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

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

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

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

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

Exchanging Teacher Survival Gift Kits to Encourage Peers

Teacher and Gifter Chandra Dills
Teacher and Gifter Chandra Dills

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Peer-to-Peer Teacher Appreciation Gift Exchange Online

encouraging teacher gifts
Image courtesy Teaching with Crayons and Curls

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

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

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

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

teacher gift exchange
Image courtesy Stephanie Philips, Elfster exchange participant

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

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

Are you a teacher looking for inspiration?

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

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

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

Talented Fingers, Generous Hearts: Everyday Knitters Gift Yarn, Ideas, and Inspiration

Talented Fingers, Generous Hearts: Everyday Knitters Gift Yarn, Ideas, and Inspiration

knitted socks
Image courtesy Pinterest

As a teenager looking for a creative outlet before the dawn of the internet, I learned how to knit. Sitting by my stepmother’s side, trading needles back and forth as she guided my clumsy hands, I came to appreciate the joy of being “crafty.” Though my knitting career was short-lived, my one and only project—a vibrant, rainbow-colored, shorter-than-most scarf—served me well on many chilly winter days (and was a point of pride). I don’t think I’m alone when I say I regret not devoting more time to my knitting when I was young, eventually putting the needles aside.

The art of knitting is timeless. It’s been around since the days of ancient Egypt, where one of the first examples of true knitting—cotton socks with stranded knit color patterns—was discovered. Fast-forward a few thousand years and cozy, handknit socks are hotter than ever!

Luckily, there are artisans like Louise Tilbrook, the self-described “enthusiastic (some would say obsessed) sock knitter” behind Louise Tilbrook Designs, who returned to the craft as an adult several years ago after giving it up as a child, and has since become an inspiration to her community of Everyday Knitters.

A Heartfelt Way to Spread an Artful Passion

expresso knit sock pattern
Expresso Pattern | Image courtesy Louise Tilbrook Designs

It didn’t take long to get back into knitting wholeheartedly for Louise, who hails from rural Essex in the United Kingdom. As she notes on her website, which focuses on fun ways to explore the art of knitting, “socks (and lovely hand dyed sock yarn) have become my first love and over time this passion of mine has expanded into pattern design and teaching and now consumes most of my waking thoughts.” And from that passion, a community of thousands who admire her work, and connect with her on social media 24/7, has emerged.

“I created the Everyday Knitters Facebook Group to be a fun place where people can come together to share knowledge, experience, and have fun around a common monthly theme,” Louise says. “There are a lot of knitting groups on Facebook, but most are very general. I wanted to create a vibrant and engaged community that is supportive, but also educational.”

As fellow sock knitters discover her busy online community, they seem to be instantly drawn in by her friendly, goal-oriented greeting:

“Welcome to the Everyday Knitter Group – a place for knitters to relax, set some goals and above all enjoy their knitting. During 2017, we’re going to be exploring new challenges in our knitting. Whatever your current level of experience, I hope you will join us as we set monthly goals and cheer each other along in our attempts to fit more knitting into every day.”

Inspirations from the Online World to the Yarn Basket

sock yarn swap
Image courtesy Louise Tilbrook Designs

Looking to bring the Everyday Knitters together virtually to share their love for this artistic pastime in a tangible way, Louise recently hosted an online exchange of sock yarn mini skeins, giving her fellow knitters the opportunity to share their precious, coveted supplies—and to get to know another knitter who lives across the world in the process.

Each participant was paired up and exchanged yarns with the same person who drew them, making the exchange even more personal. “I set up the swap and then shared the sign-up details in the Facebook group so that any member could join. We had just over 1000 online members and 80 participants in the swap, which I was really pleased with,” Louise says.

“The swap was a small exchange of leftover yarns between group members,” she continues. “Many of us are working on scrap yarn projects to use up all our leftovers, but it’s nice to get an infusion of color from someone else’s stash. We are all knitting along on our projects and sharing our progress on the group.”

And as they say, one knitter’s unused stash is another one’s inspiring treasure!

“I hope that our swap will help foster a real sense of community and belonging within the group. I’m really pleased by how enthusiastic the participants have been,” she adds. “There have been a lot of chats and people making deeper connections with each other which is just fantastic.”

