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

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

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

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

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

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

Themed Baskets for Every Tween

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

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

The Star Baseball Player

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

The Prima Ballerina

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

The Drama Club President

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

The Future Vet

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

The Bird Watcher

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

The Book Worm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To make the personalized case:

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

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

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

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

Eco-Friendly DIY Earth Day Gifts for a Clean and Green Kitchen This Spring

Eco-Friendly DIY Earth Day Gifts for a Clean and Green Kitchen This Spring

eco friendly jute mat
Jute makes for eco-friendly kitchen accessories | Image courtesy Etsy seller Yanetinne

For the last few years, my fiancé Nick and I have taken a creative approach to celebrating Earth Day. One year, while living in San Francisco, we crafted a kitchen composter out of a coffee canister. The next year we were hunkered down in Orange County so took a trip to Roger’s Gardens, followed by an afternoon spent planting sunflower seeds in our front yard. Then came our spring in Portland, and a rainy day walk through Forest Park. We even brought that woodsy vibe home with us by crafting rustic reclaimed wood tea holders.

Showing our support for the environment on April 22nd is important to us, but it’s also a way of living we like to carry with us every day of the year. We spend more time in our kitchen than in any other part of our home and, as a result, we end up cleaning it a lot! So, we like to make sure that when we put on our Motown records and get to cleaning, we’re doing so in an eco-friendly way. Not only are we protecting the environment, but we love knowing that we could eat straight off our countertops—not that we ever have.

We always share our bounty of DIY cleaners with friends and family as Earth Day gifts. Here are the three undeniable favorites: dishwasher tabs, “un”paper towels, and a simple citrus vinegar cleaner. They smell good and feel good, so when you make them for others, make sure to stock up your own cupboards as well. Here’s to your pristine (and newly green) kitchen!

Get a Sparkly Green Clean with DIY Dishwasher Tabs

The absolute cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen was in Austin, Texas at a bed and breakfast; the innkeeper swore by baking soda and vinegar. Since then, those two items have become my wondrous miracle workers in the realm of cleaning. When you want it bright and sparkly, they do the job best.

I love the simplicity of throwing a tab into the dishwasher when it’s ready to run, and the gratification of pulling out those sparkling, clean dishes (a trait I seemed to have inherited from my queen-of-the-clean mother). So when I started experimenting with my own dishwasher tabs, I went straight to my go-to clean everything basics: baking soda and vinegar.

You cook, I'll clean
You won’t have to get out of cleaning with these green products | Image courtesy Etsy seller MadebymamaUS

For dish tabs, I like to combine them with Epsom salt (to reduce the effects of hard water), and the natural cleaner Borax. If you’d like, you can also add 10-15 drops of an essential oil, like lemon or grapefruit, to make your dishes smell beautiful too.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 2 cups Borax
  • 1/2 cup Epsom salt
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

How to Do It:

  1. In a large metal bowl, mix all of your ingredients together.
  2. After a bit of fizzing, once the ingredients are combined, pack the mixture down into two ice cube trays and let them dry for 24-36 hours.
  3. When you’re ready to use the tabs, I suggest adding about half a cup or so of vinegar to the bottom of your dishwasher to ensure a clean, bright sparkle.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, Make “Un”Paper Towels Instead

Inspiration for the “un”paper towel came to me one evening after I used an entire roll of paper towels to sop up a carton of spilled milk. I’d recently read a statistic from the Paperless Project that if every household in the United States used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels a year, that would save a whopping 544,000 trees annually! I’ve always had a fondness for dishtowels and their sentimental value—a paisley print one given from my grandma, a heart-embroidered one from my mom—so why not create my own roll of reusable ones? And that is how “un”paper towels found their place in our kitchen.

"un"paper towels
Handmade “un”paper towels | Image courtesy Etsy seller AnneRiggsDesigns

These towels now fill my cooking space with seasonal prints and quirky patterns while decreasing our waste and environmental impact. I’m not a master seamstress, but you don’t need to be to sew these up. And, instead of buying new fabrics and towels, you can work to upcycle the old ones you already love, giving them new life in a loved one’s kitchen.

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 12-inch squares of terrycloth
  • 4 12-inch squares of woven fabric
  • A package of sew-on snaps

How to Do It:

  1. First, line one piece of terrycloth up with one piece of woven fabric and sew up all the sides (about 1/2 inch from the edge).
  2. Once that’s finished, if you’d like for your “un”paper towels to roll up just like the paper ones do, the next step is to add your sew-on snaps. This part is up to you, but I find it easiest to first start with placement markers, 2 each, on both the left and right sides of the cloth. Attach the caps underneath and the sockets on top on the left side of the towel, but the sockets underneath and the caps on top on the right side of the towel.
  3. The towels are now ready to be rolled and live their new life in the kitchen!

Naturally Sweet Citrus Vinegar Cleaner

This sweet citrus vinegar smells so good that it actually relaxes me while I clean. I got this idea from the same Texas innkeeper who introduced me to vinegar and baking soda. Not only was his kitchen spotless, but it also smelled heavenly of citrus. I was convinced the scent wafting through the air in his home was a candle, or the blossoms of a tree outside the kitchen window, so was surprised to discover it was actually the citrus vinegar cleaner he made himself and sprayed the counters down with to get rid of the breakfast remnants of jam and butter. It’s now become my favorite cleaner to gift and to use—and it’s so simple!

