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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:

Check out Chandra’s blog here:

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.

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.


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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!


  • 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”


  • 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.

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

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Eleanor Roosevelt, who paved the way for so many strong and independent women leaders, famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Her statements were backed up a few years later by one Lady Gaga, who noted, “Remember there’s always someone fighting for you.”

send the love
#WWSendTheLove on Elfster

Both of these women are expressing that being strong, and gaining strength from other’s encouragement, are still relevant. When doing something difficult, it helps to have a strong community to back you up, keep you inspired, and help ferry you across those dark nights of the soul.

But that’s what can make changing habits and losing weight so difficult. It’s really one of the most personal and individual things you can do. It’s all about your body and your actions. It can be hard to make a community out of something so atomized. But that’s what Weight Watchers has done, and by using cool new social media technology, and the magic of gift exchange services, a group of Weight Watchers members have taken it even further.

Social media has made it easier than ever to find like-minded, encouraging people to help us through tough times and to help us summit difficult peaks. Healthy weight loss, which is really a sustained lifestyle choice, is one of those challenging summits. But by forming a community of support, and by sending each other gifts to help create a stronger community that knows each other better, a nationwide group has expanded exponentially. They’re connected by technology. They’re connected by a shared struggle. They’re connected by the victories that happen every day. And, in this sometimes autonomous world, they’re connected by friendship.

As the Lifetime Weight Watchers member who co-runs the group, Stephanie Keller, tells us: they hang together.

Finding Friendship Across the Country

The most amazing part about the group is that people are nice, and are almost unrelentingly positive and supportive—an enormous difference from so many other parts of the internet, which (spoiler alert!) can be mean. Anonymous online users on other sites are sometimes known for tearing others down for a quick anonymous thrill. That’s not conducive to healthy attitudes. But, as Stephanie explained to us, her Weight Watchers Connect group doesn’t have any of that.

inspirational sign
Finding others to help you stay strong can make your courage grow | Image courtesy Etsy seller PRINTANDPROUD

“Connect,” she explained, “is like Facebook, but it’s entirely positive. No one is ever negative on there. People share stuff and tell each other things that they can never share anywhere else. People admit to troubles and addictions. They share their stories. And the best part is that they’re supportive and motivational. On the internet, to virtual strangers, they’re sharing their before and after pictures. It’s safe. Nobody wants to see someone else fail.”

You could hear the excitement in Stephanie’s voice as she told us about the growth of Connect, which users join through the Weight Watchers app. She mentions that it’s “very hashtag based,” which can be intimidating to some users, but it’s also very user-friendly, and everyone is extremely helpful; Stephanie believes that’s the most important part.

“Everybody that’s on there struggles with their weight somehow, and some members have no one who’s supportive in their life. That’s where Connect comes in. I’ve made friends all over the country on there and we’re now friends offline too. Everybody is really, really kind on there.”

But some people have taken it a step further with a #WWSendTheLove group. We profiled them last year, talking to founder Stephanie Encin, when the group had really just started to get going. The idea was simple: members of the group would send each other motivational gifts to help each other with their journey. It was instantly a huge success.

Since then, Stephanie Encin turned the reigns over to Stephanie Keller and Davita Ritchie in October 2016, who before this technology would probably never have met (Stephanie is in New Jersey, and Davita lives in New Mexico). Their group has grown ever since, with as many as 850 participants. It’s something both incredibly simple, and emotionally wonderful: a gift exchange. It’s how they turn a community of like-minded, friendly, encouraging people into actual friends.

The Gift of Friendship

The group uses the Elfster Gift Exchange, which makes a nationwide program incredibly manageable and fun. It’s purely voluntary: you sign up to give and receive a gift box from someone else in your group every month. For about $25, people fill their box with 10-12 little, inspirational items. But the real heart of it is that you learn about the person you’re matched with.

Stephanie explained that it wasn’t just a matter of getting assigned a random person, and then sending them something. You may already sort of know them through Connect, or maybe they’re a total stranger, but, once matched, you start talking to them. You chat or exchange messages about what they like, where they live, who they are, and more. You discover their needs and wants, and then you send them something. For example, if someone you know was having a spring party, you might send them something green and seasonal.

