.

Nature walks can be a calming experience, but to keep kids’ attentions and excitement levels up during a party, I like to make nature walks into a game. Including an easy DIY nature bingo card in each party favor bag turns outdoor exploration into an exciting challenge. Here’s how you can create your own nature bingo cards:

  1. Using a ruler and pencil, or on your computer, draw a graph of three squares by three squares, so you have a grid of 9 squares total.
  2. In each square of the graph, write the name of an insect, animal, plant, or other natural elements that can be found wherever you’ll be taking your nature walk. For younger kids who are still learning to read, you can include an image to make things easier, either hand drawn if you’re the artsy type, or printed from the computer.
  3. Print out, or make copies, of the bingo board on cardstock. You’ll need one for each party guest. You can make each board the same (which will make things a little easier on you), or switch up the squares so the game is a little more exciting.
  4. Place a bingo board in each party favor bag.
nature kid
Give gifts that help kids take a close-up look at nature | Image courtesy Unsplash user Simon Schmitt

When you’re ready to play, you can either take the kiddos on a guided nature walk or chaperone them as they go out into your yard. Kids should poke around, searching out the objects on their board and checking them off as they find them.

If you like to keep things competitive, award the first kid to complete their board with a prize, or you can give one to each child as they fill out a row completely. I like to offer prizes like magnifying glasses and inexpensive binoculars so they can continue to explore the world around them.

When the party’s over, kids still have their gift bags to dig into. It’s always fun to take time to get down in the dirt and see things from a kid’s point of view. Thanks to the nature walk and party favor gift bags, you’re encouraging them to keep exploring the world around them without even realizing that they’re learning as they have fun.

At your next party, skip the flimsy filler party favor toys and go for something substantial, whether it’s wildflower seeds that teach kids how to nurture and care for new plant life or a magnifying glass that lets them take a closer look at the wild world of insects surrounding their own home. You never know how big of an impact taking time to teach kids about nature will have. Maybe you’ll inspire a whole new generation of amateur salamander scientists.

For more inspiring eco-friendly party ideas, take a look at our Green Thumb gift guide or connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on twitter @Elfster.

Egg-cellent Easter Basket Ideas for Tweens (Because the Easter Bunny Loves Hip Hop)

Egg-cellent Easter Basket Ideas for Tweens (Because the Easter Bunny Loves Hip Hop)

easter bunny basket
This Easter, make things memorable for your tween | Image courtesy Darren Coleshill via Unsplash

I still don’t know how the Easter Bunny managed to disappear without a trace every year before my sister and I could spot him. As girls, we would eagerly wait for him to ring our doorbell and leave our baskets on the porch. The problem was, he always surprised us by dropping our goodies at a different entrance than the one we were waiting at. Whatever sort of bunny magic he used to trick us, I’ll never forget the excitement of running to the door and throwing it open to try to catch even a glimpse of his fluffy tail bounding out of sight.

My basket was always bursting with milk chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, a homemade treat or two, and neon Easter grass, but there were also other surprises every year. Fun masks for playing pretend, chapter books and bookmarks, art and craft supplies. I went wild for the sweets, of course, but it was the small gifts that had staying power, especially as I got older and had enough pocket money to buy candy on my own.

Easter isn’t just “the candy holiday.” It was, and still is, an important time for my family to be together, and the personal touches inside my basket are what reminded me that my parents understood me and my passions in life. Creating an Easter basket for your tween isn’t hard. Keep their unique interests and hobbies in mind, all those little details that make up who they are, and they’ll know their basket was filled with so much more than just snacks and sweets.

Themed Baskets for Every Tween

I went through quite a few “phases” growing up. One year I was obsessed with The Little House on the Prairie, the next with The Babysitter’s Club. I wanted to be an actress, then a scientist, then a teacher. Whether your tween aspires to be a YouTube celebrity like Miranda Sings or a dance superstar like Maddie Ziegler, here are a few ideas that will make the Easter Bunny seem pretty cool in their eyes.

baseball art
Hit a homerun with a sports-themed basket | Image courtesy Etsy seller ScarletBlvd

The Star Baseball Player

  • A water bottle from the Chicago cubs to inspire them to never give up on their own dreams
  • A new pair of baseball socks because between grass stains and growing pains, tweens go through socks faster than parents go through coffee
  • A travel-sized sunscreen for those spur of the moment games in the park with their friends
  • A stopwatch so they’re always prepared to go into training mode
  • A new baseball since they’re forever getting lost behind fences
  • Nestle it all in a baseball cap from their favorite team and you’ve hit one out of the park!

