Monday, March 31, 2014

RE-pranking: 10 Cute and Harmless April Fools Pranks

April Fool's Day is a good excuse to insert a little extra fun into your life. Unfortunately, April Fool pranks can sometimes cause a lot of trouble and hurt feelings when they get out of hand. I've collected 10 easy, fun and harmless April Fool Day Pranks in case you're looking for some "gotcha's" both the prankster and prankee can enjoy.

1.  MODEL PARENT.  Ever feel ignored in your household? Well, use those skills you honed back in high school to sneak out of your house to set a trap to see if anyone notices you've been replaced by the "model parent." You know the drill.  Set up a body form to be you by getting some of your pants, stuff them with a pillow and put old newspaper in the legs. Place some of your shoes at the base of the pants, set it all up in a chair you like and tape or staple a newspaper in place to cover the upper half of the model parent.   If your kids notice, you'll share a laugh. If they don't, then you've discovered a way to sneak out of your house again but now without paying a babysitter. ;) Just kidding. IDEA SOURCE:

2. BATHROOM BANKROLL.  Tape a few $1 bills to the prankee's toilet paper roll.  They will be pleasantly surprised. IDEA SOURCE:

3.  BREAKFAST PRANK.  Replace a normal egg with vanilla yogurt swirled on a plate with half a canned peach turned upside down and placed in the middle.  While not what is expected, it will still be a perfectly fine breakfast.  IDEA SOURCE:

4. BREAKFAST PRANK FOR THE BACON LOVER.  Microwave caramels and tootsie rolls and form them into "bacon" to add to the breakfast prank.    IDEA SOURCE:

5. Murder at the Office.  Sometimes, the workplace doesn't allow for frivolity, but if yours does, then this prank won't disturb work too much.  Arrive early and place tape in the outline of a person and get police tape at a party store to place around your workspace. 

6.  SNACK SWITCHEROO.  This gotcha works for a packed lunch or an office break room gag.  Carefully open up a  bag of chips from the bottom, replace the chips with carrots and reseal the bottom with hot glue.  IDEA SOURCE:
8.  THE CLASSIC.  Have any fake bugs left over from Halloween?  Maybe you can pick up some gummy worms at the grocery store?  If so, this is a pretty easy way to add an April Fool's Day spin to any packed lunch. IDEA SOURCE:

9. FAKE SPILL ON COMPUTER.  There are lots of computer based April Fool Day pranks, but to me, a lot of them take too much effort and time to undo.   This one doesn't, but is still a good "gotcha." 

10.  CUPCAKES FOR DINNER AND GRILLED CHEESE FOR DESSERT.  Shock your kids by offering them cupcakes for dinner and watch as they are shocked again when they figure out the "cupcakes" are made of beef and potatoes.IDEA SOURCE:
You can make up for the letdown of the cupcakes for dinner being real food by offering them grilled cheese for dessert in which the bread is actually Sara Lee pound cake and the cheese is actually vanilla cake icing mixed with food coloring.  IDEA SOURCE:|ivl|fd|aprilfoolsfood|


Friday, March 28, 2014

RE-CEIVING GUESTS: A Graceful Dinner

JUST THE RIGHT MIX.  My friend Grace hosted our book club for dinner at her house on Wednesday night.  We were all especially looking forward to the evening because Grace recently completed a major renovation to her house.  We all were treated to a home tour, a delicious meal and lots of great conversation.  Grace's home mixes traditional, mid-century modern and farm house elements and her table likewise combined several different styles to set a colorful and casual backdrop for our evening.  The menu was salmon appetizers, goat cheese and olive tray, Chicken Marsala, mixed green salad, quinoa and rice casserole and fruit sorbet. Everything was yummy, but the salad dressing especially stood out so my friend, Martha and I asked for the recipe.  Grace pulled out a recipe notebook she keeps in her kitchen with plastic sheet covers to slip in any good recipes she finds in newspapers and magazines.  Sidenote: I thought this was a much handier way to organize recipes than the recipe boxes I've seen other cooks maintain.  I snapped a pic of the recipe on my iphone and I've included it at the bottom of this entry if you're interested.  After dinner, we stood around the kitchen island talking and eating the salad and goat cheese/olive tray leftovers until the dishes were clean.   I mean not a morsel was left.  If we had stayed any later, there might have been licking of the bowls.  Seriously scrumptious.

