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Mother’s Day Party Game Ideas and Family Activities That Are as Unique as Mom

Mother’s Day Party Game Ideas and Family Activities That Are as Unique as Mom

playing games with mom
Mamas are the best playmates | Image courtesy Unsplash user Thiago Cerqueira

“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.” —Stevie Wonder

On Sunday May 14th, we celebrate mothers, motherhood, and all motherly bonds. This year, as a way to pay tribute to Mom and all the holidays she’s planned, prepared, and beautifully hosted, we’ve rounded up some ideas on how to throw a Mother’s Day party complete with game ideas and fun activities.

From mom-inspired bingo to creating a new annual tradition of The Mom Awards and a sibling-selected one-of-a-kind bouquet, here are seven ways to say I love you this Mother’s Day. Here’s to you, mom, for all you do!

Mother’s Day Bingo Party Games to Call Out Mom’s Quirks

custom tea bingo
If mama loves her tea | Image courtesy Etsy seller BingoShop4U

Bingo is a go-to in the world of party games. On Mother’s Day, customize your bingo cards completely to cater to Mom. Put together a list of fun questions and use the answers as your bingo space-fillers.

Here are some ideas for questions to show off how well you know your mama:

  • What is mom’s pet peeve?
  • What is her go-to outfit for running errands?
  • What is the last movie that made her cry?
  • What book is mom reading right now?
  • What food does mom refuse to cook?
  • What is mom’s most used saying?

You can make your own customized bingo cards on the computer or find pre-made, downloadable cards online. Then, it’s time to get creative with your bingo markers.

My mom’s favorite candy is peanut M&M’s, so I’ll be putting out a big bowl of them to act as markers—and snacks. Pick anything small that reminds you of your mom—something she’ll be happy to keep, or eat, when the game is over.

Family Cook-Off Ideas to Get Mom Out of the Kitchen

homemade salad recipe
Don’t forget the salad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Brooke Lark

Sometimes, when siblings gather at mom’s house, she’s the one to cook up a meal for the group. Instead, my idea is a family cook-off to give Mom a break from the kitchen—and the rest of us to show off the culinary skills she’s inspired in us.

Have each member of the family whip up a dish for the event; fresh spring foods that bring outdoor picnics to mind are perfect for Mother’s Day luncheons or early Sunday dinners. If little ones want to get involved, help them throw together something simple like a Mediterranean salad made with spring mix, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, and olives with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a dressing.

When the meal is ready to be served, have Mom try to guess who made which dish. Which of her kids is the meatball maker? The cupcake queen? The master of all things green and veg? An interactive meal will make for a memorable Mother’s Day event. You could even vote for the best dish amongst yourselves and whoever wins can offer to do the dishes as a present for Mom!

Handmade Mother’s Day Card Ideas

I’ve always tried to follow the etiquette behind thank you notes, and enjoy making handmade cards for any occasion, but especially for Mother’s Day because mom is particularly wired to appreciate something made just for her. I especially love the idea behind making what I call “combined” cards, or cards that are from several family members.

best mom ever card
Let your card do the talking | Image courtesy Etsy seller SimplyCBoutique

For this interactive Mother’s Day card activity, work alongside your family to come up with a card theme for Mom, something like “In mom’s home we…” Write out the phrase at the top of the card and let the ideas flow from there. Maybe your first line is, “We say only kind words,” and your brother adds, “We watch the sunsets,” and your sister includes, “We eat dessert first.”

At the end, you’ll have a long card that goes back and forth between you and other family members and is entirely unique to traditions your mom has created for your family. You can come up with your own theme, or try one of the ideas below:

  • In mom’s home we…
  • My mom is…
  • What we love about you, mom…
  • If I could give you anything, it would be…
  • I love mom more than…

A Truly Unique Flower Bouquet for Mom

fancy flowers for mom
Fanciful flowers for mom | Image courtesy Etsy seller theflowerpatch

When I was younger, my siblings and I would spend hours outdoors in search of the perfect flowers for Mom’s bouquets, from wild daisies to snapdragons to sunflowers. Today, instead of bringing separate flowers to mom on Mother’s Day, we each choose a unique flower to bring and arrange them all into one large bouquet that differs from year to year. In addition to this being a fun and creative activity, the floral spreads are always unique—unlike any Mom has seen or received before.

Make sure to snap some photos so that each year you can look back on bouquets past. If you’d like, you can even give the bouquets a theme, like Gathered from the Garden or Lovely, Lively Yellows. DIY floral gifts for Mother’s Day are a wonderfully fresh way to give a sweet smelling thank you to the mom in your life.

Family Photo Ideas for Mother’s Day

photo props
Moms loves a good laugh | Image courtesy Etsy seller delphineblue

As a kid, you may have fought with your mom over having to partake in family photos. When I was younger, we’d put on Christmas sweaters in November and traipse begrudgingly through the grove in the still-warm San Diego sun. But today, I love going to my parent’s house and reminiscing over old Christmas shots; it reminds me that all the complaints received from my siblings and I were worth it for Mom.

This Mother’s Day, set up a spot in the house or yard to take family photos—no complaining allowed. This so easy it can even be done as a last minute DIY gift for mom, no elaborate plans required. You can make them silly with props found at the dollar store, like big glasses and tape on mustaches. Or, you can make them a bit more serious by having everyone bring a solid colored shirt or sweater, take the shot on a simple backdrop, and create the illusion of a styled studio shot. Whatever suits the personality of your family best is what Mom will love the most.

Mom Awards Are a Sweet Treat

mom award
And the award goes to… | Image courtesy Etsy seller Littlepictureco

I don’t need to know your mom to know she probably deserves an award or two. The Mom Awards are all about making your mom feel recognized for everything she does for your family.

Have each family member come up with their own award for mom, from The Best Smiler in the Face of Spills to Fastest Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwich Maker Ever. Then, present Mom with the award at an evening ceremony sweetened up with dessert bites and sparkling grape juice in flutes.

