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What Do You Get a High School Graduate: Trendy, Inexpensive Graduation Gift Ideas

What Do You Get a High School Graduate: Trendy, Inexpensive Graduation Gift Ideas

inexpensive high school graduation gift ideas

The first time I felt like I had really and truly become a part of my husband’s family was when my mother-in-law gifted us with a family heirloom—a beautiful quilt painstakingly sewn by her mother. I teared up, thinking of the hours of work that went into creating the quilt; it was like a connection between me, a novice quilter, and my husband’s grandmother, who I never got the chance to meet.

trendy graduation gift ideas
Celebrate your high school grad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Juan Ramos

I immediately ran to our room to spread the blanket on our bed. It was like a physical manifestation of a big hug, and I felt so loved and lucky that such a precious gift had been entrusted to us. Even though it didn’t cost any money, and even though I’ve been given flashier gifts in the past, it’s still one of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received.

So, what do you get a high school graduate for a congratulations gift? While they probably need things like a laundry bag and new textbooks, the best gifts for new grads are the ones that will give them a connection to home when they’re feeling a little lost amidst the uncertainty of their new lives. Sounds daunting, right? But one kid’s old blanket is another kid’s family treasure, so as long as you take their personality into account, coming up with meaningful, even inexpensive, high school graduation gift ideas for your newly minted adult (that will also look trendy and cool in their new dorm room) won’t actually be difficult at all.

Kitchen Gadgets for (Almost) College Students

One of my earliest memories of my mom is watching her wash a huge batch of chopped kale leaves in the sink, preparing to make a big pot of her special Portuguese kale soup. We were always in the kitchen together, my mom the head chef and I her assistant. As I got older, I would make family meals on my own from scratch, inviting my friends over to gab while I worked on turning out a big pan of cheesy lasagna or a tureen of chicken and dumplings.

recipe gift ideas for grads
Cooking up new friends | Image courtesy Etsy seller WoodburyDesignCo

Then I went to college. The dining hall at my school was fine, but I missed being able to do the cooking myself. And with my insane schedule, I often found myself sleeping when the dining hall was open, and famished when it was closed (but lacking the funds to go out for a meal).

Giving kitchen gadgets for college students isn’t just a way to make sure they’ll stay fed even when they sleep through dinner. It’s also an opportunity to give them a little taste of home, so they can recreate their favorite dishes in the comfort of their dorm room when they start feeling homesick. I guarantee it’ll make them popular with their dorm mates, too—anyone who’s turning out cheeseburgers or homemade soup at 2 am during midterms is bound to make a lot of new friends!

The best kitchen gadget gifts can be used for more than one thing. A slow cooker, for instance, can be used to cook up just about anything, from oatmeal to brownies, roast beef to baked potatoes. And an electric coffeemaker is a great survival tool for following the collegiate food pyramid: coffee at the bottom, followed by ramen in the middle, and the occasional hot dog at the top (both of which you can make in an auto-drip coffeemaker). To personalize the gift, consider this add-on: a cookbook from the family collection filled with the recipes they grew up eating.

Inexpensive, Design-Driven High School Graduation Gifts

dorm sweet dorm high school grad gift
Dorm Sweet Dorm | Image courtesy Etsy seller SisBoomBaa

I spent years decorating my childhood bedroom to reflect my style, taping Velvet Underground CD inserts above my bed and letting my friends write notes and sign their names on the small space of wall that was hidden when you opened the door (shh, don’t tell my mom). So when I got to college, I was definitely ready to put my decorating touch on the bare-bones, cinderblock-walled room I was sharing with a die-hard Mariah Carey fan.

First things first, great lighting to add a cozy glow to your kid’s dorm room will be a welcome alternative to the standard fluorescent lighting—and can be an inexpensive high school graduation gift. A desk and a floor lamp are pretty essential, and you can find all sorts of styles, from rose gold and glitter for a classic feminine style to a shade decked out with the logo of their favorite sports team.

Practical gifts, like washi tape for hanging pictures of the friends and family back home in a colorful way, a tech gift that helps them stay in touch with friends and family, and blackout curtains in a fashionable print (so kids can sleep through the day after staying up all night studying) may seem like no-frills presents, but your new high school grad will be seriously thankful that their room feels like a functional home away from home, and not just a temporary room they’re staying in while they focus on their studies. When the homesickness kicks in, they’ll feel better surrounded by comfort instead of the blank canvas they moved into at the beginning of the school year.

