Create & Do

Adultitis Antidote #2: Spatula City


About once a month, the parents would pull out a bunch of unusual kitchen utensils and pile them on the table. Things like spatulas, spaghetti forks, soup ladles, whisks, potato mashers and giant serving spoons were on display. Each child was instructed to select one item from the pile.

And then they would have to eat their entire dinner using just that utensil.

To make things even more interesting, the mother kept the dinner menu a secret.

This is an idea that I got from an elderly couple in Virginia several years back. Their kids loved it so much, that now that they’re older, they do it with the grandkids. We’ve fondly nicknamed it “Spatula City.”

It’s a simple concept, really. But as usual, the best ones usually are.

If you’ve ever been to one of my speaking programs, you’ve probably heard this idea. The big question is, have you tried it?

Dude Transforms Deck Into Pirate Ship


In January, I did a program for a big healthcare company and afterwards I met a guy named Randy who said he had a deck in his backyard that looked like a pirate ship.

Naturally, my curiosity was stoked. Did it come with the house? Was it seaworthy? Was talking like a pirate required for entry?

Happily for all of us, I was able to get the full story — plus pictures! Randy and his wife bought the house in 1999 and have been throwing summer theme parties ever since. (The first one was a Hawaiian style luau, complete with pork roasts wrapped in banana leaves, placed on really hot rocks, covered with a sheet, and then an entire sandbox of sand.) This year’s theme was Jaws, in honor of the 30th anniversary of its release (photo here and here.) Needless to say, it’s been a fun way for the couple to let their inner child come out to play.

The pirate ship deck emerged from one of these parties. Here’s Randy to tell the story:

One year we had a real big one and it was pirate themed. It was a perfect combination. Everybody showed up and (for a change) the weather was perfect. I worked for myself so I had lots of time to set it up. We made pirate ships out of refrigerator boxes, carpet tubes and palettes. We had 300 black water balloons for cannon balls. We also made our deck into the fortress, complete with jail (made out of 2x4s and PVC pipes painted black) and a pillory. Almost everybody dressed up as a pirate, including two people that wore Pittsburgh Pirate uniforms. (We put them in the jail as impostors.)

The party was such a success that everyone wondered how we could match it the next year. Well, I helped my neighbor tear out his deck, and the boards were really floppy, and I decided to use them to turn my entire deck into a ship. It was mostly made of old deck boards, with very little investment of money. I got the telephone pole from a friend who owned a farm and wanted it gone. The rest is semantics.


Pretty epic, huh? Just goes to show you what you can do with a little imagination, a supportive wife, and a neighbor with an old, crappy deck.

Have you or someone you know ever done any childlike home improvements? Share ‘em in the comments!

Adultitis Antidote #1: Sticky Cup


This is a wonderful April Fool’s Day prank that’s fun to do all year long. Just be aware of the national emergency you will cause for everyone around you.

Well, some people will not even notice. But the ones who do are likely to drive miles — I mean MILES, people — out of their way to let you know that you have Taco Bell on the top of your car. Of course, you and the people driving with you have the task of acting clueless. That’s part of the fun (and a challenge).

One guy reported to me that it’s the perfect way to occupy kids on long road trips. They love watching the reactions of other drivers!

One thing’s for sure, there’s no easier or cheaper way to have fun in any economy than “Sticky Cup.”

How to Create Your Own Holiday


How hard is it to create your own holiday?

If you want to be all official about it, you can register your holiday with Chase’s Calendar of Events. But even that’s not a requirement.

A lady I met at a speaking engagement in Orlando told me about her son who lives in San Francisco. In honor of his birthday, he started putting homemade signs up everywhere that said, “June 1st is Pirate’s Day.” That’s it. He put them on trains, telephone poles, and other public hot spots. And sure enough, June 1st came around and people could be spotted wearing eyepatches and various pirate gear.

Granted, San Francisco is known for being a little eccentric. But I’m willing to bet you could have similar results if you tried this in your workplace, your neighborhood, or even your own home.

Turns out all you really need to start your own holiday is a little imagination, a few signs, and some courage.

What do you think would be a great new holiday?