And words of gratitude and enthusiasm are pouring in from all over the world:

“Amazing selection of beautiful yarn, thank you so much. They’ll make some cosy contrasting sock toes.” – Exchange participant Susan Hempenstall (Ireland) to her exchange partner Jannika Hammarbrink (Sweden)

“Thank you so much for the amazingly beautiful yarns, Claire. I adore how they look all wound by hand with their beautifully detailed tags, each with a wonderful story. I feel so connected to you and the dyers after reading them. ❤ Thank you so!” – Exchange participant Lisa Cornish (US) to partner Claire Steele (UK)

 Image courtesy Susan Hempenstall, Elfster exchange participant
Image courtesy Susan Hempenstall, Elfster exchange participant

According to Louise, using an online gift exchange tool like Elfster made it easy for her community to connect. “I participated in an Elfster swap previously and was impressed by how quick and easy it was to sign up. When I mentioned the idea of the swap, a few of the group members also suggested Elfster as being the ideal way to do it. Many people commented that they loved the experience, and people are already asking when we are going to do the next one,” she enthuses.

So, cheers to Louise and the knitters who share her passion for the cozy things in life. May their generosity, support, and enthusiasm for their craft be a creative inspiration to us all, every day.

To join the fun and engaging Everyday Knitter community, check them out on the web or on Facebook.

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

Lead image courtesy Etsy seller KnittingOnTheHill

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Eleanor Roosevelt, who paved the way for so many strong and independent women leaders, famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Her statements were backed up a few years later by one Lady Gaga, who noted, “Remember there’s always someone fighting for you.”

send the love
#WWSendTheLove on Elfster

Both of these women are expressing that being strong, and gaining strength from other’s encouragement, are still relevant. When doing something difficult, it helps to have a strong community to back you up, keep you inspired, and help ferry you across those dark nights of the soul.

But that’s what can make changing habits and losing weight so difficult. It’s really one of the most personal and individual things you can do. It’s all about your body and your actions. It can be hard to make a community out of something so atomized. But that’s what Weight Watchers has done, and by using cool new social media technology, and the magic of gift exchange services, a group of Weight Watchers members have taken it even further.

Social media has made it easier than ever to find like-minded, encouraging people to help us through tough times and to help us summit difficult peaks. Healthy weight loss, which is really a sustained lifestyle choice, is one of those challenging summits. But by forming a community of support, and by sending each other gifts to help create a stronger community that knows each other better, a nationwide group has expanded exponentially. They’re connected by technology. They’re connected by a shared struggle. They’re connected by the victories that happen every day. And, in this sometimes autonomous world, they’re connected by friendship.

As the Lifetime Weight Watchers member who co-runs the group, Stephanie Keller, tells us: they hang together.

Finding Friendship Across the Country

The most amazing part about the group is that people are nice, and are almost unrelentingly positive and supportive—an enormous difference from so many other parts of the internet, which (spoiler alert!) can be mean. Anonymous online users on other sites are sometimes known for tearing others down for a quick anonymous thrill. That’s not conducive to healthy attitudes. But, as Stephanie explained to us, her Weight Watchers Connect group doesn’t have any of that.

inspirational sign
Finding others to help you stay strong can make your courage grow | Image courtesy Etsy seller PRINTANDPROUD

“Connect,” she explained, “is like Facebook, but it’s entirely positive. No one is ever negative on there. People share stuff and tell each other things that they can never share anywhere else. People admit to troubles and addictions. They share their stories. And the best part is that they’re supportive and motivational. On the internet, to virtual strangers, they’re sharing their before and after pictures. It’s safe. Nobody wants to see someone else fail.”

You could hear the excitement in Stephanie’s voice as she told us about the growth of Connect, which users join through the Weight Watchers app. She mentions that it’s “very hashtag based,” which can be intimidating to some users, but it’s also very user-friendly, and everyone is extremely helpful; Stephanie believes that’s the most important part.

“Everybody that’s on there struggles with their weight somehow, and some members have no one who’s supportive in their life. That’s where Connect comes in. I’ve made friends all over the country on there and we’re now friends offline too. Everybody is really, really kind on there.”

But some people have taken it a step further with a #WWSendTheLove group. We profiled them last year, talking to founder Stephanie Encin, when the group had really just started to get going. The idea was simple: members of the group would send each other motivational gifts to help each other with their journey. It was instantly a huge success.

