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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.

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.

Easy Snow Day Sports Crafts for Preschoolers to Make Fun Winter Memories with Kids

Easy Snow Day Sports Crafts for Preschoolers to Make Fun Winter Memories with Kids

baby watching snow
Image courtesy flick’r user Derya

For years I’ve been babysitting my best friend’s kids, Daniel and Nathan, and I feel so lucky to watch their personalities emerge. Now that they’re 4 and 6, we’ve become a big part of each other’s lives—they even call me Auntie Rai.

While we usually spend our time together climbing trees or kicking a ball around the year, the recent snows in our area have made the jungle gyms impassable (and there are only so many snowmen I can handle), so we’ll be making memories indoors for a while. Luckily I’ve found a way to bring some of the boys’ favorite outdoor sports in with a few fun, safe twists.

Pom Pom Soccer

The boys are both avid soccer players—their parents secretly dream of cheering for them from the stands of a college stadium one day. I support the cause by making sure they can enjoy their game even when snow is coating their backyard soccer field. Of course, I don’t think their mom would be too thrilled if I let them kick a ball around the living room, so we had to get a little bit creative.

pom poms
Pom poms make excellent indoor soccer balls | Image courtesy Etsy seller GracieAndMarie

The Materials:

  • Cardboard box
  • Scissors
  • Green construction paper
  • White printer paper
  • Straws
  • Tape
  • String

The How-To:

  1. We started by crafting our soccer field. First, we found a large cardboard box. I cut it in half, horizontally, so the boys were left with the bottom and about four-inch-tall sides.
  2. Next, we glued green construction paper into the bottom of the box for grass. We cut strips of white printer paper and taped them down to make the sidelines and half-field line.
  3. Using straws and tape, we made the frames of the goal boxes, tying string in a crisscross pattern around the straw frame to make a net.

Our homemade indoor soccer pitch looked perfect to me, but Nathan said something was missing. Running to his room, he gathered up a handful of Lego characters and placed them along the sidelines saying, “This is where Mom and Dad stand when we play.” Now we had a life-like model field and an attentive audience.

Daniel chose our pom pom ball—a bright orange one—and Nathan grabbed two straws, one for each of the boys. Serving as referee, I dropped the pom in the middle of the field on the count of three and the game began! Using their straws to blow the pom around the field, the boys battled to see who could get it into the other player’s goal. It was such a fun time that we lost track of the score after the third goal, and played until we were all out of breath!

 

Indoor Inflatable Tennis

After fun on the floor playing pom pom soccer, Daniel spotted his mom’s tennis racket in the corner and asked, “Can we play with this?” While I wanted to encourage them to try their hand at tennis, I couldn’t consider myself a good babysitter if I let them play with an expensive professional racket—especially indoors. So we came up with an alternative kid-friendly and indoor-safe option.

balloons
Brightly colored balloons make great indoor sports balls | Image courtesy Amazon seller Nexci

First, we had to create rackets. Heading to the kitchen, we found paper plates and popsicle sticks. (Well, actually, we found popsicles. To get the sticks, I let the boys enjoy a little pre-game treat.) Popsicles devoured, we glued each stick between two paper plates and voila! We had tennis rackets! Next, we grabbed a balloon and blew it up to serve as a jumbo-sized tennis ball. Finally, I grabbed a bed sheet and draped it over a piece of twine, which I tied to the backs of two chairs at about two feet off the ground.

With rackets, a giant tennis ball, and a makeshift net, the boys were ready for an exciting match of tennis, although the lazy pace of the balloon gave them a chance to practice their over-the-top slow-mo reactions, which repeatedly had us all laughing.

T.P. Stock Cars

After a few games of tennis, the boys and I began discussing other sports. “I want to be a stock car racer,” Nathan said, before convincing me that we should have our own stock car races. Gathering up some empty toilet paper rolls, construction paper, water-based paints, markers, and scissors, we set to work creating our stock cars.

cardboard race car
A fancy, cardboard taxi car | Image courtesy Etsy seller Casagashop

We started by painting the bodies of our cars with the brightly colored paints. Daniel’s was red, Nathan’s was blue, and I went for a bright green. We let the cars dry while we cut out tires from black construction paper. Daniel even cut out a lightning bolt from yellow construction paper to make his car the “Flash Mobile.”

