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Techlicious Smart Tech Product Preview

Heading over to the other coast of Florida for a Lunch & Learn event in Miami with Techlicious and Consumer Tech Association, a group of 25 bloggers and I gathered to discuss how technology is helping make our lives and our homes better. I love tricking out my home with smart home tech, so this was right up my alley.

All attendees received a TP-Link Smart Home LED Light Bulb to control your lighting from anywhere via an app. I'm proud to say that I installed it myself and it took not much more effort than screwing in a standard light bulb. I just had to take the additional step of downloading the free Kasa app first and connecting the unit to my home Wi-Fi.

From the app I could turn the color of the light from a cool to warm setting. I preferred the soft warm yellow light over the clear, crisp white coloring for the living room where I put it in. You can also control the brightness from 5%, 50% to 100% intensity. As well as set schedules to turn on and off, which is great for when I'm traveling and want to appear at home. You can track power too and monitor real-time energy used to stay better informed on usage.

However, it's supposed to work with Amazon's Alexa too, but although I was able to add the skill, my Alexa device did not discover or recognize the smart home device :( Overall though, I've very happy with the product, especially considering that it lasts for up to 22 years and the reasonable price of only $19.99-$34.99 depending on which model you purchase.


The big scene stealer though were the fashionable tech bags on display from Knomo, especially their Beauchamp Backpack great for the everyday commuter toting gadgets. Sleek and durable, this backpack is splash-resistant, made of finely woven premium nylon, complemented by leather trimmings. Inside, a padded laptop section fits up to a 14-inch laptop, keeping your computer safe and separate from your other possessions. In front, there is an easy-access pocket with two zippers; the right has an anti-RFID lining, perfect for protecting you from digital theft. A second hidden pocket in front is perfect for storing cables and cards. The inner lining is also red!! LOVE!

Another new product that I was introduced to were AfterShokz Trekz Titanium Bone conduction Bluetooth headphones, which delivers music through your cheekbones, ensuring ears remain completely open to hearing ambient sounds too. Great for joggers to hear tunes, but to stay safe too. It sits in front of your ear and not in it or on it, resting just below your temples and no strings. The technology delivers six hours of continuous music and phone calls on a single charge.

Disclaimer: I attended the event and received a complimentary lunch and gift bag, which included the TP Link light bulb mentioned above. As always, all opinions are my own. It is my blog after all ;)
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Mama's Got A Brand New Gig

I'm excited to share that I now have a part-time gig as a Multimedia Journalist for the new E.W. Scripps publication :)

I'll be covering the parenting beat for the local Southwest Florida area and am doing a lot of on-camera work, as well as blogging and behind the scenes producing too.

It's only been a month, but I'm enjoying being part of a newsroom again, especially one willing to experiment. I also like that it's given me the opportunity to better explore the communities around me and to discover new spots and activities while sharing my experiences with visitors.

Take a look:

What do you think?

Besides HelloSWFL and blogging here, you can also catch my adventures at TravelingMom and Huffington Post.

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5 Must Have Potty Training Tools

Looking back on when we were potty training our twins these were the items that we found to be the most helpful. I would highly recommend these to other parents, some we still use even now that they are four.

Snap Power Guide Light and Built-In Potty Seat
The SnapPower Guidelight can safely and easily transform a regular outlet coverplate into a convenient night light, which automatically turns on in the dark and off during the daytime by a sensor. It's equipped with energy-efficient LED lighting for perfect nighttime illumination. Installation was as simple as switching out our regular cover plate over an AC outlet. No wiring required! This has been our favorite product since it's helpful even past potty training even as kids get older. I've since ordered one for our guest room bathroom so visitors can find their way at night too. Also, this way you don't have to worry about forgetting to turn off a nightlight switch in the morning, which I was always failed to do.

Built-in Potty Seat - Forget the cartoon potty seats! After buying several other seats that my boys would put on wrong, which would then slip off, we went with this built in seat that can be pulled down as easy as a toilet lid. Best of all, it's not bright, bulky or embarrassing to have in your bathroom when guests are over.

Potty Stool - We put one of these potty step stools at the base of every toilet in our house. Like above, we still use these stools for by the bathroom sinks now for easy hand washing and brushing teeth. You could also get a squatty potty stool as a twofer.

Potty Books - I don't mean books to read while on the bowl, but books that encourage potty learning and explain the process to your little one, so they know all kids make the transition and what the end goal is. We bought three different books, one with Caillou, one with Elmo and a general potty one, all were great. It also helped my boys understand the different terms and vocab we were using too.