And you get something too! “It’s like Christmas every month,” says Stephanie.

inspirational mug
Mugs are a gift that keeps on giving Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGiftableGoodies

Some gift ideas include:

  • Motivational posters: When facing challenges, it’s always good to have something that bucks you up, lifts your spirit, and gives you the strength to keep going. Posters can be moving or funny, but if they’re sent with your gift partner in mind, they’ll always be meaningful.
  • Inspirational calendars: I love 365-day calendars, whether they’re words or movie quotes or comics. But when faced with the daily challenges of healthy eating, a calendar with a different inspirational quote every day can be as fresh a wake-up as a cup of coffee.
  • Coffee mugs: Of course, real coffee is also as important as metaphorical coffee, which is why mugs are always a great gift.
  • Weight Watchers-inspired cookbooks: The best part about Weight Watchers is that you can make delicious meals while maintaining points and using the right ingredients. The organization has many cookbooks that make healthy eating easy and fun. It’s a great way to keep your friend on the path.

But one of the great joys is that this is a national group, so you get interesting gifts from all over the country. One of Stephanie’s favorite gifts was a genuine Alaskan Ulu knife.

Other popular gifts include water bottles or food items, like powdered peanut butter, and foodstuffs that can only be found in certain regions. Some members don’t have a Whole Foods, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s near them, but their gift exchange partner might. They might receive something they’ve been craving from afar, in a Christmas box in the middle of the spring.

A Few of Your Favorite Things

In January, Oprah got involved with the Weight Watchers Connect program, giving it that patented Oprah boost. But Stephanie thinks the Queen of Daytime should also get to know the #WWSendTheLove group.

gift ideas
Inspirational gifting ideas from the Send the Love exchange

“This is about people helping people,” she tells us. “This is a really great, motivational, positive program. People come back month after month. They don’t have to do it again, but they do. I get tagged and emailed all day long from people wanting to join. It was started by one person, and now it’s huge. It’s the power of people.” Stephanie believes that if Weight Watchers really got behind this—and who knows, maybe even Oprah—that it could be taken to the next level.

At Elfster, we can testify to their power. We’re proud to say that they’re the largest group we’ve ever hosted! Gift exchanges are a fun way to bring groups of friends closer together, or to turn groups of strangers into friends. It’s easy to get started, and as Stephanie and Davita show, they can be run by people on opposite sides of the country as if they were in the same room. That’s what makes them such a great tool for bonding; in a way, they bring the whole community into a big room.

And at the end, the bigger the community, the more people can feel loved. They can feel friendship and non-judgemental connections. It’s how strength is formed, and how real life changes are made. And it just makes life more fun! It’s the gift of being alive, and being a part of something. Stephanie and Davita’s group embraces technology, and relies on it, but it isn’t a technological solution. It’s people connecting to people. If more of life could come down to that, we’d all be better off.

Interested in joining the fun? Look up these hashtags on Weight Watchers Connect: #sendthelove, #wwsendthelove, #wwsendthelove(month), and #sendthelove(month). Stephanie and Davita can also be reached on Connect at @StephanieKeller65 or @LadyRoscoe.

Are you part of a community that uses a gift exchange? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Make Sure Name’s Are Top Secret

christmas wrapping paper
Image flick’r user Hade2K

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

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

Step 2: Put Your (Sneaky) Elf Hat On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Create Hair-Raising Halloween Fun: A You’ve Been Booed Neighborhood Gifting Game

How to Create Hair-Raising Halloween Fun: A You’ve Been Booed Neighborhood Gifting Game

A slight chill is in the air. Pumpkins are creatively perched on porches all over town. And the neighborhood candy collectors will soon be dressed to thrill, hitting the streets on their sweet mission to fill their sacks all the way to the tippy top. From princess to pirate, minion to mermaid, as kids young and old eagerly anticipate the big night, the question of the season remains, “What are you going to be for Halloween?”

Halloween only rolls around once a year, so as you contemplate this difficult decision, get your friends, family, and your entire community, ready for the celebration in a way that’s super thoughtful, generous, and a little bit on the sneaky side…

How to create a You've Been Booed Event Infographic

To snatch up Elfster’s free You’ve Been Boo’ed printable,click here.