Once the car bodies were dry, we glued on our tires and decor—Nathan added a number to the hood of his car and drew a driver into the front seat. With our stock cars ready, we were all set to race them around challenging obstacles like the couch, ottoman—and the dog—by seeing who could push them around from their hands and knees the fastest.

Even though we weren’t able to enjoy our usual favorite activities outside, our day indoors was a thrill. Though the boys probably look back on that day as just another weekend with Auntie Rai, I look back on it as a time when I found out how passionate Daniel and Nathan truly are about sports, and how quick they are to make creative suggestions all their own.

Who knew two boys born in the technology era could have so much fun with some pom poms, straws, balloons, and empty toilet paper rolls? Not only did I show the boys that they don’t need to be glued to a screen on a snow day, but we got to make some memories that I’ll always cherish and I hope they remember for years and years.

Want more ideas on how to make wonderful memories with your kids? Let the Elves help you get creative for birthdays, holidays, or even fun weekends spent indoors this winter. And get even more ideas on our Facebook page, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster

A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun

A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun

handmade valentine card
Handcrafted valentines say so much more | Image courtesy Etsy seller LemonDropsandLilacs

Around this time of year, my friend Sophie and I find ourselves reminiscing about the good ol’ days of elementary school, when we would make construction paper valentines for each of our friends. Though we were clumsy with a bottle of Elmer’s glue and overzealous with the glitter, we worked so hard to create perfect notes and cards that all had unique, personalized touches.

Last year, Sophie didn’t want her two school-aged daughters to have to rely on pre-made valentines featuring cartoon characters. She wanted them to learn the value of making something by hand—and to know just what it’s like to get so passionate about cutting out the perfect (non-lopsided!) paper heart. So we jumped into party-planning mode, and organized a Valentine’s Day gift and snack extravaganza!

The weekend before Valentine’s Day, Sophie invited her daughters’’ best friends and their parents over for a crafting and DIY party. In all, we had about 11 kiddos and 9 parents, each family volunteering to bring one item from a party supply wishlist. And then we all gathered to make delicious Valentine’s Day treats and handmade valentine cards—just like when we were kids.

Heart-Shaped Marshmallow Crispies

Kids (and kids-at-heart) can’t get enough of ooey-gooey marshmallow cereal treats—it’s a staple at most classroom parties. But we thought this classic treat deserved a decorative spin for the holiday of love—so we pulled out the heart-shaped tins and got to work.

handmade marshmallow treats
Marshmallow crispies are always a hit | Image courtesy Etsy seller LilMissCupcakeLady

The Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp butter, unsalted
  • 80 large marshmallows
  • 12 c. crispy rice cereal
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 c. white chocolate chips
  • Heart-shaped sprinkles

The How-To:

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add in the marshmallows and stir continuously until melted and well-mixed. Slowly add in the cereal, stirring continuously for an even mixture.
  2. Spoon the mixture into a heart-shaped cupcake pan coated with non-stick cooking spray. You can also spoon the mixture into a 9 x 13 rectangular glass baking dish and use a cookie cutter to get heart-shaped treats.
  3. Let the treats cool for 5 minutes. Remove the treats from the pan.
  4. Heat the chocolate chips over a double-boiler.
  5. Once the chocolate is thoroughly melted, dip the face of each of the rice crispy treats into the chocolate. Immediately dust with sprinkles and let the chocolate harden.

This recipe makes about 12 treats—and is so easy for the kids to help with!

Hot Chocolate Spoons

chocolate spoons
Image courtesy Etsy seller NicolesTreats

Sophie’s girls love to enjoy cozy treats in the winter months. To warm their little hearts, we made customized hot chocolate dipping spoons.

We started with about three cups of milk chocolate chips, which we melted over the double boiler. Next, we dipped pink plastic spoons into the melted chocolate one at a time. Laying the coated spoons on a sheet of wax paper, we had each partygoer sprinkle a few spoons with mini marshmallows, heart-shaped sprinkles, and crushed peppermint candies. We let the spoons sit for about 15 minutes before wrapping each in a plastic sleeve tied with string.