DIY citrus cleaner
Sweet citrus cleans and brightens | Image courtesy Etsy seller CleaningThyme

What You’ll Need:

  • A mason jar
  • Orange peels (to fill half the jar)
  • White vinegar (to cover the peels)

How to Do It:

  1. First, I’d suggest making a nice batch of fresh squeezed orange juice (and maybe throw in a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes as an added bonus).
  2. Save your peels and place them in your mason jar until it is half full.
  3. Next, fill the mason jar with white vinegar, enough to cover the peels.
  4. Let the jar sit in a dimly lit spot for two weeks before straining the citrus over a mesh sieve into a large bowl.
  5. Pour the liquid into a spray bottle, add a simple label if you’d like, and gift (or spray) away!

Celebrating our bountiful, beautiful Earth by creating hands-on traditions is both invigorating and uplifting. Over the years, I’ve found simple DIY projects that enable the joy of giving (and encourage others to do the same) to be incredibly fulfilling. The kitchen is the center of many households, so sharing eco-friendly kitchen cleaning tools is a wonderful way to spread the love of all things clean, and all things green.

Happy Earth Day from Elfster!

For more ideas on how to celebrate holidays creatively, visit Elfster on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfstergram. Or, search our Gift Guide for other Earth Day inspirations.

The Gifting Garden: Offering Spring’s Bounty as Homemade Gifts and DIY Edible Crafts

The Gifting Garden: Offering Spring’s Bounty as Homemade Gifts and DIY Edible Crafts

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

fresh seasonal fruit
Spring’s bounty | Image courtesy flick’r user Egan Snow

In the four years that my fiancé Nick and I have been together, we’ve lived inside the flow of many changing seasons. When we first met, it was a cold winter in San Francisco and days were filled with warm cioppino stew and big pots of tortilla soup. Autumns are always spent finding any excuse we could to eat (and carve) pumpkins, butternut squash, and pomegranates. Summers came, promising homemade fruit sorbets and garden fresh heirloom tomatoes—but, first, there was spring.

Beautiful, often unexpected, but much looked for spring.

For us, the season is a time of rebirth, renewal, and transformation. It promises bountiful amounts of fruit and produce, whether from our garden or at the local farmer’s market down the street. The flowers bloom, the sun shines, and our feelings of creativity flourish.

And that is how the idea for an annual Gifting Garden celebration was born.

 

The Essence of the Gifting Garden

spring lilacs
Spring lilacs | Image courtesy Etsy seller WowBloomRoom

We’re big fans of homemade gifts during the holidays, notorious for our gingerbread loaves topped with maple cream cheese frosting. With this in mind, we started a springtime gift giving party tradition so we can intertwine our famous edible gifts with a spring twist, pulling from the season’s natural bounty and focusing on what each ingredient in the gift symbolizes. Lavender, for instance, eases the nerves, while grapefruit offers optimism for the future. We open our home to our friends and family, all toting their own homemade offerings.

We ask our guests to bring a spring wish for themselves written on a slip of paper along with their gift. The party then becomes a true exchange as we work together to choose whom each gift should go home with. Perhaps one friend had just lost a family member and needed comfort, another stability from an uncertain job. The gift each guest receives is meant to pave the way for a plentiful and inspiring spring to come.

 

DIY Lovely Lavender Invitations

lavender party invites
DIY Lavender Invitations | Image courtesy Etsy seller WeddinglamOfficial

Keeping with the natural, tangible spring feel of the party, we like to make our own invitations using lavender from our garden. It offers a tantalizing smell, and can also withstand a trip through the mail. Keep things simple with a fresh sprig or two, a cream colored piece of cardstock or recycled material, and some raffia or twine.

Include a handwritten message for each friend, and simple print out with the invitation offering ideas for homemade gifts like rosewater, marmalade, or basil-infused olive oil (instructions below). Often, folks are intimidated by the idea of crafting their own gifts, so reassure them that homemade gift-giving can be simple and invigorating. Pinterest offers another easy way to get inspired, or encourage friends to get in touch with their roots, opening old craft and DIY gift books from their mothers or grandmothers.

 

Naturally Good Homemade Gifts

The idea of being hands on, quite literally getting in touch with the season, whether through the soil in your garden or the scents and feelings at the market, is one we like to share with our friends through DIY treats and gifts. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

Basil-Infused Olive Oil

Herb-infused olive oils are absurdly easy to make, yet also versatile with room to experiment. They’re delicious mixed into a bowl of pasta, drizzled on top of spinach with sea salt and black pepper, or served alongside hunks of cheese and a loaf of bread. Here’s my favorite infusion recipe:

basil infused olive oil
Homemade Basil-Infused Olive Oil | Image Courtesy Etsy Seller thegreekpantry
  1. Blanch 1 cup basil (briefly boil, then plunge into ice water).
  2. Blend the basil in a food processor with a 1/2 cup of oil and a pinch of sea salt.
  3. Pour the olive oil and basil mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Canning jars work well, but, for the classic look, opt for a glass bottle with a rubber or cork stopper.

Basil, like all other herbs, is symbolic of Mother Earth. Although its meaning has changed throughout time, it’s now commonly seen as representing love and protection—two things that, without a doubt, we all hope for in our lives.

 

Grapefruit Marmalade

According to Chinese symbolism, the grapefruit offers abundance. A simple and quick grapefruit marmalade, or marmalade of any sort depending upon which fruits and herbs are available in your region, is a wonderful addition to a Gifting Garden party. It’s divine when spread on crackers with a bit of goat cheese or used as a glaze for shrimp and chicken. This recipe makes about 4 cups:

  1. Place two grapefruits in a large pot with enough water to give them a bit of room to float.
  2. Boil for 2 hours, adding water once or twice if needed.
  3. Drain the grapefruit and let them cool.
  4. Finely slice the grapefruit. This may take a while, so just enjoy the process!
  5. Throw the grapefruit back into the pot with 5 cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons.
  6. Bring it to a boil and allow the mixture to bubble for about 15 minutes, or until you reach the correct consistency
  7. Blend the jam if you’d like it to be smooth, or pour into a jar as is.
grapefruit marmalade
Lemon Thyme Grapefruit Marmalade | Image Courtesy Etsy Seller cupboardcook

Chances are, many of your friends and family have stories about homemade jams or marmalades. My grandmother, for instance, used to make marmalade from the kumquat tree in her Southern California backyard every year. That makes this gift particularly nostalgic and fun to share.