Spread a little “Boo” this Halloween with a friendly scare for your neighbors. A You’ve Been Boo’ed fall-themed treat exchange is a fantastic way to bring everyone together in spooky spirit!

Never been “boo’ed?” Here’s how it works: Your family is assigned to another family in your neighborhood. You gather a little basket of Halloween goodies and secretly leave it on your neighbor’s porch, with a note letting them know they’ve been boo’ed—but don’t let them know you were ever there. This free printable card from Elfster will do the trick.

Using an online gift exchange like Elfster makes it even easier to get your family and friends inspired for a little hair-raising fun, and keep it a secret. If your neighborhood has a master list of everyone’s email addresses, it’s a quick and easy way to make sure you include everyone in the fun. Each family participating in the neighborhood “booing” will be assigned one other family they may or may not know, which makes it even better, and a great icebreaker for newcomers to the neighborhood. Be sure to invite older neighbors, too—they may not have trick-or-treaters at home anymore, but it’s still fun to join in the neighborhood escapades!

This free printable from Elfster is the perfect addition to your Halloween:


I love how one You’ve Been Boo’ed organizer and “Halloween Hostess with the Mostest,” Paloma Benst, has reached out to her San Diego neighborhood of nearly 50 families to easily let participants know how the exchange works by posting the rules on her Elfster exchange homepage. Here are her great tips to avoid a Halloween headache:

Please answer the following questions and post them so the person that gets you knows a bit more about your family. This is going to be lots of fun!

1. Does anyone in your family have a peanut allergy?

2. How many kids do you have age, and their gender?

3. Any favorite candies?

4. Your family’s favorite movies or characters?

5. Do you have a favorite color?

6. Make it spooky or keep it cartoonish?

Please add anything else you think is important. You will deliver your “boo” personally, and let the organizer know once you have done so. 

With rules and expectations clearly defined, let the “booing” begin!

If you’d like to do a Big Boo Reveal Party, gather all the neighbors, even if they didn’t participate, for a festive block party, including a costume parade before the trick-or-treating begins. Ask around the group to find your secret “boo’er” to say thanks. Include pizza or your favorite potluck picks for a little snack, and perhaps a little “witch’s brew” for the grown-ups. And, don’t forget to pass out glow sticks before the sun sets and the kids are off and running!

Boo Halloween Front Porch Decorations

Photo credit Rugals

A You’ve Been Boo’ed gift exchange is a great way to celebrate Halloween as a community. Looking for ideas for your hauntingly great party? Be sure to check out Elfster’s Eat, Drink and Be Scary gift guide for some festive fun.

Want to include friends that don’t live in your neck of the woods? It’s just as easy to gather the gang online for your own secret Halloween exchange. It may just require a little extra driving, or shipping, but it will be well worth the effort.

And why not share some scare with your co-workers, too! That’s what Elfster exchange organizer Leah Cappadona has been doing the past two Halloweens and her co-workers look forward to this annual tradition. 

“We are an all female group of nurses who work in a cancer center together,” Leah says. “We spend more time together than with our families, so we see each other as extended families. With the nature of our work, and the fact that there can be ten women working in one room at the same time, our work days can be stressful and tense.”

“Once names are drawn, each week ‘Boo Buddies’ will leave a small surprise on their chosen person’s desk,” Leah explains. “A piece of candy, a Halloween Card, or sometimes we decorate the nurses desk and computer with fake spider webs. Last year, one of the nurses hid a fake rubber rat on her person’s chair. We like to be goofy and have fun with it. During our Halloween ‘party,’ we will each bring pot luck to the office and eat throughout the day. We all have patients at different times, so an actual party is not really possible. We keep it casual with a constant flow of food and people. Our gift exchange and “Boo Buddy Reveal” is usually food influenced. We all wish we could go back to the days of trick-or-treating. This is a great way to give a treat of a gift certificate to a restaurant, or a bottle of wine.”

“It really gives all of us something to look forward to, and an opportunity to not be so serious, loosen up, and really connect like the extended family we are,” she adds. Thanks for letting Elfster be a part of your festivities, Leah!