Awards can be anything from seashells to trophies to certificates, and the desserts can also be a wink, wink at showing mom how much she’s loved. Here are a few ideas for what to serve that have a hidden message just for mom:

  • Cheesecake bites because she deserves a bit of indulgence
  • Strawberries and whipped cream because she’s naturally sweet
  • Heart-shaped cookies because you love her
  • Lemon bars because even when you do something sour, she still turns it around for good
  • Chocolate cupcakes because she needs chocolate—double chocolate, in fact

Recreate the Best Memories of Your Mom

reading with mom
Recreating memories | Image courtesy Unsplash user Annie Spratt

When I was a kid, my brother and I would climb into our bunk beds every evening and my mom would sit propped up at the side with a pillow to read us a bedtime story. First, it was picture books like The Maggie B., then, as we got older, it was Judy Blume’s chapter books like Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. Whichever book she read, we always looked forward to that time of day—every day—and grew up with a love for reading and words because of it.

Put a twist on the classic bedtime stories Mom used to read to you this year and host Mom-Time Stories. Everyone can pick and read passages from her favorite books, quotes she lives by, or parts of books she used to read to you all as kids, like Dr. Seuss or Peter Pan. Even song lyrics work. Whatever you choose, the words will be special and speak to your own mother’s personal story of motherhood.

Whether you’re celebrating your mother, or someone who represents all that a mother is—compassion, care, strength, beauty, resilience—our hope is that these ideas will create an exciting event for you to come together with people you love this Mother’s Day and share laughs and memories. From bingo to a collaborative card, possibilities abound. The real focus is on being together, showing love, and, of course, celebrating all things Mom.

From all of us here at Elfster, Happy Mother’s Day! We know you’ll make it a beautiful one.

For more mom-spiration and gift ideas, explore our Mom Gift Guide or download our free Mother’s Day Card printable!. Or, connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Last Minute DIY Mother’s Day Gifts: Elegant Breakfast in Bed Ideas for Mom

Last Minute DIY Mother’s Day Gifts: Elegant Breakfast in Bed Ideas for Mom

breakfast in bed
Life’s little luxuries | Image courtesy Unsplash user Toa Heftiba

The smell of coffee, morning sun streaming in through the window, the tang of freshly squeezed orange juice—there’s nothing quite as special as a thoughtfully prepared breakfast in bed to fill a soul up with happy content.

The older I get, the more I can comprehend why moms enjoy—and very much deserve—a luxurious sleep-in every so often. They get to stretch out, ignore the alarm clock, and not have to think twice about cracking an egg, flipping a pancake, or pouring their own coffee. That’s why I’ve put together all the necessary ingredients for a delicious last minute DIY Mother’s Day gift surprise.

Here are my favorite breakfast in bed ideas for mom. From the vase that holds the flowers to the mug that holds the coffee to the tray that holds it all, make it handmade for to embrace minimalist giving while still offering gifts that feel extravagant—and straight from the heart.

DIY Dot Mugs That Are Dishwasher Safe

My mom still keeps a ceramic coffee cup on her kitchen counter that I made in elementary school. To this day, I watch her refill that coveted homemade mug up with pride. And when she’s not using it, it sits alongside one that my niece made her with photos of some of their favorite shared memories plastered to the side.

dot mugs dishwasher safe
Dot, dot, dot | Image courtesy Etsy seller LucySuiSF

The idea of a mug decorated with acrylic paint is a simple one, but it never goes out of style. When it comes to creating this gift at the last minute, I’ve found a gold dotted mug is the perfect balance between crafty and quick.

The Supply List:

  • An oven safe white mug
  • Gold acrylic paint (oven, dishwasher, and microwave safe)
  • Multi-sized circle sponges

Crafting Instructions:

  1. Make sure your mug is clean of any stickers, dirt, or fingerprints.
  2. Next, dip your sponge in your gold paint and stamp your polka dots.
  3. Bake the mug in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then let sit for 24 hours to set.
  4. Wash, then gift while mom lounges with breakfast in bed!

If your mom is a true coffee lover of Friends proportions, present the mug to her alongside her own pot of locally roasted French press coffee. A dollop of whipped cream on top and a sprinkle of cinnamon make this an extra sweet treat.

Twine-Wrapped Glass Vase Gift Ideas

Flower bouquets are a classic Mother’s Day gift, though they can sometimes feel impersonal. To give them your own twist, try these DIY twine-wrapped vases. They’re a super simple present for mom that will let your fresh cut flowers take on a refreshingly custom spin.

twine wrapped vases
Twine is divine | Image courtesy Etsy seller 4thAvenueWoodworking

You can leave the decor simple and rustic, or you can see what sort of things you find around the house, on Etsy, or at your local craft store. If your mom loves the beach, glue on some seashells that you pocketed on a recent trip. If she likes jewelry, pick out some artful beads to add a bit of color. Possibilities abound with this crafty homemade gift that even toddlers can help out with.

The Supply List:

  • A glass bottle, anything from a wine bottle to a leftover jam jar
  • Rustic twine or string
  • A hot glue gun
  • Decorations (optional)
  • Fresh cut spring flowers

Crafting Instructions:

Starting at the bottom of the vase, add a drop of glue and press the end of the twine into it. Add more glue, wrapping twine as you go around the vase from the bottom up. Wrap and glue, wrap and glue, wrap and glue—a little bit at a time. Once you get in the rhythm of this craft, you’ll realize how simple it is. Hot glue your decor over the twine, if you’d like, then arrange your flowers inside, maybe also adding some greenery for extra color. Whether you fill your vase with wildflowers you picked in your backyard or a bouquet of red roses you picked up at the store, they’re sure to shine wrapped in twine!

An Easy DIY Wooden Serving Tray

The sight of a beautiful wooden breakfast serving tray being carried into a bedroom doesn’t have to be reserved for Pinterest accounts and home magazines; there are tons of creative ways to put together your own handmade trays simply and in a short amount of time.

rustic serving tray
Simple, rustic elegance | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheStationHome

I love when folks use chalk paint to personalize their trays, or tiles to create interesting mosaics. But for a quick and easy reclaimed scrap wood gift, I’ve found this tray to be the easiest one to create. And, if you’re super short on time, you don’t even have to paint it at all—just add handles. It will be beautiful however you make it.

