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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.

National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

“Dear dear, how queer everything is today. And yesterday things went on just as usual!”

mad tea party
Celebrate reading with an Alice-inspired party | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever had a Mad Tea Party? To do so, one has to be warned, is to abdicate any sense of rules or decorum. It is to embrace nonsense as the guiding principle: pure, anarchic nonsense of the kind that leads to sloshed tea cups and wild, wordy toasts, circumlocutions that never quite make a circle. It’s bonkers, of course, and you’ll be bonkers for joining in. But the best people are.

The worlds created by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are celebrations of many things. They’re mathematical metaphors. They’re lovely and adventurous excursions into the gleeful jungles of language. Most of all, they’re an ode to imagination, wonder, and the persistent logic of children in a world that grownups make upside down and absurd with rules and customs. It’s why Alice, sweet and wonderful, stubborn and brave Alice, has persisted for over a hundred years. And it’s why we celebrate her, and Carroll, on National Read Across America Day.

Today, March 2nd, the National Education Association is proud to celebrate Read Across America Day, when educators, parents, librarians—anyone who loves the gift of books—shares that magic with children. One of the authors celebrated this year is Lewis Carroll, which is why we think that it’s the perfect time to have an Alice in Wonderland-themed party. Send out fanciful Wonderland-themed invitations to friends, and make sure the children are there. Have your amazing Alice in Wonderland-inspired bookmarks from Elfster for party favors. And, don’t be late, for the Duchess will be savage.

EAT ME and DRINK ME: Refreshments for the Party

“First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any farther. She felt a little nervous about this. ‘For it might end, you know,’ said Alice to herself, ‘in my going out altogether. I wonder what I should be like then?’ And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.”

an alice mug
Let your drink slosh about | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArtsyPumpkin

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is tea. You can’t have a Mad Tea Party without it. At the very least, you’ll want to have some unexpectedly delightful teacups (preferably with a saucer to catch the sloshings). Not every kid likes tea, though, and depending on the ages of your party guests you might not want to have hot liquids, but you can fill a teapot with anything. Just remember that if you’re in the spirit of things, it’ll get messy. After all, they’ll be toasting with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse.

For nibbles to eat, they mostly had cakes and crackers, and little English sweet things. You might not be able to get the exact kind, so cupcakes and cookies will do. Make sure, though, that you have EAT ME signs and DRINK ME tags on all the sweets and beverages.

If you’re having a party just for adults, consider serving Mock Turtle Soup. It’s an English dish that was cheaper than actual turtle soup, using sirloin, eggs, chicken broth, and a lot of seasoning. It’s pretty delicious, and simple to make. It’s themed, of course, because Alice meets an actual Mock Turtle, who tries to regale her with his tale of woe, although he’s constantly interrupted by a Griffin, much to sweet Alice’s intemperate annoyance.

You might feel bad about eating Mock Turtle Soup, but Alice herself said that she’s seen it “at Dinn…,” to which the Turtle responds that he doesn’t know where Dinn may be. All the better, perhaps.

Playtime for the Imagination: Lunatic Croquet and the Lobster Quadrille

“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo.”

With all the madness and the fun (and the tea and cupcakes), the kids at the party should be pretty revved up. Here are a few activities for them:

Lunatic Croquet

This is probably the most famous scene in the book: the game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts. The mallets are flamingos and the balls are hedgehogs and the arches are the Queen’s playing cards, and they all scramble around to help the demented and distorted old head-chopper win the game. Alice thinks this is dreadfully unfair, but the lawless nature of it makes it perfect for kids.

lunatic croquet
Don’t use actual flamingos and hedgehogs | Image courtesy Etsy seller TinyRed

Get a good children’s deluxe croquet set, set it up in the yard, and let them go nuts (employing proper mallet safety, of course). There doesn’t need to be any rules. They should take delight in the thwacking. There are just too many rules everywhere for kids. They can’t go here and they shouldn’t see this and they certainly can’t watch that. Before they become adults, with our imaginations limited by customs and shoved into these costumes of grown-ups, let them play.

Lobster Quadrille

If that’s not enough, maybe it’s time to dance the Lobster Quadrille. That’s a dance the Mock Turtle teaches Alice, and it involves throwing lobsters in the sea, doing somersaults, and running around. There are also snails involved. You’re not really going to be able to do it. And that’s ok. The whole point is for the kids to just…join the dance. Have them make it up.

Let each kid create a short dance to teach to the other kids. It could be to the tune of the Lobster Quadrille (the Franz Ferdinand version or the classic one), or whatever tune pops into their wild and unfettered heads when you read them the lyrics.