For the class party, we picked up a jumbo-sized box of hot chocolate mix, and one of the parents volunteered to bring in her electric kettle. The students had a blast watching the chocolate melt in their cocoa, releasing marshmallows and sprinkles into their mugs.

Loving Fruit Kabobs

It’s not surprising to find yourself surrounded by delicious sweet treats for kids to enjoy at any Valentine’s Day get-together. And while we couldn’t wait to dig into all the sugary goodness at our DIY party, we also thought the parents would appreciate it if we snuck in some healthy snacks, too. Sophie had the wonderful idea of making heart-shaped fruit kabobs.

watermelon hearts
Perfect heart-shaped bites | Image courtesy flick’r user denise carrasco

The Ingredients:

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 honeydew
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 large basket of strawberries
  • 1 bunch of purple grapes
  • A heart-shaped cookie cutter
  • Kabob skewers

The How-To:

  1. Start by cutting the melons into triangular slices. From the triangles, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many pieces as you can.
  2. Peel and core the pineapple. Cut the pineapple into 1-inch slices. Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to remove heart-shaped pineapple pieces.
  3. Wash the strawberries and pull off the stems and leaves. Using a paring knife, cut a V into the top of each strawberry. Cut the strawberry in half from top to bottom so you’re left with two strawberry halves, each shaped like a heart.
  4. Push a kabob skewer through one of each of the different fruit pieces.
  5. Wash the grapes. Cover the pointed end of each skewer with one grape.

We kept the skewers chilled in the refrigerator until the Valentine’s Day party. The heart-shaped pieces were so cute, the students didn’t even seem to notice they were eating something healthy!

Valentines Crafted from the Heart

With the snacks made and looking enticingly delicious, we turned our attention to the actual valentines themselves. Sure, it’s easier to grab a box of pre-made Valentine’s Day cards from a shelf, but that misses the point of Valentine’s Day. We wanted to bring the good ol’ days of construction paper hearts and gluing on glitter to our modern kids.

Each party attendee brought one treat ingredient and one item for the valentines craft table, so we ended up with a great mixture of fun items including:

kids' valentine's day diy craft party
Get creative with your valentines this year | Image courtesy flick’r user GlitterandFrills
  • Multi-colored construction paper
  • Ribbon
  • Lace
  • Glitter
  • Buttons
  • Dried pasta
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Yarn
  • Google eyes
  • Markers
  • Crayons
  • Pattern scissors
  • Glue

It was exciting to watch each student come up with his or her own valentine idea and make a unique card for each of their friends. The kids got to show off their creativity and the parents got to enjoy an afternoon getting to know one another and their children’s friends.

Not only was the Valentine’s DIY party a chance to spend quality time hanging out and chatting, but it was a time to get creative and enjoy the spirit of the holiday. Sophie later told me how each of the students eagerly presented their handmade card to their friends while devouring our treats, and I hear her kids (and their friends) are already clamoring for a similar party this year.

Want more ideas on how to make Valentine’s Day extra special this year? Let the Elves help you get creative and gift straight from the heart with their downloadable coupon printables. Get even more ideas on our Facebook, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster

A Gift in Itself: Easy Eco-Friendly Christmas Wrapping Ideas

A Gift in Itself: Easy Eco-Friendly Christmas Wrapping Ideas

Red fabric wrapping paper
Reusable fabric gift wrapping | Image courtesy Etsy seller happywrap

As a child, Christmas was full of magic. I loved the gifts, the food, being with family—and collecting leftover wrapping paper at the end of all the festivities. I always asked my family and friends to unwrap their presents carefully so I could save the paper. Then, I’d spend long, winter hours indoors turning the sparkly, colorful, crinkly scraps into art projects.

Years later, I still love crafts and DIY, but I’m also more conscious about how wrapping paper affects the environment: it’s difficult to recycle because it contains glitter or foil, as do many cards, ribbons, and gift decorations. Fortunately, I’ve found plenty of eco-friendly alternatives to gift wrap, and, when wrapping can be reused, it becomes a gift in itself.