Homemade Rose Water

Homemade rose water is one of my favorite ways to celebrate spring. It’s refreshing, smells sublime, and always seems to lift my spirits. I give my face a spray before bed at night and in the morning after I put on makeup.

The rose itself is a symbol of balance—perfect for spring—and using a recipe with actual rose petals in the mix enhances this feeling. Here is my favorite recipe to brew up a bottle of rose water:

  1. Pluck the petals from a dozen fresh roses, layering them in a large pot and covering with distilled water. Bring to simmer.
  2. Cover the pot with a lid, allowing to simmer for 15 minutes or until the roses begin to lose their color.
  3. Drain the liquid into a spray bottle.
  4. Pamper someone you love.

A Spring Bouquet

For a unique twist on a natural wildflower bouquet, ask your guests to each bring a few flowers or bits of greenery from their own yards. Combine the efforts of your friends into reused glass bottles, or wrap in a piece of parchment paper, so everyone can go home with their own floral party favors.

A Gifting Garden spring celebration has become a sweet, simple, and ever-evolving tradition in our home. It brings friends together to celebrate the season and each other, offers our loved ones hope and well wishes, and helps us to remember the essence of sharing. The true gift, after all, is being able to sit together under our favorite trees outside, sipping, eating, and learning from each other. Happy spring! May yours be filled with the magic of the natural world all around us.

Elfster loves spring, and knows you do too. Keep your gifting fresh with our food and drink gift guides. Share your own DIY inspirations on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Thank You Note Etiquette: DIY Marbled Handmade Cards to Express Your Gratitude

Thank You Note Etiquette: DIY Marbled Handmade Cards to Express Your Gratitude

thank you card
Printable thank you cards are always at hand | Image courtesy Etsy seller DesignYourLove

The art of the thank you note. Always appreciated but so frequently forgotten. Saying a sincere thanks can absolutely make someone’s day, so why do the ones I send often feel so obligatory, especially around birthdays and the crunch of the holiday season?

I’ve been guilty, more often than I would like, of sending out late or lackluster letters that don’t truly capture how grateful I am for the sweet generosity someone sent my way. It’s never out of a lack of true appreciation, I just get so caught up in the return to regular life post-holiday that it slips my mind. And, when I do remember, it becomes more important just to get them out than to make them meaningful.

But, after inspiring the joy of giving in my favorite littles ones recently, I intend to start doing things differently. I’ve resolved to start writing timely and expressive thank you notes. My resolution may be a little late, since it’s already well into March, but my thank you notes sure won’t be. Join me in making 2017 a year of sincere gratitude. Here are my tips and tricks to help you craft meaningful and memorable thank you notes that are gifts for your favorite gifters, in and of themselves.

The Medium Makes a Difference

floral note card
Flowers show love, even in print | Image courtesy Etsy seller GoldLeafDesignandCo

Stationery has the power to say a lot without a single word; it can make all the difference when it comes to thank you notes. So, before the pen even meets the paper, it’s important to decide just which pen and which paper to pick. Personally, I think we should all keep a few sets of notecards and stationery on hand for various occasions, everything from simple blank cards that can be dressed up on a creative whim, casual all-purpose thank you notes, and personalized formal stationery. I’m known for stocking up on every cute or whimsical note card I lay my eyes on, far more than I may actually need to stash away. But the beauty of it is, I’m always able to find the perfect thank you seemingly designed just for any friend or family member.

Make sure to pick your paper according to the occasion at hand. A formal affair, like a wedding or black-tie bash, requires a formal thank you written on high-quality stationery. Steer clear of gel pens and colorful markers here, instead opting for the elegance of a black ink fountain pen. And script beats print letters in this case; taking time to craft each word with your best penmanship will imbue your note with a true sense of your heartfelt thanks.

Casual cards of gratitude have less particular parameters, so this is where I say to get creative. For birthdays, or if a friend treats you to lunch or flowers, simple stationery can do the trick. Just this past week, a good friend left me homemade chicken soup and sweet strawberry sorbet as I battled the flu, and my floral, but not too fancy, cards from a local gift shop were perfect!

DIY Marbled Cards and Envelopes

Simple marbled card DIY supplies
Simple marbled card DIY supplies

My one rule when it comes to paper is to steer clear of generic grocery store thank you cards. Instead, a better option that shows heartfelt appreciation is to make some yourself. With just a few household items, and a little ingenuity, I played around with this dip-dye card idea. Here’s how I did it—and the gorgeous colored marble results:

The Supplies:

  • Blank cards and envelopes
  • Watercolor paint
  • A mixing bowl used for crafts
  • Paper towels

watercolor note cardsThe How-To:

  1. Mix the watercolor paint in a bowl, leaving enough room to dip your paper. I tested the strength of the color on scratch paper first before dipping my cards right in.
  2. Dip your cards and envelopes into the bowl. Experiment with different angles or try layering the color in some areas. Get creative. Really, anything goes!
  3. Blot the cards on the paper towels to drain any excess water and then hang them someplace safe to dry.

That’s it! So easy, right? If your cards curve a bit, just stick them under a few books once they’ve dried completely to flatten them out. Then write, seal, send, repeat!