“Will you walk a little faster,” said the whiting to the snail

“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail”

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance

They are waiting on the shingle- will you come and join the dance

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Reading Keeps Childhood Alive

“A cat may look at a king,” Alice said. “I read that in a book somewhere, but I don’t remember where.”

Will you, won’t you? Won’t you join? That’s what National Read Across America Day is all about. It’s about having kids join a magical club, one where the only limit is imagination, and in the mind of a beautiful genius like Lewis Carroll, that means there are no limitations.

vintage lewis carroll book
Vintage Carroll | Image courtesy Etsy seller PrettyHappyVintage

So make sure that you have everyone gather round, and read from the book. Maybe the kids have seen the movies. Maybe even in your head, the ideas are dominated by the Tim Burton renditions or, more likely, the classic cartoon. And that’s fine. Those are both wonderful.

But something magical happens when you start reading, and it happens to young and old alike. His words, and her thoughts and feelings, create their own images in your head. You see Alice as every child, as your children, or as someone close to you. Or maybe you reach back and put your own childhood in there. Because that’s what it is. Alice is who we are when we allow ourselves to be children, and she’s who children are at their most ferociously curious, when asking why is less a question than a driving need. It’s a time when exploring the next room means finding the entire universe. Alice chased a rabbit, and found a new world. Every day should be like that for children.

Reading allows them to do that, which is why after all the running and sloshing, the heart of the party should be the book. You give them that impossible galaxy of childhood. And that’s something they’ll keep—forever. By sparking imagination with Carroll’s words, you can help make sure that the sweet longings of childhood are never fully extinguished, and carry with them throughout their long and lovely lives. Lewis Carroll says it best, as Alice’s sister reflects on the dream her younger sister told her:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

Don’t forget your Alice-themed bookmarks or our Wonderland Gift Guide! How are you celebrating Read Across America Day? What’s your favorite book? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Lewis Carroll gift guide.

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.

A Wondrously Wordy “Good Morning, Dr. Seuss” Read Across America Gift Exchange

A Wondrously Wordy “Good Morning, Dr. Seuss” Read Across America Gift Exchange

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss

move mountains sign
Kid, You’ll Move Mountains quote | Image courtesy Etsy seller Inspire4you

As a toddler, my mom would drop me at my grandma’s house early in the day before she went to work. I’d spend those mornings with my nose buried in Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Socks, and The Cat in the Hat, sipping hot chocolate while cozied up on the couch. I would sit, enthralled, still in my pajamas, while the San Diego sun streamed in through the open windows.

This was how my boundless appreciation for the wise words of Dr. Seuss began to take root as he set my imagination free to run rampant, encouraging and nurturing thoughts of kindness, openness, and creativity.

As I got older, I was gifted Oh the Places You’ll Go for my high school graduation, bringing it along as I ventured to San Francisco for college, daring to dream and take chances with my writing and career. Today, magical whimsy still accompanies the words of Dr. Seuss as I read them aloud to my niece and nephew, his cartoon drawings and the loops of his letters leaping off the page and into the big openness of their eyes and hearts. There’s a wonder, an inspiration, a timeless feeling about Seuss that has the ability to affect and inspire us all.

So, what better way to celebrate the brilliant brains of Seuss than in that same poignant way I did as a child—in my pajamas, sipping hot chocolate at a cozy morning reading get together for adults and kids alike.

An Imaginative Hot Chocolate Bar

It’s a strong belief instilled from my childhood that Dr. Seuss should always be accompanied by hot chocolate; the comfort of a good book and a warm mug will forever, quite literally, go hand in hand. Creating a wacky and wonderful blue and red-themed hot chocolate bar, inspired by Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat, is a very Seussian way to kick off our party!

seussian straws
Straws even Seuss would love | Image courtesy Target

What You’ll Need:

  • Whole milk
  • Cocoa powder
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • White chocolate chips
  • Marshmallows
  • Whipped cream
  • Crushed peppermints
  • Blue and red sprinkles
  • Blue and red straws
  • A slow cooker
  • Clear mason jars
  • An assortment of mugs (the wackier, the better)

How to Set It Up:

  1. The day before the party, prep your table. To use The Cat in the Hat as your theme, include lots of blues and reds. Use a red tablecloth, then layer with a blue runner. Fill mason jars with blue and red striped or polka dotted straws. Then, set out your mugs, seeing if you can safely stack them in some wacky way to evoke the hazardous way Thing 1 and Thing 2 would carry household items about.
  2. The morning of the party, make your hot chocolate in a slow cooker. For a party of 8, mix 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup of sugar and 7 cups of whole milk. Combine in the slow cooker and stir, keeping on low for 2 hours until you’re ready to serve.
  3. While you wait for the hot chocolate, put out your marshmallows, milk chocolate and white chocolate chips, whipped cream, crushed peppermints (or candy canes), and sprinkles. For an added Seuss-like touch, use red and white baker’s twine to attach labels onto clear mason jars.