10 Pro Tips for Your Next Jell-O Cook-off


What do you get when you mix geology students and Jell-O? Amazing Adultitis-fighting fun to inspire us all!

stained-glass-jelloWhen Meredith Rhodes Carson was studying geology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, one of the highlights was the annual Jell-O Cook-Off in which contestants created geologically-inspired, gelatin-infused masterpieces. The photo at right is a copy of a stained glass window in Weeks Hall on campus. Some of the categories included: Tallest Jell-O, Best Representation of a Faculty Member, Most Wisconsin (one winning entry was actually made with beer), and Most Aerodynamic. (One infamous entry, a drumlin-shaped Jell-O with Rice Krispies in it, was launched off of the balcony of Weeks Hall FOUR times before complete destruction.) The only real rules was that entries had to be primarily Jell-O, not necessarily edible.

We strongly advocate the making of ugly cakes and cookies; why not bring Jell-O into the mix?

In talking to Meredith after one of my presentations, I was fascinated by her scientific knowledge of Jell-O. Or at least what you need to know to compete in a cook-off at a high level! Since I figured you might find yourself inspired to instigate a Jell-O Cook-Off of your own, I’ve asked Meredith to share some of her best tips for creating works of art in the medium of Jell-O:

Pro-tips for Jell-O Cook Off Newbies

  1. Knox Gelatin – It is important to fortify your Jell-O for advanced Jell-O structures.
  2. Carving Jell-O is slightly easier if you dip your knife in pineapple juice.
  3. Consider a ‘Jell-O displacement’ technique to create complex multi-colored Jell-O. This requires that you start your Jell-O art days in advance. For example, to construct a cylindrical shape – fill your container with Jell-O and then float a cylindrical object in so that when the Jell-O solidifies, you can remove the cylinder, and fill that space with another color of Jell-O.
  4. You can use a straw to remove select bits of Jell-O from your creation… just suck the Jell-O out.
  5. Do not attempt to create a Jell-O aquarium scene in a 20 gallon fish tank using the shell of a lobster that may or may not still have salt water in it. Salt water and Jell-O don’t mix, your Jell-O will not set…AND your giant-unsolidified-blue-Jell-O-filled-fish-tank may just break in your refrigerator.
  6. You can make a spectacular Jell-O volcano eruption using baking soda and vinegar.
  7. Consider using light in your Jell-O design. One winning entry was an x-ray of a particular geologist’s shoulder to show the results of a recent surgery – the Jell-O x-ray was crafted in a 9×13” glass baking dish, presented on top of a light table for full effect.
  8. If black plastic spider rings don’t seem authentic enough in your Jell-O bug amber, a good approach is to harvest spider corpses from your garage to put your creation over the top.
  9. Heavy duty aluminum foil can make a fine custom mold.
  10. Take Jell-O project management seriously, giant charts may be required to make your vision a reality. Start early.

Here are some impressive samples from the original cook-offs. Thanks for sharing, Meredith!


Simple yet elegant “bug amber,” complete with daddy long-legs.


At left, a study in Jell-O of the great Wisconsin Cow Chip Toss. On the right, the beverage inspired “Back in the High Life.”


Jell-O Face.


The Mediano Anticline – the flooding of villages in Spain, recreated in Jell-O.


“When the Levee Breaks”, a Jell-O New Orleans moment in time.


“Geologic Map of Texas.”


Jell-O turtles!

How To Survive a Long Winter

This year, Old Man Winter was especially diabolical. We got tired of waiting for him to leave, so we took matters into our own hands and invited others to join us in a Small Rebellion we called Scram Winter.


The mission was simple: ignore the snowflakes and subzero temps and host a tropical party indoors! Whether you do it with your family, a few friends, or invite a whole cruise ship full of people; the only requirement is to be creative in your avoidance of the evidence of winter!

We invited about a dozen people and jacked up our thermostat to 82º about two hours before they arrived. We made up some frozen strawberry margaritas, complete with tiny umbrellas… [Read more...]

Adultitis Officially Grounded at Denver Airport


I spend a lot of time in airports. Airports are like kids. They can be a CAUSE of Adultitis or they can be a CURE for Adultitis.

It all depends on your approach.

Sara Alvarado LOVES airports. She gets a kick out of watching all the people with Adultitis freak out over stuff that in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter. On a recent visit to the Denver Airport, Sara and her son Leo bought some silly putty and did a little redecorating to some advertisements hanging on the wall.