Since then, Stephanie Encin turned the reigns over to Stephanie Keller and Davita Ritchie in October 2016, who before this technology would probably never have met (Stephanie is in New Jersey, and Davita lives in New Mexico). Their group has grown ever since, with as many as 850 participants. It’s something both incredibly simple, and emotionally wonderful: a gift exchange. It’s how they turn a community of like-minded, friendly, encouraging people into actual friends.

The Gift of Friendship

The group uses the Elfster Gift Exchange, which makes a nationwide program incredibly manageable and fun. It’s purely voluntary: you sign up to give and receive a gift box from someone else in your group every month. For about $25, people fill their box with 10-12 little, inspirational items. But the real heart of it is that you learn about the person you’re matched with.

Stephanie explained that it wasn’t just a matter of getting assigned a random person, and then sending them something. You may already sort of know them through Connect, or maybe they’re a total stranger, but, once matched, you start talking to them. You chat or exchange messages about what they like, where they live, who they are, and more. You discover their needs and wants, and then you send them something. For example, if someone you know was having a spring party, you might send them something green and seasonal.

And you get something too! “It’s like Christmas every month,” says Stephanie.

inspirational mug
Mugs are a gift that keeps on giving Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGiftableGoodies

Some gift ideas include:

  • Motivational posters: When facing challenges, it’s always good to have something that bucks you up, lifts your spirit, and gives you the strength to keep going. Posters can be moving or funny, but if they’re sent with your gift partner in mind, they’ll always be meaningful.
  • Inspirational calendars: I love 365-day calendars, whether they’re words or movie quotes or comics. But when faced with the daily challenges of healthy eating, a calendar with a different inspirational quote every day can be as fresh a wake-up as a cup of coffee.
  • Coffee mugs: Of course, real coffee is also as important as metaphorical coffee, which is why mugs are always a great gift.
  • Weight Watchers-inspired cookbooks: The best part about Weight Watchers is that you can make delicious meals while maintaining points and using the right ingredients. The organization has many cookbooks that make healthy eating easy and fun. It’s a great way to keep your friend on the path.

But one of the great joys is that this is a national group, so you get interesting gifts from all over the country. One of Stephanie’s favorite gifts was a genuine Alaskan Ulu knife.

Other popular gifts include water bottles or food items, like powdered peanut butter, and foodstuffs that can only be found in certain regions. Some members don’t have a Whole Foods, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s near them, but their gift exchange partner might. They might receive something they’ve been craving from afar, in a Christmas box in the middle of the spring.

A Few of Your Favorite Things

In January, Oprah got involved with the Weight Watchers Connect program, giving it that patented Oprah boost. But Stephanie thinks the Queen of Daytime should also get to know the #WWSendTheLove group.

gift ideas
Inspirational gifting ideas from the Send the Love exchange

“This is about people helping people,” she tells us. “This is a really great, motivational, positive program. People come back month after month. They don’t have to do it again, but they do. I get tagged and emailed all day long from people wanting to join. It was started by one person, and now it’s huge. It’s the power of people.” Stephanie believes that if Weight Watchers really got behind this—and who knows, maybe even Oprah—that it could be taken to the next level.

At Elfster, we can testify to their power. We’re proud to say that they’re the largest group we’ve ever hosted! Gift exchanges are a fun way to bring groups of friends closer together, or to turn groups of strangers into friends. It’s easy to get started, and as Stephanie and Davita show, they can be run by people on opposite sides of the country as if they were in the same room. That’s what makes them such a great tool for bonding; in a way, they bring the whole community into a big room.

And at the end, the bigger the community, the more people can feel loved. They can feel friendship and non-judgemental connections. It’s how strength is formed, and how real life changes are made. And it just makes life more fun! It’s the gift of being alive, and being a part of something. Stephanie and Davita’s group embraces technology, and relies on it, but it isn’t a technological solution. It’s people connecting to people. If more of life could come down to that, we’d all be better off.

Interested in joining the fun? Look up these hashtags on Weight Watchers Connect: #sendthelove, #wwsendthelove, #wwsendthelove(month), and #sendthelove(month). Stephanie and Davita can also be reached on Connect at @StephanieKeller65 or @LadyRoscoe.