Portable Potty - The toilet can be intimidating and out of the way when a child has to go and doesn't want to break from playing. For the first couple of months and would move it around the house to wherever our boys were, by the TV, in their playroom, etc. If going on a driving road trip we would even pack it and bring to the hotel with us. We had a different brand that we used at first, but found that this Summer Infant design was the best for keeping boys from spraying outside the bowl. It's also easy to clean, lightweight and nicely designed. It's affordable and available in other colors too.


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Another grief milestone

Today, my dad would have turned 63, yet he never saw his 46th. This year though marks another milestone. And I think it deserves its own line. Wait for it ...
I have now lived the same amount of time without my dad as I did with him alive. 
*boom* mind blown. At least mine has been since the ball dropped and revealed the year 2017. I just can't wrap my head around the idea that I had the first 17 years of my life with him and now 17 years without him.

When I think about those first few years of raw grief after he passed, I know I could never have fathomed that this day would actually come and yet here it is. And wouldn't you know, the sun is still shining and life has ruthlessly gone on.

Thankfully, his blood runs in the veins of my boys, yet he is not here and hasn't been in 17 years. You'd think that amount of time would feel like forever and in some ways it does, but it also doesn't. Thinking of him can still make me feel like the little girl he helped mold. In fact, my poignant post only two years ago, To the 15 years ago Me still rings true as ever. I cried re-reading it this morning and going through the paltry few photos that I have of him.

My sister and my dad.
I guess the next milestone (not rushing it!) will eventually be turning 45 and outliving him.

Related: My Boys Are Now The Age When My Sister Died
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SWFL Dining Review: BRIO Tuscan Grille

Whenever I have a friend visiting me, I love taking them over to the high-end Waterside Shops in Naples to ogle the Louis Vuitton purses in the store window and have lunch al fresco at BRIO Tuscan Grille. Their outdoor bar is very chic, Floridian and bonus, the food is yummy and the cocktails refreshing.

BRIO Tuscan Grille at Waterside Shops in Naples, Florida
My mother and I went for a girls brunch to try out their new lunch menu available now through Saturday, April 15. After many visits though, this was our first time dining inside BRIO's elegant dining room with dome-like chandeliers overhead. The service meanwhile was impeccable and compliments the high-quality food nicely.

The new ‘A Variety of Flavors’ lunch menu offers unique tastes with a Tuscan twist, including mouthwatering seafood dishes, for a limited time. The menu also presents two exciting new appetizers, three entrĂ©es (including two mouthwatering seafood dishes), a divine dessert, and delightful wine options.

• Calamari Fritto Misto: Peperoncini, aioli, Pomodoro; $10.75 (I liked the two dipping sauce options, especially the creamy garlic in addition to the standard marinara sauce.)

Calamari Fritto Misto
• Spicy Shrimp & Eggplant: Pan seared shrimp, Romano crusted eggplant, black pepper cream; $11.50

• Peroni Beer-Battered Fish & Chips: North Atlantic cod, fries, Brussels sprout slaw; $17.95
• Lobster & Black Pepper Shrimp Ravioli: Spicy black pepper cream, spinach, grape tomatoes; $19.95 (has more of creole spice influence than Italian)

Lobster & Black Pepper Shrimp Ravioli
• Braised Beef Pappardelle: Rosemary pappardelle, crimini mushrooms, roasted carrots, red onions, tomato porcini sauce; $21.95

• Butterscotch Budino: Italian for “pudding,” Marcona almonds, caramel, vanilla whipped cream; $3.95

TIP: I'd also recommend trying their Bruschetta Sampler appetizer, which is as almost as filling as a meal and great for sharing. My favorite was the procuitto with burrata cheese.

BRIO Bruschetta Sampler
Meanwhile, if you have the chance, see if you can say hello to Ahmed El the Executive Chef of BRIO in Naples he is super sweet and new to the area, but he has worked for Bravo Brio Restaurant Group for over 11 years in New Jersey, Tampa, and all over.

Ahmed El the Executive Chef
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary preview of the new lunch menu, but as stated have dined numerous times at Brio and have always enjoyed it. 
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3 New Shades of Earl Grey Twinings Tea

Forget 50 Shades of Grey, Twinings now offers 3 new steaming hot flavors of Earl Grey tea that are sure to satisfy. Sorry, couldn’t help but play with the innuendos there ;)

It’s no secret that I’m a tea fanatic, tea aficionado, tea obsessed, whatever you want to call it, which is why I was delighted to test out the three new flavors of Earl Grey tea from Twinings.