RETRO COLORS.  In her dining room, Grace has a collection of vintage glass containers in amber, cobalt, orange and jade green displayed in a tray on her mid-century sideboard.  Her plates, place mats, napkins and glassware are similar colors and carried this color scheme onto her table and over to her kitchen.  If you visit the Houzz house tour of her home linked below, you'll notice that whether it comes from a piece of artwork or a throw pillow, there are pops of one or more of these same bright, fun colors in all the other rooms of the house.  The walls are generally neutrals so these accessories give the house a vibrant and fun vibe which reflects the owners' personalities.

The vintage glassware caught my eye because I'd like to find glasses in similar colors for my living room bar.  Grace volunteered that her blue decanter was from Crate and Barrel which you can find online HERE

I thought Grace's renovation was flawless.  She and her husband had an older home and they made tons of  thoughtful, green choices to renovate it but keep a strong connection to its origins. Some of their first floor bedroom was given over to create a larger bathroom so they recycled the removed original hardwood flooring over to the new staircase leading up to their second story addition.  This allowed all their first level flooring to match exactly.  They also recycled clapboard which was removed from their living room walls into other parts of their house so many of their new additions were done with original materials.  Additionally, my friends and I noticed that the small mosaic tiles Grace and her husband chose for the bathrooms could easily pass for original tile work which made all the new bathrooms seem like they had always been there. 

The nice four photos above are from a feature about Grace's renovation on Houzz called "Playing with Good Tension in Austin,"  You may see many lovely before and after pictures provided by the architect firm and more details about her renovation by clicking HERE.   I included a few pics above to tease the feature and to give you the gist of her dining room space which is in a pass through room between the living room and kitchen.   I like the flow created by this layout.  I remember Reba had a similar layout in her first house.  I know you'll enjoy all the other pics on Houzz.  I'm only sorry there isn't a picture of a new balcony that Grace and her husband included in their second floor addition.  Grace's backyard has gorgeous mature trees and one grows near the house beside the new balcony making it  feel like a tree house.  Additionally, the second floor balcony gave the house a view to the downtown area of Austin so when you are standing on the balcony it is like you're looking at the city nightscape from your tree house hideaway. Very cool and so very Austin. 

Thanks to Grace for giving me permission to share the pics I took of her dining room.  I have a bunch of other posts that I need to edit photos and copy to post so hopefully I'll have another update soon.  Hope you are having a great week.  And last, as promised, the awesome dressing recipe.

This is the salad dressing recipe which Grace used for our dinner.   I've had many salads with this exact combination before, as you may have as well.  But trust me, this one did taste different so I have to believe Martha's deduction that it was the honey that gave Grace's salad the extra flavor is correct.  Good going Diane Rossen, whoever you are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RE-CEIVING GUESTS: St. Patrick's Day Table #3

THINK GREEN.  While it is still fairly cool outside, it is nice to remember that Spring is around the corner.  I decided to set a table for St. Patrick's Day and let that prompt a ladies lunch with some of my closest friends. Nothing fancy, but definitely a festive table.   I served an Irish Stew, green salad, asparagus, key lime pie and white pineapple cake. Reba lent me green napkins which I tied with shamrock ribbon.  I recycled the pots of gold crafts I made from recycled yogurt cups painted gold and the leprechaun hat trap I posted about in our first St. Patrick's Table post.  But this year, I used cream everyday dishes, green felt placemats on top of a green and white check tablecloth I've had for several years.  I used my Francis 1st flatware to add some bling but kept it casual with my Mikasa French Country goblets.
Green Hydrangeas.  I love fresh flowers for holidays and I felt these hydrangeas added a nice touch to the table. I added some shamrock ribbon I bought from the Hobby Lobby and a glittery shamrock garland I saw at the Dollar store.