The Supply List:

  • A piece of reclaimed wood approx. 19 ½” long x 13 ¾” wide
  • Simple steel handles
  • Paint or wood finish
  • A drill

Crafting Instructions:

  1. Salvage a tray-sized piece of wood, or have one cut to size at a hardware store.
  2. Paint—or don’t!
  3. When the paint is dry, attach your handles. I’d suggest going with handles that have visible screws from the top so you can easy screw them down.
  4. You’ve just DIY’ed a breakfast tray fit for a Mother’s Day queen!

A Homemade Butter Croissants Recipe

The idea of making croissants tends to scare some of us away; they look so elaborate and detailed. But, in reality, beautiful, buttery homemade croissants require less than ten ingredients—many of which you probably have on hand in your kitchen already. Plus, once you get the technique down, the art of croissant making will become second nature to you. You just may find yourself in your kitchen weekend after weekend, windows open, the smells of a French bakery enveloping your every sense. Here’s how to whip up a buttery batch for your mom’s breakfast in bed.

homemade buttery croissants
Beautiful and buttery | Image courtesy Unsplash user Alisa Anton

The Ingredients List:

For the Butter Mixture

  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup flour

For the Dough

  • ¼ oz active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 cup warmed whole milk
  • ¼ cup cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 ½ cups flour

 

 

Baking Instructions:

  1. Beat your butter and flour until combined in a small bowl.
  2. On a piece of parchment paper, spread the mixture into a 6 x 12” rectangle. Cover this with an additional piece of parchment and pop into the fridge for about an hour and 15 minutes.
  3. In a big bowl, dissolve your yeast in warm water, then add the milk, sugar, egg, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour to form a dough.
  4. Move the dough onto a floured surface and knead with your hands for about 7 minutes or until it becomes smooth and elastic. Roll it into a 12-14” square.
  5. Take your butter mix from the fridge and remove the top layer of parchment paper. Place it top-side down over half of the dough, then remove the additional piece of parchment. Fold the remaining dough over the butter and seal the edges.
  6. Roll the dough into a rectangle of about 12 x 20” then fold the rectangle in half by bringing each side to meet in the middle. Repeat this rolling and folding action two more times. Then wrap it in plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge overnight.
  7. The next day, unwrap the dough and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it into a 20 x 25” rectangle. Cut that rectangle into 5” squares, then cut each square diagonally in half to form two triangles.
  8. Finally, shape your croissants! Roll the triangles up beginning from the wide end then place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you’d like them to have the traditional croissant crescent shape, curve the ends down. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 45 minutes to 1 hour).
  9. Bake for 12 minutes at 375 degrees.
  10. Serve them to your mother warm, alongside her steaming hot coffee!

Whether you’ve been planning an elaborate Mother’s Day for a month, or you end up throwing something together the day before, we have a sneaking suspicion here at Elfster that your mom (or any mom you may be celebrating) will love it just the same.

From croissants to gold-dotted mugs, the components of a special breakfast in bed are made whimsical and wonderful by what they represent from the gift-giver—love, appreciation, and the desire to say, Unwind. Relax. Enjoy the slow pace of your morning—you deserve it.” Gifts to encourage a calm and serene mind are always well-loved, especially by moms.

From all of us here at Elfster, a happy Mother’s Day to you and yours! May it be lovely and love-filled.

For more gift-giving inspiration for your mom, visit our Mother’s Day gift guide. Or join the Elfster world on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfstergram. We can’t wait to meet you!

DIY Mother’s Day Flower Arrangements Picked Fresh to Surprise Mom with a Classic

DIY Mother’s Day Flower Arrangements Picked Fresh to Surprise Mom with a Classic

“A mother is one who fills your heart in the first place.” Amy Tan

DIY floral bouquet
A bouquet of beauty | Image courtesy Unsplash user Sweet Ice Cream Photography

Flowers are so naturally and intrinsically linked to Mother’s Day gifts. When I was a kid, I can recall using every last piece of pink and red colored tissue paper in the house to create a special faux flower bouquet for my mom, Nini. One year I tried to perfect the art of piping frosting in the shape of her favorite flower, plumerias, on top of a double chocolate cake. I also have memories of wrapping green tape around her most-used pen to secure a rose at the top and presenting it to her while she sat at her desk organizing her stationary.

Flowers, celebrating the bounty of the spring season, and my mom are all irrevocably linked in my memories. This saying often comes to mind, “I’d rather wear flowers around my hair than diamonds around my neck.” If it brings a vision of your mom to mind as well, these DIY Mother’s Day flower arrangements are freshly picked for her.

Happy Mother’s Day, to my mom and all the moms who appreciate the beauty of the natural world—and the ways in which it inspires their daughters.

An M-O-M Floral Alphabet

Once you’ve seen how fun creating these colorful floral letters can be, you may just find yourself doing it for everyone, from your mother to the mail lady. I like to simply spell out MOM with my letters, but you could also choose a nickname or short family saying. Then I wrap the letters individually to create more of a surprise element—what are the letters going to spell? Interspersed within my layers of eco-friendly wrapping paper or tissue, I’ll hide Hershey’s kisses, photographs, and even seashells I’ve picked up from various beaches while traveling. I think opening a gift should be part of the fun!

floral alphabet letter
F is for flower | Image courtesy Etsy seller HelloLittleBear

Many friends I know love using silk flowers on this craft so their floral alphabet stays lovely forever. I personally enjoy the look and smell of fresh mini roses, so often use those instead, even though they wilt in a day or two. Either way, your gift will be naturally beautiful—and your mother will love it.

The Supply List:

  • Silk (or fresh) flowers
  • Cardboard letters
  • Glue gun

Instructions:

  1. First, cut the flowers as close to the stem as you can.
  2. Next, arrange the flowers starting from one end of the letter and working up or down from there. Sometimes, an ombre hued color scheme can be fun. Or, start with the smallest buds at the top and the largest at the bottom.
  3. Try not to let the flowers droop too much over the edge. A little extra is fine, but keeping them in line with the letters will make your alphabet appear more uniform. I’m normally one for organic shapes, but in this case, neatness works in your favor.
  4. Once you have the flowers where you want them, glue them into place on the letter and watch your floral alphabet take shape.