Fabric Is the New Paper

One of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received was a set of baking items—large spoons, a spatula, a silicon brush—all tied together with a bright red kitchen towel. As an avid baker, I loved that the towel was a functional part of the gift—and matched my kitchen perfectly.

pink knit shawl
Wrap it in wool | Image courtesy Etsy seller woolpleasure

Scarves, kitchen towels, and even shawls, can be used as earth-friendly alternatives to wrapping paper. You don’t need a special technique either: just wrap gifts as you would using paper, but fasten loose ends with safety pins instead of tape. And, for bonus points, use a scarf with fabric that complements the gift. For a grown-up Harry Potter fan, for instance, wrap a copy of The Cursed Child in a scarf printed with the Marauder’s Map.

I always buy my mother a new diary for Christmas, and, this year, I paired it with a novel (for some writing inspiration), then wrapped it in a knit shawl to keep her toasty warm while she reads in her favorite armchair. As a queen of resourcefulness, I know my mother will appreciate not only the inventiveness, but functionality, of my wrapping!

Replace Your Ribbons

For Kylie, my dear friend and fashion aficionado, I ordered a handmade jewelry box from a local woodshop. The woodworker unexpectedly gift wrapped it for me in recyclable, but simple, brown kraft paper, so I added a beaded wrap-around choker for flair.

The wrap-around choker trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As a ribbon detractor (it tears easily, it’s hard to reuse, and it’s even harder to recycle), I’ve started replacing it on all my gifts with a wrap-around choker—and a cute, handwritten tag telling my giftee how to wear it.

Fabric ribbons are another great eco-friendly option—and can come in any color, pattern, or style you can dream up (or pick up at your local fabric shop). They can be reused in many ways, from vintage-style headbands to bows for wreaths, and they’re easy to store, so you keep several on hand for use again and again.

Leather wrap necklace
A wrap necklace to replace your ribbon | Image courtesy Etsy seller EvitaMiaDesigns

To make your own fabric ribbon, start with a couple yards or so of fabric—this is a great way to destash some old fabrics if you’re a crafter! Then, follow these simple steps:

  1. Snip fabric on either side of the selvage line using fabric scissors.
  2. Gently tear off the selvage on both sides of your fabric, leaving a raw edge.
  3. Snip across the top of the fabric, every 2” or so depending on your desired ribbon width.
  4. Finally, gently tear strips of fabric, using the spots you snipped as your guide. Et voilà! Fabric ribbon!

Practical and Reusable Gift Receptacles

fabric jar toppers
Fabric scraps are reused as wrapping | Image courtesy Etsy seller BelleByJessi

I’m a huge fan of giving multiple small gifts instead of one large one—it shows how much you really know someone and all the small things they enjoy. If you’re a multi-gifter as well, mason jars, coffee flasks, and large water bottles are all reusable items ideal for housing a mish-mash of gifts.

For Christmas last year, I gave my sister a large, fancy water bottle filled with nail polish, socks, candy, lip balm, a small tube of hand cream, and some costume jewelry. What made it really exciting was that the water bottle was clear, so she got a little sneak peek at her gifts, building her excitement until she could open the bottle up and fully appreciate them all.

If you really want to go the extra mile, get an inspirational or humorous water bottle, or personalize a store-bought one with Sharpies. You can also customize jar lids with fabric scraps, or get really crafty and decoupage a coffee flask. Just remember that the container needs to have a wide neck so you can get the items in and out!

Any Bag Can Be a Gift Bag

I have a drawer full of the gift bags I’ve collected over the years. When I don’t have time to wrap a present, I often grab one and go. Sure, gift bags are easier to reuse than wrapping paper, but they’re just as hard on the environment. Most importantly, they lack a personal touch, which is really what makes a gift spectacular, right?

fabric bags used as gift wrap
Festive bags that are reusable and durable | Image courtesy Etsy seller sweetcitrushome

With some imagination, any bag can become a creative alternative to a gift bag. Canvas totes give a modern, rustic vibe, and often don’t cost any more than a standard gift bag. And who couldn’t use another grab-and-go tote around their house?

To add that personal touch, pick up some fabric paint and stencils at your local craft store and go to town. Just make sure to plan ahead—fabric paint can take up to 48 hours or longer to dry.

You can also buy premade, but equally crafty, fabric gift bags online. They’re designed similarly to duffle bags, with a pull string at the opening, meaning they can be reused as a gift, laundry, or book bag. The flexible shape makes them my go-to for unusually-shaped items. Plus, some online stores will even let you order a bag in a custom design.