Are you part of a community that uses a gift exchange? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

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

Joy to the Dorm: College Gift Exchange Goes Global

Joy to the Dorm: College Gift Exchange Goes Global

Elfster Spotlight- The College Classmates of 14C

Amid the usual batch of Black Friday horror stories and obligatory tales of “buyer beware”, Elfster has managed to find one textbook case of gift-giving gone good this holiday season. As the inaugural post of our Elfster Spotlight blog series, we’re sharing the story of two longtime users who are now celebrating their 5th annual Elfster gift exchange… with 12 of their closest college classmates!

When Mariam Shahab and Erika Lam were freshmen at Boston University, the two Communications majors formed a unique and lasting bond with their college dorm neighbors: Caty, Constance, Sarah, Julia, Alice, Caitlin, Emilie, Steph, Shannon, Lori, Michelle, and Becky. Clearly in need of a more concise nickname, the group called themselves “14C” for short.

“We all lived on the same floor of a huge freshmen dormitory,” explains Mariam, who is now a Communications professional living in Dallas. “Our name, 14C, originated from the fact that we lived on the 14th floor of Tower C in the building. Coincidentally, there were also 14 girls in our tight knit ‘family.’”

14C Gift ExchangeThat December, the group of friends, all freshmen Communications majors at BU, chose to begin a holiday tradition to help ease their end-of-semester stresses. As Erika recalls, “We decided to start a Secret Santa gift exchange – to get our mind on the holidays and off of exams! We did it the old-fashioned way our first year, literally drawing names out of a hat.”

The approach was adequate for the time being, but as the group discovered, the standard Secret Santa name draw had some real drawbacks once the group was dispersed and moved out of the dorm. This inspired the tech-savvy Mariam to give Elfster’s online Secret Santa organizer a shot.

“After freshmen year,” Mariam says, “our living situations started shifting and we moved all over campus. That being said, it was, of course, easier to draw names through Elfster.” She adds, “Using Elfster let me control exchange aspects like not having roommates draw each other. And it remembers year over year draws and prevents people from getting the same person each time.”

The ladies of 14C have since finished school and moved away from Boston, but thanks to Elfster, they are still keeping their college tradition alive almost 4 years later. Mariam says the group remains as close-knit as ever, even though they are now far-stretched geographically.

14C Gift Exchange 2“Since graduation last year,” Mariam says, “we’ve settled all over the US – from Dallas and New York to Los Angeles and Shanghai. Regardless of distance, our friendship has kept up over the years.”

Although Elfster has helped the group to maintain this bond, Mariam says the exchanges have been known to become competitive, too, with some of the friends trying to ascertain their Secret Santa’s identity well before the final swap.

“As with any good secret gift exchange,” she admits, “we always have a few friends who try to figure out who has who.”

All of this begs the question: Has Mariam ever exploited her position as exchange organizer to drop “helpful hints” to the devious detectives of the group? No way, she says.

According to Mariam, “They would often try to get me to use my admin/exchange host rights to confirm their algorithm of clues matching friends up.” But in the end, she says, “I didn’t succumb.”

14C Gift Exchange 3The good-natured guessing game will continue this holiday season, it appears, as the women of 14C plan their latest gift exchange on Elfster. “This year marks our fifth year of 14C Secret Santa!” Erika says.

The women of 14C all agree, Elfster is a great way to stay in touch over the holidays, as well as over the years. “We’ve had great experiences with Elfster. Using it to set up our gift exchanges helped bridge our busy schedules in college and now our distances across the country and globe.”

Photos courtesy of: Mariam Shahab and Erika Lam
An Open Letter From the Easter Bunny

An Open Letter From the Easter Bunny

An Open Letter From the Easter Bunny

To My Adoring Public,

It has come to my attention that my approval rating has taken a dive down the proverbial rabbit hole in recent weeks.  While I’ve still got a good number of “believers, the Facebook polls don’t lie.

My agent seems to think this little slump might have something to do with my escapades in the off-season. (Hey, I’m a rabbit.) He’s even gone so far as to suggest a quick visit to the vet to correct the problem. With my bunnyhood at stake, I feel that I must offer some explanation of my behavior.

Having to live up to the impossibly white and downy fluff of the bunnies featured in Cadbury ads, and the boundless enthusiasm of the Energizer mascot in commercials, I have to say, I’m under an awful lot of pressure. Not normally prone to “performance anxiety”, you can imagine the toll this has taken on my self-esteem.

