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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

A World of Possibilities: How Technology Has Changed the Psychology Behind Gift Giving

A World of Possibilities: How Technology Has Changed the Psychology Behind Gift Giving

A world map of possibilities
Online shopping has given us a new world of gifts, instead of the same Celtic Cross ornament I once bought my mom two years in a row. | Image courtesy Etsy seller SunnyRainFactory

The other day, sitting at my desk at work, I got a whiff of something in the air—maybe it was a dish someone heated in the microwave that had a distinct food court air, or a hint of the outdoor chill lingering in someone’s jacket, or it was just the early-dimming light of a late December afternoon—but I was transported back into a memory.

There I was, wandering around a childhood mall the first year I could drive, trying to find Christmas gifts for my family. This scene repeated itself probably 3 or 4 years in a row: banging around a run-down suburban mall, knowing I’d end up at the bookstore or the Irish tchotchke place, but hoping that I would inadvertently stumble across something with real meaning.

Anyone raised pre-internet likely has a similar gift-giving coming of age story from their teenage years, but recent technological advances have changed many aspects of our lives, including gifting. Possibilities have opened up, and we’ve adjusted our expectations of ourselves and others. As we adapt to this new reality, it’s important to look at the psychology behind how we give, and how it’s being impacted by the Tech Age.

A Change in Possibilities—and Expectations

For a long time, most of history really, two things have happened when someone gave you a Christmas list. It was either physically accessible or it wasn’t, with accessibility very slowly improving over time.

Let’s say you lived in a small town in 1885, for instance, and your daughter wanted a new doll, or a stick with a hoop, or something else old-timey for Christmas. You were left hoping the corner store had it, or you’d be getting her whatever it was they did have in stock for the holiday. It was disappointing, but the reality.

sears roebuck catalog
19th century gifting inspiration | Image courtesy Amazon seller Skyhorse Publishing

Now, say this happens a few years later in 1893. The new Sears-Roebuck catalog, which had just started printing in 1888, arrives at your door. This year it features more than just jewelry, everything from baby carriages and guns to clothes and a whole lot of stuff you never even knew you needed. There were also some toys, including a doll. And, just like that, you weren’t beholden to the local store—you now lived in the massively expanded world of the mail-order catalog. You and your family had higher expectations for gifts, although still tempered by a limited availability.

Fast forward to today and there are suddenly no limitations, except the laws of physics and the astonishing speed of international shipping. You want a doll? What doll in the world do you want? Where do you want it from? And when do you want it? Nearly anything can arrive at your door in a matter of weeks after a search that takes just a matter of minutes.

This is incredibly exciting for gift giving, which now isn’t met with the same sort of dread of letting someone down, or of not getting the right thing, or of guessing. Because not only can you find exactly what your recipient wants, but there doesn’t have to be any vagueness. You can even publicize your wish list online for all to see!

For the gift-giver, of course, this imputes a certain responsibility—you don’t have an excuse to just run to the mall and pick up whatever is available. You also shouldn’t improvise as much, because there is even less a reason to make the gift about yourself. You have a golden opportunity to get someone exactly what they want.

The Downside to Knowing Everything

handmade doll
The doll of any little girl’s dreams | Image courtesy Etsy seller piggyhatespanda

Now, to be sure, there are people who think this alters gift-giving etiquette a bit too much, that the gift-giver just becomes a vessel for wish-fulfillment or a living, breathing Amazon gift card (i.e. person enters what they want, and it appears without spending any money). Where, you might ask, is the surprise? The shock? That squeal of good fortune?

And I think there’s some validity to that argument. After all, there’s a certain anticipatory glow when someone is opening your gift, and you’re wondering if they’re going to like it or not. There’s also the joy that comes when you realize you’ve “nailed it,” and showed someone exactly how much you care about them—and know them. That’s always rewarding.

But then again, isn’t the point the happiness of the recipient? And they will be happy when they open something that sparked their interest enough to add it to a wish list. They won’t be disappointed. You don’t have to worry or panic anymore. You’ll be the person who got them something with meaning, and you did it by doing the most important thing you can during the gift-giving season: listening. That matters. That shows love.

