Thursday, 31 October 2013

Tombstone Cupcakes

     I have long acknowledged that I am an over -the- top Mom... o.k. I'm nuts.  I am that Mom that you silently swear at when you send in the bag of chips for your child's class party.  I'm sorry.  I feel that it is fair at this point to admit that it's too much even for me!  I began all of this craziness as the single mother of an only child.  I felt like I had so much to make up to for him.  When his Dad and I got back together I had already set an over- the- top precedent.  I had already fully committed to being "That MOM". Then four more kids came along, and I could hardly stop, since I'd done it for their brother, and then sister, and then brother and sister, well you get it.  

    It is a lot of work being "that MOM".  Last night it was after one o'clock in the morning by the time I finished up the over abundance of little jobs (class treats, sewing millions of halloween costumes that I had procrastinated on...).  It's a lot of work, and at the end of the night there is not a part of my body that does not ache.  There is not a part of my brain that is not screaming "Why do you do this to yourself ?"  In the end the simple answer is that I do it for my kids.  My kid's get a lot of positive attention from both their peers and their teachers, because I am "That MOM".  It makes them feel special that I love them that much.  It makes them feel important that everyone notices.  When they grow up and look back at their childhoods they will be able to shake their heads that their Mom was crazy, but they will hopefully still feel the love of it.  That is why I do it.

    In past years I have gone with over-the-top cakes.  I have done giant spiders, vampires, mummies, witches, you name it.  This year I decided to go easy on myself.  I still wanted maximum impact, but minimal effort.  This year I decided to go with cupcakes.  That sounds simple enough until you think about the numbers, there are 30 in Gracie's class, 26 in Riley and Rowan's Class, and another 20 in Elly's class.  That's 76 cupcakes, 7 trays with 12 cupcakes.  My oven was on most of the evening, and I had the kitchen window cranked open to let in some cool air.  

    I decided to make "Tombstone" cupcakes.  I used lady finger cookies for their shape, but also because they are a soft cookie that would cut, but not crumble.  While my last batch of cupcakes cooled I cut my lady finger cookies into half.  A while back I found this great "Foodwritter" edible colour markers by Wilton.  They work really great!  I used the Wilton markers to write RIP on the top of the halved cookies.

    Normally I make my own butter cream icing for cakes and cupcakes, but this year I decided to save that time and effort and buy tubs of ready made chocolate icing.  I couldn't make the homemade icing for a fraction of the cost that the on sale tub of icing cost.  Not only did it save me money, it saved me time and effort, things that I have to conserve at this busy holiday!

    After the cupcakes had cooled I iced them (did I mention that I iced 84 cupcakes?  I had to fill 7 cupcake trays, so why not make enough to share with the principal, secretaries and their teacher's).  I iced them generously because I needed the extra icing to help the lady finger tombstones stand up, besides, cupcakes taste better with lots of icing. 

    After the cupcakes were iced, and the lady finger put in, I sprinkled cookie crumbs onto the top to look like dirt.  I then placed dollar store bone candies in front of the tombstones.  I have to admit they turned out really well, and were really easy to decorate.

    So now I have a small reprieve from my over- the -top madness, at least until Christmas.  The kids were pleased with their cupcakes, but more importantly their classmates were pleased.  My kitchen still looks like an dirty icing bomb went off, but that's o.k., I can clean it.
    Tonight after we have talked the kids down from their sugar high, and put their Halloween candy up so that the dog won't eat it,  and the little monsters are nicely tucked into their beds, I will collapse.  I may even treat myself to a glass of wine, I deserve it.  

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Halloween Shirts Tie Dye For

    Let me begin by stating that I have never really liked the look of tie dye.  Because I am not a big fan (that is kind of an understatement) of tie dye, I have never tried it.  When we first started dating Christopher had what felt like hundreds of tie die Grateful Dead concert T's.  Over the years they have met with some unfortunate laundry mishaps.  "Oh no, your shirt has a hole in it!  I can't even repair it where it's ripped"  wink.  "Oh no, somehow that stray cat somehow got your Grateful Dead shirt off of the clothes line and has had kittens in it.  I feel so badly" wink.  You get the drift.