That is why I humbly ask for a little recognition. I would greatly appreciate your continued support in Easters to come… Those colored eggs don’t hide themselves, you know!

Sincerely,
The Easter Bunny

PS- I hear Santa gets cookies…

 

Photo credits: Ibrahim Iujaz
Planning a Halloween to Bark About

Planning a Halloween to Bark About

This week, as we stock up on sweets and play the "Monster Mash" on repeat, our four-legged friends are making their own holiday preparations.  We invited special guest blogger, Barkley, to give us a pooch’s perspective on the Halloween tradition. Here’s what he had to say…

Sure. It’s easy to “blame the dog” for holiday mishaps. I’ll admit, I was out of line to drink up the last of the Christmas tree water. And freaking out at the sight of your festive Fourth of July sparklers was, in retrospect, uncalled for. But I maintain, last Halloween I was only trying to help enhance the festivities.

You may or may not remember, but I put an awful lot of effort into “setting the mood.”  First, I secured the perimeter of the yard, laboriously marking our territory in no uncertain terms. Pranksters and trespassing troublemakers abound on Halloween, and I wasn’t about to let them have their jollies…

When that job was done, I commissioned the work of Snickers the cat to spruce up the draperies with a “tattered and torn” motif. I still think that it was appropriate design choice for the haunted house feel I was going for. It must have worked too, judging from Mom’s screaming!

"Snow day!"While Snickers was busy with the blinds, I put my own paws to work in the yard. Thinking I’d go all-out on the macabre Halloween theme, I dug a decorative grave or two, which I have to say, looked pretty authentic. To kick it up a notch, I filled each trench with the mangled remains of a few long departed squeaky toys.

After a good while of digging ditches, I hopped on the couch, where I decided it was time to start shedding. The original plan was to craft a miniature army of “furball monsters” to drift mysteriously around the house. Unfortunately, this attempt was thwarted when some wise guy (Dad) dragged out the vacuum.

Next, I warmed my vocal chords to provide an eerie ambient soundtrack to the night’s festivities. Barricading myself in the bathroom, I howled until I was practically blue in the face. The makeshift echo chamber really lent a ghostly resonance to my moans, which couldn’t help but chill the spine. But I didn’t stop there. Even when settling down for a nap, I made no effort to conceal my usual snoring. Believe me, this made some pretty scary sounds too!

Reflected Candy CornSo, here we are a year later, and believe it or not, I’ve yet to receive a single “thank you”. But I won’t let that dampen my mood. I’ve got big plans for this year!

I think I’ll start by knocking over the candy dish…

Photo credits: istolethetv on Flickr, Cory Schmitz, Liz West
Special Feature: Slow Christmas Blog – What’s Your Reason For The Season?

Special Feature: Slow Christmas Blog – What’s Your Reason For The Season?

Slow Christmas

Everyone celebrates the holiday season their own way, with individual traditions that make it unique for themselves and loved ones! In the past few decades, a big part of Christmas has become focused on bigger trees, better decorations, snazzier presents. They make these some of the funnest months of the year, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the simple and significant reasons to celebrate and enjoy our vacations.

Save your money, your planet, your time, and your sanity by rediscovering the meaning of Christmas! Porter McConnell, Christmas enthusiast, offers these reminders on her personal and informative blog called Slow Christmas.

Porter notes that the average family spends $1,400 on Christmas each year, and you don’t have to pay that chunk of change just to have fun with your loved ones. She focuses on spending quality time with them, creating traditions:

“When you think about it, what we like about giving and receiving gifts is the thought put into it, and the feeling of being loved.”

The blog highlights homemade gifts and recipes, and tips to help busy families spend quality time without spending money. Readers can pledge to give an experience gift, a donation, or something they made instead of just one obligatory gift this year. Furthermore, she encourages families to go green, support small businesses if possible, and do something for charity. Her philosophy is totally aligned with ours here at Elfster, because we all need more ways to avoid unwanted gifts and simplify our gift-giving routines!

GameStop Holiday Video Game Q&A

GameStop Holiday Video Game Q&A

 

If you have kids that love video games, you’ve surely got a lot of questions as we approach the holidays.  Today we had a chance to catch up with Betty Shock.  She is Regional Vice President at GameStop, and we asked her some questions that are probably on your mind.  Many thanks to Betty for taking the time to lend us her expert opinion and make our last minute game shopping a bit easier!