The Ability to Buy for Anyone Around the World

And that love that you show can now be spread around the world. Our ability to communicate has changed dramatically over the last generation, and even more so this century alone since the introduction of smartphones and the rise of app-based ecosystems. I mean, you’re now able to hold real gatherings, helped by video conferencing, with friends and family a world away!

Elfster app
Appy Christmas! | Elfster app image from itunes.com

Technology, like gift giving and wish list apps, now allow us to create a circle of friends around the country, or even the world. You can easily organize gift exchanges, virtually fulfilling wish lists and opening presents despite the fact you can’t physically be in the same room, everyone sipping their preferred eggnog.

It’s hard to overstate what that means. As life drifts on, we also drift. Friends and family drift apart. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Technology, which in some ways has made us more atomized and pushed us deeper into our own intellectual bubbles, can also do the opposite. It can bring us together, and remind us of who we are, who we love.

We give because we love someone and want them to be happy. We’re now able to ensure that happiness, that their smile is just about them, and not our relief that the thing we found is in the ballpark of their desires. Instead, thanks to technology, it’s exactly what they want. And, importantly, they got it not by pushing a button, but because someone cared enough to gift it to them.

That’s what giving is all about. And now we can gift more freely, without panic, without fear, without the limitations of prairie-store toy aisles, without the store-peeking desperation of teenage procrastination, but with love, friendship, and kindness. There is a purity of our motivations now, made possible by technology, but an essential reality in our hearts.

Let us know how happy gift giving makes you by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides for anyone on your list.

Have a Ball with Charitable Giving by Joining ZogSports, the Largest Social Sports League

Have a Ball with Charitable Giving by Joining ZogSports, the Largest Social Sports League

zogsports team It was arguably the worst day America had ever seen—a few moments in time that no American will ever forget. But, many stories of strength, fortitude, and positive energy have emerged in the 15 years since the events of September 11th, 2001.

One such story is that of Robert Herzog, founder of ZogSports, which has grown to become the most popular adult co-ed social sports league in the country. Each year, ZogSports has seen its membership grow. Over 100,000 fun-loving, sports-minded “Zoggers” now come together on courts and fields all over the nation to play for fun, for community—and for a cause.

Robert Herzog, and the Inspiring Story Behind ZogSports

 

“After his close call on September 11, 2001, Robert Herzog was inspired to create an organization which brought like-minded people together to have fun, give back, and create community. He identified a need amongst New York’s young professionals for better organized sports leagues and more natural social interactions outside of the workplace. Plus, he wanted to tap into the charitable spirit which pervaded the city following 9/11.”

– ZogSports.com

 

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How This Unique Sports League Works

If you’re interested in taking part in this one-of-a-kind movement, it’s easy to join in!

sports balls

  1. Go to www.zogsports.com and find a team in your area. ZogSports operates sports leagues around the U.S., specifically in Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
  2. Select your sport, from basketball to whiffle ball, and many in between.
  3. Select a charity, as a team, to play for that season. This is where the social part comes in—the league hosts happy hour events all season long where it accepts charitable contributions over the course of the entire season. Donations from corporate sponsors are also added to the charity pool.
  4. Try to win! At the end of the season, the winning teams won’t get trophies, Instead, a donation will be made to the team’s charity of choice.

The True Mission of ZogSports

With generosity as its core mission, the organization has now turned Robert’s original dream into reality with over $3 million donated to various charities all over the country since its inception in 2002. And players are having plenty of fun and laughs along the way!

This year, the league leaders from each city are taking a time out and getting generous with one another. These busy “Zoggers,” who take their fun seriously, are hosting a ZogSports global Secret Santa online gift exchange using Elfster.com to connect their team, managed by HQ team member and “Director of Basically Everything,” Amy Cooperstock.

ZogSports team members

According to Jody Zellman, ZogSports’ National Expansion Manager, “All full-time staff members nationwide will be participating in this year’s Secret Santa. Amy heard about Elfster after an angel came to her in a dream and said, ‘Check out Elfster and go back to sleep.’” Ha!