It doesn’t take much to ground Adultitis. Lucky for us, we have people like Sara to show us how easy (and fun) it can be.

A Champion of Childhood is someone instilled with the soaring spirit of childhood who rallies against rules that don’t exist while engaging in ruthless, senseless acts of silliness that undermine the slavery of Adultitis and its unadventurous version of adulthood. We like shining a light upon the most remarkable among us, holding them up as a dazzling example of what we should strive for in this epic battle against Adultitis. See more here.

Ben’s Purple Mustache


Adultitis was kicking our butt.

It had been exactly a month since Virginia Rose was born. A good month, to be sure, but also a long one. Weary of the bitter cold weather, our entire family was tired of being cooped up, and the older two kids were passing time by pushing our buttons. Two-year-old Ben had a streak of purple under his nose, a colorful souvenir from “smelling” the markers we used to keep him quiet. Although we pined for an afternoon at a Florida beach, it was decided that going out to lunch was the best we could hope for today.

As I went to wipe the marker from Ben’s face, Kim made some comment about him looking a bit like Hitler. Then she said, “I wish we could just draw mustaches on our kids, wouldn’t that be awesome?”

“It would be,” I agreed.

“Why don’t we?” she asked.

I could tell by her tone that she was kind of serious. And so I paused to ponder a serious response.

“Because of what other people might think,” I answered.

Before I even finished the sentence, I knew what I had to do.

“Give me that purple marker,” I said. After glancing to confirm it was the washable variety, I removed the cap and called Ben over. Then I drew a bold and curly mustache on my son. Although he cooperated, it’s fair to say he had no idea what I was doing.

“Ok.” I proclaimed. “NOW, let’s go to lunch.

And we did, with our purple mustachioed son in tow.


It did garner some attention. No calls from DCFS, as Adultitis had warned. Instead, the people who noticed universally responded with smiles of delight at my oblivious son who looked like a tiny ringleader in a circus sponsored by Willy Wonka. And it was awesome.

Here’s a tip: If you are faced with an opportunity to do something, and the only reason you don’t is because of what someone else might think, you can be certain that Adultitis is up to no good. If you are serious about winning this war, and you are desirous of living an amazing story, you must do that very thing, without hesitation. You must.

Family with spring fever and three kids, five and under: 1, Adultitis: 0.

Share a time when YOU did something fun without regard to what other people might think. Leave a comment below!

School Celebrates Family with Ugly Cookies & Barbarian Spaghetti


A few years ago, I spoke at a school in Wisconsin, giving presentations for the staff and the parents. I shared the Ugly Cookie story, just like I (almost) always do. Lots of people have heard that story over the years.

But Pete Hirt, the principal of the school, took it and ran with it.

Not long after my talk, a parent of one of the students was diagnosed with cancer. Pete and the community sprang into action to help raise money for the family. Pete suggested they do an “Ugly Cake Auction,” in which people would be invited to decorate cakes in the ugliest manner possible. About 1,000 people descended upon the gym to bid on dozens of deliciously ugly cakes.

They raised $15,000.

Last night, I was invited back to be a part of an evening designed to Celebrate Family. I would again be speaking to the staff and parents, but also added to the agenda was a Barbarian Spaghetti dinner and an Ugly Cookie decorating contest. The goal was to give parents tips and ideas for stressing less and having more fun, while providing an opportunity for families to make memories together.

As you’ll see in the photos below…mission accomplished. [Read more...]



Baby toes. Ocean sunsets. Cream puffs from the Wisconsin State Fair.

These are a few of my favorite things.

When we focus on the stuff that’s missing from our stories, it’s the equivalent of inviting Adultitis into your living room and encouraging him to put up his feet while you prepare him a seven course dinner. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be surprised at how difficult it is to get him to leave at the end of the night.

On the other hand, cultivating a sense of gratitude is like slapping a restraining order on the big jerk.

As much as I have to be grateful for, I still find it all too easy to take the good parts of my life for granted. And as the old saying goes, we don’t know how good we have it ’till it’s gone.

The recent post from my friend Ryan really struck a nerve with me. He wrote about the idea of taking one picture a day of something you are grateful for. One thing. And then post it on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or wherever. It’s sort of like a gratitude journal, except it’s so easy a caveman could do it. If cavemen had smartphones.