A Photo Flower Pot Bouquet

flower pot bouquet
Terracotta whimsy | Image Unsplash seller Gemma Evans

Even a simple floral arrangement can make a bold statement. But, if you’re looking to change things up for Mom this year, opt for a flower pot bouquet that uniquely integrates photos of the two of you. It’s super simple and sure to please. I like to choose pictures that conjure up old memories and stir up conversations. The best part? This is a therapeutic craft that can be done while sitting outside and sipping iced tea in the sunshine.

The Supply List:

  • Mod Podge (I prefer matte finish over gloss)
  • A foam or sponge brush
  • Your favorite photos
  • A hot glue gun
  • A terracotta pot

Instructions:

  1. First, print out your image or images. Make sure the size fits on the pot you’re using. I find the simplicity of one photo in the center looks minimal but beautiful, though you can work with multiple photos if you’d like.
  2. Cut the photos and decoupage them onto your planter. Decoupage, if you’re new to this whole thing, is simply the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it.
  3. Once they’re decoupaged down, seal them in with 3 coats of Mod Podge, the wonder worker. Let each coat dry on its own before applying the next.
  4. And that’s it! It’s one of the simplest and best looking floral mother’s day gifts out there. Just add flowers!

DIY Dried Flower Candles

floral candle
DIY dried flower candles | Image courtesy Etsy seller CuteThingsOnEtsy

This sweet craft combines two of my mom’s favorites—flowers and candles! You will have to prepare this one ahead of time though, or buy dried flowers if this is a last minute gift for mom.

The Supply List:

  • Pressed flowers (directions below)
  • Pillar candles
  • Paraffin wax
  • A double boiler
  • A metal spoon
  • A paintbrush

Instructions:

  1. First, you’ll want to preserve your flowers. The easiest way to do this is by placing them between two pieces of wax paper, then between the pages of a heavy book. Add pressure by placing a large rock on top. Let sit for two weeks.
  2. Next, use a metal spoon and a double boiler to heat your paraffin wax over low heat, continuously stirring.
  3. Dip a paintbrush into the wax and form a coat over the part of the candle that you want to decorate. Press the flowers into this coat of wax, then apply a second coat. Let cool for 25 minutes.
  4. Using a dry cloth, softly buff the candle before gifting.

A Hanging Flower Chandelier

This flower chandelier is delicate, unique, and perfect for all of the truly special moms out there. You only need a few items to create whimsy and a spring flourish of color—and maybe a DIY spirit.

floral hanging chandelier
A sky full of flowers | Image courtesy Etsy seller BegoniaRoseCo

Put on a playlist of your mother’s favorite songs, hang this over the dining room table, and plan a spring-inspired dinner or picnic party for you and your family. It’s simple. It’s creative. It’s so very special.

The Supply List:

  • Long floral stems, like snapdragons
  • A 10-inch embroidery hoop
  • Washi tape
  • Clear thread
  • A metal ring
  • A needle

Instructions:

  1. Begin by wrapping your embroidery hoop with washi tape.
  2. Then, thread a needle through the stems of your snapdragons, pulling it all the way through.
  3. Next, bring both ends of the thread around the embroidery hoop, letting your snapdragons hang below it so that stem isn’t smashed up against the washi tape—about an inch or two. Tie the thread in a double knot and trim the remaining loose end of the thread.
  4. To make the chandelier easy to hang, tie three pieces of thread equal distances from one another. Then, bring them together at the top and tie them onto a metal ring.

Like the wonderful Maya Angelou once said, “I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.”

Whether you’re using fresh flowers or felt ones, creating a timeless floral gift for your mom or someone who embodies everything the title of mom means to you, is bound to create special moments and memories this Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day from the entire Elfster family. May your day be filled with flowers and magic, friends.

For more floral gift-giving inspiration for mom, visit our Mother’s Day gift guide. Or join the Elfster world on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfstergram. We can’t wait to meet you!

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.

Whimsical English High Tea Party Ideas for a Non-Traditional Spring Birthday Celebration

Whimsical English High Tea Party Ideas for a Non-Traditional Spring Birthday Celebration

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” – Thich Nat Hahn

nontraditional birthday celebration
Whimsy and tea | Image courtesy Unsplash user delfi de la Rua

I love everything that tea parties stand for—the warmth, the conversation, the feel-good nature of them. I have similar feelings about birthday parties, so once I came up with the idea to combine the two, I was one happy gal.

I threw an all-ages high tea gathering for my sister’s 30th birthday last year so we could include my niece, who was still a toddler at the time. It was intimate and hosted outdoors, with whimsical twists on traditional food and decor. I added a few touches of magic to the surroundings by way of bright whites and flowers, put my own creative spin on the tea sandwiches, added a charcuterie spread, and even included an interactive dessert that allowed both parents and their little ones to express their artistic freedom through cupcakes.

The birthday celebration itself wasn’t exactly traditional, but I wanted to somehow still give the guests the feel of a classic English high tea party, so I sent them home with party favor bags of scones and preserves to have the next morning with a warm mug of Earl Grey. It was a quiet gathering filled with softly spoken conversations that left time for tea-drinking and all the goodness it brings—most importantly, enjoying the company and companionship of those you’re with.

Here are some ideas on how to recreate the gathering yourself. Here’s to throwing a tea party even Alice would be proud of!

Magic and Whimsy Wherever You Go

flower tea pot
Flowers + Tea Pots = Whimsy | Image courtesy Unsplash user Shruthi Gowda

It honestly doesn’t take much imbue a party with an air of magic and whimsy. This celebration can be hosted indoors or out. Here are three tips that will take any space from mundane to magnificent:

Tip #1: Shop around at vintage and antique shops in search of old tea pots. Or, gather them from family and friends so they hold memories and stories within them. Use these as your floral bouquet holders and when the party is over, send each guest home with one, or with their borrowed kettle now full of wildflowers.

Tip #2: White naturally adds whimsy to any space. Go for big bunches of white helium balloons around the table and in the background. Use white fabric for your tablecloth and napkins. Bring out your clean, white plates and cups to serve from. Keep it easy and minimal, adding only a few pastels here and there. Add clear twinkle lights if you’d like; even during the day, twinkle lights tend to add a special touch to your surroundings.