“Every person will purchase a gift worth up to $20 for another person in the company,” he explains. “If years past are any indicator, it’ll be an afternoon of hilarity—and painful inside jokes. This is the first year we’re expanding our Secret Santa beyond our physical office to incorporate all seven of our markets’ employees nationwide,” he adds.

Team Elfster is proud to help connect these caring and sharing elves!

And here are a few fun facts about the team according to Jody:

“Chris, our general manager of New Jersey, was the first baby born in Michigan in 1977. We have four Matts, a Chris, another Chris, a Christine, a Danny, a Danielle, a Joe, and a Joey. Let’s see if Elfster can keep up with that name scramble.”

We’ll give it our best shot, Jody! ;)

Want to connect with your favorite co-workers this holiday season? The elves at Elfster can help! An online gift exchange is a quick, easy, fun (and free) way to bring your team together, no matter where they are. Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, and Instagram @Elfstergram for office party ideas that are virtually endless!

 

Photo Credits: ZogSports, Kaplan

Ivy League-Bound Student Helps to Brighten the Future for Fellow Classmates

Ivy League-Bound Student Helps to Brighten the Future for Fellow Classmates

It’s high school graduation season and I applaud those who are taking that life-changing walk across the stage, cheered on by family and friends. Tassels and mortar boards will be flying as inspirational words of wisdom are imparted to the eager grads. It’s finally time to celebrate their accomplishments and begin the next chapter of their lives. For many, with diplomas in hand, the next step will be attending college, which is certainly a very exciting time, but at the same time, a leap into the great unknown.

But for one group of Ivy League-bound students, that future is a little brighter thanks to one of their own. Before they even hit the bricks at Columbia University in the City of New York, almost 300 members of the Class of 2020 will have an ally as they face their new life together.

Arman Azad, an incoming freshman at Columbia, created an Elfster Meet and Gift exchange as a way for these first-year students to connect and get to know one another on a more personal level to ease the transition to college life. And by all measures, he certainly gets my vote for Most Likely to Succeed!

“Our exchange group consists of students from Columbia’s Class of 2020, and most of us are graduating from high school this year, with the exception of those who took a gap year,” Arman explains. “When we received our acceptance letters, we were also invited to join a Facebook page consisting of our fellow students. Some people have been very active, making friends on the page or organizing local meet-ups, and others have been quieter, just reading what other students post. A couple of my friends from the group and I had floated the idea of bringing each other gifts from our hometowns, and we thought, ‘why not do this with our entire class?’ “

“The Facebook page has about 1,700 students in it, and I’m so happy that over 250 of those signed up for our exchange,” he adds. “It may seem like a small number relative to the group as a whole, but to get 250 high school seniors to sign up for anything is a feat in and of itself, in my opinion. In the Facebook group, we posted a link and instructions to the Elfster exchange, and every day more and more people sign up—so many that we decided to extend the deadline to register through the summer.”

Members of Arman’s group, affectionately known as “Columbaes Class of 2020 NSOP Exchange,” will bring tokens from their hometown to share with a fellow classmate they are paired with in this Meet and Gift type exchange, “no matter how cliché or authentic.”

“NSOP stands for New Student Orientation Program, and it occurs during the first week of school, a time when students bond with their fellow classmates, participate in class activities, and learn more about their school,” Arman says. “The exchange was organized independently, and the Meet and Gift option allows every student to have at least one friend during the first week of school.”

“College can be a transformative and enriching experience, but it can also be an intimidating and frightening one,” he adds. “By pairing our fellow classmates with one of their peers, everyone will have a reason to talk to someone with whom they might not have conversed had they not participated in the exchange. The Meet and Gift option also allows students to message their partner on Facebook before school starts. Whether they choose to meet up in a dorm to exchange the gift or grab coffee and discuss their upbringings, I hope that the exchange allows for the establishment of not just meaningful interpersonal relationships, but also the sharing of cultures and life experiences.”

“Columbia has one of the most diverse undergraduate student bodies in the world, and with over 17% of our class consisting of international students, we felt that there was so much potential to learn more about cultures different from our own,” says Arman. “Thus, our ‘Columbaes’ exchange was born, whose name is a combination of “Columbia” and “bae,” the latter being a common and somewhat comedic term of endearment among people our age.”