The Prima Ballerina

  • A ballerina figurine to remind them of their dreams
  • Hair clips and scrunchies to keep their hair tidy while they pirouette across the stage
  • A new pair of tights (those things run faster than the Easter Bunny trying to hide from my sister and me)
  • A personalized mix CD of inspirational dance music
  • Bundle the gifts inside a cozy sweatshirt they can wear over their leotard while warming up.

The Drama Club President

  • A funny, age appropriate play they can stage with their friends
  • Stage makeup, to practice for their next big performance
  • Costume accessories like fake mustaches, masks, and crowns to making getting into character just a little bit easier
  • A playbill or collectible from their favorite play, to remind them of the bright lights they’re aiming for
  • Tuck the gifts inside an empty movie theater popcorn box because one day they’ll be up on the big screen.

The Future Vet

dog pillow
Tweens can keep their furry bff close with this Boston terrier pillow | Image courtesy Etsy seller GoodAfternoonan
  • Animal stickers to decorate their school supplies with
  • Small toys they can use to play with their pets
  • Grooming tools for when they want to show their pet some extra TLC
  • A stuffed animal resembling their pet that they can snuggle with at night
  • Small plastic or porcelain animal figurines to decorate their desk at school
  • Place the gifts in a brand new water dish for their favorite animal.

The Bird Watcher

  • Birding binoculars so they can take a closer look at their feathered friends
  • A guidebook on birds in your area, so they can sharpen their knowledge
  • Seed bombs, so they can grow wildflowers to attract more birds to your yard
  • A window-mount bird feeder, so they can watch the birds from inside on rainy spring days
  • Choose a natural wood easter basket—it will look like a real bird’s nest!

The Book Worm

  • Bookmarks, so they never lose their place
  • Small chapter books, so they can go on adventures in their mind
  • A reading light for those nights when they just can’t put their book down
  • A pencil case to hold highlighters to mark their favorite passages
  • Stickers or collectible gear related to their favorite book series
  • Place the gifts inside a hollowed out book that can be used later to store all manner of small bookish treasures.

You only need to include a couple of gifts to make your Easter basket stand apart from the norm, whether you choose handmade self-care gifts for your girly girl or outer space-inspired bits and bobbles. It’s your thoughtfully creative packaging that will have them feeling the love.

DIY Customized Phone Cases: An Easter Gift Every Tween Will Relate To

I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was in college, but my 6-year-old niece uses her Grandma’s so much, it might as well be her own. She uses it to make videos of her cheerleading and gymnastics routines. Whether your tween wants to call up their friends for a spontaneous game of baseball or uses it to take pictures of a migrating yellow-rumped warbler at the bird bath, chances are they’re also attached to their smart device. Putting a custom case for their favorite phone in their Easter basket is a surefire way to keep them interested in the Easter Bunny for at least a few more years (and will keep that expensive little computer up and running for as long as possible too).

cell phone case
Help them show off who they are with a custom phone case | Image courtesy Etsy seller ElenaIllustration

To create your own custom phone or tablet case, you’ll need:

  • A clear case for the appropriate device
  • A printed out picture your tween will like (anything from celebrities to sports stars, book characters to cute animals—it depends on the tween!)
  • Mod Podge
  • A glue stick

To make the personalized case:

  1. Cut the picture to fit neatly inside the case. The images should be facing out, so when the case is on the device, you can see the pictures.
  2. Make sure your image isn’t covering any spaces cut out of the case that leave the camera and microphones clear.
  3. Add a thin layer of Mod Podge to the inside of the device case, then press your image, right side out, onto the Mod Podged surface. Use your fingers to press out any air bubbles.
  4. Wait until dry, then add a layer of Mod Podge to the back of your image. Let that dry before adding one final layer to seal it in.
  5. When the last layer of Mod Podge is dry, the case is ready to use.

