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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handmade Mother’s Day Card Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

A Truly Unique Flower Bouquet for Mom

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

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

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

Family Photo Ideas for Mother’s Day

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

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

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

Mom Awards Are a Sweet Treat

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

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

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

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

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

Recreate the Best Memories of Your Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Dot Mugs That Are Dishwasher Safe

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Crafting Instructions:

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

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

Twine-Wrapped Glass Vase Gift Ideas

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Crafting Instructions:

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

An Easy DIY Wooden Serving Tray

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Crafting Instructions:

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

A Homemade Butter Croissants Recipe

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

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

The Ingredients List:

For the Butter Mixture

  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup flour

For the Dough

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

 

 

Baking Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An M-O-M Floral Alphabet

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

A Photo Flower Pot Bouquet

flower pot bouquet
Terracotta whimsy | Image Unsplash seller Gemma Evans

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

DIY Dried Flower Candles

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

A Hanging Flower Chandelier

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing Gifts That Inspire Expression

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

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

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

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

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

For Miniature Monets

Ages 3-5

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

Ages 5-8

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

Ages 8-12

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

 

For Mozarts in the Making

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

Ages 3-5

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

Ages 5-8

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

Ages 8-12

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

A Birthday Present Gift Swap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature-Themed Birthday Party Favor Bag Inspirations

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

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

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

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

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

A Bug Lover’s Bonanza

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

The Green Thumb Gang

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

DIY Nature Walk Bingo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Themed Baskets for Every Tween

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

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

The Star Baseball Player

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

The Prima Ballerina

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

The Drama Club President

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

The Future Vet

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

The Bird Watcher

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

The Book Worm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To make the personalized case:

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

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

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

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

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.