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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.

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas: Celebrate India’s Festival of Lights Around the World

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas: Celebrate India’s Festival of Lights Around the World

diwali gift ideas to celebrate the Festival of Lights in India—and around the world

The word Diwali, with its upward-lilting last syllable, already carries within it a lightness and a note of grace. That’s fitting, too: A translation of the word reads “rows of lighted lamps,” a beautiful and warm image invoking peace, warmth, and openness. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights in India and around the world, is one of the high points on the Hindu calendar, a day when light triumphed over darkness. And it’s that selfsame light that we celebrate today.

Diwali, Festival of Lights in India
India’s Festival of Lights | Image courtesy Wikimedia commons user urbanurban_ru

Imagine thousands of lights over thousands of houses and across vast lands, stretching back into the mists of times, and you have Diwali. It’s a day where people clean and redecorate, much like the traditions of the Chinese New Year, pushing away the darkness of the last year. And it’s a day to give presents to the ones you love.

Exchanging gifts is fitting for such a wonderfully happy day. Gift exchanges celebrate the love that you have for each other, and the joy of having people near you. That’s the purest expression of light—that which comes from within us, and can be felt by others. Even if that light is unseen, there’s the physical glow of the festival, a historical celebration of family and friends, illuminating your every smile.

This Diwali, make sure you let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Be a beacon through every darkness with unique Diwali gift ideas for celebrating India’s Festival of Lights anywhere around the world.

Why Is Diwali Important and Celebrated: The Story of Diwali

The story of Diwali
Tell me about Diwali… | Image courtesy Amazon

The story of Diwali is well known in many parts of the world, but there are many different reasons why it is important and celebrated from region to region throughout Asia. In northern India, it recognizes the return of the god Rama to his sacred city after 14 years in exile. In southern India, the day focuses on Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and prosperity. In Nepal, it celebrates Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakaasura, the demon king, while in Bengal it’s most often associated with the goddess Kali.

The point is the same, though: A memorialization of the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over sadness, and light over darkness. That’s why it’s a holiday in India, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Fiji, and many other countries, including parts of Pakistan.

The holiday is about joy and jubilance. There’s no room for mourning or despair. It recognizes victory and, more importantly, the chance for more victories to come. It recognizes that we can triumph in our own lives. And because it’s a party, there are always traditional foods. In this case sweets, perhaps to signify just how sweet life can truly be!

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas for Family and Friends

Patterns + Colors | Image courtesy Etsy seller RCMooreVintage
Patterns + Colors | Image courtesy Etsy seller RCMooreVintage

It isn’t a Diwali party without sweets and candy, but the celebration of Diwali is about more than just food. It’s also about giving gifts. You just have to know the right ones to give. Here are some unique Diwali gift ideas for friends and family this year, from gifts that will dazzle to gifts keeping with 2017’s minimalist trends:

  • A party dress: A Diwali dress is very important, as they are themselves a representation of lightness, a manifestation of the swirling beauty in the cosmos. Reflecting the intricate minaturisms that characterized much of Hindu art, and suffused with bright colors, a dress becomes a treasured item, a reminder of a new year—and of the person from whom it came.
  • Diwali books: These are especially great for children who are just learning what this sacred and beautiful day really means. Diwali books can be about the history of gods triumphing over darkness, or about how we celebrate it today. There are two sides to Diwali: the light without, and the love within, and good books help children recognize that from a young age.
  • Statues: Representations of the gods can bring good fortune and joy to the recipient, and are a reminder of why we celebrate.
  • An Om tapestry: Sacred in Hinduism, the Om (or Aum) pattern is the representation of the sound of the universe. An Om tapestry brings that transcendental peace and oneness to any recipient.
  • Candles: It is the Festival of Lights, after all. Give a candle and when it is lit, it will join the millions around the world, shining through the darkness.