    Last year as Gracie's end of the year class project, her grade 6 class all made tie dye t-shirts and signed them.  Her shirt was really cute.  Maybe age was wearing me down, but maybe I don't hate tie dye after all.....

    I decided that it would be fun for the kids to make their own Halloween shirts.  We have done valentines shirts before
This Halloween we would try our hands at tie dye.  For this project I would need help, Youtube help.

    This video was really helpful.  Maybe I could do tie dye.  I decided to jump in with both feet.  Why do easy ordinary tie dye for the first time, heck no.  No, we would do skull heads and pumpkin heads!

    I went to my local craft store and bought white T-shirts on sale, and black dye and orange dye.  Did I mention that I had in addition to never making tie dye, never mixed dye.  In for a penny, in for a pound!
The store had "Tie Dye kits".  The kits included two or three small packages of dye (you did not get much of a colour choice) and a clear plastic bottle, as well as plastic gloves and elastics.  It was great for the beginner, but packed a pretty good price tag of over $20.00... no thanks.  I would just manage the old fashioned way!

    I read and then re-read the dye instructions.  Man that made a lot of dye.  One small package of dry mix when added to boiling water and a quarter cup of salt made a gallon of dye.  For you Canadians, a gallon is the equivalent to a large bucket of paint.  I also learned that it's good that I have lots of wooden spoons, because now I have a jet black one (as well as jet black fingertips.  Ya there's a reason why they suggest using gloves)!

     I had several empty ketchup and mustard dollar store bottles in my cupboard.  I had used them to make fancy letter pancakes for the kids.  They worked great to help control the dye.  With the use of latex gloves, the ketchup bottles and the broiler tray, there was actually minimal mess.  I also had a roll of paper towels sitting right beside us on the kitchen table (the kitchen table that I had covered in plastic).  

    Grace wanted to go old school with her tie dye.  She did not want a skull or pumpkin shape.  She just covered her white T in elastics and dyed each spot.  The little guys wanted skulls and Elly wanted a pumpkin.  We followed the instructions from the video.  I washed the new t-shirts with detergent, but no fabric softener.  I did not dry them, because for tie dye the shirts need to be damp, don't ask me why.  I folded the T-shirt in half, penciled on the face shape, and then pleated the material and put a big elastic on it.  We then rolled the shirts into a spiral and the kids squirted them with dye.  It was surprisingly easy.  The kids all loved it. 

    When the kids had finished their shirts, I carefully put them into a plastic bag and let them sit for 6 hours (like the youtube video said to do).  6 hours later I pulled them out of the bag, just as wet as I had put them in.  I very carefully took the elastics off and marveled at how great they looked!  It was raining that day, so we could not put them outside on the clothesline.  

    I had a stroke of genius (not).  I decided to put the T-shirts on hangers and hang them from the shower rod to dry over night.  Oh in theory this was soooo cleaver.  The reality was they dripped black fabric dye all over my tub, and my "white" shower mat (it's now cow print).  I wonder if bleach will take that out?  

    The next day the shirts were all dry, and we were ready for the next step.  The Youtube video had used the fabric dye to make the faces.  That seemed to risky to me.  Instead I mixed my fabric medium with equal parts of my acrylic craft paint.  I cut stencils out of bristol board for the faces (don't judge me, no one ever said that I was a good artist).

    The kids really loved stenciling on the faces.  It was fun for me to watch the looks of concentration on their faces.  It was also an exercise in restraint on my part not to grab the brush and stencil out of their grubby little hands and do it myself.

    I am really pleased with how well the shirts turned out.  They really are very good, especially given that this was some of our first tries at tie dye.  I was disappointed that the colours had really faded when they dried, but they still looked great.  Next time I will cut the water to dye ratio in half and see if it strengthens the colour.  You notice how I said "next time".  I now want to tie dye everything!  It's really fun.  I think my next project will be to try tie dying with bleach!

    Tie dye was a really fun way to spend a rainy day.  It really wasn't messy like I had feared that it would be.  The results are great!  The kids feel really proud to wear their new shirts, knowing that they designed them.  It was a real win win.  If you find yourself with some time, and some really boring white T-shirts, why not try Tie Dye.