Walking down store aisles decorated to the nines can make holidays seem commercialized and a little impersonal, but making your own Easter basket is one way to bring meaning back this time of family and renewal. It shows your tween that you “get” them, and the extra effort put forth won’t go unappreciated—even if it is the Easter Bunny who gets the accolades!

As an adult, it’s the books, small figurines, homemade treats, and other surprise gifts from my Easter basket that I remember, not the generic candy. It showed me that my parents—I mean, the Easter Bunny—wanted the day to be truly special. And I carry the tradition on by adding something personal to each gift I give as well.

If you want to make this Easter really magical, check out our Easter gifts for kids guide. You can stay up-to-date with all things Elfster on Facebook, and don’t forget to check in with us on Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram.

Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: National Nutrition Month Activities for Adults

Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: National Nutrition Month Activities for Adults

goldfish cracker tie
Image courtesy Etsy seller takeabowooo

I know that goldfish crackers aren’t an appropriate breakfast food, but try telling that to my preschooler. They’re also not meant to replace all three meals in a given day, but battling a 3-year-old’s logic at 7 a.m., noon, and again at dinnertime sometimes feels like a battle not worth fighting.

That’s why make ahead meals for busy moms— dishes that can be prepped on the weekend, then reheated throughout the week—have been such a lifesaver for my family. It’s a lot easier to say no to junk food when you have delicious, healthy choices at hand. It’s a constant juggling act to balance a nutritious diet with the realities of my family’s on-the-go lifestyle, but these national nutrition month ideas will help you kick each and every one of your weeks off to a delicious start.

Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings

Squeezing in a healthy meal every morning is a priority in my house. I know that a breakfast loaded with sugar is going to leave me and my little ones feeling bleary-eyed and hungry within an hour or two. It’s an endless cycle that’s too easy to get stuck in, especially for anyone who isn’t a morning person, myself included.

Thankfully, there are a lot of simple make ahead breakfasts you can prep on the weekends, then grab-and-go on weekday mornings. You’ll get the nutrients you need to make your days not only manageable, but enjoyable. These are the fast breakfasts my family loves—no culinary degree required:

hangry hand towel
This towel will remind you to eat breakfast | Image courtesy Etsy seller FrenchSilver
  • Whole wheat pancakes: Baking with whole grains can seem intimidating, and more nutritious than delicious, but these whole wheat pancakes are surprisingly easy and tasty. They use more baking powder than most pancake recipes, making them a little extra fluffy. We like to make them on the smaller side so they fit in the toaster oven for reheating. Make an extra batch or two if you serve them up for Sunday brunch, freezing them in a single layer before transferring them to a zip-top bag. They reheat in just a couple minutes and a smear of almond butter and some all-natural jam makes them nearly irresistible to kids.
  • Omelettes in a mug: Beat a dozen eggs together on Sunday, then store in an airtight container in the fridge. On weekday mornings, add a couple tablespoons of frozen mixed veggies to a mug. Microwave for 30 seconds, then add ¼ cup of the beaten egg mixture, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cheese. Microwave for another 30 to 60 seconds, or until the egg is fully cooked.
  • Overnight oats: We make overnight oats in mason jars with lids on the weekend, then grab one on our way out the door on busy mornings. The basic recipe is simple: add ½ a cup of oats, 2 tsps of chia seeds, and ¾ cups of milk to a mason jar, along with any spices, sweeteners, fruit, etc. that you fancy. For creamier oats, you can add a tablespoon or two of yogurt; for thinner oats, add more milk. Stir well, then cover. Overnight oats can be eaten cold, or you can microwave them for about a minute until they’re warm. Play with the flavors. Cocoa powder and some mini chocolate chips make for a sweet breakfast that’s still healthy; coconut flakes and sliced bananas are a tropical treat; and apple butter and cinnamon replicates a classic instant oatmeal flavor in a more nutritious way. It’s a surprisingly healthy choice that kids and adults will both devour.
  • Breakfast burritos: Find an easy breakfast burrito recipe you love, then make a batch to freeze. These can easily be microwaved in the mornings for a quick meal. I like making vegan breakfast burritos by “scrambling” some extra-firm tofu with onions, bell peppers, garlic, cumin, and turmeric, then adding the mixture to a tortilla with vegetarian refried beans and salsa. I’ve even added leftovers, everything from pot roast to barbecue pulled chicken, along with some scrambled eggs and cheese. You can use egg whites, extra veggies, and whole wheat tortillas for an even lighter option.
  • Healthier toaster pastries: I’m obsessed with toaster pastries, but they’re more of a treat than a proper breakfast. That’s why I love the idea of making them myself. Using a whole wheat pastry crust adds some complex carbs and fiber into the mix, and I can choose a filling that’s free from high-fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes, and added sugars. Kids are creatures of habit, so sometimes you have to compromise and these vegan toaster pastries are healthier than what you get at the store, but are still familiar enough that kids (and you) will chow down without a fight.