A Diwali Gift Exchange

Diwali cards are sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller Aleeshasattic
Diwali cards are sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller Aleeshasattic

As we’ve pointed out, Diwali is celebrated around the world, and not just in countries where it’s an official holiday. The Hindu diaspora is in every corner of the globe, bringing unique and beautiful traditions of learning and peace wherever it goes. But that might mean your Diwali celebrations are spread out over many continents. Luckily, you can still have an online gift exchange to bridge those miles.

An online gift exchange allows you to randomize and anonymize selections so that the giver of the gifts is a surprise. The recipient can create a wish list from top online retailers, and the list will be given to their secret gift giver. The presents will be sent, and they can all be opened at the same time,

Your friends and family don’t all have to be in the same room, the same city, or even the same side of the earth to break bread and eat sweets together. You can bring that spirit, that light that makes Diwali so special, through the darkness of countless miles. By being able to celebrate with the ones you love, from anywhere, you are bringing the endless glow of Diwali with you everywhere.

What light illuminates you? Tell us about your favorite Diwali gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired Diwali dessert gifting, browse our Sweet Gift Guide.

Brass Lakshmi image in banner is courtesy Amazon.

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

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


3 Easy DIY Father's Day Gift Ideas for Dad

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

 

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

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

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

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

DIY Homemade Vanilla Coffee Syrup Recipe to Gift a Wakeful Morning

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

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

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

The Ingredients:

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

The Recipe:

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

 

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

Homemade Dry Spice Rub Recipes: Gifts for the BBQ Dad

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

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

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

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

Blackening Spice Rub Recipe

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

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

Lemon and Herb Rub Recipe

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

*Try this on salmon served with tartar sauce

The Everyday Rub Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, you can. And it’s super easy!

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

The Supplies:

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

The Directions:

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

End of Year Teacher Survival Kit: An Online Teacher Appreciation Gift Exchange

End of Year Teacher Survival Kit: An Online Teacher Appreciation Gift Exchange

end of year teacher gift
Image courtesy Brittany Briggs
Teacher Ashley Reed
Teacher and Gifter Ashley Reed

Believe it or not, another busy, hectic school year will soon be coming to a close. Students are already buzzing with plans for bidding farewell to the classroom in exchange for the carefree days of summer. And for teachers, the official countdown to their yearly vacation from the whiteboard has begun. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think they’re just as excited as the kids!

Knowing firsthand how demanding the end of a school year can be, Ashley Reed and Chandra Dills, both first-grade teachers in Georgia (as well as busy moms and uber creative bloggers) recently reached out to fellow teachers across the country. They found that other educators were ready to jump at the chance to be part of an online teacher survival kit gift exchange meant to encourage each other in the race to the finish line. Because who doesn’t need a little encouragement when it comes to wrapping up another fast-paced school year?

Exchanging Teacher Survival Gift Kits to Encourage Peers

Teacher and Gifter Chandra Dills
Teacher and Gifter Chandra Dills

Not only do Ashley and Chandra keep busy every day in the classroom, but they’re both Curriculum Designers for Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT), the world’s first and largest educational marketplace with more than two million original teacher-created resources available for use today.

According to the TpT website, “Our dream is to make the expertise and wisdom of all the teachers in the world available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Teachers Pay Teachers (or TpT, as we call it) is a community of millions of educators who come together to share their work, their insights, and their inspiration with one another. We are the first and largest open marketplace where teachers share, sell, and buy original educational resources. That means immediate access to a world of expertise and more time to focus on students and teaching.”

Just when this dynamic duo thought they couldn’t possibly squeeze anything else into their busy days, the two teachers got even busier and created “The End of the Year Survival Swap,” using Elfster as the online tool to connect their community of fellow teachers from around the country. The goal was to create an online gift exchange for school teachers to be able to reach out and encourage their peers.

teacher survival kit for end of year
A teacher survival kit for end of year | Image courtesy Ashley Reed

Are you getting burned out? Counting down the days til the end of school? All teachers need a little boost of encouragement as we get into the home stretch. In this gift exchange, you’ll be partnered with another teacher somewhere in the US and you’ll mail him or her a package no later than April 28th. Please try to spend $20 on your gift. Your gift can include fun school supplies, inspiring quotes, handy gadgets, and more….whatever would brighten a teacher’s day! Join the fun as we ALL try to survive the end of the school year! :)

“We reached out to other teachers and invited them to participate in this exchange,” explains Ashley.  “Many of these teachers are TPT authors and bloggers as well—but not all are!”