Tip #3: Fancy things up with rustic greenery and twigs. Sprigs of lavender always look beautiful, too, if you have them available to you.

Serving a Spread to Delight and Surprise

Fun and fancy is the golden rule for classic tea party food. But, I like to bring some twists to the traditional in two ways. First, I jazz up the tea sandwiches, avoiding the expected cucumber and cream cheese or chicken salad options. Then, I take bread and butter to the next level by adding a simple charcuterie spread to the table. Here’s my idea of a modern high tea snack:

charcuterie spread
A simply beautiful charcuterie spread | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jessica Ruscello

A Classic Charcuterie Spread

In addition to your bread and butter, add jams, nuts, hunks of cheese, sliced apples, an assortment of salami, and other in-season fruits. A spread like this will make your table look beautiful, but it will also give your guests variety with a side of surprise.

Fresh Caprese Tea Sandwiches

I like to make mine with fresh basil, a slice of mozzarella, a thick tomato slice, a drizzle of balsamic, and some black pepper and sea salt. Any kind of bread will do, but I prefer soft sliced bread cut into triangles to evoke traditional tea sandwiches.

Fanciful PB&J

I spread natural peanut butter and an assortment of homemade jams onto white bakery bread. Then, I use cookie cutters to cut them into fun shapes, like hearts and stars.

When you serve your spread, don’t forget the tea! And, most importantly, the dessert…

Build Your Own Cupcake Bar

A hands-on activity (especially one that involves a sugar high) is great if young guests are starting to get tired from the tea, the chatting, and the sitting.

DIY cupcake stands
A delightful DIY cupcake stand | Image courtesy Etsy seller myEroom

First things first, before I build the cupcakes, though, I like to build the cupcake stands. For this DIY birthday show stopper, I suggest going thrifting to find a few colorful China plates and tea cups. In addition, you can also reach out to friends and family to see if they have any they’re looking to get rid of so you can upcycle them.

To create the cake stand, all you have to do is glue the plate to the cup and there you have it—one single-tiered plate stand.

Then comes the tasty part! For the cupcake bar ingredients, I like to bake up vanilla cupcakes and set out an assortment of colored buttercream frostings. Pastel colors, in particular, seem to add that extra fanciful element to a tea party, along with the vintage china.

For the toppings, I focus on all things sprinkles! I like to mix and match white bowls brimming with pastel sprinkles, primary colored sprinkles, and shaped sprinkles, too. You can, of course, add more toppings to your cupcake bar. I just love the simplicity of a “sprinkle” of color on a plain white cupcake. But here are some other interesting ideas for unexpected toppings:

  • Diced fresh fruit
  • Chocolate chips
  • Coconut shreds

High-Minded Scone and Preserve Party Favors

Does anything seem more tea party-esque than scones and preserves? I don’t serve them at the gathering itself because I like to keep people excited about the tea sandwiches, the cupcakes, and the charcuterie spread. But, I do love to send my guests home with a party favor pack of homemade scones and mini jams.

blueberry scones
Handmade blueberry scones | Image courtesy Unsplash user Brook Lark

Here’s my go-to simple scone recipe. It’s an easy one I started making with my grandma when I was a kid, and it now seems to be ingrained in my memory! Feel free to add in your fruit of choice, like blueberries or blood oranges.

The Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, frozen
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk

The Baking Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine your first four ingredients in a large bowl, then grate in your frozen butter. Use your fingers to work it in. It will look a bit coarse, but that’s okay.
  3. In a small bowl, mix your egg and milk, then stir it into the flour mixture.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, take your dough and knead it. Roll it out into a circle about 1/2 thick before cutting it into 8 triangle-shaped wedges.
  5. Place the scones on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar and get ready to indulge in a sweet treat.
  6. Wrap your scones in a favor bag alongside your jam to gift away in minimal fashion (I’m all about embracing that minimalist gift-giving trend of 2017).
kid tea party
Tea for all ages | Image courtesy Flick’r user RebeccaVC1

As children, many of us got together, sat in circles, and drank pretend tea. As adults, it becomes more rare to focus on that element of simplicity and magic. That’s why I love to make my tea parties whimsical and fancy-filled by thinking outside of the box, putting my own spin on them, and inspiring guests to host their own tea-infused traditions as well. Because no matter what the gathering entails, the true tradition remains the same: to be together, sip on a cup of something warm, and chat the day away.

For more tea-spiration on gatherings and gift giving, explore our Tea Gift Guide, or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

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.

Spring Fresh Picnic Party Food Ideas and Inspirations for Your First Outdoor Gathering

Spring Fresh Picnic Party Food Ideas and Inspirations for Your First Outdoor Gathering

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

floral table display
A picnic party extravaganza | Image courtesy Unsplash user Sasha Zvereva

When spring comes, promising sunshine in the skies and the budding of fresh flowers in the garden, I am exuberant. There’s a magical aura surrounding the first season that comes after the chill of winter. Warm soups are replaced with salads. Fresh fruit and vibrant vegetables flourish at the farmers’ market. And folks gather together to eat outdoors and celebrate the invigoratingly magical spell of the equinox with spring parties of all sorts.

When the blossoms bloom and the garden becomes green and lush, I love to round up my friends and family to throw a picnic foodie party outdoors. I keep the menu simple, fresh and colorful—the perfect items for dining alfresco with a glass of something bubbly.

In my southern California surroundings, the scents of fresh lavender and plumeria flowers waft through the air, carrying the hums of laughter, and I’m reminded of the power of simply sharing a meal with the ones you love, a gift from the bounty of spring. Between Caprese boats, cucumber salad, grilled prosciutto e melone, avocado deviled eggs, and a refreshing dessert of lemon bars, your guests will be sure to picnic-dine underneath the sun with happy souls and happy taste buds. Read on, to get your springtime picnic party on.