So how do you go about organizing such a diverse group of students from all over the world?

According to Arman, “When deciding to organize the exchange, one of our concerns was how, logistically, we would be able to manage such a project with hundreds of students whom we had never met. I googled around a bit, and I was honestly so surprised—and thankful—that something like Elfster existed. It was so simple to set-up and use, and required a negligible amount of effort on the part of the organizer.”

“And who knows—the person with whom you’re paired might just end up being your best friend (or maybe even your significant other!),” he adds. “The random assignment of pairs also ensures that people can make become acquainted with someone without the limitations of stereotypical social parameters, such as socioeconomic status, athleticism, or arbitrary ‘popularity.’ “

“The idea of the exchange is two-fold: on the one hand, it is meant to establish relationships among our class, but on the other hand, it is meant to foster a greater understanding of our diverse backgrounds and histories,” Arman explains. “With so many participants, Elfster is the only place I know of that provides a platform to do that.”

Elfster is proud to support this amazing group of Ivy League students and help foster a feeling of community in such a large learning environment.

“The students in Columbia’s Class of 2020 come from every state in our nation and over 90 countries worldwide, but that diversity is most meaningful when it is understood, appreciated, and shared,” Arman says. “By creating our gift exchange, we hope that each student will bring to college with them something that is meaningful to them and indicative of their hometown. For someone from NYC, that may be a cheesy ‘I <3 NY’ memento, whereas, for someone from Indonesia, it might be a cultural garb or authentic tea. We kept the price limit under ten dollars because we also understand that, at a school like Columbia, there is not only geographic diversity, but also economic diversity. Not everyone comes from a wealthy or privileged background, and we hope that the ten dollar gift limit allows everyone to participate.”

“Some people come to college with established groups of friends, but, for others, the first conversation on campus may happen during orientation,” he continues. “With our gift exchange, we hope to facilitate such conversations, ensuring that everyone has someone to talk to during the first week of school. The quarterback of the football team may not usually hang out with the future head of the chess club, but both probably have fascinating and unique life stories. I hope that the gift exchange brings people like that together.”

And Arman certainly had more than just gifts in mind when he created this exchange to help his fellow classmates: “Getting a present is always fun, but my hope for the gift exchange isn’t really that people receive cute souvenirs, but that students—and our class as a whole—come closer together.”

So hats off to Arman and all the members of the “Columbaes Class of 2020” group. All the best in your future endeavors from Team Elfster.

If you are a recent high school graduate ready to head out into the big, bright world too, why not take a note from Arman and help your university’s Class of 2020 connect on Elfster. It’s easy to get started and stay connected. Need help? You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram.

 

 

 

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photo credits:

Photo credit: HallmarkColumbia University, Tree House Club, Art Co Store, Amazon

5 Awesome Ways To Make Summer Great for The Whole Gang!

5 Awesome Ways To Make Summer Great for The Whole Gang!

060Memorial Day weekend has arrived and so has the unofficial start of summer! For my family, that means packing the kids and the dog in the car and making the four-hour journey up to our beloved lake house in the mountains. It’s a magical place that takes our family back in time — where we all love to unplug, kick back and enjoy all that summer has to offer. Not only does Memorial Day weekend allow us to enjoy time together, it is also a chance to honor our country’s veterans, including members of our own family, by attending our local parade. This marks the start of being outdoors almost all day, every day, for fun, meals and adventure. With that in mind, I wanted to share my top picks for summer fun, no matter where you are heading.

Soak Up Summer

All winter long, I dream of the warm days and sunny skies that await us at the start of summer. I also long for the days filled with family fun — no school, no schedules. Take advantage and plan awesome activities that make a big splash for the kids and kids-at-heart alike, like a day at the pool, trip to the beach, or hike in the woods. Whether you travel far like us or stay in your own backyard, make time for a cool treat. I love these unique Zoku Classic Pop Molds from Elfster’s School’s Out Gift Guide, designed with easy cleanup in mind. Just add your favorite ingredients to the mold, like juice, yogurt, smoothies, or sugar-free drinks to the make six delicious popsicles. I especially like to throw in fresh-picked berries we harvest to add extra texture and flavor. Add some alcohol for an adult twist on frozen flavors, like spiked creamsicles, Kahlua pudding pops, or mojito pops!