Find the “Write” Words

Having mastered your materials and made up your mind on the proper medium, it’s time to write! But what exactly do you say beyond the simple words of thank you? While there’s no steadfast set of rules, it can be helpful to have a general outline of how to compose a thank

colored pens
Colorful pens inspire colorful words | Image courtesy Etsy seller PapergeekCo

you, so you can worry less about how to express your love, and more about the actual expression of it.

  1. Start with a greeting: Your initial introduction should reflect both the nature of the relationship with the person you’re writing to and the formality of the occasion at hand. Opening with “Dear So-&-So” is always a safe and classy start, but other options may feel more personal and appropriate. For casual letters, I sometimes begin with “Salutations!” or “To My Dear Friend.” However you say hello, always finish your address with a comma!
  2. Say thank you: Easy enough, right? Express your thanks right after you open your letter. Thank you notes are supposed to be short and sweet, and by leading with an expression of gratitude, you make the intention of your letter crystal clear, and give your appreciation the spotlight.
  3. Identify the gift: Make sure to be specific and thank the giver by naming the gift. It shows a greater sense of gratitude and personal interest in the exchange. If it’s a monetary gift, let the individual know what you plan to do with the funds, if appropriate.
  4. Reiterate your thanks before you finish: You don’t have to write long, drawn out thank you notes. A few short sentences that finish with a final thank you are all it takes.
  5. Sign, seal, and deliver: Last but not least, make sure to sign your note before sending it out. You can close with a traditional “Sincerely,” but I tend to choose a more meaningful closing statements, like:
  • Kind regards,
  • Best wishes,
  • All my love,
  • With gratitude,
  • Warmly,

The Fine Print of Formalities

No doubt the biggest issue with thank you note etiquette is the timeliness in which they’re mailed out. Punctuality is imperative, but perhaps the most difficult part to master. In general, a week is the longest you should wait before sending out your cards, but the sooner the better. I aim to write them within 24 hours, when the details of the exchange are fresh in my mind. If I wait any longer, especially around big holidays, I tend to forget who gave what.

you rock gift set
A thank you made from paper, rock, and scissors | Image courtesy Etsy seller AirFriend

Sometimes, I hardly know if a thank you card is a must or a thoughtful courtesy. Do I necessarily need to pull out my trusty pen and paper, or can a quick call suffice? While there’s no clear-cut answer, I always try to err on the side of sending a written note when in doubt. A note of thanks is always appreciated regardless of circumstances, so if you have the time to write one, I say go for it!

When all is said and done—and written out on gorgeous stationery—the most important piece of advice I can offer about writing thank you notes is that any way you express gratitude is the right way. Maybe it’s with an inspirational candle, or a “gem” of a gift in return, or even a piece of art. It can be a challenge to get those envelopes in the mail, but a much more enjoyable project if you keep that in mind and bring in a little creativity to process.

Sending a card to a friend, especially a thank you note, is a gesture that strengthens relationships and inspires deeper bonds. We all want to know we are seen, heard, and that someone is grateful to, and for, us. All it takes is five minutes, pen, and some paper. Here’s to making 2017 your most grateful year yet!

The elves are always hard at work to make gift giving meaningful for everyone. Like us on Facebook for more gift inspirations, or follow us on Twitter @Elfster or Instagram @Elfstergram.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Wendy-Inspired Pajamas

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

edwardian nightgown
Vintage Edwardian nightgown | Image courtesy Etsy seller denisebrain

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

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

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

Decorated Dressing Gown Instructions:

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

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

Designing Your Own Neverland

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

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

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

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

A Proper British Tea for Michael, John, and Wendy

floral teapot
A floral teapot | Image courtesy Etsy seller lofficina

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

Baking Instructions:

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

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

(Book)Marking Our Adventure

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

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

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

To make bookmarks, you’ll need:

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Minecraft Party Ideas for an Interactive Gamer Boy’s Birthday Without Screens

DIY Minecraft Party Ideas for an Interactive Gamer Boy’s Birthday Without Screens

diy minecraft party crafts
The Minecraft craze makes for explosive parties | Image courtesy flick’r user nottinghamgamecity

The surprise of creating a pickaxe, or mining your first ore. Figuring out how to light your first fire. Discovering the meat explosion that comes from a pig. Realizing how to swim—and learning never to dig straight down. These are my favorite memories of Minecraft when I started playing the beta version back in 2010.

Enderman didn’t exist back then, we didn’t have guidebooks on how to build everything, and we had to learn how to make our own torches all by ourselves. We built our own servers and played on safe mode because we died from the creepers every single night. Oh, how times have changed.

Since then, the game has become a toy, party, and tech phenomenon beyond my wildest dreams. When I was asked to help plan a Minecraft birthday party for the kids I babysit, I jumped at the chance. Together, we came up with party decor, treats, and activities to turn their home into a mini gamer boys’ paradise.

Creating the World of Minecraft in Your Living Room

Minecraft balloons
DIY Minecraft balloons | Image courtesy Etsy seller KTsCreations

9-year-olds become immersed in a video game world because of the details, so tap into this tendency with your party decor. You can spend a fortune on premade Minecraft decorations, but the homemade versions are even more impressive (and cheaper).

From hanging purple streamers in a doorway to mark the Nether Portal, to adding white electrical tape squares on your windows to imitate the look of glass blocks, it’s easy to discover the “perfect seed” at home.

Looking for an easy DIY that will help tie all your decorations together? I had a lot of fun crafting Minecraft-style balloons for my little friends to ooh and aah over. I picked up about 20 latex balloons in common Minecraft colors, including lots of green, from the party store and had them filled with helium. Using some of the acrylic paint I had leftover from our Valentine’s day craft party, I went to town with a foam brush painting creeper, ghost, and pig faces—along with a healthy sprinkling of red TNT balloons. Create any other mobs that strike your fancy and allow the paint to dry before tying them around the party space. The kids will have so much fun with the creeper-face balloons, it’s so worth your time!