For a friend of mine who loves wine, I filled a quirky, clear ice cooler bag with small gifts, similar to the water bottle idea. As someone who loves wine, I really appreciate the wine ice cooler bags—they’re lightweight, come in many beautiful designs, and can be reused to keep wine chilled. My friend and I both live in the southern hemisphere where summer peaks around Christmas Day—it’s the perfect time to bring out an ice-cold bottle of Chardonnay!

We often say that the beauty of Christmas is in giving gifts, not receiving them. This year, we can give back to nature, as well as our loved ones, by wrapping gifts in an earth-friendly way, without compromising on personality or style. Sounds like a win-win to me!

For more eco-friendly gifting inspirations, peruse our Wellness Gift Guide and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on twitter @elfster.

The Handwritten Letter Project Sparks Creativity in Pen Pal Group

The Handwritten Letter Project Sparks Creativity in Pen Pal Group

 

 

“There is something gentle and authentic about a handwritten letter.”

— Emma Mitchell,

Creator of The Handwritten Letter Project & Elfster exchange organizer

 

 

In these times of hustling and bustling through each and every day, there never seems to be enough time to stop and reflect on the beauty of life and the world around us. It takes a special person to be able to “turn it off” and sacrifice precious time to nurture a relationship with a complete stranger, like perhaps someone who shares a common interest in enjoying the simple things in life. But members of one lucky group have made the time, as they have decided to press “pause” and take part in “The Handwritten Letter Project,” a pen pal letter exchange created by the multi-talented Emma Mitchell — a UK-based jewellry designer, craft teacher, writer and mum.

“Last summer I had an idea to write some of my blog posts by hand and exchange letters with fellow bloggers and creative folk,” says Emma. “It had struck me that in this age of emails, DM’s, Facebook notifications and texts we hardly ever pick up a pen and write a note to someone, except perhaps if it’s their birthday or we need to tell them that we’ve put the bins out. I was rather overwhelmed with requests to exchange letters with my readers. It seems that I’d hit on something — a desire to return to writing letters by hand as many of us did when we were children, and receiving envelopes in the post containing pieces of paper on which someone has written to you.”

This concept of taking life back to a simpler time, if only for a short while, has caught on and “The Handwritten Letter Project” continues to grow, day by day. This unique Elfster exchange boasts nearly 800 creative pen pals from all over the world and will remain open to new participants throughout the year.

claireWALBH

“I was keen to link the keen letter writers up with one another and at first was not sure how I could do it without a huge amount of admin,” Emma explains. “Then just before Christmas 2015 Sara Tasker of the beautiful Instagram feed and blog meandorla set up a gift exchange using Elfster. I’d never heard of the website before, but it made me wonder whether I could use the exchange system to build the letter writing group.”

And though the Elfster website is handling the “technical side” of this lovely exchange, the elves at Elfster certainly can appreciate the generosity and spirit of giving that is being promoted by the participants in this letter writing mission that is changing hearts and minds for all those who join.

“I set up the exchange and spoke about the idea on my blog, Instagram and Twitter in mid January,” Emma says. “The launch happened to coincide with National Handwriting Day (January 23) and the response on social media was phenomenal. I was interviewed twice for BBC radio about helping to revive letter writing by setting up the Elfster letter exchange.”

For those not in the know, National Handwriting Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of John Hancock. It was chosen as he was the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence with a flourish.

 

“So far, the Handwritten Letter Exchange has [close to 800] participants,” she adds. “It’s a truly international group and includes letter writers from 10 countries round the world.”

“Those who have signed up for the Letter Exchange all miss writing letters by hand and remember the pen pal partnering projects that took place in the UK in the 1970s and ‘80s,” Emma explains. “They will have received the name of someone to write to and someone else will write to them, resulting in two potential pen pals. I’m hoping (and most of the group are too) that it’s not just a case of a single letter being sent though. The ultimate aim is that I’ve introduced lots of long-term pen pals to one another and the letter writing will continue for a long time yet.”

With a group this large, the task of managing participants from all over the world could seem a challenge, but Elfster is proud to support such a beautiful movement.

