Monthly Archives: March 2010

Fool Your Family with Easy April Fools Day Pranks

Though we all love a good laugh year-round, April Fools’ Day offers some great opportunities to crank up the pranks.

Why do we even celebrate April Fools’ Day?

Even though the Julian calendar, which we use, was adopted in 46 B.C., many Europeans were resistant to the change — really resistant, as it turns out. For centuries, their New Year coincided with Easter and other Spring celebrations. In the 1560s, France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the New Year should officially begin on January 1, and Pope Gregory in Rome followed a full 18 years later. It is said that the Europeans who hadn’t gotten the memo on the date change continued to celebrate New Year’s in April, thus they were considered fools, and the source of our modern day pranks.

In France, the fools got paper fish hooked to their backs. These are vintage “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish) postcards:

Other theories hold that April Fools’ Day arose from the Spring renewal festivals that have long been held throughout the world. These have wonderful names and customs – Hilaria in Rome; Holi, the festival of color in India; Hock-Tyed, a randy event in Great Britain.

The Museum of Hoaxes site has more information about April Fools’ Day in history and literature. The infoplease site casts some doubt on the calendar theory and posits another, from Boston University History Professor Joseph Boskin, who explained that a group of court jesters told the Roman emperor Constantine that they could do a better job of running the empire, so he let a jester named Kugel be king for one day. “It was a very serious day,” Boskin said, and his story was run by the news media in 1983.

There was one glitch: Boskin himself had made the story up — in great April Fools’ Day tradition.

Fun and Easy Food Pranks

So, what are some fun and easy April Fools’ Day pranks that you can pull on your family? I’ve often used mealtimes to turn the tables and have some fun with food pranks, many of which will be a treat to eat even after the joke’s over. All of these are quick and easy to pull off, with ingredients available at most grocery stores.

Fishy Fish Sticks

What you’ll need:

Log-shaped candy bars such as Twix, Mounds, or Kit Kat
Shredded coconut or toasted coconut (available at specialty stores)
Corn Syrup

How to do it:

Toast the coconut by placing the shredded pieces on a baking sheet and baking at 350 degrees for 2-4 minutes, or until it is light brown with some white shreds remaining (if you are not using toasted coconut). Allow the coconut to cool and then spread it atop a sheet of wax paper. Roll the candy in the corn syrup until it is lightly coated, and then roll the coated candy in the coconut. (Note that some candy bars may have to be cut to more closely resemble the shape of a fish stick.)

Sweet Potatoes

What you’ll need:

Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Butterscotch or caramel sauce

How to do it:

Place a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt on a plate. Top with butterscotch or caramel sauce. Let the sauce drip down to resemble gravy.

Different Dog

What you’ll need:

A banana
A hot dog bun
Peanut butter
Vanilla yogurt
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Place the banana into the hot dog bun. Mix drops of red food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter until the color of the peanut butter resembles ketchup. Mix drops of yellow food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt until the color of the yogurt resembles mustard. Generously spread the “condiments” over the banana to make the hot dog.

Not So Fried Egg

What you’ll need:

Lemon or vanilla pudding or yogurt, or a canned peach half
Marshmallow sauce (used for sundaes)
Piece of toast (optional)

How to do it:

Spoon a generous amount of marshmallow sauce on a plate or a piece of toast. It will spread. Finesse it with a spoon into an egg-white shape. Place a small, neat spoonful of pudding or yogurt, or the canned peach half on top of it so that the whole resembles a fried egg.

Smile and Say “Grilled Cheese”

What you’ll need:

A pound cake
Buttercream or white frosting
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Cut the pound cake into slices to resemble bread. Toast them in an oven (on a cookie sheet) or in a toaster oven just until they turn golden brown. Once they’ve cooled a little, stack two slices for each sandwich and cut each stack in half diagonally. Mix drops of the red and yellow food coloring into the frosting, stopping when the frosting appears like American cheese. Carefully spread a generous amount of frosting onto the bottom slice, then gently press the top slice over it. This will make the frosting ooze a bit over the sides of the “bread”, so that the whole resembles a melted cheese sandwich.

A Stiff Drink

What you’ll need:
A package of flavored gelatin.

How to do it:

Dissolve the gelatin according to box directions. Pour the gelatin into drinking glasses and place a plastic straw in each. Refrigerate the gelatin until firm, then watch when someone tries to drink their “drink”.

A Meaty Dessert

What you’ll need:

A meatloaf recipe
Mashed potatoes
Cake decorators’ icing

How to do it:

Combine the ingredients for the meatloaf recipe. Before baking, divide the mixture into the two round cake pans and pat it flat. Bake as usual, shortening the cooking time to adjust for the thinness of the meat loaves. Prepare the mashed potatoes, adding a little extra milk to them and whipping them until they are fluffy. Once the loaves have cooled a little, place one of them onto a plate and cover it with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Place the other meatloaf on top of the potato layer, and finish frosting the “cake” with the remaining potatoes, swirling them with a knife to imitate cake frosting. Decorate the top with a fun April Fools’ message.