Grown-Up Lunches for On-the-Go

Before our kids came along, my husband and I were both putting in 70 hour work weeks, but we knew we couldn’t subsist on soggy deli sandwiches alone. A homemade meal wasn’t just healthier—it was also a pleasant mid-day reminder of life outside of work.

a grown up lunch box
You won’t forget your lunch at home ever again | Image courtesy Etsy seller BuboBoutique

Making meals in batches was the easiest way to keep well fed on our craziest of days. Just prepare enough veggies, grains, and protein for five weekday meals on the weekend, add them to air-tight plastic containers, then grab one on your way out the door for healthy lunches all week. These are our favorite meal prep lunches (served hot or cold):

  • Chicken fajita bowls: Fill containers with cooked brown rice, then top with fajita-seasoned grilled chicken and veggies. Add some salsa, hot sauce, or a sprinkle of cheese if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Teriyaki tofu bowls: Marinate cubed tofu in teriyaki sauce, then pan-fry until browned on all sides. Add to containers with soba noodles, microwave-in-bag stir fry veggies, a drizzle of sesame oil, and some sriracha.
  • Chicken pesto pasta bowls: Saute chicken, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with salt and pepper. Cook whole wheat pasta and toss with storebought pesto. Add pasta to containers, then top with the chicken-veggie mixture.
  • Tandoori chicken bowls: Marinate chicken in yogurt, garlic, ginger, and curry powder. Grill, then add to containers with brown rice and roasted broccoli.
  • Greek chicken bowls: Marinate chicken in balsamic dressing. Grill chicken, then add to containers with cooked bulgur wheat, chopped cucumbers, grape tomatoes, feta cheese, and a lemon wedge.

Assembly Line Lunches for Kids

kid friendly lunch box
Forget brown-bagging it with this creative lunchbox | Image courtesy Etsy seller ChampuChinito

I remember school lunches being full of highs and lows. 7-layer bars for dessert? I still dream about them. Mystery meat casserole? It made me jealous of the kids who remembered to pack a lunch! My kids are picky eaters, so they always bring a lunch from home. To save time in the mornings, we started assembly line lunches:

  1. Add a variety of fruits to one of the drawers in your fridge. Think easy-to-eat clementines and apples, or grapes you’ve portioned out ahead of time.
  2. Clear a spot in your fridge, and place two containers about the size of shoeboxes next to each other. Label one “sides” and the other “mains.”
  3. In the “sides” bin, add things like string cheese, yogurt, or individual packs of baby carrots.
  4. In the “mains” bin, add the “entrees.” These can be sandwiches, wraps, or tupperware containers filled with leftovers.
  5. Label an organizing bin “snacks,” and put it in an easy-to-reach spot on the counter. Add nonperishable snacks like packs of nuts, whole grain crackers, and fruit leathers.

In the morning, each kid just grabs one item from each container, along with a juice or milk box, and adds it to a lunch bag. It’s so much easier than having to sort through everything in the fridge or cupboard each morning!

Throwing a Meal Prep Party

I don’t want to miss out on weekend socializing just so I can prepare meals for the coming week each Sunday, and my best friend is in the same boat. We both love entertaining (Beauty and the Beast-themed dinner party, here we come!), so we decided to throw a slowcooker soup mix party. The idea was that everyone coming to the party would make enough of one slow-cooker soup mix recipe for themselves and each of the other guests. Then, we swap, each person going home with five different jars to keep in the pantry, each ready to throw in the slow-cooker on a busy morning for dinner that evening.

recipe cards
Custom recipe cards add creative flair | Image courtesy Etsy seller papersushi