Sail into Spring with Caprese Boats

I love making Caprese boats on idle weekday spring evenings—or for a weekend crowd! Between the colors of the tomato, the balls of fresh mozzarella cheese, and the basil that holds it all together, it’s a twist on a traditional Caprese salad, simple to create and sure to stir up a reaction—a picnic favorite in boat form.

My real secret to making this dish sublime is fresh black pepper, sea salt, quality olive oil, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. This classic combination is what gives it that ever-so-fresh feel of springtime. The recipe below serves 4.

Caprese boats
Sail into spring with Caprese boats | Image courtesy Bay

The Ingredients:

  • 8 large fresh basil leaves
  • 16 cherry tomatoes in red, orange, and yellow
  • 8 small mozzarella balls
  • 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

The Directions:

  1. Using 8 mini wooden skewers, pierce one end of each of the basil leaves, then a tomato, followed by a mozzarella ball, and another tomato to create your boat.
  2. Then, pierce the other end of the basil leaf through the skewer so that the tomatoes and mozzarella are being cradled by the leaf.
  3. Drizzle evenly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Light but Hearty Cucumber Salad with Crumbled Feta and Pine Nuts

This cucumber salad is light but hearty, the perfect base for a spring meal eaten outdoors. It could quite literally be the only thing you serve at your picnic to fill your guests up! The first time I threw this salad together, I made a big batch and ate the leftovers for dinner the next three days alongside grilled chicken, toasted bread, and fresh salmon. It’s quickly become a staple in our household; we just keep making it over and over again. And don’t forget the fresh parsley! It’s the best part. This recipe serves 4.

cucumber salad
Refreshing your guests with cucumbers | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jonathan Pielmayer

The Ingredients:

  • 2 medium hothouse cucumbers, cubed
  • 3 whole green onions, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, or 1 1⁄2 cups home cooked
  • 1⁄2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1⁄2 cup pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley
  • 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

The Directions:

  1. Gently mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
  2. Divide the salad among four small bowls or mason jars.
  3. Garnish with extra olive oil and add more sea salt and black pepper to taste, if desired.

The Sweet (yet Smoky) Grilled Prosciutto e Melone

Prosciutto e melone is a common appetizer staple in most Italian households, especially popular in spring when melons become juicy and full of flavor. We like to put our own spin on the classic and throw the pieces on the grill once they’re assembled. There’s a smoky taste that comes across when the prosciutto meets the charcoal grill and combines with the sweetness of the melon. It’s divine.

Alternatively, you can leave out the prosciutto for a vegetarian option as the melon, basil, and other ingredients will still taste wonderful. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, slice a thick baguette and throw it on the grill alongside this appetizer. Your guests may never leave their spot underneath the tree out back. This recipe serves 4

grilled prosciutto and melon
Grilled prosciutto e melone | Image courtesy Bay

The Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 medium cantaloupe, sliced into 8 wedges
  • 1⁄2 medium honeydew melon, sliced into 8 wedges
  • 16 large basil leaves
  • 16 slices prosciutto
  • 2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • Balsamic reduction

The Directions:

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high.
  2. Cut each melon wedge in half, then place one basil leaf on each piece of melon, wrapping with one piece of prosciutto. Skewers are not necessary, although you can stick them through the melon if you’d like.
  3. Drizzle each slice with olive oil (making sure to coat both sides), and top them with a sprinkle of black pepper.
  4. Throw them on the barbecue and sear until you see grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  5. Add more black pepper as well as a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

If you’ve never made balsamic reduction before, it’s super simple. Pour the balsamic into a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens like a glaze and reduces by about half. Try not to bring it to a complete boil. Remove the glaze from the heat and allow it to cool. Set aside.

*If you don’t have a grill, serve the wrapped melons raw or cook them in a skillet on high heat and sear until golden.

A Protein-Packed Snack: Avocado Deviled Eggs

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up on a whimsical, 6-acre avocado farm in rural San Diego. Everything we ate had some sort of avocado accompaniment and these green-hued beauties constantly make their way into my picnic soirees. I like to keep spring picnic foods light, vegetable or fruit based, but the avocado combined with boiled eggs provide an often-needed bite of afternoon protein. I’m known amongst friends for always throwing a bit of handmade hot sauce on my deviled eggs, so to jazz these babies up, I give them a sprinkle of red chili flakes. This recipe makes 12.

avocado deviled eggs
Creamy avocado deviled eggs pack protein | Image courtesy Bay

The Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 large avocado
  • 2 Tbsps minced parsley, plus leaves to garnish
  • 1⁄2 cup minced red onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1⁄2 tsp red pepper flakes

The Directions:

  1. Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Once the boil is reached, turn off the burner and let the eggs sit for about 7 minutes, with the lid on, before running them under cool water.
  3. Peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise.
  4. Discard 3 of the yolks and spoon the remaining yolks into a mixing bowl.
  5. Add the avocado, parsley, onion, garlic, then salt and pepper to taste. Mash with a fork until well combined and smooth the mixture with a spoon.
  6. Spoon the mixture back into the egg white halves and sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly among them. Garnish each egg with a leaf or two of parsley before serving.

Forever Yellow Lemon Bars

There is nothing in this world as reminiscent of springtime as simple yellow lemon bars. Over the years, creating this dessert has turned into a sort of therapeutic kitchen dance for me: the blending of the butter, flour, and sugar; the whisking of the eggs and lemon juice; the smells as they permeate the kitchen in harmony with the blossoming trees outside.

I tend to make this treat in the warmer months to eat outdoors while catching up on conversation with a group of friends, the sun staying high in the sky later than we’re used to after the long winter season. Sweet, tart, and fruit-forward, these bars are the absolute perfect ending to a picnic. Take time to relish in their beautiful simplicity, spring after spring.

lemon trees
Lovely lemon trees welcome the sun | Image courtesy Unsplash user Ernest Porzi

The Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 lemons, juiced (about 4 Tbsps lemon juice)
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

The Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the butter, 2 cups of flour, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
  3. Using your hands, form into a dough ball and press into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. Bake the bars for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mix the rest of your sugar and flour.
  5. Then, whisk in your eggs and lemon juice.
  6. Pour this mixture over your baked crust and pop the bars in the oven for another 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool for an hour before sprinkling with powdered sugar and cutting into squares.