 

Make Every Day a New Adventure

For us, summer is all about the roadtrip. I love to get out the good old-fashioned road atlas and pick a spot we have never explored as a possible target. Our whole family loves to get into the planning to make sure we check out all the great sites our destination has to offer. I guess you can call us a family of adventure seekers.  If your family needs inspiration for planning your next summer adventure, a great resource for us offered in Elfster’s Summer Travel Gift Guide has been this handy journal — I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded. It will help you navigate and explore the easily overlooked and wonderful everyday details encountered while traveling, whether near or far away. It’s packed with unique and fulfilling journeys that can be undertaken in any city, as well as prompts to record every whimsical discovery.

Grillin’ and Chillin’

There’s no better way to enjoy summer with family and friends than gathering for a great barbecue. Plan an epic gathering and make it a team effort by encouraging guests to bring their favorite summer dish for great variety of delectable homemade specialties. Many hands make light work, leaving you all plenty of time to relax and enjoy your time together. Perhaps my favorite thing in our Summer Fun Guide to help make party planning and organizing easy is Pottery Barn’s Galvanized Metal Rolling Wagon — looks perfect on my patio, but I love the flexibility of moving food and drinks to any part of the yard.

Turn It Off and Tune In… to each other

Within our lake community, we truly embrace a laid-back vibe all summer long. We are often technologically-lacking in our remote location, so we make it a point to just enjoy being with each other and leave the phones at home. Throughout the summer, we love to gather on the lawn outside the community clubhouse for a special night at the movies, featuring a box office family favorite. Elfster’s Outdoor Fun Guide features an easy to set up portable outdoor movie screen that your family can use in the backyard or anyplace you want a 120-inch projection screen. Just add the projector found on our site, too. Get cozy and don’t forget the popcorn!

 

Eat More S’mores!

No summer night at the lake is complete without at least one ooey, gooey s’more around the campfire. If you are limited by space (or time) and stuck without a fire pit, have no fear. You can still enjoy the staple of summer deliciousness! Just add chocolate and marshmallows to your favorite waffle or sugar cones and pop them on your grill using the innovative Sur La Table S’mores Cone Rack, another awesome pick from Elfster’s Outdoor Fun Guide. It’s a clever new way to enjoy the best treat of summer with less mess.

Bring on summer! (I know I can’t wait!)  What’s the best product for summer you can’t live without? Hope this helps you get your summer started! Be sure to add what you love to your Elfster summer wish list or plan a summer-themed gift exchange with your gang. We would love to see what you are giving and getting too, so post your best gift pics on Instagram, and add the hashtag  #elfstergram. How do you celebrate summer? Let us know! You can visit us on Facebook or tweet us @elfster, too.

 

 

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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.

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“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

Secret Piggies Swap Sweet Valentine Gifts

Secret Piggies Swap Sweet Valentine Gifts

They say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ but who wouldn’t love a little snuggle from one of these cuddly and adorable little piggies? They are sure to capture your heart with a single nuzzle. So when we came across this unique gift exchange created for a group of piggy sweethearts, the elves at Elfster had to know more about our smallest users with names like Georgie Porgy, Miss Piggy, Truffles and Jimmy Dean.

The Secret Piggy Valentine Gift Exchange was organized by mini pig owners Jessica Smith and Jessica Dutton, who both belong to a large Facebook community created as a forum for discussion and education. According to Smith, “We actually belong to two main groups on Facebook, Just Mini Pigs and Mini Pig Education. Each group has about 10,000 people. Not all are active participants, or own pigs. Some are there to gather information about what it is really like owning a miniature pig as a pet.”