We decided on soup mixes because they’re easy to make, full of healthy beans and veggies, and loved by kids and adults alike. And, dried beans cook up beautifully in the slow-cooker, meaning none of us would have to spend time fussing over the stove at the end of a long day. To throw your own soup mix party, set up a gift exchange online and have each guest mix up one of these recipes:

  1. Vegetarian Five Bean Soup Mix
  2. Southwestern Three Bean and Barley Soup Mix
  3. Rice and Lentil Soup Mix
  4. Split Pea Soup Mix
  5. Spicy Black Bean Soup Mix

All of the recipes are customizable—add cans of fire-roasted tomatoes to enrich the broth, stir in a splash of half and half at the end of cooking to make your soup creamy, throw in smoked ham hocks or smoked pork chops with the rest of the ingredients to add more umami, or spice to suit your personal preference.

We all left the party with five nights of meals, after only having to prepare one of the recipes at home—a pretty good trade-off, if you ask me! But, whether you make soup mixes or freezer meals, the real gift you’re giving one another is more time to enjoy the good things in life with your families.

It seems like everything in my life goes more a little more smoothly when I’m eating nutritious meals. It’s just a matter of making them a priority, and setting aside time on the weekends to prepare for a busy week ahead. My little one still has a thing for her Goldfish crackers, and I’ll snack on a bowl of sugar-coated cereal on special occasions, but in our everyday life, we’re eating more healthy foods, all because we’re taking the time to plan ahead.

What are your favorite meals to cook with your family? Let us know on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. For ideas on what to get the chef in your family, check out our kitchen gift guide.

 

Never Grow Up: A Peter Pan Inspired Read Across America Day Book Club Pajama Party

Never Grow Up: A Peter Pan Inspired Read Across America Day Book Club Pajama Party

“Think of the happiest things; it’s the same as having wings,” sings the television.

never, ever grow up
Never, ever grow up | Image courtesy Etsy seller PraisePrints

I’m five years old, watching my absolute favorite movie, Peter Pan. From the first time I saw Pan loop up into the sky, I wanted to be the one to fly with him to Neverland, stopping at Big Ben on the way before soaring into the stars straight on ‘til morning. It almost seemed possible; all I needed was some fairy dust. Unfortunately for my mom, I had a pretty good feeling that if I just threw a handful of glitter on my head, I’d be floating through the air on my way to fight Captain Hook. I also developed a passion for leaping off of furniture, earning more than a few bruises, glitter falling from my hair in my attempts to fly off into the sunset.

I was so obsessed with Peter Pan that I even thought I saw him once, silhouetted in the moonlight streaming through my bedroom curtains—I was convinced he had been listening in on my mom telling me bedtime stories. So, when I grew older, my Nana gave me a little book containing two of J.M. Barrie’s works: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy. She knew how much I loved the movie, and correctly guessed that I would love the slightly stranger, darker world of the books as well. I still have my well-worn copy perched on my bedside table.

When my book club chose Peter and Wendy for National Read Across America Day, I immediately volunteered to host the event at my place. Peter and Wendy is a book about kids, yes, but it’s really a book for adults—you have to be a grown up to understand why childhood is so precious and fleeting, and even a little dark. The book has become so much more to me now that I’m older, transforming from an adventure story into a wistful love poem to youth and imagination. I was determined to throw a party with the same introspection and whimsy as the book.

DIY Wendy-Inspired Pajamas

Imagine going on a trip to an exotic land, only to be stuck in your nightgown the whole time. One of the most charming things about Wendy, John, and Michael’s adventures in Neverland is that Peter comes to them at night, so they go off fighting pirates and running through the forest with the Lost Boys in their pajamas.

edwardian nightgown
Vintage Edwardian nightgown | Image courtesy Etsy seller denisebrain

In keeping with the books, I threw a grown-up pajama party. I thought it would be a great icebreaker. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions in a group, but in a room full of adults in their pajamas, it somehow seems less intimidating.

