Tonight I watched my 15-month old son drag a wooden zebra around the house. Each time he pulled the black string that was connected to it’s wooden nose, it tipped and he ended up dragging the poor zebra (affectionately nicknamed Zebbie) on its side.

zebbie

The chips and dents on Zebbie’s wodden frame indicate he’s been through a lot lately.

Sometimes Zebbie isn’t even dragged, he’s picked up off the linoleum floor (which by the way now needs replacing) and expedited across the main floor of the house by a shrieking toddler, excited beyond control by everything and anything.

Zebbie swings in all directions, narrowly missing the coffee table (it too needs replacing now) and eventually Zebbie gets discarded for something else – tonight it was the intense desire for my son to lick the glass sliding door leading to our backyard. Delicious.

As bedtime approached, Zebbie was favoured once more. Dragged by the not-so delicate touch of a baby ready for sleep, suddenly Zebbie’s familiar side position no longer satisfied my little guy. A waterworks erupted out of the corner of each eye – uncontrollable sobs that translated into, “Why won’t Zebbie roll like he’s supposed to?”

My dear little boy doesn’t realize that he’s moving far too fast for Zebbie to keep up. As I watched the sequence repeat itself – over and over again – it reminded me of life and how we all have a pace that is uniquely ours and no one else’s. Sometimes we drag people along for the ride, expecting them to keep up. Sometimes we are the ones being dragged.

Tonight, Zebbie was given a break – thanks to bedtime – and so was that determined little boy (also thanks to bedtime).

The lesson is all of this is two-fold:

  1. Don’t take a day job as a wooden, roller zebra
  2. Know when to give you and the zebra a break
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I get it now. I totally get it now. You don’t need fancy toys to entertain or engage your baby.

It still feels like Christmas in this house. There are toys everywhere, many of them playing songs that are trapped in my head. I know Cody the Smart Cub is ready to play with me, but does Cody realize I am definitely not ready to play with him until I’ve had my first cup of coffee?

With advancements in technology, clever marketing and the never-ending creativity of the minds behind children’s’ toys, we are convinced of the need to constantly buy the latest and greatest for our children. Each toy has its long list of claims about building different skills and helping kids reach their milestones. I’ll even admit that while Christmas shopping, I pleaded with my husband to buy two of the same Vtech iDiscover App Activity Centers (one for us and one for the grandparents). “It’s so cheap! Let’s get two!” You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong with that statement but I can start you off with a penchant for over-consumption and a failure to buy local (I’m hanging my head in shame right now, honest).

So why did we leave the store with just one activity center? @theactualcraig said “[The baby] doesn’t need all these toys. One is definitely enough.” Defeated, I agreed and pouted while my debit card and Craig high-fived each other. Weeks later, the high-fives continue as the activity center sits abandoned in the corner. The biggest draws for baby remain the untouchables like the X-box controller and TV remote, and the parent-approved soccer ball and the fridge door – two things we already had.

What's in your kitchen could be more fun than you know!

What’s in your kitchen could be more fun than you know!

While I understand the allure of the untouchables, it’s still laughable how the everyday bits and pieces we all take for granted seem to endlessly amaze a baby. Even I find the activity centre entertaining – it has a gear shift, a dj turntable, a honking horn and lots of moving parts. Plus Cody is “always ready to play with me!” YAY!

This activity center is pretty cool and does work with an iPad, but it doesn't garner baby's attention for long.

This activity center is pretty cool and does work with an iPad, but it doesn’t garner baby’s attention for long.

It’s true what all the books, magazines, blogs and veteran parents tell you though. With a little imagination and love, what you already have can be as entertaining as the most expensive toy on the market. In fact, one day I came home from work to find that Daddy had transformed the box from the new car seat into a little retreat for baby, with a series of doors and hiding places. Days later, a Pampers cardboard box became a race car.

Texture, colour, smell and the perfect fit into that teething mouth, are some of the reasons why the everyday is just as, if not more, exciting than a brand new toy. But perhaps what is the game changer is the creativity applied to the everyday to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary.

What everyday items have you transformed to make them playtime favourites for your kids? Share your ideas in the comments below.

 

 

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I didn’t plan to go back to work early. Circumstances beyond our control meant that I returned to work just shy of my eighth month of maternity leave. However, thanks to my supportive husband, family, employer, and neighbours, it was a lot easier than I expected.