“The Elfster system is easy to set up and sign up to,” Emma says. “It’s automated, and it provides a hub for the group to chat and post any problems or enquiries that they might have and where I can answer their requests and draw partners for the latest sign ups.” Group members also have the option to create wish lists, which will give their pen pals more insight into their personal style, and “may provide them with a little information about their pen pals before they reach for their stationery.”

“The Handwritten Letter Exchange” is now open to new members, as Emma has extended the deadline for joining the exchange indefinitely. “Anyone who fancies exchanging slow mail with someone new can sign up here and I will draw partners every few weeks—it is now a rolling, ongoing project,” she explains.

Besides just exchanging letters, pen pals are also taking the opportunity to share some of their creative talents with small tokens of generosity.

“There’s a hashtag on both Twitter and Instagram, #writealetterbyhand, for the letter writers to post images of writing and receiving their old-fashioned correspondence and for them to connect with one another outside the Elfster forum,” Emma says. “Each day beautiful pictures of sketches, drawings, beautiful handwriting, newly rediscovered fountain pens, pressed flowers and even, in one case, a jar of marmalade that were sent by a participant are shared using the hashtag.”

“I have been so thrilled by the response to setting up ‘The Handwritten Letter Project’ Exchange. There is a movement towards slower, less frenetic living and I think letter-writing fits with that very well. Thank you to all who have signed up — I think mailbags are going to be a little heavier in the months to come,” Emma concludes. “Do pop over and join in if you fancy grabbing fountain pen and writing paper and exchanging a little snail mail.”

Want to follow Emma Mitchell and “The Handwritten Letter Project” on social media? Check it out here:

Twitter

Instagram

Blog

The elves at Elfster are thrilled to lend a helping hand to Emma and her “Handwritten Letter Project.” We share Emma’s passion for generosity and hope this movement continues to grow all over the world. Does your Elfster group share a passion for spreading happiness? We would love to hear how your group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram.

 

photo credit: Claire Sutton, Emma Mitchell

Rainy Day Rescue

Rainy Day Rescue

Rainy Day Rescue

What’s worse than getting caught in the rain? Having to endure the awkward moment when you, bone dry and under your umbrella, must walk past an unfortunate soul who has forgotten his or her own!

There’s a terrific opportunity for April altruism here.

Play the part of the silent hero (bonus points if you have a trench coat) and use the opportunity to hand-out a poncho. Stock your purse with some inexpensive “emergency” solutions and pass them out when you happen to catch someone up the creek without a poncho. (You can find them at many drugstores for under a dollar!)

If you want to go the extra mile, you can customize the labels with fun and inspiring messages. We included a few “Poncho Printable” templates and instructions here to help get you started. But feel free to customize with your own unique words of encouragement!

Here are a few ideas:

Today, You're the Head Poncho!

· Real men wear ponchos.

· Congratulations! You’ve had a “stroke” of luck!

· Throw ponchos, not punches!

· Went to work without an umbrella and all you got was this lousy poncho…

· Today, you’re the head poncho!

· Umbrellas are overrated.

· Free recyclable shower curtain.

You've Been Struck... With Good Luck!

· Well, the rain dance worked.

· Don’t worry. This doesn’t legally obligate you to join my cult.

· Hey Rain Man, don’t be a hero.

 

Have any more ideas to help brighten someone’s day? Comment below to tell us what your “Rainy Day Rescue” might say!

Easy-as-Pie Thanksgiving Placemats

Easy-as-Pie Thanksgiving Placemats

History unfolds right before your pies, with this precious pop-up placemat idea!

We love how PubliQue Living transforms plain sheets of recycled paper into charming table pieces for every occasion. (Check out the products on their website.) But in the Pilgrim spirit of “making do,” this Thanksgiving, we just had to try the idea ourselves… DIY-style!

We armed Intern Steph with some Bristol Paper and an X-Acto knife, and told her to re-create the Mayflower for our Thanksgiving table… After a good cry, she got right to work and this was the result!

Say what you will of her historical accuracy (or the judiciousness of giving an intern a knife), we think Stephanie did the pilgrims proud on this one, and here’s how you can create your own!

Materials:

• Large sheet of bristol paper or poster board
• X-acto knife
• Pencil
• Silhouette drawing or clip-art

Instructions:

First, draw or trace a simple line rendering onto your canvas, using your imagination or clip-art. Position the image somewhere around the corner of the page, an inch or two from each edge.