Fairy Burgers for Tiny Pranksters

What you’ll need:

A box of Nilla wafers
A bag of small peppermint patties such as York
Shredded coconut
Green food coloring
Red or yellow “Fruit by the Foot”
Sesame seeds (optional)
Corn syrup (optional)
Toothpicks (optional)

How to do it:

Dissolve a drop of green food coloring into a cup of water. Place about a quarter cup of shredded coconut into a mixing bowl and pour the food coloring over it. Mix the coconut to coat it with color and then let it sit a few minutes to make sure the color is absorbed. Pat dry with a paper towel. That is the lettuce for your burger. Roll out the “Fruit by the Foot” and cut small squares of red or yellow to represent tomato slices and cheese. If you wish your Nilla wafer “bun” to have sesame seeds on it,  place the desired number of wafers on a flat surface. Dip a toothpick into the corn syrup and dot the wafer with drops of the syrup. Carefully place a sesame seed on each syrup drop and let it sit for a couple of minutes to dry.

Assemble the “burger” by starting with a wafer for the bottom and then adding a peppermint patty, the fruit square(s), the coconut, and, finally, the top bun. Nibble with tiny bites, just like the fairies do.

Backwards Meal

Even if you don’t have time to make or buy special food, you can serve a meal backward, starting with dessert. Or you can have a whole backwards day where meals are concerned. Even a few drops of food coloring can instantly change a bowl or oatmeal or a scoop of mashed potatoes.

Have fun and get silly! Happy April Fools’ Day.

Dye Eggs like the Ancients with Plant Dyes

The ancient Romans had a saying, Omne vivum ex ovo, “All life comes from an egg.” In spring, we celebrate new birth and spiritual rebirth, much the way people have been doing for centuries — from Persia to Polynesia, India to Africa, Central Europe to Central America — and much of the ritual centers on the egg.

In a wonderful piece on spring rituals in the Huffington Post, Donna Henes writes that, in spring:

It is as if the great egg of the whole world has hatched.

The ancient Persians may have been among the first to dye their eggs, which were used in springtime festivals almost 5,000 years ago. Ukrainians and other Slavic people, in Eastern Europe, were also among some of the first ancient people to decorate eggs and use them in their sun worship and spring ceremonies.

The Ukrainians created especially elaborate designs for their eggs, which are called Pysanky.  This is a wonderful history of Pysanky, an ancient practice that lives today and influenced other cultures to decorate and give eggs — from the Medieval Europeans to the 1800s Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought egg-dyeing from Europe to the U.S. and in turn influenced druggist William Townley to create commercial egg dyes for his Paas Dye Company, which is still in business today. (The word Paas stems from Passen, the Pennsylvania Dutch word for Easter.)

Below, decorated Ukrainian Pysanky:

1880s customers clamored for William Townley’s egg-dyeing tablets, but of course the ancients used natural dyes from plants, roots, coffee and tea, and those are still wonderful and fun to use today. They also result in stunning, natural colors.

My friend Molly de Vries at The Fabric Society wrote a beautiful post about dyeing eggs using natural plant dyes. She used onion skin, turmeric, blueberries, cabbage, and grape juice. I’ve gotten nice results with beets. She includes complete and simple instructions for making your own dyes and creating festive dyed eggs. Her site is also filled with inspiration and pretty pictures about this and other projects.

The DTLK Kids site also has lots of ideas for unusual egg-dyeing projects and ways to create patterns and designs on your dyed eggs.

If you wish to take egg-dyeing to a whole other level, this is a terrific how-to site for exploring elaborate Ukrainian Pysanky designs, which are often created with layers of different colors, using small bits of candle wax where you don’t want the color to penetrate — a technique that resembles batik.

Enjoy your celebration of spring.

Dyed Egg Photos by Molly de Vries.

Ukrainian Egg Photo – Museum of the Pysanka, Kolomiya, Ukraine. Photo by Lubap.

Flea Market-Inspired Spring

Inspiration and beauty are all around. For many, Spring is a season of sun-dappled sidewalks and flea-market weekends. Of exploring shapes and colors which take their cues from nature, history, and the whimsy of a flowing line. It’s the season of looking around with fresh eyes.

Spring Inspiration

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Saturday, March 20, at 17:32 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 1:30 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, and 10:30 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox,  the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

In my neck of the woods, the sun has begun to shine warmly and flowers have shot up above ground. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As always, at times of seasonal change, I turn to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

A Walk in Nearby Woods

I last posted about the treehouse we built for my daughter in the redwoods near our house. It’s a lovely spot and, in addition to being a great place to relax beneath the trees, one of its bonuses is that, once you’re in it, the surrounding forest opens up to you. Our family recently took a little walk through it, lured by the beauty of the shafts of sunlight that beamed through the tree branches and by the call of owls — perhaps the same ones who spent part of last summer living in a tree close to our house.

