Disclosure: Some posts on this blog are sponsored, meaning that I received goods, services, or monetary payment for my writing. My opinions however, are not 'purchased' and are always 100% my own. Posts contain affiliate links that I earn a commission on. This disclosure is done in accordance with the FTC 10 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Product Review: Warmies Wipes Warmer

I decided that having cloth diapers isn't as difficult or scary as I thought it would be. It's actually pretty darn easy when it comes right down to it. But when I noticed that I was still going to pay an awful lot of money in baby wipes by the time my littlest is out of diapers, I realized I was going to have to up the stakes a little.

So I tossed my baby wipes package in a corner. I wasn't going to use them unless we were on-the-go. At first, grabbing a baby washcloth to wipe my baby's little hiney seemed like an easy enough idea, but I soon found that I forgot more often than not to bring along a (already wet) washcloth. And the baby washcloths I had were the polyester kind, which kind of had a rubbery feel to them whenever I wiped her down with one.

I figured if it wasn't comfortable for me just to be wiping her with them, it probably wasn't comfortable for her either. I began browsing through the baby washcloth section anytime we went to a store, and pretty soon I found the Warmies wipes by Prince Lionheart. These wipes are perfectly soft and made specifically for wiping a baby's bum. They come eight to a pack for around $10. Considering that I pay around that much for disposable wipes that last me a month, buying two packs of warmies that will last me a year is a pretty good investment.

I had the perfect reusable wipes now, but it was still annoying to have to remember to wet them each time I wanted to change the baby. It got to the point where I'd have to gather the baby up (half-naked with poo clinging to her booty) while I ran to the bathroom to wet the cloth. This went on until the day that she decided to poop in my arms and it literally sprayed everywhere... on the floor, the wall, a table, me... But rather than give up, I decided to invest a little more money into this reusable wipes adventure.

Apparently, we have really come far in the conveniences available for parents who want to go green and save money: There is a warmer you can buy that keeps the wipes warm and moist for you all the time. When I first saw it, I laughed. I thought that it was a waste of money since I could put my own wipes under the faucet and wait for them to get warm. But I certainly wasn't laughing while I was scrubbing poop out of the floor tiles.

Suddenly this little contraption seemed worth the money I would have to spend for it. I still cringed at the price tag. For heating and moisturizing convenience you'll have to shell out about $30. If you plan correctly though, you can get the warmer for about 20% less than that if you have a ToysRUs coupon (I almost always get one when I go through the line at checkout).

The warmer comes with different "recipes" you can use on your baby wipes to give them the same cleaning or soothing properties you would find with commercial wipes. I especially like the recipe for the aloe vera wipes. And although the warmer doesn't come with a spray bottle to put the cleaning solution in, I found that a rinsed out ketchup or dish soap bottle works perfectly for this.

The Warmies warmer has become something that I can't live without, so I hope you'll consider buying one. I have to say, whoever came up with this product deserves the money that they're making off of it because I love mine and it is so worth it.

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, and as always, my opinions are purely my own.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Restaurant Review: Tijuana Flats

Recently my husband and I decided to throw a little competition amongst friends to see who could go the longest without drinking anything after eating a super-spicy hot sauce. We thought it would be easy to find a restaurant with taste-bud-burning dishes (since we DO live in South Florida), but it was a lot harder than you would think. Apparently restaurants aren't exactly too excited to have their patrons screaming and hopping about as they desperately beg for milk. Because of this, we had to opt for buying a hot sauce of our own, which we hope to try on some tacos at The Treasure Trove in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow night.

Short on time, we started to browse the internet to see where we could have a super-hot sauce overnighted from, when we realized that there was a restaurant selling some dangerously heated sauces just a few miles from us.

The restaurant, called +Tijuana Flats, turned out to be a strange cross between a Panera Bread and a Chipotle. And when I say strange, I mean that it reminds me of being in a high-schooler's bedroom - if that highschooler is into demons and black-light paint that is. The decor was more than a little off-putting when I first came into the restaurant, but I was quickly greeted by a nice hostess who showed me how their ordering process worked and gave me the details on their "hot bar" where several sauces were available for patrons to put on their food.

I decided to place an order after all, especially given the fact that I had my son with me, and he was convinced that being at a restaurant meant we were going to eat. Plus it was Wednesday, which is apparently their "Kids Eat Free" night, although I found myself wondering if this was the type of place I would ever usually take my kids. Be warned if you do decide to go with your children, there are some pretty vividly drawn demonic figures throughout the restaurant, and the names of the hot sauces on the hot bar (which could easily be read by anyone sitting nearby) have phrases like "Chicken Shit" and "Slap My Ass" on them - not something I'd care for my kids to see. Luckily, my son can't read most words yet, so I didn't have to worry about any surprise repeats or questions later.

I got something called a Bangin' Chicken burrito, which was amazingly good despite the quickie-food appearance at the restaurant. I was expecting something slightly better than Taco Bell, but this turned out to be one of the best burritos I'd ever had! I was disappointed in my son's meal, which was chicken tenders. The nuggets were sad-looking, not very juicy, and came with ketchup packets for dipping sauce. Both meals came with chips on the side, which were the average restaurant chips, but there was nothing to dip them in. They were a bit too bland and dry to eat on their own, so we passed on them. If you're going to eat here and plan on having chips & dip, you'll have to buy the dip off the menu.
In the end, this is a place I wouldn't mind eating at again, but I would certainly make sure that I didn't have my kids with me. Although I saw kids in the restaurant, it didn't seem too kid-friendly. The Hot Bar even has warnings posted that children are not allowed up at the bar, most likely because some of the sauces there are hot enough that they could do damage to a child's fragile stomach. This does seem like an awesome place to go with friends though, and my meal was delicious. So if I return it will be for the wonderfully tasty burrito, and to impress my friends with my find. Who ever said that you stopped being cool after you had kids?
For locations, please visit Tijuana Flats' website at www.tijuanaflats.com.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Attention South Florida Mommies!

For the locals:

I'm forming a mom's group in the Fort Lauderdale area. We will be testing out samples, reviewing new products that make life easier on moms, getting together for playdates, and (of course) attending special mommy-only activities so that we can have an hour or two to ourselves!