Three New Twinings Earl Grey Tea Flavors 

Twinings Earl Grey teas are now available in Lavender, Extra Bold and Jasmine flavors.

  1. Jasmine Earl Grey is an exclusive blend in the market, mixing an intoxicating scent and a slightly sweet taste. 
  2. Lavender Earl Grey has a floral and fresh aroma with a very soothing taste. This blend is perfect for when you want to unwind and relax. 
  3. Extra Bold Earl Grey is an intensified bergamot blend enhanced with natural citrus flavors, which provides an uplifting and vibrant rich taste. 

I love Jasmine tea to begin with, so it’s not surprising that was my favorite of the three new varieties, but Lavender was nice and relaxing too and tasted like a spa in a tea cup. The extra bold, meanwhile, was a powerful way to start off my day though since it provided a strong wake-up call and extra pep. In fact, I feel like I was more productive the mornings that I sipped it. Best of all, the three new flavors come in 20 count boxes for only $2.99!

Brewing Tip 

To savor the full flavor of these teas, bring water to boil, and pour over the tea as soon as it reaches boiling. Over-boiling will cause oxygen to be reduced, making the tea taste “flat.” Remove tea bag after 3 minutes to avoid over brewing. I also like to reuse the tea bag for a second cup at a lighter steeping.

The Fascinating Backstory of Earl Grey Tea 

Twinings classic Earl Grey tea was first blended by Richard Twining in 1831, when Prime Minister Charles Grey asked him to replicate a tea he once received by a Chinese Mandarin. The Prime Minister gave his royal approval, which resulted in the creation of the first Earl Grey blend. To this day Twinings Earl Grey boxes are signed by descendants of Mr. Charles Grey. Right now each pack is signed by the current 7th Earl Grey and one of Twinings’ nine Master Blenders. How cool is that?

What gives Earl Grey its unique spicy taste? It is flavored with bergamot, a Mediterranean citrus fruit.

A post shared by Tara (@tarametblog) on

Twinings Earl Grey Tea Giveaway

Enter below to win the new Twinings Earl Grey Collection. Good luck!
  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, all opinions are my own and I love a cuppa tea.
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SWFL Dining Review: Metro Diner in Naples

We recently checked out Naples’s newest restaurant, Metro Diner, offering classic comfort food with flair. The new eatery opened January 31 in the shopping plaza by Off the Hook Comedy Club and considering it is only a few weeks new, I was shocked at our packed it was. However, after eating there I can see why. The prices are good and the food is even is better!

Metro Diner originates from Jacksonville, Florida and prides itself on quality ingredients and a scratch kitchen where they make their own sauces, soups and compotes. In addition, Metro Diner hand cuts their home fries and cracks fresh eggs daily.

We ordered their two signature dishes, Fried Chicken and Waffles topped with house-made strawberry butter and signature sweet and spicy sauce and there Charleston Shrimp & Grits.

Chicken and Waffles at Metro Diner in Naples, Florida
The restaurant serves all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner- designed to indulge the taste buds with new twists on traditional dishes made-from-scratch. The large portion sizes enable every guest to enjoy a delicious meal at a great value, with most dishes priced under $15. Next time, I plan on trying their pot roast or open faced Turkey.

Charleston Shrimp & Grits at Metro Diner
At the back of the restaurant is a large, colorful chalk board with their daily specials, which our waitress said you won't find in their menu, so order while you can.

They also have a children's menu with a perfectly grilled cheese and french fries, which I couldn't help snagging a bite or two of. A paper coloring placemat and crayons were also provided to entertain little ones.

Another good value is there drinks priced at only $3.99 for a glass of wine or $4.99 for Mimosas that are generously poured. It wasn't brunch any longer, but it didn't stop us from ordering two Mimosas just the same!

There is outdoor seating available too, but we prefered the large booths inside.

Disclaimer: I received a gift certificate to use at Metro Diner in exchange for my honest review. We paid the difference and tip. 
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VIP Insider Tips for the Disney Wonder Cruise

15 VIP Tips for the Disney Wonder 

VIP Tips for Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder

Download App Prior to Boarding - The Disney Cruise Line Navigator is a free app that helps you navigate the ship, see the ship schedule and text with your travel party while onboard. You'll be using this app often to message other passengers on board at least my husband and I did, since it made coordinating so much easier, plus the adorable Disney emojis! All of the functionalities will work once you are connected to the on-board wifi, but in the meantime, there is also a countdown clock for your trip.