A Peer-to-Peer Teacher Appreciation Gift Exchange Online

encouraging teacher gifts
Image courtesy Teaching with Crayons and Curls

Ashley discovered the joys of sharing and spreading generosity while using Elfster for a previous online gift exchange. “I originally participated in an exchange with a group of mamas I met in an online forum. These were women all over the country, so I knew how easy and effortless Elfster was for the organizer!” So she reached out to teaching communities using Facebook and Instagram—and almost 180 teachers decided to join in the swap!

“Since we’re all in the same boat (teachers surviving the end of school—many of us also parents surviving the end of school), I hope that we’ll just have fun and be an encouragement to one another,” she explains.

The elves at Elfster sure hope we’ve made the job of managing this great community just a little easier (and we think Ashley agrees).

“I don’t have to worry about drawing names from a hat, matching people up, emailing everyone, and answering a million questions,” she explains.

teacher gift exchange
Image courtesy Stephanie Philips, Elfster exchange participant

“Because, let’s face it…I’m a busy teacher JUST LIKE THEY ARE! :)”

And as the group of educators heads into the final days of the school year, hats off to Ashley and Chandra for giving so much of their time, generosity, support, and enthusiasm to encourage their fellow teachers. Here’s to a great summer for all!

Are you a teacher looking for inspiration?

Check out Ashley’s blog here: http://justreedblog.com/

Check out Chandra’s blog here: http://www.teachingwithcrayonsandcurls.com/

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.

Hot Summer Kickoff Party Theme Ideas: Planning Outdoor Activities for Sunny Days

Hot Summer Kickoff Party Theme Ideas: Planning Outdoor Activities for Sunny Days

summer kickoff party themes
Summer candlelight celebrations | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jovi Waqa

There are few things I love more than a classic Americana summer party. Food on the grill, cold drinks in the cooler, music sifting through the hot air reminding you of the past—and of the current endless present. Kids running around, firecrackers going off, lawn games that are fun and weirdly competitive. Burgers and ribs, grilled veggies, salads passed around laughter-filled tables. A long and sultry day that sunsets into a firefly dusk and a dance-filled night.  It’s the bottomless plastic ketchup bottle to my soul.

But, sometimes, you want something different, something that bucks tradition. While no one objects to a classic, this year you can expand your sunny BBQ repertoire by exploring new summer kickoff party theme ideas that focus on some favorite elements of the sunny season slowly rolling in. Celebrate the sun and fun to come by turning that feeling of being warm and free into a backyard BBQ or summer block party.

So, here are three summer-themed party plans for the three months of (hopefully) endless sun ahead. They’re just around the corner. You can already taste them… Now get ready for them.

(Mandatory musical accompaniment for this reading)

Summer Kickoff Party Ideas With an Oceania Theme

If you don’t live on one of the coasts or the Great Lakes, your summer party might be pretty landlocked. Most people don’t have backyards abutting a sea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the feeling of being by a large body of water, a cool breeze meandering through, carrying with it the salty freshness of a million waves.