I found a long white nightgown at a thrift store that I knew I could easily DIY to give it an Edwardian look—floor length, with feminine embellishments like ruffles, ribbons, and lace. It’s definitely a more formal look than my usual nighttime get-up of sweatpants and a tank top. To add DIY Edwardian embellishments to your nightgown you’ll need:

  • White, pink, or pale blue ribbon
  • Lace trim
  • Fabric glue
  • A plain, long nightgown

Decorated Dressing Gown Instructions:

  1. Wash and dry the nightgown thoroughly.
  2. Measure the circumference of the openings at the neck of the gown and both sleeves, then cut a length of lace long enough to trim each one. Take the length of lace for the collar and, along its flat (not scalloped) edge, add a thin line of adhesive. Wait for it to dry for a few seconds until tacky, then press the adhesive along the fabric of the collar. Use pins or crafting clips to keep the lace in place while it dries. Repeat with the openings of both arms.
  3. Using the ribbon, make a small bow. Add a dot of glue to the back of the bow and glue it to the center of the collar of your gown.
  4. Let the glue dry.

Your once-plain nightgown now has a lace collar and trimmed sleeves, along with a pretty bow. Adorned with ribbon and lace, it’s hard not to imagine yourself waiting for Peter to come to the windowsill of the nursery in your Edwardian mansion.

Designing Your Own Neverland

fairy lights
Fairy light to set the mood | Image courtesy Etsy seller Gretchenswhimsicals

As girls, my sister and I would concoct elaborate forts out of bed sheets and pillows, giggling the night away reading our favorite chapter books to the glow of a flashlight. To recreate the same cozy, playful environment for my guests, I laid out every throw blanket I have, fluffed the couch cushions, and took all of the pillows off my bed and brought them into the living room, making it feel more like a childhood playroom than a space for watching the news.

Finally, I put up some mini strings of lights, every twinkle reminding me of Tinker Bell and the fairies of Neverland. There are quite a few ways to use fairy lights to add some magic to the atmosphere:

  • Hang them on the wall, twisting them into the shape of the Big Dipper and other constellations. Add two big glow-in-the-dark stars among the lights to help your guests find their way to Neverland—hint: it’s the “second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning!”
  • If you have a large house plant, add a string of lights to it, reminiscent of the fairies sitting in the leaves of the Lost Boys’ treehouse.
  • To add an ambient glow to the room, put battery-operated LED lights into big mason jars and place them in any shadowy corners of the room. You don’t want Peter Pan’s shadow to lurk around, causing mischief!
  • String some lights up, crisscrossing the ceiling, to look like fairies flitting around the room.

A Proper British Tea for Michael, John, and Wendy

floral teapot
A floral teapot | Image courtesy Etsy seller lofficina

When I was a kid, nothing made me more proud than the fact that I knew how to brew my Dad his perfect cup of tea. For this gathering, I opted to brew a loose leaf Earl Grey. The instructions are simple:

  1. After your guests arrive, bring a kettle of water to a boil.
  2. F a good pot of tea, add one teaspoon of tea leaves per person, plus one extra, to the pot. My large teapot makes about six cups of tea, so I added seven.
  3.  When the kettle’s ready, take it off the heat and let it sit for about 10 seconds. Then, pour the water directly over the tea ball in the pot. Cover, let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Serve, giving your guests the option to add milk and sugar.

Peter Pan may have occasionally forgotten to feed the Darling children and Lost Boys anything but imaginary food, but I knew my guests’ adult imaginations weren’t strong enough to let them subsist on tea alone. I made a selection of finger sandwiches, and these vegan Earl Grey cookies for dessert:

earl grey tea cookies
Earl Grey cookies | Image courtesy Etsy seller PamplemousseSucre

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp Earl Grey tea leaves
  • Scant 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chilled vegan butter
  • Raw sugar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, cornstarch, salt, tea leaves, and sugar, pulsing to combine.
  3. Cut the vegan butter into small cubes, then scatter across the dry ingredients in the food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture just holds together when pressed.
  4. Line an 8×8 inch square pan with parchment paper, allowing some parchment to hang over the sides.
  5. Remove dough from the food processor, then press into the pan.
  6. Dust with the raw sugar.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, until lightly golden.
  8. Let cool 5 minutes, then lift the dough out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares or rectangles with a sharp knife.
  9. Let cool completely, then serve.

The Earl Grey-infused cookies were the perfect pairing with our tea as we discussed the adventures going on in Neverland, all the while tucked under cozy blankets and propped up by squishy pillows.