If you live near Fort Lauderdale and this sounds like an opportunity you would be interested in, please email FLmomsgroup@masterofmom.com for more details!

Tonight we are heading out to the +Food Truck Invasion at Plantation Heritage Park in Plantation, FL. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Econobum Cloth Diapers

When the second baby came along, I got really into cloth diapers. I've seen a wide variety at this point, and they all seem to have their own perks and drawbacks. Some are similar, but no two seem to be the same as far as quality and absorbency. One of them that really got my attention was the Econobum diaper. This diaper has it all: great absorbency, a leak-proof cover, ease of use, an affordable price, and the diapers are adjustable so I won't have to buy a new size when baby gets bigger.

The problems I have with it? The diapers are still pre-folds, which I find a lot harder to take on the road. Diaper changes aren't as fast as with the ones with the liners and plastic pouches that snap in and out. And because the fancier diaper covers have a plastic pouch that protects them from baby's messes, you can use the same cover for a few changes and just change out the pouches. With this diaper you get three pre-folds, but one messy diaper can get onto the cover (although it won't get out of the cover!) and you'll have to toss it in the wash without being able to use it again, which means in the end you have to buy extra diaper covers just to be safe. I have found out though (from repeated washings) that this cover not only retains its original shape and springy-ness, but it doesn't stain easily. Months of use, and mine is still white!

All things considered though, this item makes for a fierce competitor in the cloth diaper market. And because the absence of the pouches makes the diaper cheaper to manufacture, it's hard to pass it by on a sheer cost basis. As far as quality goes, I was really very impressed. I thought that because the diaper was cheaper that the fabric wouldn't be as good, or that the diaper cover would leak. But this is one of those rare times when the cheaper item turns out to be one of the more superior. The diaper can be purchased in a trial pack from Walmart.com for around $11, and shipping to get it to your house is only 97 cents.

I have to warn you though, if you search for this diaper multiple times, your cost will go up on the Walmart website. Walmart is one of those companies that looks for cookies to see what you are interested in buying (or have bought) and will then make the price go up. I purchased this item for $11.95 a couple of weeks ago, and now when I search for it the cost has gone up to almost $14. Unfortunately, like with most cloth diapers, this item isn't available in stores, so you will have to wait for it to come in the mail. I personally love to shop online, but hate waiting for my items to arrive as I'm a very instant-gratification sort of person. If +Walmart were to start putting this item in stores, that would probably be enough to push this diaper into first place on my list. In the meantime though, I suggest shopping with a different, smaller company which isn't likely to price-gouge. The only benefit to ordering through Walmart is the cheap shipping, but if they start to raise the price on you (like they did with me), I suggest trying someplace like Nell's Natural Baby. This site has the same trial pack, but the price won't go up just because you put "Econobum" into your search engine a few times.

You can find out more about Econobum and where you can purchase their products by visiting their website at www.econobum.com. You can also connect with them on their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, and as always, my opinions are purely my own.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Time for cleaning out some toys!

Today I got fed up with the million train track parts, lonely puzzle pieces, plastic animals and rubber balls that were just randomly stuffed into my son's toy area. At one point, I remember I could fit all of his toys into a tiny basket. But then we had to buy a great big basket... and then an entire piece of furniture from +IKEA. I can't really point a finger since me and my four brothers and three sisters had an entire room stuffed full of toys by the time I left the house. My kids are blessed to have loving relatives surrounding them all the time, but that means the toy pile (and the clutter) increases that much faster.

With the help of some plastic garbage bags and a lot of coffee, I began to tackle my son's toy area. Grandma took him out of the house for the afternoon (so he wouldn't think I was meanly throwing his things away) and I quickly found myself looking at some of the toys he'd acquired for the very first time. Now don't get me wrong, I look at most of the stuff, I smile, I say thank you to the giver. But sometimes he's given things that I never have the chance to see before he "puts it away" and it gets lost to the light of day. Incredibly, I found a Super Bowl VIII bear that looks like it has never been touched and found myself wondering how old it was (could it have been made as a set post-1974?), and how many were made (was I sitting on a rare find?).

That got me to thinking how so many people out there who haven't bothered to clean their kid's toy area for a while may have valuable vintage items in their homes, and don't even know about it! Sometimes when older people give toys to children, they aren't just giving them a new toy, they are giving them something that their kids used to play with. But if there are no kids in the house, they don't see a reason to hold onto it, so they give it away. Sometimes these toys are worth a lot of money (sometimes they are just worth a lot in the sentimental department), so next time you go to clean out & donate your children's toys, really take a look at what you are throwing in that bag. I actually had this item in the donation bag (my son never played with it) when I happened to actually read the front of the shirt. I thought it was just a bear wearing a Dolphins outfit.

 All in all, today was so tiring, but so worth it. I have a bear that is possibly worth some money, my son's toys are clean, my house is clean (at least until he gets back with grandma), and I can take three entire garbage bags of toys out of my house and give them to Goodwill. Donating is a great thing to do when you are cleaning out your house. Toys are one of those things that don't usually re-sell well at garage sales, and for the few bucks you will make at your garage sale, you are better off letting Goodwill make those dollars and knowing that you helped out. Plus, donations are tax-exempt, and they will gladly give you a receipt with the approximate value of your donation if you bring your items directly to the store.

 And as an extra bonus for me, the baby fell asleep while watching me sort through everything, and when I was done I had a glass of wine and a few minutes of sanity to myself.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Have you heard of Prince Lionheart?

I used to think that Prince Lionheart was that lion from the CareBears cartoon series, but about a year ago I realized it was actually a brand for a line of cool baby & toddler items. I now own several of their products, and I've never been disappointed with any of them. Three of my favorites are actually shown in the picture at the right: the Multi-Use CatchALL (a must-have for meals and arts & crafts time), the Warmies Wipes Warmer, and of course, the ever-so-soft Warmies themselves. (You can check out my review of the Warmies & the Wipes Warmer here.) I've really fallen in love with this company and their products over the past year, and I have to say that my favorite thing about them is that their products are always genuinely useful. Sure, everyone loves the random frivolous this-or-that for baby's nursery, but I love them even more when they make my life easier! The next item on my list to grab is a seatNEAT, which is basically a chair cover that you put under baby's feeding booster-seat. Our little lady is a very messy eater, and I'm getting tired of finding crusty cheerios and mystery goo stuck to the cushion.

