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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An M-O-M Floral Alphabet

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

A Photo Flower Pot Bouquet

flower pot bouquet
Terracotta whimsy | Image Unsplash seller Gemma Evans

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

DIY Dried Flower Candles

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

A Hanging Flower Chandelier

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

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

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

The Supply List:

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing Gifts That Inspire Expression

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

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

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

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

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

For Miniature Monets

Ages 3-5

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

Ages 5-8

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

Ages 8-12

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

 

For Mozarts in the Making

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

Ages 3-5

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

Ages 5-8

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

Ages 8-12

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

A Birthday Present Gift Swap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature-Themed Birthday Party Favor Bag Inspirations

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

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

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

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

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

A Bug Lover’s Bonanza

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

The Green Thumb Gang

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

DIY Nature Walk Bingo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!