When creating your image, be sure to account for “negative space” by drawing closed, polygonal shapes within the overall outline.

Next, carefully use your X-acto to cut out these interior shapes, little by little, with a cutting board underneath.

After the interior shapes have all been removed, trace the overall outline with your X-acto, leaving the image’s bottom horizontal line uncut.

Finally, fold the image upward (along the bottom horizontal line) to bring your pop-up to life!

Fast n’ Festive Halloween Favors

Fast n’ Festive Halloween Favors

Halloween Party Favor BagsThink quick! It’s almost Halloween and you’ve pretty much wolfed down your colossal candy stockpile. All that’s left for your guests is one measly bag of morsels, giving you the sense that somewhere in a day-glow painted boiler room, Willy Wonka is weeping.

Well snap out of it! Halloween is no time to neglect your friends, or your crafting either. You’ve got no time to waste going to the store to buy more candy and party supplies, so you’ll have to make do with the bare essentials…

Don’t just stand there! Grab that old pad of construction paper, and find some scissors and tape, pronto! Today we’re making decorative fun-sized candy bags. Even though you still have a tummy ache, and your tongue has yet to return to its original color, with these cute little favors, your guests might just overlook your stinginesss with the sweets!

Directions:

1.  Cut a standard sheet of construction paper in half, lengthwise.

2.  Fold the longer two sides inward to meet at the middle of the page.

3.  Make a fold (inward) at about 4.5 inches from the edge of the page, on each end.

4.  Cut the paper on the four creases created in the middle, stopping at the edge of the folds.

5.  Glue or tape the outer edges of each side together.

There you have it. You now have your very own miniature party favor bag, in any festive color that you want! Think of it as a blank canvas. Now, using more construction paper, you can customize the bag to look like just about any Halloween character imaginable.

For our motley crew, we created an owl, a mummy, a bat and, of course, Frankenstein. But the possibilities are endless. This Halloween, if you want to save your guests a trip to the dentist, give them these bite-sized party bags. (And enjoy the extra treats ’til Turkey Day!)

DIY Travel Map!

DIY Travel Map!

finish_map1Photo and instructions courtesy of Design*Sponge

Have you been hit by the travel bug? Here’s an easy but brilliant craft that will help you keep track of all your trips – past, present, and future! Your trips in America, at least. Of course, you can totally make your own templates for other countries! We think color-coding the flags would also be a great idea.

Tools

  • bandsaw (optional)
  • Xacto knife and blades
  • scissors
  • tape
  • wood glue
  • drill and drill bit
  • computer printer and paper
  • paint brush

Materials

  • 18″ x 24″ piece of thin plywood
  • 22″ piece of 1″ x 2″ wood strip
  • 2 eyehooks and picture hanging wire
  • 20″ x 16″ piece of 1/4″ cork
  • ball headed pins
  • water slide paper (optional) – http://www.decalpaper.com/category-s/8.htm
  • paint

Templates

Instructions

  1. Cut out a 24″x18″ rectangle of thin plywood.  If you don’t have a saw you can ask the nice folks over a Lowes to help you out.  I rounded out my corners on the bandsaw for an extra aesthetic detail.
  2. Paint your board desired color.  I went with a traditional blue.
  3. Print out map templates.
  4. Trim up map pages, tape together, and cut out paper America and circles.2_cut_out_map
  5. Tape paper America and circles to cork. Using an exacto blade in a sawing motion cut out cork America and circles
  6. Glue down cork pieces using wood glue.
  7. Print and cut out compass and mod podge onto the bottom left hand side of your board.  I used a water slide image transfer paper, which creates a translucent image. (Find transfer paper here)
  8. To hang your map, cut one 18″ piece and two, 2″ pieces of 1″ x 2” wood.  If you don’t have a saw, you can ask the nice folks over at Lowes to help you where they cut moulding.
  9. Drill holes in the 18″ piece about 1 1/4″ from the end and screw in eyehooks.
  10. Glue all three pieces to the back of the map, and lace picture hanging wire through two eyehooks.9_make_flags
  11. For the flags, print and cut out flag patterns and fold in half.  Insert pins into crease and glue shut.