Want to know more about Prince Lionheart? You can find them (and their full product guide) on their website at www.princelionheart.com. Pick your country to enter the site and see the list of items available. You can also connect with them through social media on Facebook or Twitter.

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, and as always, my opinions are purely my own.

(The giveaway that was associated with this post has expired, please check out our giveaways tab for a list of available contests! Congratulations to Katie R., who was our winner.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

(Expired) Extra Giveaway on TheLinkFairy.com!

The giveaway below has ended, but that doesn't mean that you can't check out some of the giveaways that are currently running! Check out our giveaways page for information on what contests are going on now!

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(Expired) Hey guys, check out thelinkfairy.com to enter into their giveaway! They are giving away winner's choice of three great prizes: $250 Amazon gift card, Kindle Fire, or a Tabeo Tablet! Entering is easy, just follow the link to their website and enter via the rafflecopter widget on their page!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We'll be back up tomorrow!


Tomorrow is the last day of electrical repairs! We ended up needing to replace our old system completely, and we have been without regular power for much longer than I would have liked. But it has made me realize that electric is something I've been taking for granted. The situation reminds me of a refrigerator magnet that my great-grandma had that said "Thank God for dirty dishes, they mean that you've been fed". Next time I go to complain about that utility bill, I think I'll just be thankful that when I flipped the switch, a light came on. I can definitely say that I'm willing to pay a few dollars a day if it means I won't have to use the bathroom by the light of a candle!

I've had a long week, plenty of time to come up with some great ideas for the blog (although no technology to write about them), and I expect next week to be a great one! Tomorrow I should be up and running as usual, and I can't wait to share some of my new ideas and reviews on the products I've been testing out. Have a great night, we'll be back up tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Relationship Maintenance: Cut the Lights

Well, day four (or is it five?) of the electrical craziness in our house. Unfortunately the power went off permanently yesterday afternoon in half of our house, and repairs are going to be pretty expensive! I'm actually writing this only because I have an extension cord running all the way through the house to my computer. As it turns out though, being forced to "unplug" has not been all that bad.

I've talked before about relationship maintenance and how you can think of it like a car. It doesn't matter how nice your car is, if you don't change the oil now and again, it's going to break down. Relationships are just like that. People don't start their marriages saying "I could have done better" or "This just isn't working out" (hopefully anyways!)... They start them out with promises of love forever. They start them with adoration for one another and the belief that all is well and right in their world and their partner. Fast forward a few years though, and you'll be hard-pressed to find any couples that still have that new-car smell on their love-life, especially if the couple happens to have children or demanding jobs.

There's nothing wrong with losing the honeymooner attitude in a marriage, most couples prefer the deeper, long-lasting love that comes with years of being together. But in this day and age it's getting harder to accomplish that "forever" type of love because it's getting harder to stay together. The causes for this are endless, I could name lots of them off the top of my head, but so could just about everyone else. One cause that a lot of people might name though, would be technology. Now I'm not about to say that technology is evil and that we should all shun it, but I certainly think that it plays its part in calling our attention away from our partners. Last night for me was an excellent wake-up call.

My first thought (after I got over the initial disappointment of not being able to microwave a snack for myself), was "Wow, what am I going to do for the rest of my night?" My husband and I sat around for at least an hour, trying to think of anything that we could do that didn't use electricity. We thought of the obvious thing couples do when the lights go out... but with kids and the rest of our family still awake, that was definitely not an option. It was hard to think of anything to do that didn't involve something with an electric cord, but by the end of the day, we'd had ourselves a great night. Not only did we find things to do that were fun, the things we did made us feel young again - most likely because they were things that we would have done while dating. So here they are, in no particular order:

We watched a movie together on a smartphone. No, we wouldn't have watched a movie on a smartphone ten years ago... but young people on dates tend to sit so close together that they're practically sitting on top of one another. Well, to see the screen on the phone, we pretty much had to do the same thing. So there we were, squished together in the dark watching one of our favorite movies. Sound vaguely familiar? It made me feel like I was on a high-school date (except my dad didn't come in to tell me he wanted the lights on and five inches between me and my guy)!

We went to the store and bought junk-food together. We could only use the stovetop to cook dinner since it was gas, so we had ourselves a college hotplate type of dinner. Ramen noodles anyone? I know they aren't healthy, but they go great with some veggies and canned chicken fried up in a wok with soy sauce and garlic. Dinner was (of course) by candlelight.

We went cruising. That's right. Cruising. Just like before gas became more expensive than groceries. Now with the economy like it is, you might not want to go cruising too far, but there's nothing wrong with taking the car out for a ten-minute spin while you listen to your favorite songs. I don't know what it is about driving at night without a place in mind, but it sure is fun.

We talked about things we have mentioned to each other in forever - like our shared love of writing, which is essentially what we became friends over in the first place. We swapped ideas back and forth, got excited over plot lines (for that book we'll always talk about someday writing), and even considered starting back up a group we had that wrote short scenarios together.

It was an amazing night. I thought I would be bored to tears without the electric on, but I now find myself full of ideas of what else my husband and I can do together. (It's a good thing too since the electric will probably not be fixed for a few more days!) So if your relationship has fallen into a comfortable pattern, shake it up a little bit tonight or tomorrow. Shut the breaker box off for a few hours and tell your sweetie it's all about them. You might just have so much fun that a power outage will be something to look forward to!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Attention Chocolate Lovers...

This past weekend I was lucky enough to be shopping at the Home Goods store near me when I spotted a bag of my favorite treat: chocolate-covered espresso beans. The location I shop at always has a multitude of fancy chocolate covered this or that and anything sweet I've tried out there before has been "okay" (good enough to eat but not good enough to chase after). I've never been a huge lover of sweets, so when I buy something on a whim, I don't expect to fall in love with it. And I have definitely never been a chocolate craver. It's tasty, but not so much that I'm willing to put on an extra pound or two over it.