(Book)Marking Our Adventure

As official members of “Nana’s Book Club,” my sister, cousin, and I each receive books and bookmarks from my Nana in the mail on a regular basis. She even has her own custom bookplates that she sticks to the inside cover of each book, so even if we give a book to a friend when we’re done reading it, the world knows that Nana picked it!

The one thing I always keep for myself is the bookmark—each one reminds me of a specific novel I read, and what was going on in my life when it was sent to me. They’re something I treasure. I wanted my guests to have a party favor as a memory, and I thought making our own bookmarks, then swapping them, would be a fun way to do that.

disney character ribbon
Peter Pan character ribbon | Image courtesy Etsy seller HappinessByTheYard

To make bookmarks, you’ll need:

  • Cardstock cut into bookmarks (use a bookmark you already own as a template)
  • Glue sticks
  • Sequins
  • Glitter
  • Crafting feathers
  • Scrap fabric, like leather, velvet, mesh, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Crayons and markers
  • Stickers and scrapbooking embellishments
  • A variety of scrapbooking paper

Everyone was asked to make a bookmark that represented some part of the book, be it a favorite character, like Captain Hook, or a favorite scene, like when the Darlings meet the sassy mermaids that hate everyone but Peter. There was a Tinkerbell bookmark someone cut into a curvy shape to look like the fairy from the cartoon movie, and a crocodile one covered in a reptile-print scrapbook paper with a clock embellishment.

Once dry, we put the bookmarks in an opaque vase, taking turns selecting one to bring home with us. The green and turquoise sequined mermaid bookmark I picked will always remind me of this special night.

After my pajama-clad guests disappeared into the night like Peter on his way back to Neverland, I sat in my living room with the leftover cookies and started to laugh. Did I really convince a bunch of grown-ups to come to a literary discussion while dressed in their PJs like little kids?  

Peter Pan was the boy who never grew up, but on this night my friends and I were the ones who felt like kids again. The next time I use my bookmark, I won’t just be remembering the party I threw. I’ll remember the childhood stories we shared, the jokes we told, and how lucky I felt that night to be surrounded by my own little band of lost boys and girls.

If you want to bring a little bookish magic to someone’s life, check out our E.M. Barrie Gift Guide! You can also print out free Elfster bookmarks for your next book club meeting. In the meantime, stay tuned with all things Elfster on Facebook, and check us out on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Verdant Spring Equinox Party Ideas: From City Apartment to Lush Urban Paradise

Verdant Spring Equinox Party Ideas: From City Apartment to Lush Urban Paradise

felted plant brooch pins
Floral brooches as party attire | Image courtesy Etsy seller AmiraliFelt

I grew up surrounded by nature. Summer meant walking through the oak forests on the island where I lived, following a path to the ocean. Fall was a riot of orange, red, and yellow leaves, the crisp New England air reminding me that winter was coming. And nothing was better than looking for deer prints in the snow each winter, following their tracks in hopes of catching sight of the elegant creatures.

But no season was more charming than spring, with new life rising up from the unlikeliest of places, like green moss growing under rocks, ferns unfurling on the side of the road, and tiny violets blooming—even when there was still frost on the ground.

Now that I live in the city, it’s harder to feel so in touch with the seasons. But, determined not to miss out on the glory of spring, I decided to host a party in my small city apartment this year that would bring the spirit of the great outdoors in, if only for one night.

Setting a Green Scene

floral prints
Flora and fauna | Image courtesy Etsy seller STANLEYprintHOUSE

My apartment overlooks not one, not two, but three urban parking lots. Jealous yet? I couldn’t rely on the view to clue my party guests in on the spring theme so, instead, I decided to do an easy DIY project to spruce up my space.

I headed to my favorite thrift store and hunted down a few vintage reference and coffee table books with beautiful pictures of flowers, greenery, and landscapes. When I got home, I used an Exacto knife to cut out my favorite images. Using painters tape, I hung the gorgeous nature photography and illustrations throughout my apartment, clustering a few on the wall in my kitchen to make it look like a little garden, then added washi tape to frame them like pictures. Suddenly, my small apartment was teeming with flora and fauna, without doing any damage to the walls of my rental.