Restoring Little Gamers’ Health (and Hunger)

Along with some basic party food classics like pizza, chips, and candies, you’ll want to add in some themed elements as well. Set the table with a grass-green tablecloth, black square plates, and splurge on some pixelated napkins to tie everything together.

Take care of those hit points by setting out red stone strawberries or lava punch. While the mini-Steves are working on their party craft, you can offer them a sweet snack that’s easy, inexpensive, delicious, and impressively on-theme. The birthday boy might have to take off his creeper mask, but these grass block-inspired Rice Krispie treats are worth at least 4 hearts.

mine craft party table
(Mine)crafting kids | Image courtesy flick’r user nottinghamgamecity

The Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbl butter
  • ⅔ cup chocolate nut spread
  • 10oz mini marshmallows
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • A square cookie cutter
  • Green frosting

The Recipe:

  1. Grease a 9×13” pan with baking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan and add in marshmallows, stirring until they have melted completely.
  3. Add in your chocolate nut spread (or leave out to allow for nut allergies—your blocks will just be cream colored instead of brown). Stir until well incorporated.
  4. Fold in 5 cups of Rice Krispies. This step is sticky and can be tough, but be sure to mix well!
  5. Plop your cereal mixture into the greased pan and top with a sheet of wax paper. Press on the paper to make the treats flat in an even layer.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove your treats from the pan and use the cookie cutter to create perfect squares. If you have a smaller group of kiddos (or more batches of treats ready to go), you can double stack these squares to make more of a cube shape. Squish the touching edges together to make the treat look like one piece.
  8. Frost the top of each brick with bright green frosting, and your dirt and grass blocks are complete!

Interactive Activities to Bring Minecraft to Life for Your Littles

pin the tnt on the creeper
Pin the TNT on the Creeper | Image courtesy Etsy seller CraftySistersFinds

As exciting as digital gameplay can be, it’s really fun to bring the Minecraft world off the screen with interactive play. Within the world of Minecraft birthday party ideas, you have about a million options, from stenciling creeper faces onto green t-shirts for a take-home party favor to playing “Pin the TNT on the Creeper” with a handmade felt creeper face. You could even play minecraft bingo and give away a foam diamond sword as your grand prize or make creeper pinatas that the kids can whack at with a faux wood ax.

It’s up to you what direction you’d like to go, but when the kids have gotten some energy out, try this (Mine)craft to settle the energy back down. All you’ll need is a huge bucket of mixed color fuse beads (and maybe extra bags of green and black), a square peg board for each party guest, an iron, and some wax paper. Set up the crafting table with some printed pictures from the game and a mix of sample patterns to help out younger kids, then let them go crazy picking out beads and making their Minecraft designs.

When their Minecraft masterpiece is finished, have them bring the peg board over to the kitchen counter where you (the adult) will be ready with a hot, dry iron and wax paper. Place the entire pegboard on a kitchen towel and top with a sheet of wax paper, then iron over the paper for 10-20 seconds, using even pressure and circular motions. When the beads are fused, you can peel the paper away from the pegboard, taking all the beads with it. Hand the pegboard back to the partygoer and let them make another design while you wait for this one to cool for ten minutes or so. And make sure to write the initials of the artist on one side of the design in permanent marker so you don’t get everyone’s creepers mixed up!

minecraft beads
DIY fuse bead party favors | Image courtesy Etsy seller CreationsByMakana

Minecraft is the sandbox game of the future, and has been popular among boys, girls, and adults alike. I’m happy to support screen time with kids when it involves creativity, problem solving, and an immense level of discovery at every turn—which is exactly what Minecraft does. But, it can be even more fun to get away from the screen for an afternoon of interactive birthday party fun.

If your child is as obsessed with Minecraft as my young friends are, they’ll go crazy for a party themed around the most addictive video game since Tetris. Welcome to the future of gaming—and a really awesome birthday party.

Looking for gift ideas for the birthday boy now that the party is all planned? The elves have made a handy gift guide that’ll be perfect for any little gamer. Be sure to share your Minecraft party success with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. We can’t wait to see your (Mine)craftiness!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting a Green Scene

floral prints
Flora and fauna | Image courtesy Etsy seller STANLEYprintHOUSE

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

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

Sweet Spring Scents

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

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

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

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

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

 

Treating Your Guests to Seasonal Treats

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

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

The Ingredients:

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

The Recipe:

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

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

 

Bringing the Outdoors In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crafty Homemade Gifts That Toddlers Can Make to Playfully Inspire the Joy of Giving

Crafty Homemade Gifts That Toddlers Can Make to Playfully Inspire the Joy of Giving

finger paints
With a little paint, kids make meaningful gifts | Image courtesy flick’r user Valentina Yachichurova

My little cousins, 2 and 4, are preschool crafting fiends. They come home with pages upon pages of pasted art, funky scribbles, and other staples of the toddlers’ craft repertoire. When I enter their kitchen, I’m met with a fridge door covered in construction paper, cotton balls, tinted macaroni, and what I can only imagine was a glitter bomb.

Last weekend, I was at their house on a mission to spend the afternoon crafting gifts that the little ones could give to their mom for her birthday. I was determined to create something surprising, unique, and useful that my aunt would genuinely appreciate—and that had absolutely no construction paper or school glue in sight.

Little Keith was so excited when I entered with my Mary Poppins-style bag of supplies that he immediately went to the pantry to grab the plastic “crafting table cloth” to spread out over the kitchen floor. Then we all sat down together and got to work.