The night before my first day back, there was knock at the door. I opened the door to see my neighbour and her son, arguably my best mum-friend and my own son’s best baby bud, respectively . A grinning baby looked deep into my eyes as his mum handed me a card and a bag that could only contain one thing, wine!

A chat at the doorway, as most neighbour’s do, revealed that this was a gift for my return to work. Later I would find that the card contained a gift card for coffee and some super cute owl stickers. I shrieked in sheer delight as I saw the stickers (in a former life I should have been a teacher, just like my neighbour). The challenge would be to figure out a way to affix these stickers to people’s accomplishments at work .

My husband and I are extremely fortunate to have such caring neighbours–the same neighbours that we share a unique bond with since their little guy was born just five short days after our own. We celebrate baby milestones in tandem and laugh at hilarious neighbourhood moments like the rescue of a turtle found in the middle of the street. We look out for each other and on some occasions, we even leverage each other’s front yards when we miss our recycling pick-up.

Our baby’s first Thanksgiving was marked by a fun trip to Chudleigh’s apple farm in Milton, Ontario. It was the thoughtfulness of our neighbours to invite us along for this trip and share a special event with the “family across the street.” We went on multiple wagon rides, watched our boys go down a big slide on Daddy’s knee, saw a variety of animals including goats, pigs, and dogs (yes, dogs). We picked apples, took lots of pictures and enjoyed the company of our friends.

We have so much to be thankful for this year, including our amazing neighbours @JulieCanuck & @stuartl55

 

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Patience is a virtue, right?

on_hold_cartoon

Having worked in a few different customer service roles including the fast food industry, I have an understanding of what happens behind the scenes. When there is a delay in a drive through or at a cash register in a store, I rarely get upset or impatient, because I’ve been on the other side.

The key to successfully managing these situations is clear communication and options, which in many cases alleviates the tension and resolves the issues (on both sides). But here’s a fresh example of one I’m really not happy with and I think deserves to be shared.

I am ending my parental leave early which means I need to contact Service Canada to update my Employment Insurance information. The first time I called, I got through to a service representative who offered to help me. When I explained what I needed to do, she said she couldn’t understand me and asked that I speak more slowly. Surprised, because I didn’t think I was speaking that quickly, I still apologized and suggested my Skype connection might have been causing problems. After re-explaining my request, she got somewhat frazzled and said I should call when I’ve actually gone back to work. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me given that I would continue to be paid Employment Insurance and would risk being given a payment I didn’t deserve. I explained the situation again and was placed on hold. A friendly woman came on the line and told me that they needed to transfer me to a specialist who could help process this request. Progress.

Upon reaching the specialist, I was told the “system” had just “gone down” and that I would have to call back. She was very apologetic and I told her “it’s not your fault” and I could hear a breath of relief. Who knows how many irate people they deal with on a daily basis? Despite being given a bit of the run around, I agreed to call back. But in retrospect I should have asked them to call me back. What would you have done?

When I called back a few days later, the automated messaging service told me that the call volume was too high and my call couldn’t be placed in the queue. I was given the option of returning to the main menu to listen to more automated messages that didn’t help my situation or sometimes the phone just disconnected. I tried and tried and tried to no avail. Then the automated phone service which clearly states its hours of operations are from 8:30am to 4:30pm (I was calling mid-morning), suddenly said it was closed. It was the first time where I begged out loud to be placed on hold. I didn’t want to keep calling back. I even sent a tweet to Service Canada to see when the issue would be resolve. No response.

I scoured the Service Canada website and logged into My Service Canada Account to see if there was any way to update my return to work date online.  There is one section that leads you to believe you could update personal information like that but then you learn you can only update training and course information.

So here I was, at the mercy of a telephone service that either wasn’t working or was just too bogged down with calls. Finally, in the afternoon I was able to get through and while I had to wait on hold for a while until I was connected to a representative, at least I was able to get my information updated. The person who assisted me was very pleasant and answered some additional questions I had with expertise.

I almost didn’t write this post, because in the end I got what I needed and the service was good. But in reality, I wasted a lot of time (hours, not minutes) waiting on hold at a various times, being disconnected, calling back (and back), having to search online, and trying to get an update on service availability. The service of my request was fulfilled in the end, but overall the service was poor.