So now that You’ve Been Boo’ed, time to get prepped for the scariest Halloween ever! Explore Elfster’s Halloween guides for the ultimate inspiration, including super cute costumes for kids and pets. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! Check us out on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram. Need help? Send us a message at

A Coffee Mug Gift Exchange for Moms That Doubles as a Back to School Teachers’ Craft Surprise

A Coffee Mug Gift Exchange for Moms That Doubles as a Back to School Teachers’ Craft Surprise

back to school teacher gift

Back to school prep—you have been conquered. From the binders to the #2 pencils, all the supplies are checked off the list, and the kids are getting used to their new school year schedules. Well, sort of.

Fellow moms, we emerge victorious from the hectic weeks of activities crammed into a few short summer months to keep our littles happy—and, let’s be honest, worn out enough for bedtime. Now to make plans with our mom-friends to congratulate ourselves on successfully getting through the mad dash transition from summer break to a new school year.

Let’s get together to commemorate summer’s end, and toast the teachers who are tackling the tough job of educating our school age kiddos. We can start to scheme ways to best support our kids’ teachers, share a few laughs about summer adventure anecdotes, and inspire each other to start each new school day off right—all while sipping on coffee and nibbling on bear claws. It doesn’t take a lot to make a memorable gathering, and we definitely deserve it!

Besides, what could be better than a back to school brunch and an inspirational coffee mug exchange with friends? Let’s face it, we all have a lot on our plates, but a little adult conversation, paired with a pastry or two, is definitely worth making room for. A quick trip to the store for a couple baked treats, a fresh fruit tray—maybe a delicious quiche or some flaky croissants with deli meat—easily covers the food spread with something for everyone.

Brew up some coffee and steep the tea, then ask your guests to bring their favorite creamer, potluck style, and a wrapped coffee mug with an inspirational quote, phrase, or image to exchange. I mean, with so many great novelty mugs out there these days, who couldn’t use a new favorite coffee cup, right?

When your guests arrive, get your gift exchange underway by having them place their wrapped coffee cups on a table, and then drawing names for all the mamas to pick a present, one at a time, from the pile. Or, create your exchange on Elfster ahead of time. This will allow each mom to personally select a thoughtful mug for someone else. This is a sure-fire way to guarantee each mug will be cherished for a long time to come! The new mugs can then be quickly broken in with a cup of Joe, or tea, as we delight in each other’s company.

Next, everyone can get crafty! Why wait until the end of the year to let the teachers know how thankful we are for all of their hard work? There’s no need to be super artsy to create a thoughtful gift. Just ask everyone to bring a gift card, in the amount of their choice, to a local shop or online store where school supplies are sold. 

back to school teacher gift

As the host, you can collect colored cardstock, glue sticks, double-stick tape, assorted colored thin ribbon, and some 100 Grand candy bars. Bonus points if the cardstock and ribbon coordinate with your school colors! You’ll also want to print off the phrase below onto computer paper ahead of time. They can be printed two to a page, and then cut down the middle lengthwise.


Cheers to a great new

school year to you!

While we wish we could give

(100 Grand)

to help the year go smooth.

we send that many thanks, &

more, to you for all you do!

While enjoying brunch eats, great conversation—and sipping from our new coffee cups—we can assemble a small token of appreciation for our kids’ teachers, showing them early on in the school year that we’re ready to support them. They are helping us with the most important job of raising our little ones, after all.

You, the “hostess with the mostest,” will have all the crafting supplies laid out, and then share the instructions below with your guests:

1. Cut cardstock into strips that are a bit longer than the poem print outs.

2. Glue the poem print out to a strip of colored cardstock and let it dry a bit.

3. Attach a candy bar over the “100 Grand” line using double-stick tape.

4. At the bottom of the cardstock strip, cut small diagonal slits just shy of where the 4 corners of a gift card would line up in order to hold the gift card in place.

5. Starting at the gift card end of the cardstock, roll the paper strips up to the top and secure with a small piece of double-stick tape.

6. Tie a ribbon around the roll—and voila!

teacher gift DIY for back to school

These colorful gift scrolls fit easily into a backpack—or can be tucked into a cute mug for an extra special treat—and then left on the teachers’ desks the next morning. They’re a simple way to bring a smile to a teacher’s face at the start of their school year!