Household Toys Make a Scarf Mom Will Actually Wear

As a two year old, little Keith is still working on his fine motor skills, and not making an incredible mess when using craft paint, so this DIY infinity scarf idea plays directly to his strengths.

diy handpainted scarf
Easily DIY an abstract infinity scarf | Image courtesy Etsy seller SewnCraftily

I came prepared with a 6×3 foot rectangle of lightweight jersey fabric that I picked up at the craft store around the corner and asked Keith to bring some car toys to our “studio.” While he was busy collecting his favorites, I taped the neutral-colored fabric flat on the covered floor using packing tape, and added “stripes” with the tape every four inches or so across its surface before filling some paper plates with a thin layer of paint. Keith rushed back with a couple of large plastic cars and some smaller metal racers, and we were soon rolling their wheels in the paint and making car tracks on the fabric.

I chose the paint colors carefully, in tones I knew my aunt loved to wear. If we were to make this craft again, I’d get even more creative with lego blocks and other toys to stamp shapes on the fabric too. When we liked the way our abstract design looked, we moved on to craft number two and let this one dry. I threw the toys into a sink full of warm, soapy water immediately after we finished and gave them a good wash with my hands to remove all the paint.

It’s best to leave your scarf to dry for a few hours so the fabric paint can completely harden. Then you can remove the tape and heat-set the paint using the instructions on the back of the bottle. Back home, I also sewed the short edges of the rectangle together to form the classic infinity scarf loop. You could also use fabric glue for this step if sewing isn’t your forte. The result is a gorgeous abstract infinity scarf that looks like something you paid for on etsy—not a fridge-cluttering toddler craft.

Air-Dry Clay Gets a Sophisticated Makeover

clay bowl
Air-dry clay makes excellent small dishes | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheFloweringMaple

It may be difficult to find a use for a clay handprint, no matter how adorable they are. But, with a little bit of experimentation, I’ve found a new way to revitalize the old medium of air-dry clay to make a ring dish that my aunt will really enjoy using.

Let the kids knead and play with the clay until it’s soft. Then, using a rolling pin to flatten it out to a somewhat even 5mm thick, use various stamps and other textured objects to let them imprint the clay with their favorite designs or patterns. Draw lines with the end of a toothpick, drive over the clay with a tractor toy, or use fingertips to create a polka dot pattern. This process is super forgiving, and you can easily try again if you don’t end up loving the results the first time.

When you’re happy with your patterns, place a small bowl upside down onto the clay and use a butter knife to cut around its edge, creating a circle. Let the kids help you press your clay circle gently into the bottom of the now right side up bowl and let dry overnight. In the morning, carefully lift your clay dish away from the bowl. If it’s still a bit wet on the bottom, turn your dish upside down on a drying rack for another few hours. Paint the edges of the bowl with gold nail polish or acrylic paint for a boho-chic vibe and your DIY ring dish is complete.

Personalized Towels Make the Kitchen a Little Brighter

Kids have been making their mark on dish towels for centuries. They’re inherently messy, and there’s no end to the dirty kitchen towels that a household can go through in a week. Any mom can use more clean towels! Hence, this craft idea was born:

handpainted towels
Hand-painted dish towels are surprisingly easy to DIY | Image courtesy Etsy seller LoftStudios

The Supplies:

  • Contact paper
  • Fabric paint in bright colors
  • Unsharpened round pencils
  • A pack of flour sack towels

The How-To:

  1. Get set up. Tape your towel flat onto your work surface in one layer, taking care as this paint will bleed through.
  2. Create your shapes. Trace seasonal outlines on the contact paper. Hearts are a great choice this time of year, as are flowers. If you don’t want to draw your own outlines, have the kids trace medium-sized cookie cutters onto the contact paper using a marker. Your outlines should be about 3” in diameter.
  3. Cut out the shapes. Then, position the sticky side of the contact paper on the towel’s surface wherever you’d like. For ours, we used two shapes apiece and positioned them near the bottom short edge so they would show when the towel was hung on the oven door.
  4. Paint away. Place each color of fabric paint in its own paper bowl or plate and use either end of the round pencil to stamp little dots of color around the edges of your contact paper shapes. Keep going until the dots spread out as far as you like, making sure the edges of the contact paper are covered.
  5. Let the paint dry. Then, remove your contact paper shapes to reveal the crisp white silhouette underneath! Heat set your towels the next day by throwing them in the dryer according to your paint bottle instructions and your colorful gifts will be ready for gifting!

The Art of Helping Kids Experience the Joy of Giving

kids painting
Involve your kids in the creative process | Image courtesy flick’r user Rain 0975

Crafting with kids can be alot fun. They’re actively discovering how the world works, and their entire bodies are engaged in the activity before them. I love spending time being creative with my little cousins because I know they’re learning a lot while having a memorably crafty afternoon. If you come prepared with the right structure in place, and a patient mindset, you’ll find that crafting with kids is way more than a mess—it’s creative inspiration.

Beyond just the joy of crafting, I loved watching Keith and Matthew give their handmade items to their mom at her birthday celebration. They were so proud of their creations, and couldn’t wait to see the smile on her face when she opened their gifts. Because they were directly involved with the process (and with keeping the secret—always the hardest part) they seemed much more excited about giving than I’ve ever seen. Handmade gifts, especially when crafted by little hands, can bring joy to the entire family.

If you’re looking for more ways to get your little ones involved in the gift giving process, why not let them help choose one of the gifts on our gift guides for the next holiday? The elves are hard at work to make gift giving meaningful for everyone. Like us on Facebook for more gift giving ideas, or follow us on Twitter @Elfster or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Goodbye Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting DIY Projects for a Weekend of Self-Care

Goodbye Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting DIY Projects for a Weekend of Self-Care

self-care kit
Gift yourself with self care | Image courtesy Etsy seller LittleFlowerSoapCo

Last weekend, I had all of Saturday and Sunday to myself. My partner was traveling and I was, unusually, caught up with work for the week. I should have been thrilled with two largely empty days sprawling out before me. Instead, I felt anxious.