If I was the manager for this department in Service Canada, here’s what I would do:

  1. Make the return to work date an online change form. This saves everyone time, reduces man hours needed to process requests and creates a powerful paper trail. If you know how many times this request is happening, you can update your FAQ and communications to users accordingly. It’s a win-win.
  2. Update their phone system to accommodate larger call volumes so that no caller is disconnected or redirected to a list of options that doesn’t meet their needs.
  3. Increase staffing levels based on call volumes. During one call attempt I made, the estimated wait time was 45 minutes.
  4. Train front line staff on ways to handle unusual requests and/or roadblocks to processing requests. For example, the woman who accused me of speaking too quickly could have easily said “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding your request. Could you repeat it for me?” Similarly, if she wasn’t sure how to process my request she should have been trained to seek advice from a colleague or manager first. Finally, when the system was “down”, the staff should be well aware that I was a caller encountering long wait times and difficulty getting through. Offer to call me back when the system is up. If you have time to take my call, you have time to call me back.
  5. Respond to your customers on social media when they discuss customer service issues and make sure announcing service disruptions on all your communication vehicles (telephone service, social media, etc.) is a part of your business continuity plans. Silence is deafening.

As customers we are paying either directly or indirectly with both money and time. We deserve to be treated with respect and given options that provide solutions to our requests in a timely fashion. I am appreciative of the option to receive Employment Insurance while on parental leave, but I’ve put in my money and time to receive that benefit, so I think I’m just in asking for a better customer service experience, if not for myself, at least for those that follow.

Do you have a similar story about customer service dissatisfaction? Share your story in the comments.

 

 

 

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When I started making baby food, I was really focused on vegetables, fruits, and meats. It wasn’t until my husband pointed out that perhaps the baby would like something a little more palatable for breakfast (rather than sweet potato), that I considered rice cereal.

I could have argued that in the eyes of a six month old (now seven), it probably doesn’t matter what they eat, so long as they are trying different foods. Plus it makes it easy to obey that 4-day rule if I am constantly feeding baby the flavour of the day, throughout the day. It also pads my ego when the 24 cubes of sweet potato in the freezer actually get used.

But a part of me saw the rationale behind giving baby a traditional breakfast such as rice cereal. I certainly don’t chow down on a baked spud in the am to start my day, so why should he. It was also that time – in my opinion – to start introducing some grains. Overwhelmed by the thought of cleaning my coffee grinder so I could obnoxiously grind rice to a feathery dust during a UFC broadcast, I opted for the package of rice cereal I purchased in one of those new mother moments in the grocery store (“I should probably have this just in case”). It was remarkably easy to prepare with just a spoonful of the rice flour and some warmed water, and I found the stirring somewhat therapeutic. Sure, I didn’t make it myself, but god damn it I stirred it with love and enthusiasm.

When my husband started referring to the rice cereal as “baby oats”, I couldn’t help but feel more attached to the tradition of baby cereal in the morning. Carrying baby down the stairs and asking him if he was excited about his “baby oats” made me giggle every time, and it still does. But deep down I felt guilty, because while I knew the convenience of the rice cereal meant easy mornings eliminating those painful and heartbreaking hunger screams, the contents of the meal left a lot to be desired.

The ingredient list of store-bought rice cereal is long, and does not spell out wholesome. After doing some more research online, I realized that some brown rice (preferably organic) was all I needed to make some healthy “baby oats”. The process by which to cook them takes about 9 minutes and 45 seconds longer than the store-bought approach, but the trade-off of ensuring a healthy meal is totally worth it. I can also store the rice flour in the fridge so it doesn’t go rancid, which means I won’t be grinding on the daily.

rice_cereal

So tonight (during UFC), I apologetically ground 2 cups of brown rice in ¼ cup intervals (insert a devilish grin here). And when baby wakes tomorrow, I will take an extra 10 minutes to cook some rice flour (ground with love I might add) and serve him some “baby oats” that I can feel good about.
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While I have a previous post about not getting too hung up on the anticipation of new milestones, I have to admit that solid foods was one phase I really looked forward to.

Maybe it was because I took a baby food making course with Belly Buttons and had been preparing a few tasty treats in advance? Or was it the realization that the monotony of making a bottle would finally be broken with some sort of entertainment such as bananas up the nose?

Either way, the idea of feeding my son new foods was just plain exciting. Now, nearly two weeks into the process, we have introduced sweet potato, peaches, eggs, bananas and carrots. No rice cereal or pablum* for this kid just yet, and for some reason, a real trend towards orange foods (merely a coincidence but maybe I should check the colour of his skin more closely).