So what exactly is a miniature pig? “There are really no actual teacup, micro or nano pigs,” explains Smith. “Those are marketing terms used by unreputable breeders. The real term would be mini pig and that is any pig under 150-200 lbs. There is the pot belly pig which is the largest. The ironic thing about pigs is they grow until they are 5 years old. Often when people sell ‘teacup’ pigs, they’re just days old. With that, there are many of us that rescue pigs. We work with reputable breeders who may have room or try to find homes on our own. It happens more then you can imagine people buy a pig and rehome it when they begin to grow.”

And being the “parent” to a mini pig may have its challenges, but also many rewards. “They are like living with a toddler,” she explains. “Pigs enjoy loud toddler toys and playing with baby toys. There are some piggy puzzles where you can teach your pig to do the puzzle and a treat will be dispensed. Pigs will do anything for a treat. Generally a Cheerio or fresh veggies. They really require work, much as a toddler. If they get bored they can be naughty. They love people and they need the companionship.”

“Many of us have our pigs indoors. They can be outside in a barn. Many people get one, fall in love and end up taking more in,” Smith says. “My pig is an indoor pig. She does go to the bathroom outside, but hates the cold.  When it is warmer, she will spend time outside hanging out in the yard. She has her own ‘bedroom’ area. At night time, my pig does sleep in a very large crate in her bedroom. She puts herself to bed about 9 p.m. If you try to wake her to put her outside one last time, she will whine and cry. Pigs cry actual tears. She gets up around 6:30 a.m.,  then goes back to bed till about 9 a.m. Routine is very key, and they have their own routine. They know breakfast, lunch and dinner times. She knows the word Cheerio and comes running.”

But despite all the cuteness, one important note worth mentioning is the commitment a family takes on when adopting a mini pig. “I would never recommend a mini pig to a family that works away from home,” she advises. “I encourage only people that work from home or are a stay-at-home parent to think about owning a pig.”

The exchange of special treats for these smart piggies is a great way for mini pig owners all over the United States and Canada to connect on Elfster to support each other and get to know one another in a fun and personal way.

“The purpose for this [Valentine’s Day] exchange is for a secret female to send a gift to a secret male,” Smith explains. “We did not do couples, however, we will probably do it that way next year for Valentine’s. We have 44 pigs. Because there are just two of us, we did not want more than 50 pigs. The goal is for each pig to receive something for themselves, such as treat balls, treats, different things pigs like. If someone wants to, and the majority do, they include something for the humans [that is] pig related as well. We have a spending limit of up to $25 to keep things somewhat fair.”

And what are these piggies adding to their Elfster wish lists (with a little help from their humans, of course)? “The piggies have been wishing for all types of things,” she says. “Treat balls are popular. This is a ball that you can put Cheerios in, and it will only dispense a Cheerio when it rolls on a certain part of the ball. Others have asked for treat puzzles, there is a new Kong pig toy, pig treats called Whimzees. Those seem to be the most popular.”

 

This is the group’s first time using Elfster after hosting a previous exchange for the piggies at Christmas, which proved time consuming for the organizers who were doing everything by hand. Once they discovered Elfster, their job of pairing piggies and tracking down packages got much easier.

“Elfster has helped us a great deal,” Smith says. “We definitely plan to keep using Elfster. People already want an Easter exchange, so I’m sure we will be doing that next.” And we are glad to say the group’s Secret Piggy Easter Exchange is now up and running!

The elves at Elfster look forward to seeing the Secret Piggy group for its next exchange to celebrate their favorite four-legged friends. Are you a part of a group who shares a passion for pets? 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. Need help getting started with your own exchange? We can answer any questions you may have at help@elfster.com.

 

Wish. Gift. Shop. Share.

Elfster Book Lovers Get Creative with Summer Exchange

Elfster Book Lovers Get Creative with Summer Exchange

Elfster book exchange

Here’s to the lazy days of summer. Plenty of time to get outside, relax with a good book and escape into another world for just a little while. And that is just how one Elfster group will be spending its summer as they celebrate the author they love by exchanging creative and inspired gifts based on the main character of her latest novel, as “broken” as she may be.