We moved a little over a year ago and, working from home, I still didn’t have much of a social circle in our new hometown. For an extrovert like me, that can make a weekend alone, well, pretty lonely.

I could try to distract myself with work and social media, but I knew that wouldn’t be fulfilling. I wanted to sink my teeth into my newfound weekend freedom. So I decided to ban work and technology and ease into a true pampering session for my mind, body, and soul. I had been pinning project inspirations and recipes for months now, and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to roll up my sleeves and dive into some self-care DIY.

Bust Anxiety with an Essential Oil Rollerball

I’ve had bottles of essential oils sitting in my craft drawer for months. I use them in cleaning products and in a diffuser while we sleep, but I hadn’t tried them for mood regulation. After exploring online about the benefits of each oil, I created a soothing blend—something predominantly bright and cheerful, but with calming effects.

essential oils kit
Essential oils for custom anti-anxiety blends | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArOmis

I also wanted something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to smell like since I decided to use a glass rollerball applicator. Glass is a must when using essential oils, as they can make plastic leech. Use a pipette or funnel to add your oil blend to the bottle, then secure the rollerball top. Apply to the temples, neck, wrists, and any other pressure points on the body for anxiety relief. This ended up being my favorite uplifting blend:

  • 15 drops sweet orange oil
  • 15 drops ylang ylang oil
  • 10 drops sandalwood oil
  • Carrier oil (jojoba or sweet almond)

After you add the essential oil drops to your rollerball, fill the remainder with a carrier oil to dilute. I found this so effective that I’ve been using this blend in my oil diffuser in the evenings to help boost spirits after a long day, but feel free to customize your own combination of scents, and play with other calming and uplifting oils like lavender or bergamot.

Curb Chocolate Cravings with No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Did you know dark chocolate and oatmeal can actually help boost your mood? That’s just one reason I love this easy recipe. The other is that it’s a lot healthier than waffles and cookies. On Saturdays, I’ve been known to undo an entire week of healthy eating. To help me kick this habit, I like to create healthy snacks that satiate my sweet tooth without blowing my caloric intake. These no-bake bites are a staple around here!

hot cocoa
100% cocoa is a mood-boosting snack | Image courtesy Target.com

The Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (raw)
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tbls 100% cocoa powder
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds

The Recipe:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients until a thick dough forms.
  2. Fold in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate dough for fifteen minutes.
  3. Once chilled, use your hands to roll the dough into tablespoon sized balls.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for even longer!

Create a Hygge Emergency Kit

Hygge is a hot trend right now, and it’s not difficult to understand why it’s getting so much hype. It’s a long-standing Danish tradition referring to the importance of creating and enjoying a warm and cozy atmosphere. We all live multifaceted lives and, while it might be nice, we can’t have a gigantic bed and an oversized velvet sofa and candles burning at all times. Instead, it’s suggested to create a hygge emergency kit for the particularly stressful days when you want to lift your spirits the Danish way.

hygge kit poster
The Danish know the importance of true comfort | Image courtesy Etsy seller HomeandGloryLtd

I’d wanted to put my own kit together for months, but it just kept getting pushed lower and lower on my to-do list, so my self-care weekend was the perfect opportunity.

Here’s what’s suggested for a traditional hygge kit:

  • An attractive basket for storing your goodies
  • A cozy blanket or slipper socks to evoke feelings of softness and warmth
  • A warm drink that’s easy to prepare
  • A book that can be read for just minutes at a time, or a book you’ve read before
  • An activity or hobby that’s easy and stress-relieving
  • Unscented candles with matches

It wasn’t difficult for me to create my own hygge kit—I already owned everything I needed. I just gathered up an old basket, chenille socks infused with argan oil, hot cocoa packets, the book 365 Days of Wonder, an adult coloring book, and some unscented pillar candles.

Now, I have my hygge basket ready for a spare half hour during the workday when I feel the need to hit the reset button. I keep it out, because the basket looks lovely, but also because it’s a great reminder for me to practice self-care.

Try Out Some Positivity Journaling

I have a master’s degree in counseling, so I’m well-aware of how wonderful journaling is for wellness. Does that mean I’m perfect and routine with it? Of course not! But, I’ve been meaning to set aside some time each weekend to journal and reflect. I never got around to it and I think I know why—it seems too abstract.

I needed some prompts to help me get started with my journaling goal and, luckily, the internet is full of them. It took a simple “positivity journaling prompts” search on Pinterest to find hundreds of mood-boosting, uplifting ideas to get me going. I had planned to write for fifteen minutes, but I emerged an hour later feeling lighter, more clear-headed, and inspired.

Pamper and Energize with a DIY Body Scrub

To me, after a day of DIYs and self-care, there’s nothing better than a wonderful show. After all, I had taken care of my tummy, mind, and spirit. Now it was time to refresh the body!

coffee body scrub
You’ll be tempted to eat this luscious scrub | Image courtesy Etsy seller HippeeCraft

In a mason jar, I combined the following ingredients, which are proven to be great for both the skin and the mind. Apply in the shower using a washcloth and circular motions to reveal smoother, more radiant skin—and a better mood.

The Ingredients:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup finely ground coffee
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp chocolate, vanilla, or almond extract for fragrance (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to a mason jar and store in the shower, tightly sealed. The scrub is at its ideal consistency once the coconut oil has had a chance to solidify.