There are “guidelines” on how to feed your baby, depending on the method you choose. Baby-led weaning is really about letting the baby determine what they want to eat by way of exploring the food offered and eating it when they are ready. It’s not the method I chose, but there are some people I know who have used it with success. I’ve used the old fashioned “mush” approach, blending steamed fruits and vegetables. I’ve gone local and organic where possible, and thanks to the course I took, I learned about the dirty dozen (12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide) and the clean 15. So if it wasn’t stressful enough to figure out what foods to blend and serve, now I have to worry how free of pesticides they really are.

Prepping the food is actually quite easy, and I have my sister to thank for that since she gave me a Beaba baby food processor for Christmas. It steams and then blends all in the same container, and for a kitchen appliance takes up very little space. I just fill ice cube trays full of whatever it is I’ve blended and freeze it for later. When the time comes to serve it, I just pop a cube or two in a glass bowl and heat over a steamer to warm it. You can also let the cubes defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and then warm them ever so slightly before serving.

Serving the food is good old fashioned fun. The squeals of delight combined with a face covered in the flavour of the day makes baby’s meal time a highlight of our daily routine. I use Munchkin soft-tip infant spoons which are sized right for baby’s mouth and their long handle lets me maneuver around flailing hands. Just don’t put the spoons in the dishwasher like I did or you’ll end up with some plastic art. We have a few different kid-friendly bowls that I transfer the warm food into, and one day I’m sure baby will be able to appreciate their designs and colours.

Waiting a couple of days in between foods helps determine if there are any adverse reactions like rashes or hives. A wise friend said to me not too long ago, “you do the math Cait, you can’t wait four days between introducing each new food,” and right she is, so two or three days for now and in a couple of months I’ll hopefully have covered off the list of recommended foods for the six to nine month period.

Introducing solid foods has indeed been a fun experience, and one that for the foreseeable future that will continue to make us all laugh and squeal with delight.

* New guidelines released last year by Health Canada indicate that starting with iron-rich foods such as meats, meat alternatives or iron-fortified cereal is preferred. You can read those recommendations here and also read an article from the Toronto Star here that highlights the changes.

Additional resources:

Region of Waterloo Introduction to Solid Foods

Teddy Bear’s Picnic Guide to Solid Foods

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I favourited this tweet because I knew I should read the article:

tweet

Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?

After the two most recent incidences of children dying of hyperthermia in cars in Canada, I felt an obligation to read the article, even though I knew it would hurt.

A selfish part of me wishes I’d never read it.

It took me two attempts to read it, because just a few paragraphs in, I panicked and raced upstairs to check on my sleeping baby.

Was his room too warm? Maybe it’s too hot? He feels pretty warm. He looks a bit pale. I’ll wake him up.

I touched his hand, and watched as his little fingers splay and reach around mine. An overwhelming sense relief came over me, but hours later as I put him down for bed, I felt it again. He cried a little, and so I gathered him up in my arms and took him back downstairs. I couldn’t leave him alone, even though I know he would settle himself quickly. I needed him to be beside me. The calm of knowing he was safe didn’t last long. As he drifted off to sleep, I became unnervingly aware of his movements.

Is he breathing? His eyes don’t seem to be closing like they normally do. He feels a bit cold. I touched his face.

I watched his chest go up and down. His eye lids heavy, slowly shut and he raised his arms above his head in that all too familiar position of extreme relaxation. Eventually, and still with hesitation, I took him upstairs and lay him down, lingering a bit longer than usual, and watching that little chest rise and fall.

The paranoia and panic over your child’s safety is so intense, it’s hard to explain. But if you’re a parent, I have no doubt that you know what I am talking about. At times like today, it is all consuming. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really sleep anymore. Sometimes I wake up abruptly in the middle of the night, jump out of bed and race down the hall, only to find him sleeping peacefully. My husband has admitted that he waits for a scream when I do that, for he has the same fear that something is wrong.

The article’s purpose was to discuss the debate of whether forgetting a child in a backseat of a car is a crime or not. It certainly got a good debate started between me and my husband, but more than anything, the article’s horrifying stories of loss and the parents who have to live with it, left me feeling so very insecure.

It’s not just worrying about SIDS or the careening cars on the roundabout as I push the stroller along, now I have to worry about me. Is it possible I could get that distracted or forgetful? Could I put my baby in danger?

It is hard to imagine what those parents and family members go through because even as a parent who hasn’t lost a child, the mere thought of it creates an overwhelming sadness and panic that can at times, make it hard to concentrate on anything but.