Family Mementos Are Trendy Vintage Dorm Room Decor

I remember going down to the basement one summer to look for some old pool toys when I stumbled upon a strange assortment of large, black CDs in a milk crate. I asked my parents what the strange discs were, and they explained to me that before cassette tapes and CDs, everyone listened to music on vinyl albums. Well, flash forward to the present and vinyl is back in a big way. I used to think it was really weird that my parents held onto their old record player and albums—I mean, music is digital, for Pete’s sake! But the joke’s on me because even I have a turntable of my own now so I can spin everything from novelty Christmas albums to the music of David Bowie.

retro high school graduation gift idea
Old is on trend | Image courtesy Etsy seller thelittlebikers

Look around your house and see if you have any similar vintage gems tucked away that could give your kid major bragging rights when they leave the nest for their new place. Everything old is new again—even Friends-themed parties and gifts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, so maybe that old poster you have in the basement could work as a present.

The gift could be a handmade quilt that’s been in the family for years (shabby-chic is very trendy), something cool like a record player, vintage sports team memorabilia, or a quirky vintage knick knack that can be a conversation starter for your child and their new dorm mates. So many family mementos could work as a trendy dorm room decor.

You know your kids best, so you’ll be able to pick something that has meaning attached—but it should also be something they’ll be proud to display in their new digs, too. If you aren’t sure what’s currently trending, just head to the local mall and browse the big box stores. Most of them will have back-to-school sections for new college students. Take a look there for inspiration to see if you have anything that could double as both stylish decor and a gift to remember home by.

When You Don’t Know What to Get Your High School Graduate, Gift Experience

The first time I spent a few nights away from home with no adult supervision wasn’t when I left for college, it was right after graduation. My parents had gotten together with some of my friends’ folks and chipped in to rent us a run-down cabin on a lake near our hometown as a post-graduation present. It wasn’t anything fancy, but nothing could take the place of the memories we made falling out of canoes, searching for constellations, and cooking dinner together on the rickety stove.

trip gift for grads
Experiences last forever | Image courtesy Unsplash user Ashim D’Silva

The gift of experience, if you don’t know what to get your high school graduate, will last forever, whether it’s a multi-day trip or an afternoon of fun to share with the close friends they’ll soon be leaving. Choosing something isn’t that hard—just think of things your kids already like doing with their friends, and then kick it up a notch or two. Music lover? Get them a few tickets to an upcoming concert or music festival. Outdoorsy types will be thrilled with everything needed for the perfect day hike: road trip money that covers gas and coffee, and a gift certificate for dinner once they make it down the mountain. A white-water rafting or paddleboarding adventure are perfect for water babies, and theater kids will be ecstatic to see a local production with their besties. You could even plan a fun day for your graduate to spend bonding with a beloved pet they’ll be leaving behind when the leave the nest. Those first few nights at college, they’ll be able to seek comfort in the memories of the time spent with their high school besties, and get inspired to meet new buds while at college, too.

Leaving for college wasn’t easy; I cried for a solid hour when I said goodbye to my best friend. But once I got to school and set up my new room (my roommate was very tolerant of the goth phase I was going through at the time, bless her Mariah Carey-loving heart), complete with pictures of my friends smiling down at me from the walls and a blanket crocheted by my aunt at the foot of my bed, I felt excited. This wasn’t the end of my old life, it was the beginning of something new—and my friends and family would always be there when I returned home.

The best way to get the perfect gift for your graduate isn’t flipping through a catalog, it’s thinking about what you really know about them and their interests, and finding the gift that fits them. Sometimes it’s as simple as an electric griddle so they can make pancakes on Sunday mornings just like at home, and sometimes it’s that vintage hockey pendant that’s been hanging on the wall of the family room their whole life. They’re not just dorm decorations, they’re a way for your graduate to stay connected to what matters most—home.

Brighten up any graduate’s special day with a little something from our Off to College Gift Guide. You can keep up with all things Elfster on Facebook, and don’t forget to visit us on Twitter @Elfster and Instagram @Elfstergram.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is Diwali Important and Celebrated: The Story of Diwali

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

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

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

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

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas for Family and Friends

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

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

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

A Diwali Gift Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

Brass Lakshmi image in banner is courtesy Amazon.