What will be most popular this holiday?  What games will be the hardest to find?

We continue to see a great deal of interest in the Nintendo Wii this holiday season. While these are still available at GameStop stores nationwide, we encourage people who are interested in the Wii should not wait as it continues to be in demand and hard to find. We’re also seeing a great deal of interest in Nintendo’s Wii Fit as the concept of “gamercising” – or exercising using video games – gains traction, which often makes the Wii Fit hard to come by.

Other popular games this holiday season in the traditional video game category include Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Fable 2 and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. And sports games such as Madden NFL ’09 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play remain hot.

– Families will be looking for ways to save this holiday. What promotions, if any, will GameStop offer their customers?

Everyone is looking to save this season and GameStop definitely has a number of value options available. To start, GameStop has a wide selection of new and used games – and this holiday season has more than 2,500 titles under $20.00! These titles include some of the hottest new releases and accessories designed to fit even the smallest of budgets.

– What is the right age for kids to be introduced to gaming and what are kid friendly titles that might be educational?

Interest in video games can start at a very early age. In fact, more than 90 percent of the games in stores today are rated appropriate for ages 13 and under.

While we encourage parents to decide what is best for their own families, there are a wide range of games that cater to the younger demographic that provide educational value as well as enjoyment for the player. Games including the Brain Quest series, which specialize in an age-appropriate curriculum-based activities, and Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree encourage and inspire younger children to enjoy learning with fun number games and word puzzles.

 

– What are the biggest trends this season? Are their any games that get the entire family involved?

This season we’ve seen tremendous growth in the casual gaming arena. The traditional genres such as racing, sports, and shooters are still popular however; new categories for the casual gamer have emerged including music, fitness, cooking and puzzles.

The hot video games in these categories include: Music games such as Guitar Hero: World Tour, Rock Band 2 and Wii Music; sports titles such as Tiger Woods All-Play 09 and Madden NFL 09; cooking games such as Cooking Mama: World Kitchen and Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine; and puzzle games like Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree and Brain Quest.

To help make shopping for these new game genres easier for gift givers, GameStop has also created an online holiday gift guide and a “hint generator” to help ensure everyone gets the games they want. Test it out for yourself at www.hintorelse.com.

 
– What types of games seem to interest kids these days (e.g. action, sports, music, role playing)?

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 85 percent of all games sold in the U.S. last year were rated E for Everyone, E 10+ or T for teen, giving kids today a great deal to choose from!

Social games like Guitar Hero: World Tour, Rock Band 2, Mario Kart and DanceDance Revolution that the entire family can enjoy together are especiallysought after. These games encourage multiplayer involvement, making it especially attractive for large groups.

The newly released DeBlob, Spore and Little Big Planet are creative and interactive, and are fast becoming family favorites. Of course, traditional sports games continue to attract interest from all ages, thanks to popular series like Madden NFL and Tiger Woods Golf.


– How do you follow the ESRB rating system and how can it help our readers ensure the age-appropriateness of their gifts?

Located on the front of every box is a rating symbol – assigned by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), an independent regulatory body – to help parents and individuals determine the maturity of the content. There are six ESRB rating categories in all, including: C, Early Childhood; E, Everyone; E10+, Everyone 10+; T, Teens; M, Mature; and AO, Adults Only. These symbols, similar to those used by the motion picture industry to rate films, allow adults to make informed decisions about what’s appropriate for the child on their list.

Following the ESRB rating system is actually very simple and easy to use: Check the ESRB age ratings that appear on the front of every game package, and the content descriptors that appear on the back. You can use both parts of the rating system to select the most appropriate game for the child on your list.

Additionally, all GameStop employees enforce the Company’s policy to restrict sales of games rated M, for Mature by the ESRB. GameStop does NOT sell, reserve, or offer Mature-rated games to customers under 17 years of age. When a Mature game is scanned, an ESRB advisory appears on the register screen requiring employees to ask any under-age customer for a valid photo ID, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

If you’re looking for ratings information or to learn more about video games both the Respect the Ratings (www.respecttheratings.com) and ESRB (www.esrb.org) sites provide a wealth of information and ratings summaries for every rated video game on the market.