Well, color me inspired. I intend to celebrate Thanksgiving Day thirty times this November. Starting on the first, and for the whole month, I will be posting my one thing every day on Instagram, using the hashtag #thankstagram.

Who’s in?

Small Rebellion #7: Halloween Unleashed

Halloween is the best. I love that it’s free of the obligatory gift-buying and mountains of stress that usually accompany the other major holidays. Halloween is pretty much just about fun. And zombies.

I also love that although Trick or Treating is still a domain of childhood and rambunctious teenagers, it’s not uncommon for grown-ups to get in on the costume-wearing fun. However, most of us over the age of twenty usually require a bit of “costume cover.” You know, that socially acceptable event or occasion where it’s “appropriate” to dress up.

But what if you dressed up in costume for a dinner out with your sweetheart? Or for your weekly trip to the supermarket? Or for jury duty? [Read more...]

5 Fun-Having Ideas from Awesome Folks Like You


With summer saying sayonara, my speaking schedule is back into full swing. One of my favorite parts is talking to people afterwards, and hearing the neat things they do for fun with friends and family. In fact, many of the ideas I share in my presentations, including Sticky Cup, Pajama Run, and Spatula City are from audience members.

One of my fatal flaws is forgetting to write them down. I always think I’ll remember them, but do I? Nope. Well I’m happy to report that I’ve been a bit more consistent of late, and wanted to share some recent gems: [Read more...]

How To End Your Summer in Amazing Fashion


Egads, we’ve already sped past the middle of August, haven’t we? In my role as a Professional Permission Granter, I feel that it’s my duty to remind you that summer is almost over.

That being said, I encourage you to make an effort to make at least one more awesome memory before the door hits summer in the tooskus. One more big fling. One more crazy scene.

It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, of course. A Frosty run to Wendy’s could fill the bill. Especially if you’re wearing your pajamas. Or you take a new friend. Or you order in a fake accent. Or all of the above.

In case you’re really stumped, here are six more ideas: [Read more...]

Pardon the Mess


I’ll admit it: I prefer a tidy house. I feel good when the dishes are done and the counter is cleared. I’m easily disturbed when piles stay piles for too long. I like the structure of a good plan.

Is it an Adultitis-fueled trait? Perhaps. But I do find that I am more present, relaxed and creative when clutter and chaos is minimized. In general, I don’t think it’s a terrible trait to have. And I don’t believe that an Adultitis-free life is one that disregards any sense of order.

However. I do find it helpful to regularly remind myself of some simple truths: [Read more...]

What’s Better Than a Banana Split?


A giant one that’s ten feet long, of course!

Banana splits are pretty good at thwarting Adultitis. But 10-foot banana splits have been known to give Adultitis the hives.

If you wanna make one for your next party, they seem pretty easy to put together. This tutorial uses a carpet tube and this one uses a simple rain gutter (both were covered in heavy duty aluminum foil.)

If you wanna go crazy, eat it for dinner.

If you wanna go easy on the waistline, try these Banana Split Bites instead.

Photo from OhHappyDay

How to Adultitis-Proof Your Wedding


A wedding is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life. But it can also be a breeding ground for Adultitis. This sinister foe downright salivates at events involving formal wear, the merging of families, and an expectation that everything is supposed to go perfectly.

Is it possible to Adultitis-proof your wedding?


But it requires a mindset that decides you’re going to have fun no matter what the caterer messes up or your mother-in-law does.

It also helps to incorporate some ideas that send the message to you and your guests that Adultitis is not invited. I’ve been collecting some of my favorite best Adultitis-free invites, favors, photo-ops and more on a Pinterest board.

What are YOUR favorite ideas for Adultitis-proofing a wedding?

Bring the Magic of a Drive-In Movie to Your Own Backyard


I love drive-in movies. Always have. My parents took us to a few double features when I was little. I remember my brothers and I getting to watch the first movie and then having to lay down in the blanket-packed back of the red station wagon for the second (and more adult-oriented) one. Last summer we took Lucy to see Brave and The Avengers at a drive-in theater about a half-hour from Madison. (She too, fell asleep during the second one.)