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

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


3 Easy DIY Father's Day Gift Ideas for Dad

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

 

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

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

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

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

DIY Homemade Vanilla Coffee Syrup Recipe to Gift a Wakeful Morning

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

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

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

The Ingredients:

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

The Recipe:

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

 

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

Homemade Dry Spice Rub Recipes: Gifts for the BBQ Dad

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

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

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

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

Blackening Spice Rub Recipe

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

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

Lemon and Herb Rub Recipe

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

*Try this on salmon served with tartar sauce

The Everyday Rub Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, you can. And it’s super easy!

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

The Supplies:

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

The Directions:

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exchanging Teacher Survival Gift Kits to Encourage Peers

Teacher and Gifter Chandra Dills
Teacher and Gifter Chandra Dills

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Peer-to-Peer Teacher Appreciation Gift Exchange Online

encouraging teacher gifts
Image courtesy Teaching with Crayons and Curls

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

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

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

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

teacher gift exchange
Image courtesy Stephanie Philips, Elfster exchange participant

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

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

Are you a teacher looking for inspiration?

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

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

Looking for a great way to spread a little generosity in your own community? Organize a free, online Secret Santa-style gift exchange with Elfster. It just takes minutes! Want to connect with the elves at Elfster? You can reach us via Facebook, Tweet us @Elfster, or catch us on Instagram at @Elfstergram.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Dog Welcome Basket: Primp With Your Pup

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

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

Rainy Day Relaxing Pet Gift Box Ideas

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

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

A Pet Lovers Adventure Gift Basket for City Explorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tech Gifts for Teens Into Artistic Photographic Expression

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

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

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

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

Tech Gifts for Teen Explorers

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

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

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

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

High-Tech Music Gifts Are Pitch Perfect for Teen Guys

acoustic guitar tech gift
Acoustic meets digital | Image courtesy Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

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

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

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

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

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

A Giving Tree Lesson Idea: Donating Books to Charity

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

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

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

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

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

Easy DIY Flower Pot Ideas to Watch Generosity Grow

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

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

The Supply List:

  • Small watering cans
  • Soil
  • Wildflower seeds

The Directions:

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

Giving Tree Activities Teach Generosity to Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ingredients List:

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

The Baking Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ingredients List:

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

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

Hostess Sand Bucket, er… Gift Basket… Ideas

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

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

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

What to Put in a Beach Bag Gift:

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

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

Picnic Basket Gift Ideas for Summer

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

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

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

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

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

A Homemade Tomato Jam Recipe to Preserve Summer’s Bounty

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

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

The Ingredients List:

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


The Recipe:

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

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

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

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

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

A Freilichen Purim! Gift Basket Ideas to Celebrate Spring, Community, and Life’s Joys

A Freilichen Purim! Gift Basket Ideas to Celebrate Spring, Community, and Life’s Joys

purim printable cards
Sweet tags for baskets of sweets | Image courtesy Etsy seller TwinkleSprinkleShop

Late winter and early spring are, for everyone, imbued with a sense of rebirth and excitement. It’s a time to escape the long winter—and look forward to the light. For the Jewish people, though, it means something more. It is the time for Purim, to celebrate when they were saved from annihilation at the hands of the Persians. It’s more than a party for the rebirth of spring; it is celebrating the miracle of existence. 

And what a celebration it is! Purim is described as a time to let loose, offering more unalloyed fun than any other date on the Jewish calendar. It isn’t a day for somber reminiscing, but for celebrating the unvarnished joy of being alive in this world. It’s marked with costumes, lively decorations, and food—delicious sweets and amazing baked goods.

All of this—the food, the costumes, the love and joy—can be included in your ideas for a Purim gift basket. Giving gifts is part of the Purim tradition; a spirit of generosity reflects the nature of the day. So for Purim, assemble a gift basket that will make your friends and loved ones thrill to the particular delight of being alive in this fallen, yet beautiful and joyful world of ours. A freilichen Purim!

Haman’s Lottery: The Story of Purim—and Traditions

the story of purim art
The story of Purim | Image courtesy Etsy seller JudaicArtStudios

To understand exactly what we’re celebrating, we should briefly look at the story of Purim and its traditions. Sometime in the 5th-century BC, the Jewish people were ruled by Persia, whose vast empire spread out over much of the modern Middle East. The Emperor, Ahasuerus, had a much-loved young wife, Esther, who was Jewish (though no one knew that at the time, not even her new husband).

Ahasuerus was also close to his prime minister who ran the empire, a real piece of work by the name of Haman. Haman didn’t care for Jews, and ordered them all to be killed on a day chosen at random, in a kind of backward lottery. To block Haman’s destruction of her people, Esther courageously revealed herself to Ahasuerus as Jewish, an act of unity with her community as she could have hid her identity and saved herself from facing death instead of standing up for her people. But she was brave—and it saved everyone she loved. Her husband, the Emperor, didn’t take kindly to the idea of his wife’s people being harmed, so took care of Haman instead.