So at the risk of tempting you all to ruin your New Year's diets (for any of those that actually made it this long!), I have to say: The chocolates that I picked up were nothing short of spectacular. It had a wonderful smooth taste with just the right amount of sweet and melted away in my mouth. The company (which I've never heard of before) is called Dilettante, and if it wasn't for the fact that I love all things coffee and coffee-related, I never would have looked twice at the bag. I devoured the chocolate-covered beans in no time and then went back to the store to hunt through the racks for another bag. I found one more (whew!) wedged behind some fancy-looking trail mix and took it home (to share this time).

The particular chocolates I got come in a variety, so my husband eats the dark (his favorite) and milk chocolates, and I call dibs on the white and marbled ones. They were all so delicious, I knew I was going to want more, but I didn't know where else they would be sold! I did some looking around and found out that I could order the chocolates online (in bulk even) directly from the Washington-based company that makes them. Needless to say, when we run out of these ones, we'll be buying more... possibly the three-pound bag.

I know that this isn't the most helpful posting today (I'm probably making several of you crave chocolate right now), but I was so impressed by these that I had to say something. So if you love chocolate (or even if you're not too crazy about it like me) take a look at www.dilettante.com. They have a wide assortment of chocolate-covered deliciousness, not to mention specialty coffees, gift baskets, cookies, truffles, sauces, etc... I just wish I'd found out about this prior to Valentine's Day!

Espresso Beans - Dilettante Blend - 5oz Pouch

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Electrical Troubles, Day 2

Our electrical repairman had to reschedule for tomorrow, so I decided to do some investigating of my own in the meantime. Apparently, the reason that power is only going out and then spontaneously coming back in half of the house is because half is wired to an updated breaker box and the other half is on an old fuse system! I hope we'll be able to do a simple repair, I can only imagine the cost if we have to get all of our wiring transferred to the newer box!!

Until tomorrow, all I can do is wait it out and cross my fingers that it won't be a large repair. At least the power stays on for an hour or so at a time. Not enough time to get any real work done, but enough time to at least check email or pop something in the microwave. Sadly, even the microwave is one of our "brown-out" appliances right now. (Along with the fridge, tv, oven... all the good ones!) This is turning into quite the interesting weekend.

I know I'm not the only one that has experienced a rough spot due to something on the fritz. What is the worst home-repair nightmare you've had?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A quick note!

Well for some reason our power keeps going on and off. It's only half of the house, but it's the half that my computer is connected to, so I'm having some difficulty getting my posts done today. On the plus side, I did find a new site that is perfect for finding a repair-person: www.thumbtack.com

This site let me put in specifically what I was looking for, along with information about the problem I was having, and then sent my information out to electricians nearby that could handle my problem. They all sent me back quotes and information about themselves and I was able to pick the one I liked best. It was so much easier than browsing through the internet on my phone, calling them all up one by one, making lists, etc. So we have a guy coming out to take a look tomorrow, and hopefully we'll be up and running like normal by Monday. If I don't post tomorrow, it's not because I took a day off, it's because the power won't stay on long enough for me to write anything, and writing on my smart-phone is difficult!

Thanks for understanding!

- Alicia

Friday, February 15, 2013

(Expired) $50 LongHorn Steakhouse Gift Card Giveaway!

This giveaway is over, but that doesn't mean that you don't still have a shot at winning a great prize! Check out our giveaways page to see what contests are currently going on now! Click here to go straight there!

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This giveaway is now closed. The giveaway ended on 2/22/13 and Liza G. was selected as the random winner! Congrats Liza!

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(Expired) I am doing another giveaway! This time the prize is a $50 LongHorn Steakhouse gift card. After going back and re-reviewing their restaurant, I decided that this steakhouse was well worth the money spent. Because this is February (Valentine's month) I thought this prize would be perfect for getting a private dinner together if you're part of a couple, but just as great if you're single! You can head out with a friend to kick back over drinks or maybe even invite that romantic interest you've been meaning to talk to...

There are three ways to enter this time, each selection will get you an additional entry into the giveaway! Use the Rafflecopter giveaway-widget at the right-hand side of the page to get started!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

I tend to be one of those people who views Valentine's as "just a day". When I was younger, I was extremely shy at school and this was one of those holidays with a slew of social situations bound to make me feel even more awkward. As I grew older that went away, and I looked forward to my Valentine's dates with a girlish view on romance. When I got even older though (had kids, got married) all of that seemed to change. It suddenly became less important to have one romantic evening and more important to show my husband love on a daily basis.

It can be a challenge to love the same person day in and day out, and when that puppy-eyed "in love" feeling goes away, the quieter constant love is the one that will pull you through the tough stuff. My husband and I try to make sure the other knows we care about them every day, even if we have a fight, even if we're annoying the other, even if we can't agree on what to do with the kids or where to spend the money for the month. For us, every day is about making the other feel appreciated - even if it's a gesture as small as a smile as we pass one another.

So this Valentine's was simple. We went to brunch (with our kids), I got him a basket full of his favorite treats that I'd picked out at the store (stuff like beef jerky and a chocolate bar) and he put a new video card in my computer. At the end of the afternoon, he glanced at me and said "Oh yeah, happy Valentine's day." It was no where near what I would have called romantic in my younger days, but I'm not after Hollywood-movie-love anymore either.

Today was exhausting for us both, and when we go to sleep tonight we'll probably just fall asleep right away. But before we do, we'll say "I love you", remind the other that we couldn't live without them and fall asleep holding hands, just like we do every night, even if we've had a rough day together. And with romance like that, who needs Valentine's Day?

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Because this month does lend itself to being romantic, I will be doing a restaurant gift card giveaway tomorrow, perfect for a couple's night out on the town. Be on the lookout, and Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Toddler Outings: The Library

Yesterday I outlined the reasons that the library is great for adults, but I also wanted to point out that going to the library makes a great outing for children - especially toddlers. Now you might not think of the library as a place you want to take a loud, wiggly toddler, but it actually works out a lot better than you'd imagine.

The toddler age is a tricky one, mainly because they are intelligent enough to grasp the idea of making their own decisions, but can't quite see the big picture enough to comprehend cause and effect. And unfortunately for them, most of the 'by myself' stuff that they want to do are things they've seen you doing - plugging in the vacuum cleaner, pushing the toast button down, turning on the oven... And since the stuff they are doing isn't exactly safe for a toddler to be doing alone, they hear the word 'no' frequently. That's why I try to find outings that will allow my toddler to make some decisions, places that I won't have to say no to him. I want my little guy to feel like his decisions matter, and to know that he can get his way sometimes.