After my shower, I was glowing. Seriously. And I don’t think it was just the body scrub. Taking time to treat yourself on the weekends definitely has its benefits. I’m so glad I didn’t just fall down the Netflix black hole, but instead took time to invest in my own well-being.

Elfster encourages you to treat yourself with our thoughtful gift guides. Connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more self-care inspirations.

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

When my first anniversary was coming up, all those long two years ago now, my wife and I had to look up what the traditional gift theme was. She had guessed it was paper, but I dismissed that. “Paper,” I scoffed incredulously. Turns out, as is so often the case, she was right and I was wrong.

paper heart tree
The roots of love | Image courtesy Etsy seller DayThreeCreations

My wife and I are not very traditional, so, paradoxically, we decided it would be fun to try to follow the spirit of the anniversary traditions. But paper is a hard one, especially in a world that is increasingly less paper-oriented.

I wanted memorable and in-theme so I had a decision to make. Should I do something with paper, but that’s original, interesting, and reflective of both our relationship and the digital times we live in, or eschew paper altogether, but still somehow try to fit the theme. 

I say you can do either. The point of these gifts is to exchange a thoughtful reminder of your love. I don’t think using the “themes” is constraining. Instead, it’s like a haiku. Sure, freeform poetry allows you to say anything you want, however you want to, but writing a haiku makes you think more about how to express yourself. The constraints, the form, force more thoughtfulness. And, like Hamlet’s nutshell—indeed, like within your heart—there is an infinite world inside those boundaries. And so, here are a few of my favorite ideas for a modern couple on their paper anniversary.

A Photo or Pushpin Map

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picture map
A celebration of where you’ve been—where you’re going | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemorableMats

One of the great joys in life is being able to see new things with the person you love. I often tell my wife she’s one of the greatest appreciators of things that I’ve ever known, which is why I love going places with her. She sees things I miss.

That’s one of the reasons I love putting pushpin or photo maps up in our house. We have pictures from the states we’ve visited, and a pushpin map of the world reminding us that we need to go out and see more together. Every time I look at the state map, I see a reminder of a great meal or an aching sunset or even that rainy night spent in a surprisingly creepy hotel on the lapping shores of Lake Erie. And every blank spot is a possibility for future memories.

Of course maps, in general, are a great anniversary gift. A vintage map of the town in which you met or were married or honeymooned in can be a visualization of that memory. They aren’t just pictures printed on paper: they’re representations. They indicate something real and solid, human and wild. People don’t have maps on the wall because they’re lost. They have them because they’ve found something.

An E-Reader (Loaded with Some Favorites)

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Even though we’re old-fashioned and partial to paper books, I’ve begun to accept that e-readers are just considerably more convenient, especially when traveling. They also make great gifts for an anniversary because you can give something very useful, that’s technologically redolent of paper, and that can contain so much in the way of thoughtfulness.

Maybe you can find books they read as children, and aren’t going to buy again, but hold a special place in their heart. Maybe you can find a collection of poems, or a reading from your wedding. Maybe you can get a subscription to that cooking magazine he’s been wanting. Whatever it is, your e-reader opens up a world of possibilities for the year ahead.

A Folded Book Art Sculpture

folded book art
Folded book art | Image courtesy Etsy seller Elysianthings

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Maybe books are still a huge part of your life, even if you have switched partially or entirely to an e-reader. In that case, a big trend now is book origami. This takes a full hardcover book and carefully folds each page to create an image, some letters, or a note.

I’ve seen a lot of couples use their initials with a heart in between. It’s a striking 3D image, jumping out at you like a personalized pop-out.

These are surprising, both as gifts and in the house. It takes a few seconds for people to appreciate the level of artistry and care. This can be a DIY, or you can have an artisan make one for you. You can select a book that might mean something to both of you (as long as it isn’t the last copy in the world) or a generic sort of Reader’s Digest compilation. What’s important is that you are using paper to create, and to celebrate, something unique.

Work on a Picture Frame Project—Together

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Gifts don’t have to be exchanged. They can be crafted together. A more handy friend of mine once built some montage-style windowpane picture frames, and she and her husband spent part of their anniversary putting in photos from their relationship. They went through albums and picked out their favorites, spending a pleasant and warm evening of reminiscing.

You can make one together. Or you can buy one. It’s sort of the inverse of the digital age, actually: sitting down with real, tangible photographs. They may not last as long, and they may fade, but there’s something less ephemeral about holding an actual picture, and putting it in a frame, and hanging it up. It’s something you’ve created together, out of paper, that can last a lifetime.

Plant a Tree in Their Honor

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plant a tree
Water with symbolism | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemoryGiftTree

As we move more fully into a paperless age, and one in which forests face unprecedented threats, you might want to move away from paper entirely. Indeed, you might want to do the opposite of using paper, which is to plant a tree. There are many services which allow you to plant a tree in someone’s name, usually in a federal forest, for a small fee.

You can do so for them, or for a cause they believe in, or in the name of someone they have lost. But no matter what you do, this is the most movingly symbolic gift.

The first year of your marriage is still a greenshot. It’s a promise and a possibility. You’re bursting out of the ground, looking for light and air, with years of growth ahead of you. You’ll grow and mature, and have lightning strikes and summers where children read beneath your spread branches. There will be darkness and falling leaves and there will be renewals. There will be long summers. There will be the full stretch of life.

You’re only a year in. You’re still so much potential energy, like that contained in the smallest seed. No matter what paper gift you choose, you’re honoring the short but life-changing past, and your life-containing future.

Paper may seem flimsy and smooth. But fold it over a few times. It may have more wrinkles, but it keeps getting stronger. It becomes nearly impossible to tear.

Tell us your anniversary ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.