Check in Online for Earliest Boarding Time  - Our first Disney cruise I checked in online weeks in advance, but this time only several days before our trip. This was my mistake, because by then the earliest available boarding time was 2 p.m. and we wanted to get on as soon as possible. So, to get the most of your time on the ship, check in online as soon as you are able to via the My Disney Cruise Line website. This site also allows you to schedule a character call with one of the characters welcoming everyone, which is really fun for the kids. BONUS TIP: Even though you may board around Noon, you still will not be able to go to your rooms until after 1:30 p.m., so be sure and bring a tote bag with pool gear or other items that you'll want handy before your luggage arrives.
Mickey Latte from the Cove Bar on board Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder
Order a Mickey Latte on the Disney Wonder

Order a Mickey Latte - The Cove Cafe itself is a hidden gem for ordering cocktails without the lines and for getting your daily cup of coffee. Like a traditional gourmet coffee shop the options are endless, but if you want an Instagram-worthy pic, do request that the barista (Leyston) add a Mickey shaped cinnamon sprinkle to your cappuccino or latte. Mine was definitely the envy of my friends! :)

Room Service Milk & Cookies - 
In an effort to not overeat entirely, we stuck to a continental breakfast in our room. Breakfast cards that you hang on the door each night can be found in your cabin's desk drawer. We also used this morning delivery as our wake-up alarm each day. Room service itself is free and available 24/7. There is a menu in your room with a full list of options. This came in handy for an afternoon snack for our boys when we ordered Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. Also, a fun tradition we started was ordering cookies and milk before bed while watching whichever Disney movie was playing on the TV. (Sadly, the Wonder ship does not have the awesome On-Demand movie feature like the Disney Dream does).

–  If you imbibe and would like to save some money, bring your own. Each adult is allowed to bring 2 bottles of wine or champagne and/or 6 bottles of beer. Since this was only a 3-night cruise, we carried on two bottles of prosecco, another perk of not flying and worrying about ounces. Make sure that liquor is in your carry-on bag as you go through the cruise terminal for inspection. Do not check it in with your bags, as it will be confiscated and returned at the end of your trip. We opened our bottle on the balcony before dinner and ordered a cheese plate to be delivered to our room. See above about free room service!

Ask for the Drink of the Day - Save a few bucks on a cocktail by ordering the Drink of the Day for just $4.75. Doesn't matter what it is, they are all great, but the Bahama Mama was my favorite though.

Pack Door Decorations – The cabin doors aboard Disney cruise lines are a work of art. Guests decorate their doors with photos and decorations of all kinds, including magnets with their names and favorite characters on them. It's fun to simply walk around see what others have done. To personalize our door we ordered this cute door magnet with each of our first names listed and I also added a shameless plug to my blog URL, lol. Another great thing about decorating your door is that it makes it easy for kids to find the right door. My four-year-old boys would run ahead down the hallway and then know just where to stop thanks to our magnets. Lots of Disney Cruise Line Door Printables can be found online too. Stickers are not allowed.

Disney Cruise Family Packing List - Pack Door Decorations
Eat at Palo instead of Triton's  - Disney Cruise Line has an innovative rotational dining, where each night you are assigned a different sit-down restaurant to dine at. While we loved them all, Tiana's Place, Animator's Palate offered more entertainment and ambiance than Triton's, so I would recommend skipping Triton's in favor of the adult only restaurant Palo. However, there is an additional fee for dining at Palo - $30 per person or if you'd like the wine pairing dinner option it's $59 charge per person, in addition to the $30 dining charge for dinner (total $89 per person). It's so worth it though as the food is amazing! It's also nice to have an adult-only night, so feed your kids first at the upstairs food court or one of the quick serve options by the pool and then check them in for fun at the kids club (Oceaneer's Club). You can make your reservation ahead of time Online or once on board. We were able to still get a 7:30 reservation for the night we wanted after we set sail. Oh, and this is a formal dining experience, so no flip-flops or sneakers and guys must be in dress pants. We saw a man who had to leave to switch his shoes, so fair warning.