For the life of me, I don’t know why this American classic is an endangered species. Some of you may not have a drive-in theater anywhere near your home. Happily, I recently found a post about screening movies in your own backyard. Although it may require a little up-front money, it’s hard to beat the savings on concession stand food and overall convenience. (Plus, I’m willing to bet your bathrooms aren’t as gross!)

AmberLee (and her husband) cover everything you’ll need to consider, including ideas for the perfect spot, tips for what kind of projector to get, and even how to make your screen. Action!

Photo by AmberLee at

Serving Fun as the Main Course with a Side of Crazy


Spatula City is a meal in which everyone eats dinner with unconventional utensils. Think spatulas, spaghetti forks and soup ladels.

Barbarian Spaghetti is when you eat spaghetti without plates.

Crazy might be when you combine them both. [Read more...]

A Simple, Quick and Ugly Guide to Fun


It is official: making ugly treats is a foolproof way to annihilate Adultitis. Indeed, forgoing the stress that can come from trying to create a confection that might make Martha Stewart weep tears of joy is not nearly as fun as concocting something that would have her wailing and gnashing her teeth.

Although we have extolled the virtues of cooking up ugly cakes and cookies for some time, we had not actually undertaken the task — until now. We used the latest Small Rebellion, aka The Ugly Treat Initiative, as a fitting excuse to jump right in.

It’s easy to be intimidated by some of the giants who have come before us, with cakes so ugly they’d make Sloth from The Goonies recoil in horror. But engaging in some ugly treat frivolity needn’t be a burden. We went a simple route, which proved to be quick and easy without shortchanging any of the fun. [Read more...]

My Birthday Comeback Story

Birthdays come with a a lot of pressure! Everyone — including myself — hopes that it’s a GREAT day.

Some years this greatness is easier to achieve than others. Last year was a breeze. We played hooky as a family, savoring the early spring weather at the zoo. It was a VERY awesome day!

But this year (my 35th) was shaping up to be a real challenge. [Read more...]

Small Rebellion #6: The Ugly Treat Initiative


According to the Interwebs, the first week of April is Laugh at Work Week. If there’s one thing work could use more of, it’s laughter.

Inspired by our most recent Champion of Childhood award winners who made an epic ugly cake for a co-worker, we are introducing a new Small Rebellion and we’d love to have you join us! It’s called The Ugly Treat Initiative, and the instructions are very simple:

Step 1) Make a delicious dessert that also happens to be really, really UGLY.
Step 2) Bring it to work to share.
Step 3) Enjoy laughter and improved morale with your colleagues. (And possibly be awarded a primo parking spot for a month.)
Step 4) Share your stories and pictures at one of the following locations:

You can tackle the mission when it’s most convenient, any time during the week. You can make cookies, cakes, cupcakes, pies, strudels…anything, really. Just make sure it’s sweet and tasty. And butt ugly.

The only other requirement is the sharing part, even if it’s not an official place of employment. Eating an ugly cake alone does not generate much laughter. And please, share this Small Rebellion with friends, families, and mortal enemies. The more the merrier!

Need some inspiration? Try here, here and here.

Color Me Adultitis Free


Fact: it is impossible to have Adultitis while drawing with a marker that is almost six feet long.

The picture above is from an art exhibit called “Color Me _______” at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. It is the brainchild of Andrew Neyer and Andy J. Miller. The artists invited attendees to become collaborators by adding the color to their work. Oh how fun that looks!

I think Crayola needs to make super-sized crayons and markers, stat. I wonder if I could fit a box of 64 in my garage…

YouTube Preview Image

Kites Aren’t Just for Flying Anymore


I’ve written before that one of the BEST parts of being grown-up is having the ability and the know-how to take awesome things from childhood to a new level of awesomeness.


The sweet photos above? No, they were not created by some guy in a small plane or captured with the iPhone of a blimp pilot. They were taken by a camera attached to a kite.

Yes, a freaking kite. You know, that thing kids play with on windy days? In fact, Kite Aerial Photography is a real thing. Google it. [Read more...]

Snapshots From Our First Marathon


Training began about a month ago. Perhaps that wasn’t enough time to prepare, especially if you have a hard time jogging around the block without feeling like you have to hurl. But Kim and I had each other to hold ourselves accountable and, as you can see from the photo above, Kim was all business. [Read more...]