So when we go to the library together, it's all about him: He will 'lead' us from the parking lot, down the sidewalk and into the library. I hand him his library card after we get inside and he takes his time tucking it away in his pants pocket. Because he knows where the children's section is, he navigates us through the library (he doesn't even have to hold my hand inside!). The books for kids his age are down low on tables that are just right for him to look through. I follow him dutifully as he selects books for me to carry - I'm just his helper here! If he wants to stay and read for a while, we stay. He finds a beanbag or sits at one of the little art tables to do some coloring.

Sometimes we go exploring in the children's movie section. He picks a couple of movies before starting up a conversation about sharks with a little girl standing near us. Now it's time to leave. Before we go, he picks up a flyer and a couple of free bookmarks. I don't mind, this is his time. He heads to the check-out desk and takes his library card from his jeans pocket. He fills very important as he 'pays' for his books. When they hand him his card back, he gives it to me for safekeeping. We go back to the car hand-in-hand while he tells me about the books he got. My little guy is usually so tuckered out from this that he falls asleep on the way home, and I have myself a quiet cup of coffee in the kitchen while he naps.

I couldn't ask for a better outing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Are libraries really still necessary?

Yes. Libraries are necessary. As a matter of fact, if you aren't going to the library at least once a week, you are missing out on vast opportunities to not only educationally improve your life, but save yourself a lot of money too. Few of us really think of the library anymore as anything other than a quiet place that people in school go to study. With the introduction of online books and media (and a computer in nearly every home), the reasons for going to the library seem fewer and fewer each year. But the library is still an un-matchable force of information for a few very good reasons:

1. You don't have to pay for the books you want to read at the library, and they get new ones a lot more often than you would think.

2. Most libraries are a part of a bigger team or co-op of libraries that can borrow from one another. If they don't have the book you are looking for, they can have it sent to their location and held for you. For free. (Try getting a Kindle to do that.)

3. They have movies that are free to borrow. Quite the selection of them actually. It's like a mini Blockbuster in the library that we frequent, and it isn't hard to find the movies I want.

4. They have video games to rent. On every platform. For free. Free.

5. Almost all libraries have a system where you can 'check-out' a computer for an hour or longer. If you don't have a printer, copier, or scanner, you can use their machines (usually for a small cost) and get all your work done in one easy place.

6. They can improve your social life and be a great source of networking. 'Networking' is just a term to describe having a large group of people you know that can provide you with more life opportunities. If you are having trouble meeting people with your same interests to hang out with (who doesn't these days?), then head to the library.

7. The library has tons of events each year (most are free or only a few dollars) that can improve your social calendar and intelligence. As a bonus, people who are continually learning and people with enriching events on their social calendars have a higher quality of life, which leads to general overall happiness. For example, the library near me has a Dr. Seuss get-together for the younger children, and a brunch next month for adults (just $15). Going to brunch at the library? Sounds like something out of a movie, count me in!

If the library you've been going to doesn't have these options, it could be that they are just a smaller library. Ask the front desk what bigger libraries they are associated with, and what they are able to have sent to their location. If they aren't part of a process like that, ask them if they know of a bigger library nearby that has the sort of things you are referring to. Chances are that they will know exactly where to point you.

So before you drive to the Redbox and feed it another dollar, or before you hit 'Buy' to grab another story on your e-Reader... check out the library. They might already have what you're looking for (and more) for free.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How do you play with a Newborn?

Newborns are funny things. They sleep a lot, smile for no apparent reason, always want to eat when they're awake and don't really seem too interested in all those toys you bought. So when I went to leave for a doctor appointment a couple weeks ago and my husband was helplessly asking, "What do I do with her if she wakes up?", my response was a shrug and a pretty vague answer: "You know, you just do baby things. Things that babies like." Now I know that this is a awfully bad answer, especially to give my poor husband, but I was running late and didn't have time to go into all the wonderful things that you can do with a baby this small.

Babies don't have a very good attention span, and they are over-stimulated easily, so the best games are small and simple ones that don't have constant noise or too many different objects. Flash carding your little one their ABC's may seem like a good idea, but the constant flipping is likely to make them fussy. A few letters might be fine, but if you plan on running through the whole alphabet, you're going to overstimulate, and that leads to crying. Here are just a few games that anyone can play:

Draw-A-Letter: This is a good one for if your baby can hold their head up. Put the baby on your lap and sit at a table. Show them how you draw a letter with one hand. Talk about the letter in quiet tones as you draw it slowly. Is it a big letter? What part of the alphabet is it in? What sorts of words start with this letter? Is it a letter in someone's name? Let the baby grab the crayon you drew it with. She or he won't start drawing for a while, but it gives them something to curl their little fingers around while you hold the letter up for them to view and continue talking about it.

Songs: Baby will listen to you sing for a long time if you are willing to sing. Babies love the sound of their parents' voices and the soothing tones of a song may even lull them back to sleep. Try to pick a "set" of songs that you will always sing. For my children I sing the ABC song, followed by Jesus Loves Me, then Silver & Gold. When my son got older and would fuss while we were in public, I would always sing them very softly in his ear and he would quiet down immediately, so this is one of those "games" that has long-term benefits.

Reading: Now I have actually read a study that reading to a newborn will increase their intelligence as they grow older. I did this with one of my younger brothers, who is testing at the true genius level, and with my son, who has been speaking about marine life in terms like "orca" or "bottlenose" since he was one. This doesn't guarantee that it works of course, but it does provide quiet stimulation for baby while allowing them to hear your voice, which they love. And if it does work and you end up with a brilliant child on your hands, you won't be sorry! (Until they outsmart you that is.) Baby won't pay attention to this game for very long of course, and may even fall asleep! When they become disinterested, move to a different game or see if they are ready for a nap.

Rhythym Game: Play a song and clap your baby's hands together on the beats. Baby's hands probably won't open, but you can move them towards each other all the same. Sing along with the music and smile at your baby while you do this. Babies love to look into mommy or daddy's eyes, so this face to face time is a treat for them!