It’s not a fun story on the surface, of course, but the joy of surviving through cleverness, courage, and unity with friends and family is inspiring. Purim celebrates a day where people overcame their enemies by sticking together, by being unified in the face of a threat, and by following the bravery of people like Esther.

There’s a joy in that, a joy strong enough to now laugh at the ineffectiveness of Haman’s hate. In fact, the name itself is a Persian word for “lots,” as in Haman drawing lots to figure out what day to harm the Jewish community. That didn’t work out so well for him, though, and now on the 14th of Adar every year, we celebrate life, courage, and community instead.

“Perfect” Purim Gift Basket Ideas

hamentashen purim pastries
Everything starts with Hamentashen | Image courtesy Etsy seller cookiesncornbags

OK, so this subheading is a bit of a fib. There are no “perfect” Purim gift basket ideas. There’s only the gift basket that makes you, and the recipient, the happiest. Giving a basket of food and drink, also known as mishloach manot, or the sending of portions, is part of the traditions of Purim to ensure that everyone has the means to celebrate. It’s another recognition of the importance of community and lending your neighbor a helping hand. Of course, when times aren’t lean, you can incorporate some fun as well as food.

Some elements of a great Purim basket include:

  • Hamantashen: See? Still giving Haman the business. Hamentashen are triangular filled-pocket pastries, usually with a sweet filling inside. Sometimes they are closed so you don’t know what’s in them. That’s part of the mystery and joy of Purim—there are miracles everywhere. Sometimes, delicious miracles.
  • Fruits and nuts: A fruit and nut portion
    Purim mask for kids
    Esther removed her mask and saved her people | Image courtesy Etsy seller EbonyShaeDesigns

    isn’t symbolic of anything, but they are foods that people could store even in rough times and share with their community.

  • Chocolate: This is symbolic of chocolate being delicious—one of life’s simplest pleasures.
  • Masks: Purim masks look a lot like Mardi Gras masks. As traditions sometimes find difficult soil in modern times, it might be good to throw in some costumes to remind younger people that this is a fun holiday celebrating life.
  • Educational material: Speaking of kids, remind them what Purim is all about. If your basket recipient is a child, or has children, consider Purim-themed books or movies.
  • Noisemakers: A big part of Purim is Gragger, also known as the Ra’ashan or Gregor. This is a noisemaker. It makes noise. Parents might not like it, but kids…the kids will.

Purim Gifts Exchanged Online to Spread Your Joy

In the old days (the very old days) sending gifts maybe meant going across town. Everyone was close together, so actually sending things to people far away was pretty uncommon. But times are different now. We’re able to expand our community of loved ones out of town, across the country, and around the globe. We’re able to host a Purim gift exchange with people throughout the diaspora.

a nontraditional purim gift basket
A nontraditional Purim gift basket that still celebrates joy | Image courtesy Etsy seller Parcelly

One way to do that is by using an online gift exchange to arrange for a far-flung group of family and friends to send each other baskets, or at least the components thereof, no matter where they are in this big world. All you have to do is sign-up for free, and get your loved ones to do the same. You can even make it a mystery gift exchange, so people don’t know who they are getting their gift basket from. It’s like a basket-sized, closed up Hamantashen.

A really wonderful aspect of this is that you can make sure that everyone is taken care of. The online exchange is designed to ensure everyone has a match. It’s just like in the old days, when gifts were sent out to guarantee that everyone could celebrate this important community holiday together. A gift exchange helps keep that spirit of oneness alive, rekindling that huddled and warm sense of shared happiness no matter the globe-spanning distance between two people.

We give gifts at Purim to remember what was almost lost, and to celebrate what we still have. Haman tried to take everything away from the Jewish people, but he was stopped, and life went on, with all its absurdities and graces, all its sadnesses and joy, the terrors and the triumphs of the long millennia.

And through those centuries, throughout the world, Purim was celebrated, whether the basket had just two potatoes or was bursting with Hamantashen. It’s a way to celebrate being alive in the world with those you love. It’s a time to give, and to take joy in giving. It’s a time to remember the greatest lesson of all: that to be alive is to be blessed.

Take off your mask and dance! Tell us about your favorite Purim gift basket ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting, browse our gift guides.

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.