In the Words of Dr. Seuss

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” The words of Dr. Seuss bring forth lessons on love, learning, and life with wit and wisdom for both kids and adults. Sharing my personal favorite quotes with guests makes me feel like I’m doing my part to encourage a love of reading and the written word. Plus, there seems to be something therapeutic about writing the words of Seuss out as an adult, important little reminders of the past that I can apply to my present.

seuss quote
Oh the Places You’ll Go | Image courtesy Etsy seller palaceandjames

Adorning your space with DIY Dr. Seuss quote decor is also a simple, but clever way to carry your party theme into your home. I like the modern look of plain white cardstock with blocky black ink letters, which is difficult to achieve with my left-handed chicken scratch. So I always turn to simple alphabet stencils for a little guidance.

I like to hang the quotes around the reading nook (which I’ll tell you about below) and above the hot chocolate bar. I even hang some in the bathroom for fun; the Seuss quote, “Only brush the teeth you want to keep,” comes to mind. As Seuss alludes to, the day of the party is your day, indeed, and the mountain that is waiting is the decor. So, it’s time to get on your way!

Bring out your old Seuss books and get searching for favorite quotes. Be sure to enlist your little ones for help. Here are a few of my go-tos:

  • “I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”
  • “You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”
  • “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”
  • “It’s opener there in the wide open air.”
  • “So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”
  • “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Then, when your party has run it’s wild and wacky course, surprise your guests by letting them pick a quote or two to take home as a party favor!

A Seuss-pirational Book Exchange

Dr. Seuss Collection
A Seussian book collection | Image courtesy Amazon

Using an online gift exchange website to organize it, ask your guests to bring their favorite Dr. Seuss book for a wordy gift exchange. The idea is a simple one: give a book, take a book, and most importantly—read a book! Theodor Seuss Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, published over 60 stories in his career, so encourage your guests to dig a little deeper than the most well-known classics to add something new to the collections of fellow guests.

Here are a few of my Dr. Seuss favorites:

  • Scrambled Eggs Super!
  • Oh the Thinks You Can Think
  • There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
  • Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose
  • Oh Beyond Zebra
  • Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

A Reading Nook to Cozy up In

With a house full of books, you’ll need a cozy nook for your guests to relax in while they explore the wondrous world of Dr. Seuss.

a wondrous reading nook
A whimsical reading nook canopy | Image courtesy Amazon

First, pick a corner to transform into a dreamy word wonderland. You can use a twin sized mattress covered in a fun fitted sheet, an assortment of over-sized pillows, and even a kids’ tent or two. Drape a canopy from the top of the ceiling to create a whimsical effect or string up a curtain between walls. Hang a twinkly string of bulbs as your reading light and spell out READ with wooden letters painted in Seussian colors, which you can find at any craft store. Then just add the Seuss classics and let the imaginations of your guests take flight.

While you decorate, if you feel like your imagination gets stuck, just pull out a Seuss book to get your creative juices flowing. As Seuss himself says, “Oh, the thinks you can think up if you only try!”

For kids, the words of Dr. Seuss create memories. For adults, they bring back visions of childhood, and the importance of what it means to approach life with a little bit of humor, a little bit of wit, and a whole lot of wonder.

Throwing a Good Morning, Dr. Seuss party, complete with hot cocoa bar and reading nook, DIY quote decor, and a book exchange, will add some whimsy to your world and the world of your guests. It brings back the idea that there is, perhaps, no greater and timeless gift than the gift of a book. For in that book, new worlds can be explored, doors opened, and unexpected thoughts can be thought! Just remember,“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Happy reading!

Elfster encourages you to think imaginative, wandering, and wonderful Seuss-like thoughts when giving gifts. Explore our Seuss-inspired gift guide, download our Seussian bookmarks or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more tidbits of inspiration.

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.

Relaxation Gift Ideas for Anxiety Prone Loved Ones to Inspire a Calm and Serene Mind

Relaxation Gift Ideas for Anxiety Prone Loved Ones to Inspire a Calm and Serene Mind

inhale, exhale
Inhale. Exhale. | Image courtesy Etsy seller GalaDigitalPrints

We all know someone who’s always anxious about, well, everything. While everyone gets nervous about this or that, for some people, anxiety affects their daily life. We often refer to them as “nervous” or “a real worrier,” but those labels simplify what our anxious loved ones experience, and even giving them a gift can create stress for both the giver and the givee. After all, you don’t want to give them something that will make their anxiety worse, like concert tickets if they have social anxiety.