Whether you’re making these spring fresh dishes, a family favorite, or stretching your creativity with something altogether new, the essence of a simple springtime picnic will always remain the same: to be together, to laugh, to enjoy and appreciate the changing of the seasons.

My hope is that some of these party foods, near and dear to my heart, have given you inspiration for your own gathering. So pour those bubbles, sit back, unwind, and let the sun shine. May your heart and your soul laugh among the flowers—and tasty tidbits, too.

Elfster wishes you a bright, sunshine-filled springtime ahead. Explore our food and drink gift guide, or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more inspirations for this sensational season.

Talented Fingers, Generous Hearts: Everyday Knitters Gift Yarn, Ideas, and Inspiration

Talented Fingers, Generous Hearts: Everyday Knitters Gift Yarn, Ideas, and Inspiration

knitted socks
Image courtesy Pinterest

As a teenager looking for a creative outlet before the dawn of the internet, I learned how to knit. Sitting by my stepmother’s side, trading needles back and forth as she guided my clumsy hands, I came to appreciate the joy of being “crafty.” Though my knitting career was short-lived, my one and only project—a vibrant, rainbow-colored, shorter-than-most scarf—served me well on many chilly winter days (and was a point of pride). I don’t think I’m alone when I say I regret not devoting more time to my knitting when I was young, eventually putting the needles aside.

The art of knitting is timeless. It’s been around since the days of ancient Egypt, where one of the first examples of true knitting—cotton socks with stranded knit color patterns—was discovered. Fast-forward a few thousand years and cozy, handknit socks are hotter than ever!

Luckily, there are artisans like Louise Tilbrook, the self-described “enthusiastic (some would say obsessed) sock knitter” behind Louise Tilbrook Designs, who returned to the craft as an adult several years ago after giving it up as a child, and has since become an inspiration to her community of Everyday Knitters.

A Heartfelt Way to Spread an Artful Passion

expresso knit sock pattern
Expresso Pattern | Image courtesy Louise Tilbrook Designs

It didn’t take long to get back into knitting wholeheartedly for Louise, who hails from rural Essex in the United Kingdom. As she notes on her website, which focuses on fun ways to explore the art of knitting, “socks (and lovely hand dyed sock yarn) have become my first love and over time this passion of mine has expanded into pattern design and teaching and now consumes most of my waking thoughts.” And from that passion, a community of thousands who admire her work, and connect with her on social media 24/7, has emerged.

“I created the Everyday Knitters Facebook Group to be a fun place where people can come together to share knowledge, experience, and have fun around a common monthly theme,” Louise says. “There are a lot of knitting groups on Facebook, but most are very general. I wanted to create a vibrant and engaged community that is supportive, but also educational.”

As fellow sock knitters discover her busy online community, they seem to be instantly drawn in by her friendly, goal-oriented greeting:

“Welcome to the Everyday Knitter Group – a place for knitters to relax, set some goals and above all enjoy their knitting. During 2017, we’re going to be exploring new challenges in our knitting. Whatever your current level of experience, I hope you will join us as we set monthly goals and cheer each other along in our attempts to fit more knitting into every day.”

Inspirations from the Online World to the Yarn Basket

sock yarn swap
Image courtesy Louise Tilbrook Designs

Looking to bring the Everyday Knitters together virtually to share their love for this artistic pastime in a tangible way, Louise recently hosted an online exchange of sock yarn mini skeins, giving her fellow knitters the opportunity to share their precious, coveted supplies—and to get to know another knitter who lives across the world in the process.

Each participant was paired up and exchanged yarns with the same person who drew them, making the exchange even more personal. “I set up the swap and then shared the sign-up details in the Facebook group so that any member could join. We had just over 1000 online members and 80 participants in the swap, which I was really pleased with,” Louise says.

“The swap was a small exchange of leftover yarns between group members,” she continues. “Many of us are working on scrap yarn projects to use up all our leftovers, but it’s nice to get an infusion of color from someone else’s stash. We are all knitting along on our projects and sharing our progress on the group.”

And as they say, one knitter’s unused stash is another one’s inspiring treasure!

“I hope that our swap will help foster a real sense of community and belonging within the group. I’m really pleased by how enthusiastic the participants have been,” she adds. “There have been a lot of chats and people making deeper connections with each other which is just fantastic.”

And words of gratitude and enthusiasm are pouring in from all over the world:

“Amazing selection of beautiful yarn, thank you so much. They’ll make some cosy contrasting sock toes.” – Exchange participant Susan Hempenstall (Ireland) to her exchange partner Jannika Hammarbrink (Sweden)

“Thank you so much for the amazingly beautiful yarns, Claire. I adore how they look all wound by hand with their beautifully detailed tags, each with a wonderful story. I feel so connected to you and the dyers after reading them. ❤ Thank you so!” – Exchange participant Lisa Cornish (US) to partner Claire Steele (UK)

 Image courtesy Susan Hempenstall, Elfster exchange participant
Image courtesy Susan Hempenstall, Elfster exchange participant

According to Louise, using an online gift exchange tool like Elfster made it easy for her community to connect. “I participated in an Elfster swap previously and was impressed by how quick and easy it was to sign up. When I mentioned the idea of the swap, a few of the group members also suggested Elfster as being the ideal way to do it. Many people commented that they loved the experience, and people are already asking when we are going to do the next one,” she enthuses.

So, cheers to Louise and the knitters who share her passion for the cozy things in life. May their generosity, support, and enthusiasm for their craft be a creative inspiration to us all, every day.

To join the fun and engaging Everyday Knitter community, check them out on the web or on Facebook.

Looking for a great way to spread a little generosity in your own community? Organize a free, online Secret Santa-style gift exchange with Elfster. It just takes minutes! Want to connect with the elves at Elfster? You can reach us via Facebook, Tweet us @Elfster, or catch us on Instagram at @Elfstergram.