Silly Faces: Watch your baby and the faces he or she makes. As your baby makes faces, change your face so that you are making the same ones. If your baby puckers her lips, pucker yours. If he hiccups, fake a hiccup. Mirroring your baby will not only entertain them, it will help them with learning to control their own facial expressions. Be sure to throw in lots of funny sounds and smiles!

Tummy Time: This seems like a no-brainer, but many parents don't bother to put their child down when trying to entertain them. Baby needs time on his tummy to learn to hold his head up and push around with his feet. These are the pre-cursors to being able to scoot and roll, which is something that all parents want to see their babies do at some point! While I don't advise doing these activities to "speed up" baby's development (all babies develop on their own sweet time), I do recommend doing them to help baby build the muscles she needs to be able to attempt the activities when she's good and ready.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Calling all shoppers...

I was out shopping yesterday - something I hate to do on the weekends since it is so very crowded - when out of nowhere I heard: "What the hell is wrong with you?!?"

I turned around to see a young girl, no more than fourteen or fifteen, yelling at a much younger (4, 5?) girl that I assume to be her sister. As I watched her continue to berate the child to tears, I was speechless for two reasons: One, no one else seemed to be bothered by this despite the fact that I was at a BabiesRUs, and the store was packed. Two, children who are that aggressive at such a young age should never be given charge of a smaller child. Where was their mother?

I thought about stepping in and saying something, but the girl was gone before I could even begin to think of something to say that would diffuse the situation without making it worse. I felt dirty for the rest of my shopping trip, like I'd witnessed something out of a movie where the little child crying needs help and everyone is too worried about "offending" the parents to do something about it.

But what bothered me even more was the lack of shock from everyone else. There were a ton of mothers around that could have been thinking the same as me, but they didn't even flinch or turn to look in the direction of the girls. Is this how things are nowadays? Am I now considered "old-fashioned" to still have concern, or is it that everyone else is just de-sensitized to the angry words and swearing being used by children? Perhaps it is just me, but few things disturb me quite so much as seeing a child who speaks as crudely as a trucker, especially when their parents condone the behavior!

What does everyone else think?

**************************

I did find out something helpful while I was at the store: Any items at BabiesRUs or ToysRUs that have an "8" at the end of the price (ex: $17.98) are items that are going to be discontinued! So if you are buying a set of something and just buying the pieces as you need them, buy them sooner if the last number in the price is an "8" - they might not be there for long!!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Like a Chef - Homemade Guacamole & Chips

Have you ever been sitting around watching a show where the person being interviewed is a chef? They almost always mention how they have some fancy snack they like to "whip up" when guests come over. In the average world however (for those of us who don't have our own tv show or cookware line), we don't exactly have on hand the ingredients needed to make chicken liver paté or bacon-wrapped apricots. (And those don't exactly sound appetizing to the average person either!)

But don't worry, there are some recipes out there for us regular people that will still leave our friends in awe of our kitchen skills without us having to spend a ton of time or money.

One of my favorite recipes that makes me feel "like a chef" is homemade guacamole and homemade tortilla chips. It's so easy to do that I almost feel guilty when people compliment me on it. If you are doing this to feed more than four or five people, I would suggest making a double or triple batch since you will run out very quickly. When I make these they are usually gone in five minutes - that's a sign of a good recipe!

What you need:

6 medium (ripe) avocados
1 yellow onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 can diced tomatoes
1 jalepeno
1-16oz package corn tortillas
garlic powder
olive oil
salt

I had to put my video demonstration into part one and part two so that I could grab the baby really quick. I'll probably edit all of my videos eventually after I get video software, but until then, you'll have to watch it as a two-parter. Sorry!

Part One:

Part Two:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Getting Through a Car Accident

If you've ever been in an vehicle accident, you know that there are any number of things that can make life harder for you in the days that follow. If you've ever been injured because of one, life isn't just harder, it is changed completely.

A few months ago my husband and I were hit by a woman who was driving horizontally across traffic to try and make it through a green turn signal light. Not only was what she was doing illegal, it was also incredibly dangerous since she couldn't see through the lines of cars to whoever was driving on the turn lane. That's where we were at when she hit the side of our vehicle.

Fortunately for us, my husband and I both knew people who had been in accidents before, and we knew what to do to get our car and everything else straightened out in record time. Unfortunately, we'd never gotten any advice on what to do to take care of ourselves physically after an accident, and my health suffered because of it. I was pregnant at the time, and because I am one of those people that doesn't want to take what isn't mine, I passed on going to the hospital for a medical check-up. I didn't want to make the insurance companies pay for something if they didn't have to. That was a big mistake.

Long story short, I had increasingly severe pain in my pelvis and back over the next few weeks, and it took me a while to get it diagnosed since I didn't have a proper healthcare provider at the time. It seemed like such a small accident when it happened, I couldn't believe that something that looked so minor had caused so much trouble! Pregnant women actually are at a higher risk of injury not just because of the delicacy of pregnancy, but also because the the looseness of their muscles can cause serious problems when they are jarred in a crash.

But it doesn't have to be difficult to get the help you need, and you don't have to go to court and fight endlessly for your insurance company to pay for your car repair or anything else. Here's how to make sure that if you are ever in an accident, your only worries are feeling better and arranging your rides to work for a few days:

1. Always keep an unexpired "throw-away" flash camera in your glove compartment, along with a tape measure, pen and yellow wax crayon. Don't rely on your cell-phone to take pictures of the accident for you. Digital photos aren't always accepted in court since they can be altered, but 35 mm film is much harder to argue with! Use the tape measure to make exact measurements, and the crayon to mark surfaces like your car or the roadways with notations before you take your pictures.

2. Print out and always keep a couple copies of a Motor Vehicle Accident Statement of Facts. The first page of the one found here is an excellent example of a statement, and covers all the information your insurance company and/or lawyer will want to know. Make sure to make yourself a copy before you send it off to anyone!

3. As soon as you are in an accident, call 911! Even if no one is seriously injured, request a police officer to come to the scene, especially if the other driver was doing something illegal. Next call your insurance company.

4. Do not admit fault of any sort, even if you were at fault. Let the professionals sort that out. If you allude to fault in the least, the other person may take you to court - even if you weren't really at fault or they were as much to blame as you were!