Monday, 28 October 2013

My Deerhurst Tips

    And so it ends, my many days of Deerhurst Resort Blogs have now come to an end.  It was a wonderful vacation, and one we plan to repeat.  I thought I would like to take a minute and act as a tour guide for this great place, and share what we learned.

    I was unsure what to truly expect when we arrived at Deerhurst.  In truth we chose it as our vacation destination out of desperation (man I sound like Dr. Seus).  We had wanted to travel further afield, but car troubles prevented that.  We chose Deerhurst because it was close, and because we could travel through Algonquin Park during the beautiful changing of the fall colours.  When I looked at the website to try to determine what Deerhurst offered, I found it difficult to navigate.        

Our Condo

   The website is written for return visitors.  It makes sense now that I have been there, but before I had been there it was tough to understand.  I have been really raving about our vacation, and a number of my friends now want to book a vacation at Deerhurst, but they said the same thing about the website, they found it difficult to navigate, tough to find the information that they would like to know.  Honestly all of the information that you want to find out is there, you just have to know what you are looking for.  I'm hoping that after reading my blogs, that you will be better able to understand what you are looking at.

The Huge Pool

    The other failing of the company (the website being the first) is their reservations operators.  These operators are a central booking agency based out of Toronto.  They do the booking for all three of Skyline's resorts.  They are not speaking to you directly from Deerhurst.  Originally I called Deerhurst itself and I was told that they would be unable to take my reservation, that I needed to go through the central reservation number.  The operator that I dealt with was very friendly and polite, but she knew as much as I did about the resort.  She was able to look at the facts, but she could not act as a guide.

The Hot Tub

    I think that it would be very helpful for the operators to stay at the each of the resorts that they are telling guests/ perspective guests about.  That way they don't have to look at a screen and tell people, they can speak from experience.  It would also be more helpful if the operator would ask some questions about our stay "I'd like to help you to make the most of your vacation, may I inquire if you are traveling for work or pleasure?"  From there they could find out more about your likes, and make some suggestions.  I would have found that very helpful.  The alternative, or a really nice add on would be to send some activity suggestions via email with the confirmation.  It would be nice to know what is available a head of time.  Knowing ahead of time what is available and what the costs and age limit are would allow a family to budget adequately for their vacation.

The Stables

    This was not an inexpensive vacation, but it was a vacation.  It was an escape from the ordinary, and a deep breath for our souls.  Everything was in one place, and instead of driving miles and miles, we could concentrate our time on our family and push our comfort boundaries.  I was shocked at the price tag for our room.  We have never stayed at a resort, and usually our vacations are very budget minded.  Having said that I would usually spend about $100.00 a night on accommodations.  Normally we would get a room with two queen beds (oh there is a lot of fighting amongst the kids, so and so touched me, so and so is crowding me out... you get the picture).  The maximum number of occupants in most hotel rooms is 4, so we normally sneak two kids in, or spend a little more and get a family suite, which comes at about $30.00 more.  If I think about it, $265.00 (plus resort fees) a night is not terribly unreasonable for what we got.  We saved 20% for the two extra nights because we did not need maid service.  That is slightly more than we would have paid for two hotel rooms, which is the direction that this family of 6 will very soon be taking.  For $265.00 (plus resort fees) we got a condo room.  This allowed the four kids to share two queen sized beds (so much less fighting), and have their own bathroom, with a jacuzzi tub.  It gave Christopher and I a king sized bed (keep in mind that our bed at home is a double), and our own bathroom with a jacuzzi tub.  We had a kitchen, dining area, living room with fireplace, washer and dryer plus a balcony with outdoor furniture which looked out onto the golf course.  This also gave us privileges to use the fitness facility, the indoor beautiful pool with hot tub, and use of the grounds which boasts some beautiful views of the lake with Muskoka chairs ready for you to sit, and hiking trails.  There were almost limitless activities available on at the resort for an additional cost.  We were able to go horse back riding, rented a canoe, the kids went pony riding, rock wall climbing, Christopher had a massage, Christopher and Grace went Tree Top Trekking and the kids all loved the arcade.  All of these, with the exception of the Tree Top Trekking (which was about a minute away) was all on site.  In the summer you can pay to use the splash pad, water ski, rent boats, golf, get golf lessons, do trail rides, pony rides, kids n critters, carriage rides, hummer tours, rock buggy tours, paint ball and Tree Top Trekking.  WOW, that's a lot of activities.  The winter has just about as many activities... you can try dog sledding, cross country skiing, skating, winter paint ball, trail ride, pony ride, kids n critters, as well as snowmobile rentals.  There is also down hill skiing just around the corner.  There are also shows that you can go and see.  The activities are almost limitless!