Lead image courtesy Etsy seller KnittingOnTheHill

A Hopping Good Time: Easter Party Ideas for Toddlers, Kids, and the Young at Heart

A Hopping Good Time: Easter Party Ideas for Toddlers, Kids, and the Young at Heart

easter bunny eggs
You’re nobunny til somebunny loves you | Image courtesy Etsy seller Gnomewerkspdx

When we grow up, Easter tends to get unfairly short shrift. For one thing, it isn’t fixed in place like Christmas or always on the same weekend like Thanksgiving. Landing anywhere from late March to end of April, as adults in a life filled with responsibilities and hecticness, Easter can catch us by surprise.

But you know who loves Easter? Who looks forward to it every year? Kids. And what’s not to love? There’s candy, there’s the thrill of the egg hunt (because kids don’t know you can just go to the store for eggs, the adorable little goons), and of course, there are bunnies, the fluffy and cuddly kid-magnets synonymous with the holiday.

There’s more to it than that, though. I think kids just get excited by spring, with its atmosphere of warm renewal and crocus-pushing frost melt. Easter, both as a tradition and a time of year, promises a rebirth, the world unfurling again. Even toddlers, who might not fully remember the last holiday, know it’s important. They know it’s a season for growth.

So when throwing an Easter party for toddlers and kids, try to remember that feeling of awakening in yourself. Doing so can make for a party that’s fun for adults, too! We can all enjoy a good Easter celebration this year, with pastel traditions and egg-based humor. And that’s no yolk!

(Sorry.)

(I’m not actually sorry.)

Easter Party Theme Ideas for Toddlers and Young-At-Heart Adults

There’s more than one way to pet an Easter bunny. Throw a party the day of, or throw one beforehand. Either way, you’ll need to have some games and activities to make sure it’s one of the most memorable days of the year, and something to look forward to spring after spring.

Here are some ideas for parties that will leave both adults and children very hoppy, er, happy. Obviously, these can be mixed and matched any way you see fit.

The Easter Competition Party

One thing we love to do at our Easter parties is set up games for both kids and adults to play. Depending on how old the kids are, participation may vary, but they’re pretty suitable for anyone 3 and up.

pin tail on bunny game
Pin the tail on the Easter bunny | Image courtesy Etsy seller EmilyEntertains
  • The Egg Toss: This is the king of the Easter game because it combines the thematic importance of rebirth with people getting messy. Everyone pairs up and tosses eggs back and forth, getting farther apart each round, until only one pair has an unbroken egg. This is a lot of fun for adults and for kids because there is always the goofy tension of the egg hanging in the air. A variant for a younger crowd of toddlers could be having them toss a hard-boiled egg, or even rolling an egg across a table to each other.
  • The Bunny Hop Sack Race: All you need for this are enough sturdy bags (we prefer a good burlap bag designed for the purpose) and enough people who don’t mind falling down. You can have a kids’ race and an adults’ one, or just watch the kids hop around the lawn. This doesn’t even have to be a race, per se, it can just be an activity, with the kids hopping from tree to tree, each one getting a prize at various stops. For the adults though, it needs to be a race. After all, nothing inspires more fall down competition than ridiculousness.
  • Pin the Basket on the Bunny: All you need is a cutout of the Easter Bunny and some baskets to “pin” to his hand. There are a few variations on this. The basket could already be there, and the goal of the blindfolded participant would be to pin eggs to the basket. Or, you could even make it 3D, and have people try to drop eggs into a real basket while blindfolded (this is an outdoor game). Both kids and adults will enjoy this. It might be fun to see who is better!

The Crafty Easter Celebration

Part of the fun of Easter is that it is inherently DIY. From eggs to decorations, kids and adults can show off their creativity while celebrating the fresh, new season.

dyed Easter eggs
Coloring eggs is always a shell of a good time| Image courtesy flick’r user jriede
  • Egg decorating: This is wonderful no matter how old a kid is. Children as young as two can draw, and take their first fledgling steps at art. They know that eggs should be colorful, and as they get older, they’ll want to try different designs. You can use a classic egg-decorating kit, or use different crayons and markers or patterns. It’s an egg-cellent way to let imaginations hatch.
  • Build a Bunny: It’s like Build a Bear, only different. All you need are some felt or stuffed bunnies, and some patterns for clothes and accessories. Should Mr. Bunny have a top hat and a basket? Of course! Kids will have fun creating the Easter Bunny of their dreams.
  • An Easter-themed coloring book: Kids—and adults—love coloring books, and Easter, with its warm greens and bright pastels and daffodil yellows, is a perfect holiday for it. Get some coloring books for kids (and grown-ups!) and give yourself an hour of peace and quiet before or after the jelly bean-based sugar rush. Or, make your own customizable coloring book using your home computer and printer!

The Adventurous Easter Romp

Maybe you want to take your party to the next level of hip hoppity cool. Here are a couple ways you can do just that.

stuffed bunny
Are you telling me kids won’t be hoppy to see this guy? | Image courtesy Etsy seller SammieClarkArt
  • A scavenger hunt: Of course, you can do an Easter Egg hunt, which is always fun, but you can add more than just eggs. Hide items like coins, stuffed bunnies, toys, games, etc. If each child has a list of things to find, you can also ensure that everyone gets the same things, instead of the oldest kid hoarding 30 eggs while the rest of the kids cry. Let’s try to avoid that.
  • A visit from the Easter Bunny: A plush costume, a basket of eggs and candy, and a willingness for one of the adults to disappear for a bit are all that’s needed to make for a memorable Easter. It’s obvious that the kids will love this, especially the younger ones, and all the adults (or at least the ones who aren’t in the costume) will as well.
  • A petting zoo: This is obviously on the upper end, but there are a lot of organizations that will bring over rabbits for the kids to pet and play with. Who knows? It might end up sparking a lifetime of lepus love.

It’s funny. It’s easy for Easter to take us by surprise. Not in the Christmas sense of, “I can’t believe it’s only a week until Christmas where did the time go I NEED TO WRAP,” but in a literal way. We don’t always remember it’s coming. But when we do, it’s almost impossible not to get excited.

It’s spring again. Flowers are coming back. Birds are returning north. The kids know it; they know that life is about to start unwrapping itself. With these Easter party ideas, even us adults can remember what that was like, when we saw the world as new.

Bounce to social media and let us know about your favorite Easter party ideas. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.