5. Take a few pictures of the accident scene before you move your vehicles. Take pictures after as well. If you are unable to do this due to injury, ask a nearby witness to do it for you.

6. Take names, addresses and phone numbers for anyone who stops to help, especially if there has been an injury. Their testimony could be invaluable down the road if you end up in court.

7. Fill out the vehicle statement of facts and have the other driver sign it. If they refuse to sign it, have a witness sign the paper if you have one. Don't throw away the statement if you can't get anyone to sign it. This is an excellent piece of evidence with or without a signature since it shows the facts while they are fresh in your mind. It's a lot harder to think back and recall something than you might imagine, especially if your insurance company or a lawyer requests information.

8. If the person in the other vehicle was doing something illegal, request the police officer to ticket them. Some states (Florida included) have no-fault laws for car accidents. This means that if you were in an accident and it truly wasn't your fault, your insurance company can still raise your insurance since "no-fault" pretty much translates into "both-fault". If the other person receives a ticket for doing something illegal though, this weighs heavily against them and the fault is considered to be theirs. Just make sure if you do this that you weren't also doing something illegal or it could backfire if the officer decides to ticket you too!

9. Go to the doctor or hospital within 24 hours to make sure that you are physically okay. I know that this seems like a no-brainer, but many people (like me) insist that they feel fine and don't want to waste anyone's time or money getting checked out. But it is far better to be safe and get a jump-start on any possible health problems than it is to save a tiny portion of the insurance company's money. Besides, you're paying for insurance so that you can take advantage of a free check-up when you get into an accident, don't throw away the opportunity.

As long as you follow the above steps, you should be able to get through a car accident relatively unscathed. Car accidents are terrible for all involved, whether you were the victim or the motorist that perhaps wasn't paying enough attention. No one wants to plan for the worst, but with millions of people finding themselves in vehicle accidents each year, it's one of those things that you've just got to be ready for.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Catboy

Sometimes you just have to settle back and play with your kids. So today that's what I did. Well, I did a lot of other stuff too, but I realized I've been spending a lot of time on my business lately and I never want to forget that I'm doing it for my babies, not for myself. That's why I took the day off to read stories and play with my son. And it all paid off because we got a video out of it that is just priceless!

My husband got a laser pointer a few weeks ago for Christmas from my mom & dad. (They always know just what to get people.) He was messing around with it when he realized that our son was hopping around in the other room, trying to catch the light. Apparently it isn't just cats that freak out when there is a shiny red dot around... small children do too!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Complete Meal on the Fly: Grilled Pork with Beer Onions

So if you're like me, you might keep a bit of beer on hand in the case of guests, casual evenings, and cooking needs. In our house we tend to overbuy since none of us are heavy drinkers. I like using beer to cook with since it lends a tasty flavor to all kinds of dishes, and nothing tastes quite so good as the smooth undertones of it in this recipe.

This is what I like to call a 'meal on the fly'. There is no measuring, no thinking. Just toss and go. Gather the items below in the amounts that you need to feed your family:

Pork Chops or Pork Steaks
One or two large onions, I use yellow or white, but feel free to use what you have on hand
Boxed Mac & Cheese
Canned baked beans

The rest of the ingredients below are things you need to have on hand to add to the recipe:

Beer
Mayo
Mustard
Garlic Powder
Salt
Sugar
Dill Weed (if you don't have dill weed you can use a different herb that you think will go well)
Olive Oil
Worcestershire (A-1 Sauce works well too)
Milk & Butter (for the Mac & Cheese)

Prepare a marinade for the pork chops by adding together one beer, about a quarter cup mayo, some mustard to give it zip (I like to just squirt a few circles of it in), some garlic powder and dill weed, a tablespoon of salt and a couple tablespoons of sugar. Mix it together and toss your chops in. Cover and let sit in the fridge for one to two hours.

My marinade with my pork steaks soaking in it.

During the last twenty minutes your pork is marinating, prepare for making dinner by chopping an onion into slivers, preheating your grill, and getting your pans ready on the stove. You'll need a pot to boil the macaroni & cheese, a skillet to cook the beans in, and a wok (or something similar) to cook the onions in.

This is a wok. If you don't have one, a skillet will work, just be sure to stir often so the onions don't burn.

When the pork is done marinating, pour about a half cup of the marinade into the wok and set it on high. Put another quarter to half cup of marinade into the skillet you are going to cook your beans in. Open the baked beans and toss them into the skillet with the marinade and turn the burner on low. Turn the burner under the wok on med-high and turn the burner under the pot of water on high. Add a bit of salt to make it boil faster. I also like to add some olive oil to the water so that the noodles don't stick together when I add them in.


While you are waiting for things to heat, head out to your grill and put the chops on. If you aren't sure how to grill pork chops, go ahead and click here. I didn't include directions in this recipe since the thickness you buy depends on how you grill it, and this is a meal on the fly - meant to be easily adapted to what you have on hand.

While those are cooking, head back to the stove and check on all your dishes. The marinade in the wok should be boiling by now, toss in the onions and stir them to coat. You can use the same spoon to stir the beans and place a lid over them to keep moisture in during cooking. If your water isn't boiling yet, put a lid on it as well to help speed it along, just be sure to check on it frequently so that it doesn't boil over.


Remember to check on your pork in-between cooking on the stovetop. You don't want to have perfect baked beans at the sake of burning your main course! When the onions start to turn a light golden brown color like the picture below, add a bit of olive oil and a spoonful of worcestershire sauce, stir, and lower the heat slightly.


By this time, the water should be boiling enough to toss in the macaroni noodles. Stir the beans before checking on your pork again.



In a few minutes, your onions should be looking a nice browned color, and your pork should be nearly done. If you aren't sure how long to cook your macaroni noodles, fish one out with a fork and bite into it after it has cooled. If it still tastes chewy, let it boil a while longer.


Once the pork has finished, complete making your macaroni & cheese according to the box instructions and turn the heat off on the baked beans and the onions.


I like to have everyone serve themselves in the kitchen if possible since I have less work to do later on. The onions go great smothered on top of the pork or mixed in with the beans. This meal is delicious and easy to make, and since there isn't any measuring (I just go by sight & guesswork) there are very few dishes to clean up afterwards. This meal takes about 20 minutes worth of cooking, less if I'm not interupted or my husband helps!