Schedule a Whiskey Tasting - On the first day we noticed a brief mention in the Navigator that read, Go to Guest Services to schedule a whiskey, vodka, margarita, tequila, wine or bourbon tastings. Since we were only on a 3-night/4-day sailing not all the choices were available. However, the whiskey tasting was set for 10 p.m. for $25/per person. We purchased two tickets, but later found out that it was the same time as the fireworks. Luckily, we were able to step out for five minutes and see the fireworks perfectly from the Cove Bar's deck. During the tasting, we received four generous pours of whiskey each from different brands and gained some general history of the liquor, the distilling process and other tasting tips along the way. We were even more fortunate to be the only two at the tasting, so it was like having a private course. Apparently, there is usually about 10 guests at a time. Our instructor Chris was really knowledgeable and made the tasting even more enjoyable. Given that it's an hour long class and the amount of alcohol provided, the nominal charge more than balances out. I'd highly recommend this hidden itinerary gem, so do check with guest services to find out when it is offered.
Whiskey Tasting on board Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder
Whiskey Tasting on board the Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder

Line up Early for Frozen -  Frozen, A Musical Spectacular is the MUST SEE show at sea and only Disney's Wonder has it. My husband and I were both seriously impressed at the quality, singing and special effects of this stage show. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's at the same caliber as a Broadway show and I'm a New Yorker who grew up seeing musicals on Broadway. Each night the stage shows are crowded, but this one had a line starting almost an hour prior to show time (doors open a half hour before), so get in line early. We let the boys stay in the club playing while we waited in the queue. TIP: Sit in the first 15 rows if you'd like to have the snow fall on you and your family at the end of the show. We missed this experience by just three rows and my boys were disappointed. Also, as you enter the theater be sure and snag the provided booster seats for smaller children, so they can sit more comfortably in their seats. Other parents would see ours and have to circle back to get them.

Frozen, A Musical Spectacular on Disney Wonder Cruise

Drink Juice from Sulley's Sips - Up on the pool deck, head to Sulley's Sips drink stand, which despite the Monster's Inc. name isn't just for kids. They also have some yummy frozen cocktails here, but we liked ordering the healthy Juice Tonic, which is a blend of fresh Apples, Bananas, Kale, Spinach, Chia seeds and Spirulina. We substituted coconut water in lieu of the ice cream to keep it even healthier.

Order a Juice Tonic for Sulley's Sips on the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship

Embarkation Day WiFi Special - Each passenger can get free 50MB Internet Data Package Offer on their first day on board. Don't sign up for it though until you no longer have cell phone reception, then sign up and use the 50MB to send any last emails, post your embarkation photos, etc. 50MB goes fast. We took advantage of Grandma's too since she was in a different cabin. After that, you'll need to purchase a package or unplug for the rest of your trip.

Dance & Eat Hot Beignets at Tiana's Place - Hot beignets are the must order dessert and treat on the ship! Just as good as the French Quarter. Also, be prepared to dance while dining here as the live jazz music and performances make for a lively dinner. My boys loved parading around the tables at the end of their meal with Louis the alligator, waitstaff and fellow passengers. Fun memories!

Dance & Order Hot Beignets at Tiana's Place on Disney Wonder

Bring Change & Lanyards - Yes, tips are already included in the daily occupancy rates, but we added an extra $5 bucks to each of our waitstaff envelopes and $10 for our Steward for our 3-night cruise. However, since cash isn't really needed on the ship since you can easily charge food and gifts to your account using your room key, we had to scramble to find change for tips. Thus, have some smaller bills on you for this purpose. Also, there is a post office on Castaway Cay that only takes cash and not room keys, so if you want to send a postcard, remember to pack a few bills in your beach tote. You may also want to preorder Disney lanyards with a detachable coin purse to hold money and your room key. It's also great for kids, so they don't lose their room key. I found it helpful too since I wasn't wearing a purse on the ship like I normally would and my bathing suit and sundresses didn't have pockets.

Scuttle's Cove on Castaway Cay - Some of the other families we met on the beach didn't realize that on Disney's private island Castaway Cay (pronounced key) there is a kids club where children can also be dropped off with sand and water play areas, called Scuttle's Cove. You can use this alone time to visit the adult only beach, Serenity Bay on the island or try out the bigger water slides. We didn't leave the family beach this time, but we did check the kids into the club for an hour after lunch so they could run around before going back on the ship for nap time. Be prepared to hose them off after as they were super sandy! Also, as mentioned in my below packing list, pack a sand shovel or two or be prepared to buy some.

Take a Tour of our Stateroom #7114:

Tips for going on a Disney Cruise with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Tips for Going on a Disney Cruise with Toddlers & Preschoolers 

Disney Cruise Line Family Packing List

 The Ultimate Disney Cruise Family Packing List
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