Teal and seafoam colors, along with nautical decorations, set the mood. If you want to get really wild, you can create the thatched gazebo look of the South Pacific (repurposing what you used on St. Patrick’s Day). Here’s what else you’ll need for your Oceania-themed summer kickoff party:

ocean party theme
Remember: Sand dollars aren’t currency, and seahorses aren’t actually horses | Image courtesy Etsy seller ShinySoiree
  • Seafood: Lobster might be a little expensive, but grilled shrimp is always delicious, and super easy. Some of the younger guests might not like seafood, but they’ll always enjoy the classic kid snack of goldfish crackers. If you really want to go all out, though, in a way that’s both fun and not terribly expensive, try a crawfish boil. That’ll bring the nautical theme to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Blue Wave Punch: Blue Hawaiian punch and lemonade make a sweet, colorful, seafaring addition to any ocean-esque party.
  • Seashell painting: Decorate seashells! Seashell painting is fun for kids and adults, especially if you use ocean-themed greens and blues to create swirling masterpieces that feel like stepping into the ocean. Even if you aren’t by the water, seashells are easy to get and pretty inexpensive.
  • Walk the Plank: All you need are some two-by-fours, a few cinder blocks (or other level objects) and, of course, plenty of eye-patches. Set up two boards and two teams, then race. Falling off is a disqualification. The eye-patches make it an especially piratical game.

Camping and Crafting: A Woodsy Summer Party Theme

As a former Boy Scout, I have great memories of camping. The deep North Woods in the summer had a certain piney stillness punctuated by hiking, archery, and other events of greater or lesser meretriciousness. Adults love camping too, especially now when the chance to unplug takes on greater importance.

camp party invite
Camp, craft, and hunt | Image courtesy Etsy seller INVITEDbyAudriana

So maybe have a camping party. Spread out pine needles, put some tents in the backyard, make table runners that feel like the old log cabins we used to stay in…it harkens back to national parks and lingering days. Your party will have that warm campfire smell, where the only notifications you hear are the gentle questionings of owls.

  • Flame-grilled food: Food can be pretty normal, except (if this is possible) it has to be cooked over an open flame. You can get safe, clean, easy-to-use firepits nearly anywhere, and they’re perfect for cooking hotdogs on sticks. But, of course, the mandatory food is s’mores. It’s not camping if you don’t have s’mores. Don’t forsake ants on a log, either. Reach back into your childhood, people.
  • Bug Juice: Flavored gelatin, orange and pineapple juice, ginger ale, sugar, and maybe some sherbet. It’s the perfect summer cool-down treat. And really, any recipe is a good recipe. Everyone has their own, just like everyone has their favorite camping spot.
  • Pinecone bird feeders: All you need is some peanut butter, oatmeal, birdseed, and a pinecone, of course. Kids will love coming up with creative ways to make their feeder stand out, and they’ll love seeing birds eat from it. Plus, it’s a sticky-sweet way to give back to nature.
  • Storytelling: Some would argue that this isn’t a game, but camping is about unplugging, getting back to the world, and letting your mind wander unfettered by technology. So sit around the fire, and create a story together. Pass it around sentence by sentence, grownups and kids alike. Where you go could be as distant as the most remote campground on the furthest continent.

Summer Outdoor Night Party Ideas for Stargazing

Huck Finn and Jim, while floating down the Mississippi, would see the sky “all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” You don’t have to get that philosophical to recognize that the silence and grandeur of a star-filled night is one of the great joys of summertime.

Decorations for this party could include hanging planets, star-themed plates and napkins, and maybe lights strung around the trees in your yard, for the dusk and early evening before the actual show. If you aren’t in an area with stars, outdoor LED lights can evoke that bright and endless majesty as well. Because the point isn’t just to see stars. It’s to feel them. Here are some summer outdoor night party ideas for a stargazing soiree:

planet party cake
The world revolves around sugar, er, the sun… | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheNewYorkCakepopery
  • Dippin’ Dots: It’s the ice cream of the future! But if you want to be a little more creative and astronomical, planet-shaped cake pops are beautiful and fun. Every kid wants to eat Jupiter! Whether or not you include Pluto is up to you. I’m not getting involved in that debate.
  • Cosmic Swirl: Pink lemonade. Blue Hi-C. Tonic water. Over ice. Served in front of a black light. The colors swirl and mix like the dawning of the universe.
  • Build a telescope: Paper towels, scissors, and a pair of convex lenses (only $5) can bring your kids closer to the night sky. They might not see as far back as the Hubble with your homemade telescope, but they’ll have a better appreciation for what’s up there.
  • Create constellations: When looking at the sky, come up with new constellations. The old ones are pretty played out. This is a great imagination booster.