THREE-LEAVED SHAMROCKS.  The tablecloth trim has a white vine with three-leaved buds on a green background that looks much like an inversed shamrock design which I liked for the holiday.  I also liked that the green placemats had 3 leaves.  It's not a big deal, but I have noticed a lot of St. Patrick's Day holiday decor featuring 4 leaf clovers.  St. Patrick is well known for using a 3 leaf shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to early Christians.   Whenever I see the 4 leaf shamrocks I feel like part of St. Patrick's legacy is being dismissed.

LUCK OF THE IRISH.  I count my friends among my blessings and it was nice to make a point to see them.  I was tickled when my friend Kathleen emailed a thanks for lunch and said "I have found the pot of gold.    I am so blessed to have such an amazing group of women in my life!!"  I thought the Irish Stew came out tasty so I can recommend the recipes I am linking, but honestly the most important part to any gathering is always the company therefore I had a fantastic luncheon.   Hope ya'll enjoyed St. Patrick's Day as well and if not, you can start planning for next year now. :)

You can see the Slow Cooker Irish Stew recipe I used from Tablespoon HERE.  I slightly changed the recipe because I saw another very similar Slow Cooker Irish Stew recipe HERE that included green beans, worcestershire sauce and thyme so added those in as well.  It was easy to make and hearty.  I might have added a bit more salt and seasoning but overall I give it a thumbs up.


Reba's posted St. Patick's Day Table HERE

My St. Patrick's Day table mostly from recycled and crafted items can be seen HERE

Monday, March 10, 2014

RE-Inventing Camp: MOM CAMP Part II

Many people have become fascinated by MOM CAMP since I made my first post about it  HERE in MOM CAMP PART I .   Woman's Day Magazine even called and I am quoted talking about MOM CAMP in their December 2013 issue on page 138.  The reporter wanted to know how to do MOM CAMP and asked for tips which my friends and I have learned from experience. I hadn't thought about MOM CAMP that way until she asked, but now I've come up with my 10 best tips for anyone considering organizing a MOM CAMP themselves.

What is MOM CAMP?

MOM CAMP is a cooperative summer camp concept in which a group of moms (or other guardians) take each others' kids for a day of fun.  Think of it as one day of kid supervision in exchange for 4 days of free camp for your kids.  Each Mom (or set of moms) decides what the kids will do on their assigned day & covers the cost of the activity.  There is no expectation of providing snack or lunch, however a Mom may provide food & drink if she wants.  Kids are dropped off in the morning & picked up in the afternoon.   Drop off is set for a fixed time all week to help with scheduling transportation.  


MOM CAMP is a low cost summer camp, but the biggest advantage of MOM CAMP is picking your company.  I have sent my kid off to a camp taught by strangers with a bunch of kids I don't know and hoped for the best. With Mom Camp, I know my daughter will spend time with adults and children I like.  Mom Camp wouldn't work with unruly, disobedient kids, bullies or irresponsible adults who don't supervise kids carefully.  For the safety and enjoyment of all, you should be selective when setting up a Mom Camp.   Our Mom Camp started with a playgroup that morphed into a Mom book club as our kids entered school so our kids have known each other all their lives.  If you still keep in touch with playgroup friends, send out an email to ask if any are interested in doing MOM CAMP.  Have a bunch of cousins? Get your calendars out and get the parents or grandparents to volunteer one day to make a MOM/COUSIN CAMP happen.  Or, before the school year ends, bring up MOM CAMP to other parents at a school function and see if any are interested and exchange email addresses.  Facebook friends, church, work & neighborhood groups may also be good places to recruit campers.


How many adults do you need for MOM CAMP?  To me, our situation was ideal. We had 10 Moms so 2 Moms could share responsibility for 1 day of camp for a week.   How many adults you need for safety depends upon the age of the children, whether any have special needs and what activity is planned.  If the kids are going to be inside a private home, then that requires less supervision than an outdoor activity (e.g. swimming or hiking) or an activity in a public place (e.g. a museum or public park visit.)  When our group has Lake Day, several extra moms usually volunteer to help supervise the kids.  Out of consideration & caution, moms with pre-school age kids or kids with special needs either came along themselves to help supervise or sent someone to give their kids the extra attention they would need. 