And best of all, no one will know this meal was a quick "toss-together". It all comes out so perfect, they'll think you found it in a gourmet cookbook!

Monday, February 4, 2013

LongHorn Steakhouse - Restaurant Re-review

We ended up going back to the LongHorn Steakhouse in Davie, FL tonight. I wanted to go back again on a Monday to make sure that there wasn't a massive difference in the schedules or crowd. I can definitely say that this trip was well worth it, and more than made up for the difficulties we had with our last meal there.

The manager greeted us within a minute or two of our arrival and had the host seat us. Our booth was quiet and clean, as was the rest of the restaurant. Our server appeared quickly, placing a fresh loaf of hot bread on the table as he took our drink orders. I ordered coffee, and was pleased to see that it tasted fresh even though it was later in the evening.

We ordered the calamari for an appetizer again. This time there were (thankfully!) no stray shrimp found inside. The sauce that they serve with the calamari has a wonderfully unique taste and reminds us slightly of a fancy french dressing, with something in it that we can't quite put our finger on.

I ordered the Loaded Baked Potato soup as an upgrade from the salad in my meal - it was certainly some of the best I have ever had. The soup itself is very cheesy, and the bacon on top gave it a delicious flavor. I'm sure that it isn't exactly waistline-friendly, but we all need to treat ourselves now and again! I especially liked that the potatoes were firm enough to stay together in the soup, but soft enough that they fell apart as soon as I chewed through them.

My husband went with the caesar salad for his meal, but it was lacking dressing. The server was happy to bring us a side of the dressing when we asked for it, at no extra charge.

We both got steaks, my husband ordered the Porterhouse and I ordered the Ribeye. We both prefer our meat pink on the inside, so after conferring with the server about how the meat at their restaurant was done, we decided on medium. The porterhouse came out perfectly, just the way we like it, but the ribeye was a bit overdone. Our server was kind enough to take the steak back and have them make me a new one, for which I was very appreciative.

The porterhouse could not have been better made, it was delicious and juicy and perfectly seasoned. The mashed potatoes that were ordered on the side were smooth and creamy with fresh herbs sprinkled over them. My husband was in love with his meal.

I was a bit disappointed with my first ribeye, I like a juicy cut of meat, and for my particular palate I would rather have my meat a little too red than a little too brown. The second one that was brought to me was in fact a little more red than I would think medium should be, but it was delicious all the same. It tasted better seasoned than the first one I tried, and it was infinitely more juicy. The green beans that I had ordered on the side had a nice buttery flavor and seemed quite fresh.

A good friend once told me: "If you need steak sauce for your steak, it wasn't cooked right." And I can definitely say that adding condiments to either of these steaks would have been just wrong. They were perfect as they were.

The service overall could not have been better. Our waiter was attentive to us and always close by whenever we needed anything. He was extremely pleasant and even joined in our discussion as to which steak doneness was preferable. Our drinks were kept filled and the check came quickly at the end of the meal - two of my big 'musts' when I go out to dinner.

The manager came to check on us twice during the course of our meal, once after I got my replacement steak and once when the check came. She was very pleasant and made sure that everything was to our liking.

I love it when I can go back to a place and find a completely different change in the service and food. I give this visit to LongHorn an A. It was truly a wonderful meal!



Service: A+
Cleanliness: A+
Food: A
Pricing: $$

Sunday, February 3, 2013

And the winner is...

This giveaway is over, but that doesn't mean that you don't have a chance to win something! Check out our giveaways page for a list of great contests that are going on now!

The final number of entrants in the drawing for the $100 Walmart gift card was 427. We numbered each contestant and used a number randomizer to select a number between 1 and 427. The number that was chosen was 106 which belongs to Liz. Congratulations! I have emailed you and will make arrangements for you to get your prize as soon as I hear back from you.

To everyone else, thank you so much for entering the contest, I wish I had gift cards for all of you! Keep checking back though, I try to have a giveaway up at least 2-3 times per month!!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Does Kymaro (As Seen On TV) Work?

Because I've had a baby recently, I find myself with a little extra tummy these days, complete with "mom-arms" and chubby thighs. But that's OK. I've never had body image issues - my mother never made a peep about our weight or what we looked like while growing up, and we all have rather healthy views when it comes to our bodies. (Thanks mom!) However, even though I don't "hate" the way I look, there are a few outfits I find myself trying on and then putting back because they just don't look as nice with my stomach poking out. I know that if I want to get back to my pre-baby look I'm going to have to exercise and eat right, but with so many items out there claiming to slim me down without the hard work, I was hoping I could cheat a little and look that way a bit sooner!

I already have a nice spandex-like top that hugs me in all over, but it doesn't really do much except make my chest look flat. So I headed out to the store to see if I could find something different. Luckily, +Walmart has a nice selection of As Seen On TV items, and I was able to find something that specifically matched what I was looking for: Kymaro. It's a body shaper, but it also has a cut-out at the top so that your bra stays outside of it. It claimed it would make me look up to 10-20 pounds thinner instantly. It doesn't get any faster than that!

Picture provided by Alicia Figueroa for Master of Mom™, Inc.

After I got home, I found one of my favorite skin-hugging dresses and put it on without the shaper:

Picture provided by Alicia Figueroa for Master of Mom™, Inc.

I quickly went and changed into the Kymaro. I thought for sure that it would work as I was putting it on - the thing was squeezing the life out of my thighs as I pulled it up and over. I walked over to the big mirror to look and...! Tadaaa!

Picture provided by Alicia Figueroa for Master of Mom™, Inc.

Wait, what's that? No, I didn't put the wrong picture up. It just doesn't work. At least, it certainly didn't work for me. I think if you squint you can see where it might have made me slightly slimmer. Sorry, but for me this product was a big dud, and I definitely don't think it's worth the $29.99 price tag. So if you're thinking about getting "thinner instantly", save your money. This is like a get-rich-quick scheme, if it sounds too good to be true: it is. The only way this product will make you slim is by taking your money so that you can't spend it on something like cheeseburgers. So keep your cash and do a few sit-ups for free! Now I'm off to the store to get my money back...