Summer means so many things to so many people. Your party should celebrate what it means to you, whether that’s camping, being at the beach, tailgating with friends, or just gazing up at the sky. Let your imagination rise with the temperatures. Your summer party can be whatever you want it to be.

It’s getting hot out here, so Elfster wants to hear your favorite summer stories. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Outdoor Fun Gift Guide.

Feliz Dia de la Reyes: Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for a Royal Celebration

Feliz Dia de la Reyes: Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for a Royal Celebration

camels for three kings
Camels don’t actually have to be a part of the celebration, but they could be… | Image courtesy Etsy seller darialvovsky

The story of Christmas doesn’t begin or end on the 25th. There’s an entire holiday season full of parties and gifts that leads up to Christmas Day. And, for many around the world, a hugely important Yule-inspired holiday is celebrated after the new year: Three Kings Day (or The Feast of the Magi), known in many Latino cultures as Dias de la Reyes. It’s a day that is as venerated and fun-filled as Christmas morning.

Dias de la Reyes, which falls every year on January 6th, is the exclamation point at the end of the holiday season. While some spend the first week in January wrapping up glass ornaments and dragging away the Christmas tree, that isn’t the case in cultures which celebrate The Feast of the Three Kings. For those lucky countries, the holidays end with a bang, with gifts, with goodies—with joy. It’s one final chance to celebrate a beautiful season with the ones you love. I’ve pulled together some royal Three Kings Day gift and party ideas, if you haven’t been lucky enough to celebrate the occasion before. So, read on. It’s the wise thing to do.

 

The Feast of the Three Kings: Celebrating Dia de las Reyes

wise men book
Vintage wise men | Image courtesy Etsy seller BabettesFeats

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Three Kings followed the Star of Bethlehem to the manger where the Christ child lay swaddled. In the gospel, they are just referred to as visitors from the East, and while their number is never mentioned, the three gifts that were brought—the now famous gold, frankincense, and myrrh—led scholars to believe there were three of them.

Who they were has always been up for debate. “Kings” was a later interpolation, but they are most often referred to as astronomers, or just the “Wise Men.” Some people believe they were Zoroastrian priests, which lends a certain symbolic weight to early Christendom. By the middle of the first century, though, they were given names: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar.

Regardless of who they were, their visitation was important to Christian history. It was a symbolic recognition of the importance of Jesus to everyone. Three Kings Day celebrates the idea that his story is universal; even distant kings (or astronomers) come to bow down. That’s why it is a feast day, and why some cultures really elevate that feast to a full-blown celebration.

 

Feliz Dia de la Reyes: A Gift Exchange With Camels and Shoes

In many Latin cultures, the Wise Men are a bigger deal than Santa. One of the traditions is for children to put out a bowl of water and a bowl of grass (for the camels) on the night of January 5th, and ring their shoes around the bowls. When they awake, the shoes are filled with presents. (Presents can also be placed outside the shoes, of course. It’s hard to get an XBox in a sandal.)

rosca de reyes bread
Rosca de Reyes | Image courtesy My Bueno Cookbook

It’s a day filled with parades and parties. One tradition is to have Rosca de Reyes, or “King’s Bread.” In Mexico, thousands of people gather to eat from a mile-long string of connected loaves. It’s a communal affair: everyone bakes and everyone eats, sharing from each other’s ovens. It’s like a city-wide gift from everyone, to everyone. Of course, yours can be a little bit smaller.

This is a sweetbread, with a twist: There’s a figurine of the Christ child hidden within it (echoing a Mardi Gras tradition). Whoever finds the figurine has to make tamales for everyone on February 2nd, which is the Feast of the Candles. While the root of this silliness is unclear, it is a good reason to eat tamales. Note: There is never a bad reason.