Even with responsible adult supervision, the buddy system, in my opinion, is crucial to making MOM Camp work.  At the beginning of each camp day,  tell the kids who their buddies are and that they need to keep together all day and keep an eye on each other.  Go with whichever groupings seem natural, but I'd limit the buddy group size to 4. If you have 5 kids that could be buddies, I'd split the buddy assignments into 2 & 3 kids.


Having a theme to work around helps organize the day.  Here are 20 sample themes. 
*Cooking Day *Nature Exploration Day 
* Art & Craft Day *Swimming/Aquatic Games Day 
*Science Experiment Day *Lake/Beach Day
*Movie Day *Make Believe/Theater Day 
*Museum Day *Community Service Day 
*Space Exploration Day *Sea Exploration Day 
*Zoo Day *Farm Hand Day 
*Earth Day *Pottery Day 
*Bowling Day *Tennis Day 
*Music Appreciation Day *Survival Skills Day

As moms, of course, we can't help trying to sneak some life lessons into Mom Camp (e.g. philanthropic projects, life skills like cooking, sewing and map reading) but fun should be priority #1.  


Once you've picked a theme, do a Google or Pinterest search for activity ideas to fit your theme day.  Look for fun ideas that are still pretty simple. Also, the activities should not be expensive.   I have a Pinterest Board set up for Mom Camp Ideas that I am always updating so if you want a place to start, you can follow it here:



As you sort thru your google and pinterest search results, focus on activities that will engage the kids.   The photos above are from our Theater Day in which we had the kids create costumes from old newspapers and act out skits.  I had plenty of newspaper, scissors and tape and let the kids take charge of the activity.  Even young kids could work independently for this activity.  I like to stay away from activities that require long complicated instructions which will probably lose their attention.  Bored kids get into mischief.  It is ok if the activity needs to be broken up into steps, as long as each step is simple enough for the kids to work independently. I try to pick hands on activities because if you keep their hands occupied, their minds are likely to stay focused on the activity which makes supervision easier.


Definitely ask about allergies before you begin planning activities.   Also, our kids have gotten minor cuts and scraps while playing so  I keep an American Red Cross First Aid Kit handy when I am hosting Mom Camp.  

At the very least, I highly recommend keeping baby wipes, bandages and antibiotic ointment (e.g. Neosporin) around in case a child skins a knee or cuts a finger. Make sure you also have all the kids' emergency contact information in case a child ever gets really sick during the camp and needs medical attention or to go home and rest.  Also, the organizers should establish upfront what to do with any unruly kids.  In our group, we agreed a time out until a parent could pick up any child who misbehaved was an appropriate response for most situations.  


As Mary Schmich and Baz Luhrman wisely advised us, wearing plenty of sunscreen is a smart choice. Our group asks each child to apply sunscreen before they arrive and to bring some for re-application during the day.   I always have some back up sunscreen for kids that forget.   It's easy to forget that the sun can burn skin even on cloudy days, but it can, and a bad sunburn on a Monday can ruin a whole week of Mom Camp for a camper so trust me on the sunscreen. ;)  Similarly, kids forget to drink water and the summer heat can be brutal.  Make sure each kid brings a water bottle along and schedule drink breaks, ideally in a shaded spot so the group will cool down. 


It's a bummer, but sometimes Mother Nature doesn't cooperate with our outdoor plans.  If this happens to you, you can try switching days with another mom who has indoor activities planned but make sure to inform everyone of the change.  If no one can switch, or the weather changes too suddenly to change days, then make sure you have some place warm and dry for the kids to gather and an alternative activity for the day.   This is especially important for moms planning field trips like park and nature hike days.


Pick an activity you find interesting yourself.   If you have a hobby, then this is a great opportunity to share it with others. Whatever you pick, don't volunteer for an activity that you are not comfortable performing even if other moms think it sounds cool.  If you haven't exercised in years, then don't sign up for nature hike, yoga or tennis days.  You're  not suppose to pull a muscle to do a Mom Camp.  Also, have a good breakfast when it is your day because once camp starts the day is busy and you'll need the energy.  Take lots of photos.  Remember this is a memory you're making with your kid(s). And if it works, I suggest playing some fun music during your day to keep the mood up.  Everyone should enjoy Mom Camp, including the moms.