Eclipse Restaurant

    There are restaurants available right on the resort.  We ate at Eclipse, which was reasonably priced for the restaurant that it was.  I would highly recommend making a reservation.  We walked into the restaurant around 6:30 and there was barely a soul, within minutes the restaurant filled up, almost like stop photography magic.  

When we were at the restaurant some of the meal selections had "additional MAP charge".  I had no idea what a MAP charge was.  I asked our server.  MAP is Modified American Plan, which is a meal plan.  That would have been something that would have been great to know about.  For $70 an adult a day we could have had our dinner which would include a three course meal, and a breakfast.  That would not necessarily have been the way we would have went as a family, but it would be nice to know that is an option.  It would most definitely be something that Christopher and I would have invested in for the two of us.
Heritage Cottage where you rent boats

    Here is another hint that would have been nice to know about before we went to Deerhurst.  There is a Deerhurst Membership.  You pay $99.00 a year and that gets you a night's accommodation, and up to 50% off of your dining.  You also save 20% on spa visits and activities.  For example, Christopher had a massage (he was really impressed with how insightful the massage therapist was.  He came back looking so much calmer and relaxed) for $135.00 for 50 minutes.  With the membership he could have saved $27.00.  As a matter of fact, had we known about the membership we could have saved... $267.15 on this vacation had we known about the preferred membership.  

        The other important thing to do is to check the website for deals.  Look at their packages.  Very often when you look at hotel websites and see their "packages" you shake your head.  Their idea of a "package" is not mine.  When I see "package" this lady who is a cheapskate, wants to see deals.  Most times that is not the case.  When we were looking at Deerhurst, there really were some good packages, we just didn't know it at the time.  We spoke to a really helpful man at one of the front desks and he was so helpful.  He explained to us about the membership, the meal plans and the packages.  One of the packages that they were running at that time was something like get a $50.00 credit with your two night stay.  To me I thought "Why would I want a $50.00 credit, when I don't even know if I'll like the resort and want to come back."  I had assumed that "credit" meant for my next visit.  What "credit" meant was that I could have used that $50.00 towards our meal at Eclipse, or for one of our many activities.  It's also a good idea to sign up for their email promotions.

    One of the most important things that I found about Deerhurst was how amazing their staff was!  Whoever is in charge of hiring the staff, needs a pat on the back.  There was not a single staff member that we met that was not FANTASTIC.  Most notably amazing was Lynn at the recreation desk.  She went above and beyond to do her best to see that our family had the best possible vacation.  Not many people in this world do that.  Everyone we dealt with was friendly and helpful and really made our stay that much better than it already was.

Lynn at the Recreation Desk

    We have been to Deerhurst Resort, and now that we have a taste of it, we want more!  It was an amazing destination.  There was so much to do, or not do if you wanted to just relax.  The staff was amazing.  Now we know how to navigate that difficult website.  Now we want more!  We want to go back this winter.  I am trying to talk my husband into "Twas The Month Before Christmas".  It just seems like so much fun!

Twas the Month Before Christmas

Twas The Month Before Christmas
Packages from $285* per person, per night
Available: November 15, 2013 - November 17, 2013
Join host Karl Lohnes, Chef Michael Smith, Anna & Michael Olson, style guru David Clemmer and other experts for a full weekend of holiday tips, trends, food & fun.  

    I now find myself checking the website once a month to see that kind of specials and packages they have.  It is not an "if" we go back, it's "when" we go back.  It was a wonderful vacation.  We made beautiful memories, and it was all close to home!