We walked on the forest floor, which was soft with needles, leaves, mud and duff. We came upon these whimsical Trilliums (also called Wake Robins), an early spring wildflower that proliferates in the shade.

Forget-me-nots are another sweet shade-loving flower. Our property will be blanketed with them soon.

Three-cornered leeks (wild onions) have a lovely bell-shaped flower and a distinctly sharp spring smell.

We started to see owl droppings, and looked up to find our friends. We spotted their nest, high up in the redwoods. (We believe there to be at least one pair of Northern Spotted Owls, because we saw a male and a female last summer, and heard them now.) On the ground were owl pellets, the remains of small animals and plant material that the owls had eaten. We identified mouse bones. (I promise I will go up again and get a better picture!)

We looked up to see the owls’ nest.

While looking for the nest, we saw a basket high up in the trees. This is a very isolated spot and we were mystified as to how it could have gotten there. A person could have placed it there, but that’s not likely — it’s more than 50 feet up in a very isolated spot on private property. We wondered if the basket would be light enough for birds to have carried up, in the hopes of making a nest out of it.

After a while, the land opened up as we reached another path, which was sunnier.

Pretty yellow Goldfields were sprinkled along the path.

We saw Miner’s Lettuce, which of course we imagined generations of people before us — Native Americans, trailblazers, miners — eating. (We later learned that Miner’s Lettuce is appropriately named, and edible, but I remain very hesitant about grazing for food along the road.)

We circled around and came home, knowing that, with the weather turning warmer, and our newfound knowledge of the woods and path by our house, we would be back often.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Treehouse in the Woods

We recently built our daughter a treehouse nestled in the redwood trees by our house. She had long enjoyed a special stand of Cathedral Redwoods, which get their name by growing in a circle around a host stump or tree. This circle has about half a dozen trees, each about 150 feet tall.

But she needed a better way to get there – our land is extremely steep, and soft and slippery with needles, leaves, branches and, often, mud. There was no trail. Even if you were to make your way up on foot, chances are you’d slide back down on your bottom. This is what much of the land looks like. It’s shady redwood forest with lots of ferns and bay trees.

Being more visionary than handy, we called on some handy friends to help design and build a trail with a switchback, and then some stairs to get up the steepest part of the hill.

The trail is one that was already used by local deer and just had to be widened. (We’re hoping the deer appreciate it.)

The steps are made of copper-injected wood. We wanted something that would stand up to the weather in this damp spot. We also wanted a banister for safety.

The deck has a pier-and-post cement foundation, to make it sturdy and raise it above the forest floor.

The platform is close to our house but far enough away and in deep foliage, so that it feels private. It’s a great place to read and daydream, to the sounds of birds and frogs and, if it has rained hard enough, water running down a natural stream.

Anna is very happy there. She wants to decorate with prayer flags and chairs for friends (she says a sofa). When the rain stops we are going to hang this colorful, handwoven Mayan hammock that she picked out from a mother-daughter company called La Casa Mexicana.

We know the treehouse is going to get a lot of use. One of its great benefits, which we have already experienced, is that it gets us up into the land by our house, which we had been looking at but not walking on because of the steepness. It’s still steep past the treehouse, but not quite as much, and from there, the forest opens up. We took a walk through it the other day and found early spring wildflowers and all sorts of other things. I will tell you about them in my next post.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, La Casa Mexicana

Everyday Whimsy: Two Reminders that the Mundane can be Made Fun

I love these videos.

The first is from a group called The Fun Theory. Their whole mission (if I may use such a serious word) is to illustrate that making something fun is the easiest way to ensure that people will do it. I’m quite heartened watching this and seeing how many people will go out of their way to do something playful and joyful.

There are lots of similar playful ideas on the Fun Theory site, including a mat that makes wiping ones feet fun, and a room that’s transformed with magnets, so kids can throw their clothes at the wall rather than hang them. (I’m not sure about this one, actually.)

The next, old-school, video showcases Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley, who was known for his extremely elaborate, precision dance numbers that were said to have gotten their inspiration from the military. The clip is from 1937’s Ready, Willing and Able and features Ruby Keeler (wife of Al Jolson, I just learned) tapping away in what would be one of her last musicals. (She made a remarkable comeback in theater and movies more than 30 years later.)

I think it’s a wonderful example of looking at an ordinary object in a new way — truly “thinking outside the box”, to envision women’s legs serving as typewriter keys. Plus, looking at it and listening to it can’t help but put a smile on ones face.

Have fun! Remember that a little whimsy and silliness can go a long way.