According to Elfster exchange organizer Serena Knautz, the exchange participants are avid fans of Tarryn Fisher, who is the author of 7 novels and has made both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller list multiple times. “Between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she has close to 50,000 followers,” Serena explains. “She has a very devoted fan base and in a conversation with some of her readers, she called them Passionate Little Nutcases and from there, her readers took the name and ran with it. They made t-shirts and started calling themselves ‘Tarryn Fisher’s Passionate Little Nutcases.’ Our Facebook group, Tarryn Fisher’s Passionate Little Nutcases, was started almost a year ago as a place for her fans to gather, discuss her books and interact with her on a more personal level. To date, we have 3,000 members and continue to receive daily requests for fans to join the group. Within the group, I have started an Elfster event and we have 500 members who have joined that event and have or are currently participating in the exchanges.”

Elfster book exchange 2

And for these book lovers, it’s all about creativity inspired by the author in this gift exchange. “When she was in Australia for a signing, [Tarryn Fisher] came across wrapped books at a bookstore and on the outside, they gave clues to the book inside,” Serena says. “It’s known as a ‘blind date with a book.’ She loved the idea and wanted to do something similar in her fan group, so I started the first exchange and had people choose their favorite book and send to their elf. It was such a hit that we have started doing exchanges every couple of months.”

“Elfster has made it so easy and fun for us to do these exchanges,” she adds. “The current one is based on her new book, Marrow.  We try to theme the exchanges and this one is all things Margo (the main character) and things from the book. With each exchange, the creativity of the wrapping and gifts increases and it is so much fun to participate and also see what everyone is getting.”

 

According to Serena, Tarryn’s first trilogy (The Opportunist, Dirty Red and Thief) is considered Contemporary Romance, while her more recent novels, Mud Vein and Marrow, are considered Suspense/Psychological Thrillers. Tarryn is also co-writing the Never Never series of romantic suspense novels with Colleen Hoover.

“Tarryn has a dark writing style that is beautiful and unique,” she says. “Her words are poetic and they make you feel what the characters feel. She draws you in from the first page and you are hooked you can’t put the book down until you are finished reading it. Then you sleep on it, wake up and start reading it all over again.”

“Most of her readers have read each of her books multiple times. She writes in a way that everything has meaning and when you read the book again, you pick up on things you might have missed the first time around,” Serena adds. “She has readers who have tattooed her words on their body. Readers can relate because she writes characters who are real and broken. Her fans will tell you that her books hurt, but in a good way. We keep coming back for more because there are not many authors out there like her and as soon as she releases a book, we stop whatever we are doing and read it.”

 

And Serena encourages her group members to be committed to sending out their packages on time and to take advantage of Elfster’s messaging features to help them get to know each other better. “We ask that those who participate use the anonymous question features to ask questions and get to know their elf, as well update their wish list to give their elf an idea of things that they might like or want to receive.”

“We love the anonymous question/message feature because it makes it easy to connect with our person without giving our identity away until we send out our gift,” Serena says. “I also love that I can click on my current pick for an exchange and see questions she has answered in the past, so I already know a few things about her and can surprise her with a gift that might not be related to the exchange.”

“As a group, we love participating in the Elfster exchanges,” she says. “People are posting daily in the Facebook group about the gifts they buying or having made for their person. Everyone puts so much time and love into their gifts. By doing these exchanges, we are starting to get to know each other a little better. Most of us have never met but we talk daily in the Facebook group.”

Serena says Tarryn “genuinely loves her readers and enjoys getting to know them. She encourages giving back and when someone in the group needs a pick-me-up, she might randomly send them a gift in the mail or a message on Facebook to let them know that she is thinking about them.”

“When one of our members mentioned she wanted to go to a signing to meet Tarryn, but didn’t think she was going to be able to go, as a group, we raised money to pay for her airfare and she is now going to get to meet Tarryn in person,” Serena adds. “We are there for one another and we lift each other up. And we are all there because we all love Tarryn and her books. It sounds crazy, but we are one big PLN family. Tarryn inspires each of us and it shows on a daily basis in the group.”

The elves at Elfster look forward to seeing these Passionate Little Nutcases for their next exchange to celebrate their favorite author with another creative theme.

Are you a part of a group with a passion for creativity? 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.

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