Having had our fill of brunch treats, and feeling fully caffeinated for the day, we leave each other ready to champion for our children, and their teachers, throughout the school year. The coffee mugs we exchanged are happy little presents that will serve as a souvenir of our time together. Knowing that the days to come mean early mornings scrambling to help locate homework and missing shoes, the inspiring quotes will make us smile, and give us encouragement, as we sip our morning fuel of choice—whether it’s tea, coffee, or a quad shot espresso. After all, we know all too well that being a mom is not always an easy job and, although we wouldn’t trade it for the world, that doesn’t mean we can’t throw a little party when our children hop on the school bus this fall!

Planning a fall-tastic gift exchange to celebrate the kids heading back to school? Let the elves help! Easily start a Mommy Mug Gift Exchange on Elfster today or browse our Back to School Gift Guide for inspiration. You can also connect with us via Facebook, tweet us @elfster, or catch us on Instagram at @Elfstergram

Online Artisan Community Connects on Elfster to Share Unique Pottery Gifts

Online Artisan Community Connects on Elfster to Share Unique Pottery Gifts

image of potter

By its very definition, generosity is an act of unselfish giving—and offering one’s own talent, time, and creativity to a new friend you’ve just met is a beautiful example of selflessness. Recently, a group of more than 50 potters from many corners of the globe got down and dirty for a Secret Santa gift exchange. They used the Elfster website to help them share amazing and unique ceramic art created with their own two hands.

The pottery exchange community, led by Elfster exchange organizer and professional potter Katie Zupan, first came together on the popular Reddit website. According to Reddit’s site, it’s a “place of community, conversation, and connection with millions of users worldwide.” And within that vast universe lie many subgroups that serve to connect members with common interests, like pottery and ceramics.

“There are areas of Reddit called ‘subreddits,'” explains Katie, “which are basically mini-forums for specific interests, fandoms, and almost anything under the sun. I have been a part of the r/Ceramics and r/Pottery subreddits for a while, where we post our wares, get feedback, and share interesting things like cool new tools and techniques. I saw someone ask about doing an exchange for a bit but no one initiated it, so I thought I’d give it a go!”


The online community of subreddit potters boasts over 6,400 members who discuss “anything and everything related to throwing, hand-building, sculpting, glazing, firing, and appreciating ceramic art,” according to the site.

And the Elfster community is very grateful that Katie motivated the group to join us, and gave members the opportunity to share their creative talents in the spirit of spreading generosity by participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Katie says, “I heard about Elfster from a group that I am a part of, Sign Makers, that I know in-person or from acquaintances! We held a Secret Santa during Easter and I really liked the ease of the site. I made a page for the exchange and posted it on the subreddits and we got almost 40 people participating from it!”

mustache pottery mug

This was Katie’s first time organizing an Elfster gift exchange and from the looks of the group’s gallery wall on Elfster, participants thought the exchange was a great success. Katie received this hilarious mustachioed mug and sent a note showing her appreciation: “Thank you so much for the cup and the little bowl! It has a ton of awesome character, and will now be my cup at work! Thank you so so much! It’s GREAT!”

A thank you note from participant Adam Dunn encourages his secret spinner. “I really like your pottery. Best of luck to you in finding what you need in your education and future. You are very talented. Keep spinning.”


Participant Pam Kinnison also let her secret elf know she cares. “I love your work. Keep plugging along. Using the wheel is like using a bicycle. Once you learn and obtain the muscle memory, it gets easier :) ” (Her awesome gift is pictured here.)

Katie encouraged her group to get to know each other better by exchanging personal messages, as well as by posting pictures and thank you notes to the group’s photo gallery wall, which is a feature offered on Elfster to help communities share the exchange experience.

“I thought it would, overall, be a great way for people to share their craft,” she explains.


And the elves at Elfster believe the incredibly talented artisans of this group certainly fit the definition of “generous.” We look forward to what they have planned for the future.

Want a great way to let your creative juices flow? Spread a little generosity in your own community. Organize a free, online Secret Santa gift exchange between friends, family, or co-workers with Elfster. It just takes minutes! Want to connect with the elves at Elfster? You can reach us via Facebook here, Tweet us @elfster, or catch us on Instagram at @Elfstergram.