The Point
    If you would like to re- read my past blogs about our vacation here they are...

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Deerhurst Stables - Pony Rides

     Our last day at Deerhurst... we were all very sad.  It had been an amazing vacation.  Everyone had been able to pick one activity that they would like to do.... everyone except Elly.  Elly had really wanted to ride a pony.  She was too little to do the trail ride, and the man at the recreation desk had told us that they only did pony rides on the week-ends now.  Elly was being brave, but kept saying that she really wanted to ride a pony.

     The day before we were to leave we gave it one last try.  This time we dealt with Lynn, our angel.  That woman does such an amazing job at her position.  She is a customer service expert and really made us feel like we were valued, and our vacation was important to her.  Lynn works at the recreation desk at Deerhurst.  There were a few things that she pulled some strings for us to do.  I just can't thank her enough for all of her hard work to make this family of 6's vacation the best it could be!  Lynn called down to the stables and she asked if they could do a pony ride.... and they could.  Between Lynn and Casey (from the stables) they made a little blonde girls dreams come true!!!!!  To make it worth their while we had to have three riders... done.  Riley was more than happy to help her little sister out.

Lynn Deerhurst's best resource
        I say "done" like it was easy and everyone was super excited.  The truth is that Rowan was not to keen on the idea.  I gave him the long winded speech about "We come from a long line of horse people".  His response was something like "Well I'm from Daddy's side!"  Finally I reminded him that this vacation was about doing things that we would not normally do, stepping outside of your comfort zone.  When that failed I fell back on the standard "It really doesn't matter if 'you' want to ... YOU'RE GONNA".  

     When we pulled up to the stables, I was craning my neck looking for "my" Titan.  I couldn't see him.  The two little girls were really excited.  Riley was already a horse girl, and Elly was a horse / pony girl in the making.  You could feel the high energy in the car.  Rowan on the other hand looked like he was going to the electric chair.

    When we got out of the car we saw Casey.  She greeted us with a big smile.  There were three ponies all tied to the fence, awaiting their little riders.  The girls face's lit up, Rowan's did not.  Each kid picked a pony.  Elly chose first.  She picked this little fat pony named Buddy.  She fell instantly in love.  Riley went next, and she chose Buddy, again, love.  Rowan chose Twister, not love at first sight, he was still resisting with all his might.

    Casey talked to the kids about the ponies and then they led their ponies out to the small field.

    Every time I looked at the girls they had these big broad grins on their faces.  This was an amazing experience that they couldn't wait to get started on.  Rowan still looked unsure, unhappy, but to his credit, he did it without complaint.

      Casey helped each of the kids mount their pony.  Riley looked a little funny on her pony because her long legs nearly trailed the ground.  Elly sat up there like a royal.  Her back straight, a grin just waiting to burst from her face like sunshine from behind a cloud.  This was what she had wanted, and been so disappointed when she couldn't do it.  This was living up to her expectations.  

    Casey led them around the field, and through obstacles.  They loved it!  I looked over at Rowan, the boy who had not wanted to do this.  He would not do me the satisfaction of a grin, but it was all he could do not to.  He was loving it.  He was doing something that scared him, and found out that it was so amazing.

    When the kids were done their ride (it lasted about half an hour) they got off their pony and led it back to the fence.  Casey then told them how to brush it.  They then went into the barn to get their pony  a treat.  There was an entire stall full of carrots.  The kids were delighted to feed their pony a carrot.

    We were all sad when it was time to go home.  Casey was amazing!  The kids loved their ride, and Rowan discovered that he liked horse back riding (he might look all Lindsay, but maybe he has some Haynes in him after all).  I am pretty sure that if you asked the three youngest kids what their favourite part of the vacation was, they would tell you the pony ride.  Rowan kept saying that he wished that there was a way we could have fit Twister in the back of our van.

     Our vacation was on it's last legs, it was time to drive home.  We most certainly be back. 
 Casey you haven't seen the last of the Lindsays!  We all did things that were outside of our comfort zone.  We pushed our boundaries and were all the better for it.