The day is usually rounded off by a feast. There aren’t any traditional foods, which is wonderful. It means every family has a tradition of their own! You can continue traditions or start a new one every year (if the tradition is to have no tradition at all). At the dinner, the children often wear gold toy crowns to pretend they’re the kings, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

 

Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for Royal Fun

incense holder
Incense evokes the gifts of the kings | Image courtesy Amazon

Needless to say, Dia de la Reyes is a great reason for everyone, not just the kids, to get and receive gifts. It’s still the Christmas season, after all. They can be exchanged at the end of dinner, or when the kids are opening their gifts around the shoe ring. But what gifts to give? Here are a few Magi-inspired ideas, but like with the food, there aren’t traditional gifts, so don’t feel bound by these ideas:

  • An incense holder: Why an incense holder? Because you may be giving them incense sticks. After all, what better way to celebrate the Feast of the Magi than by inhaling the beautiful scents of frankincense and myrrh? While these may be inexpensive now, spices and perfumes and incense were incredibly valuable back then, and the symbolism shows that you truly care.
  • Oils and Lotions: There are, of course, other ways to give the scents, including oils and lotions. These are wonderful aromatherapy gifts, and can make anyone’s day a little more relaxed.
  • Gold: We aren’t, of course, going to tell you to give someone actual gold (although you can, if you want). But why not something golden, like decorative throw pillows or a candle holder?

A Magi Gift Exchange Is a Wise Idea

wise men photo props
A wise man once said… | Image courtesy Etsy seller silhouetteshop

Remember, there aren’t traditional gifts. You don’t have to go down the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” road. Indeed, your gift giving options are wide open, but this can make gift giving tricky. If there are a lot of people in your family or group, you might want to consider setting up a gift exchange.

A Three Kings gift exchange can be run like a Secret Santa, which in this case we’ll call a Secret Gaspar, because that’s the easiest name to type. In your Secret Gaspar, everyone is assigned a giftee, and you’re given a list of what they might want. You can even ask questions anonymously, and they can add or subtract from their lists. No one knows who anyone is, since it’s all run online.

You can do this if you are going to be together on Jan 6th, or have the gifts sent to be opened all around the country—or even the world. For families with relatives in Latin America, this is a wonderful way to bring everyone together.

Sometimes, you can’t all get together. You can’t follow the Star of Bethlehem to give gifts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t all be together, in spirit and through technology, sharing gifts and laughter in warm remembrance of that cold night and three mysterious strangers all those thousands of years ago.

If you’re interested in more international gifting reads, the elves say A Freilichen Purim to you!

What’s in your shoe? Tell us about your favorite Dias de la Reyes gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting, browse our gift guides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Dog Welcome Basket: Primp With Your Pup

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

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

Rainy Day Relaxing Pet Gift Box Ideas

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

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

A Pet Lovers Adventure Gift Basket for City Explorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tech Gifts for Teens Into Artistic Photographic Expression

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

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

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

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

Tech Gifts for Teen Explorers

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

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

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

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

High-Tech Music Gifts Are Pitch Perfect for Teen Guys

acoustic guitar tech gift
Acoustic meets digital | Image courtesy Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

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

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

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

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

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

A Giving Tree Lesson Idea: Donating Books to Charity

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

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

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

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

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

Easy DIY Flower Pot Ideas to Watch Generosity Grow

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

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

The Supply List:

  • Small watering cans
  • Soil
  • Wildflower seeds

The Directions:

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

Giving Tree Activities Teach Generosity to Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ingredients List:

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

The Baking Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ingredients List:

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

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

Hostess Sand Bucket, er… Gift Basket… Ideas

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

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

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

What to Put in a Beach Bag Gift:

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

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

Picnic Basket Gift Ideas for Summer

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

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

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

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

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

A Homemade Tomato Jam Recipe to Preserve Summer’s Bounty

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

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

The Ingredients List:

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


The Recipe:

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

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

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

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

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