Wish. Gift. Shop. Share.


Pottery gift photo credits: Katie Zupan, Pam Kinnison, Jess Baer

Awesome Mommies Celebrates Motherhood By Sharing Wisdom and Friendship

Awesome Mommies Celebrates Motherhood By Sharing Wisdom and Friendship



“Motherhood is always a piece of cake,” said no one ever, but the joys and happiness that come with being a mom certainly may outweigh the challenges. And sometimes it takes a village to get there. For one lucky group of “August 2015 Awesome Mommies” who all had babies nine months ago, that support comes from a community of like-minded friends who stick together through thick and thin.

“Motherhood is a long and lonesome road sometimes and if you don’t have a support system, you can feel overwhelmed and feel like giving up,” says first-time mom and Elfster Awesome Mommies group organizer Samantha Lane. Looking for a friendly, reliable and safe source to find baby advice and share concerns about her little one, this devoted new mom formed an August 2015 mom group on Facebook six months ago to address what other online communities were lacking.


“What began as a place to post cute baby photos became a community of first-time and ‘been there, done that’ moms who support and care for each other,” Samantha explains. “Our group is made up of almost 150 ladies from all parts of the world. [We are] women from different social and economic backgrounds with different views on life and child rearing.”

“No matter the question or concern,  there will always be a positive remark and plenty of advice to help you through whatever situation you may be facing,” she adds. “We may have been brought together through our August babies, but we have stayed so close because of the support and kindness we show each other. We have kept the group relatively small so that we can get to know one another on a more personal level.”

And according to Samantha, this group of Awesome Mommies is ”full of the most wonderful,  giving and kindhearted ladies I have ever had a chance to know.  Although I have never met any of them, we have created a bond that will only continue to grow as we and our babies do.”

The elves at Elfster are pleased to help connect this tight-knit community of moms who count on Elfster to help them express their appreciation for one another, as seen through several very successful gift exchanges over the past few months. The group’s first two exchanges focused on baby and sibling gifts during the holidays, as well as a candy exchange for Valentine’s Day, but the group’s current exchange has gotten more personal.


Our most recent gift exchange is for Mother’s Day, and it’s the one I’m most excited about,” Samantha says. “Close to 90 members have signed up and we’ve drawn names. As our past exchanges have been more about baby,  this one is centered on mom and things she wants or needs. It’s hard to buy for yourself sometimes, but everyone else loves to buy for others. We set the spending limit at $20.00, knowing some ladies can only spend less or will want to spend more. It’s not about the gift, it’s about the anticipation of receiving a surprise and the fun of shopping for someone you may not know that much about.”

“Our mission is to empower each other as mothers and to be there to support one another through the joys of motherhood while helping one another stay sane!” says fellow mom and gift exchange co-organizer Melinda Hurley-Patterson. “The guessing game and randomness of Elfster helps tremendously. A person can stay anonymous and can give insight to their preferences and their ‘secret’ can know where to mail gifts and no one is the wiser.  We love that it is all hush hush.”

“Our mom’s range from first time moms, to moms of multiples, to moms of six kids,” adds Kim Miller, another one of the group’s moderators. “The one common factor is that we all have a baby born August 2015. All are invited to participate in the exchanges, but at times all cannot.”

The bonds of motherhood go deep for this group, as expressed by the generosity of its members sharing not only personal anecdotes, but the sharing of wish lists on Elfster to help get to know each other better. Samantha notes that the group loves that “we are able to say what we’re interested in and create a variety of options and ideas for our gift giver. We plan on doing an exchange in August, of course, for our little ones first birthday, and I think it will be the most anticipated and attended one yet.” We hope so, little ones!

We applaud these lovely ladies and wish them all a very Happy Mother’s Day — whether for the first time, or if they have “been there, done that.” We hope these bonds of friendship blossom throughout the year, and thanks for letting Elfster join in the fun!

Are you looking for the perfect gift idea for the wonderful moms in your life? Or perhaps you’d like to add that special little something to your own Elfster wish list to give someone a hint? Be sure to check out Elfster’s Mother’s Day gift guide for plenty of sweet suggestions.

We would love to hear how your awesome group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram. Need help getting started with your own exchange? We can answer any questions you may have at





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