Sweet Spring Scents

Decor alone wasn’t enough. I wanted to bring the fresh newness of spring indoors, and what better way to accomplish that than through scent? After all, it’s considered the most potent of our senses, and closely tied to memories.

vintage glass jars
Vintage jars waiting to be filled with spring | Image courtesy Etsy seller thewhitepepper

Nothing beats the smell of rich soil, tree buds, and warm breezes, but a little simmering pot of herbs and aromatics can do the trick in a pinch.

An hour before my guests arrived, I added a sliced Meyer lemon, a sprig of rosemary, and a handful of roughly chopped parsley to a small pot of water on the stove. I brought the pot to a simmer, then let it lightly bubble on low heat, filling my apartment with an incredibly fresh scent.

I also blended a cup of baking soda, a handful of parsley, and the zest of one lemon in my food processor. I put the mixture in some pretty vintage bowls and jars I’ve collected over the years, placing them on tables and counters around the apartment. When I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, I felt like I was taking a walk through a green field on a warm day. The scene was finally set for my springtime soiree.

 

Treating Your Guests to Seasonal Treats

I love dreaming up recipes and refreshments to serve my party guests. I decided on an array of herb-infused foods for my party (think fresh Green Goddess dip with baby vegetables, homemade rosemary crackers, etc), but I wanted to do something a little extra special. I decided to liven things up by offering my guests two bubbly flavors of homemade soda. And ripe red strawberries, just coming into season, and soothing chamomile flowers, would make the perfect bases for homemade sodas.

dried chamomile flowers
Dried chamomile flowers delight guests | Image courtesy Etsy seller CoastandClearing

The Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Fresh basil (optional)
  • Lemon zest (optional)

The Recipe:

  1. First, I hulled the strawberries, then added them to a pan with one cup of sugar and two cups of water.
  2. I brought the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar was dissolved, then took the pan off the heat.
  3. Once it was slightly cool, I blended the mixture, then strained the strawberry syrup into a small glass carafe.
  4. When guests arrived, they added the strawberry syrup to their glasses, topping the drink off with some cold sparkling water. My best friend had the genius idea to muddle some basil and a strip of lemon zest in her glass along with the syrup—it was ten times better than any soda I’ve ever had out of a bottle!

For the chamomile soda, I followed the same process, adding one cup of dried chamomile flowers (purchased in the bulk foods section of my local co-op) to the simple syrup mixture, leaving out the strawberries. Then, instead of blending the mixture, I let the chamomile flowers steep in the syrup for an hour before straining into a pretty glass bottle. It makes for a lovely, subtle drink.

 

Bringing the Outdoors In

After all that decorating and cooking, I wanted to make sure my guests had something fun to remember the party by. I love plants, but a lot of my friends don’t have any in their apartments, so I organized a botanical Yankee Swap game.

Each guest was asked to bring a small plant, costing less than $10, to the party. One of my friends thought outside the box and opted for a basil plant from the grocery store! They still have roots attached, so the plant can live on long after you’ve plucked a few leaves to garnish a plate of pasta.

little cactus plant
A friendly spring cactus | Image courtesy Etsy seller plumandpotato

When all of the guests arrived, it was a pleasant surprise to realize that these little plants in my small apartment made it come to life. We clustered them on the coffee table while we enjoyed our snacks and soda, and then the fun began!

I wrote down a number on as many pieces of paper as there were guests at the party (making sure to include one for myself since I was dying to get my hands on a small cactus), put them in a hat, and had each guest draw a number. Next year, I think we’ll organize it a bit better with help from an online gift exchange website.

The person with the lowest number got to select the first plant. Each player after got to either choose a plant someone had already selected, or one of the plants on the table. We were all surprised to see that the plant of the hour was the little basil. I guess the fact that it wasn’t just for show really made it a star.

Finally, the player who originally drew the number one got to do a final swap. And wouldn’t you know, she traded with me, taking the small pot of pansies I wound up with and giving me the adorable cactus I had my eyes on!

I’m so pleased with how my springtime party turned out. I felt like I had just spent an afternoon lounging in the garden. When everyone went home, and after the dishes were done, I looked around and took a deep breath. The air was fresh with the scent of herbs and citrus, flowers decorated the walls, and my new cactus buddy was resting proudly on the window sill. Spring was here, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Elfster has gifting picks that bring the outdoors in. Or, for more spring inspirations, join us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.