Remember, you aren’t trying to “fix” them. So, when gifting to an anxious friend or family member, the hope is to support them, nourish them, and call out all the wonderful things you love about them while, yes, keeping their anxieties in mind. Gifts should ease stress, and help reduce some of the secondary symptoms or primary causes of anxiety. After all, giving a gift should never be about you, but about helping your loved one enjoy life to the fullest.

Gift Ideas for People with Anxiety

Many of these ideas can be helpful for people with normal, wholly explicable anxiety about specific things, such as being new parents or having your team in the Super Bowl (and no, I’m not comparing the two…really). But they’re also extremely helpful for people suffering from general anxiety disorders:

yoga mat
A home yoga mat can be a solitary way to find peace | Image courtesy Target.com

A White Noise Machine

Some of the symptoms of clinical anxiety include restlessness, fatigue, and an inability to sleep. The mind is always running, and it can be extremely acute. But white noise machines can help drown out that insistent inner voice, and are proven to encourage sleep. That shouldn’t be underestimated. Not sleeping right is downright unhealthy. A good night’s rest isn’t a cure, of course, but it can help mitigate some of the symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Yoga Classes or Accessories

One year, I signed my particularly anxious friend Mark and I up for yoga classes. I had never done it before, and neither had he, so we were able to be yoga newbies together.

Now, that doesn’t always work—the public aspect might be hard for people with specific types of anxiety, and you might seem like you’re forcing them into doing something.

But there are other ways to enjoy the proven therapeutic benefits of yoga without having to take classes at a studio. You can gift them yoga mats, DVDs or Blu-Rays (or subscriptions to streamed health channels), yoga pants, and much more. That way they can enjoy it without being out in public.

An Indoor Fountain

indoor fountain
The soothing sounds of running water | Image courtesy Amazon seller T&R Company

This is similar to the white noise machine, but for when your friend is awake. People love fountains. The sound of running water is inherently natural, and stands in contraposition to the unnatural way in which so many of us live, surrounded by pinging technology.

There is so much of the modern world that can cause stress or nervousness. Being able to sit on your couch, close your eyes, and feel that you are in a Tennyson-esque idyll can help some of that unnecessary anxiety to melt away.

Organizational Tools

One thing that Mark always talks about is being disorganized. So, for his birthday this year, I’ve been looking at easy organizational tools, like closet organizers or better shelving systems (which improve upon his careful system of putting whatever, wherever).

It’s not just a matter of buying things, either. I’ve sent him really helpful storage and organizational guides so that he can get a handle on what needs to be done, and my wife and I have volunteered our time as well. Well, she’s much better at it than I am. But I can take directions.

Soothing Bath Products

bath caddy
Baths can offer peaceful alone time | Image courtesy Etsy seller LoveYourselfBath

There are times when being alone can be uncomfortable for someone with anxiety. But, there are also times when it can be great, if the mood is right. And a warm bath always seem to help that mood.

People who fear disaster might be overanxious about dropping their book in the bath, or spilling their beverage, or knocking a candle in. But a bath caddy can prevent that, letting the mind be at ease. Bath salts and bath bombs are also great aromatherapeutic ways to relax, and let the mind be free of itself.

A Journal

Sometimes, with anxiety, the mind is an enemy, always working its way around to the worst case scenario. A mind that’s allowed to wander unchecked can find some dark corners. That’s where a journal can come in handy.

A journal can create focus and reflection in a more organized way, letting an anxious person work through their thoughts, rather than letting their thoughts work through them. It allows for creativity and personal growth. It lets the mind work for, rather than against, itself.

The Gift of Friendship

a leather journal
A journal lets the mind find itself | Image courtesy Etsy seller MedievalJourney

Really, the line running through all these ideas is friendship. Your friendship and your understanding are keys to helping an anxious friend cope with the world, whether it’s temporary, cause-driven anxiety over something specific, or a clinical condition.

You are being there for a friend, and are taking their anxiety not as something to be cured, or dismissed, or certainly not something they “should just get over,” but as something to live with in the best possible way. You’re helping deal with symptoms while working on causes.

You’re looking at your friend and saying you’re there for them. That, your presence, is the ultimate present any loved one with anxiety needs.

Let us know how you help friends with anxiety on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.