While I wish an article like that didn’t have to be written in the first place, reading it was important albeit very difficult. I know tomorrow will be a new day, and I will, like most parents, go about it as usual. But I’m pretty sure I’ll check my baby a little more frequently, and everything else, a lot less.

How do you handle your feelings when it comes to your child’s safety?

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My dear friend, who has an almost 9-year-old son, said something quite profound to me the other night.

“Never say you can’t wait.”

I had said I couldn’t wait for baby to be older so I could sneak him out in his pajamas for a late night treat. She had once told me she did that with her son. Since then, it has always stuck with me as a very intimate moment between mother and son, and reminded me of those special times with my own mum. I was, and still am, excited to experience those incredible bonding moments with my baby boy, but our conversation certainly made me stop and think.

She went on to say how the moments with one’s child go by so quickly that the eager anticipation of the next milestone often overshadows what precious little time we have with our babies. In other words, live in the moment.

The warning against my longing for the future came from a mother’s expertise. I know why she said it and I understand it more now than ever.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed by the desire to have my baby fall asleep on my chest like he used to. It was such a special time in those first few months where his little body fit perfectly on me, with my chin gently able to nuzzle the top of his head. He would lay there content for hours, and I would just the same.

However, it’s not that simple anymore. Eager to explore the world around him and determined not to fall asleep, he pushes himself up and head-butts me. He starts to gently caress my face with his not-so-little hands which soon turns into scratching and clawing of the most impressive kind. Next is the hair. His tiny fingers wrap around a healthy grouping of strands and twist and turn and pull toward his mouth. A rare delicacy, Mummy’s hair is only recommended for the most adventurous pallet.

No matter what he does now though, I’m certain in a month’s time, I’ll be wishing he was clawing my face and pulling my hair out.

They do, as everyone tells you, grow up so fast. What they don’t always tell you is to live in the moment.

Thank you to my Kindred.

 

 

 

 

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There simply are not enough accessible establishments for parents with small children.

I never imagined how frustrated I would become navigating my own city with a stroller, as well as others (cough, Toronto) and why citizens don’t demand more from their local businesses and government to provide a standard of access that makes it easy for anyone with a mobility issue to go where they want to.

I have visited countless stores with no push button door access (even a children’s store!). My husband has tried to change the baby on many occasions only to find out that the restaurant does not have a change table in the men’s washroom. And often times the change areas leave much to be desired, namely cleanliness (but that’s another post). When we went to the Elmira Syrup Festival in April, there was only one family portable washroom, and you needed a hazmat suit to go in it. And most recently, during a trip to the Eaton Centre, I could not find the lone family washroom so I just gave up and changed the baby in the car.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the local Starbucks. It’s the only coffee shop within walking distance and there are no automatic door buttons to help me wield my stroller in and out. It is so infuriating that it is actually a deterrent to visit there anymore. Add in the fact that there is little to no space to navigate the stroller from the point of sale to the coffee bar, or find a seat where I can easily leave the stroller beside me, that I just don’t find the latte is worth the effort.

I want a place that I can go that is easy to get in and out of, and pleasant to hang out in, and that both parents can tend to baby in.

I want a parent-friendly coffee shop that has room to lock a stroller beside me, and where I will not be apologizing for careening my stroller into innocent bystanders.

But above all, I want a standard of accessibility because I’m not the only one who can’t get into that Starbucks. As paying customers we deserve better than to hope for a push button. As citizens we deserve better standards that are enforced by our government and adhered to by our local businesses.

What’s your accessibility beef?

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I’ve always enjoyed the hunt for the ultimate baby gift. Something unique or a new product on the market is often my choice for expecting parents. But now that I’ve experienced three months of motherhood, I know exactly what to give expecting parents – all those little time-saving must-haves.

With friends Mike and Laura expecting in less than two months, I wanted to provide them with a care package of all the things Craig and I found extra helpful. Some of the items we had purchased ourselves in advance, others had been given to us at our shower and some even brought over after baby was born. Regardless of when we got them, having those items meant we didn’t have to race off to Shoppers Drug Mart to buy them. For things like a spare bottle, or even a bottle brush, I often wondered what we would have done if we didn’t have them on hand for an urgent feeding.

So here is the list of things that really made a difference (and that Mike and Laura received!):

The ultimate baby gift

  1. Wash cloths – You can never have enough of these little cloths. Burp cloths are great, but the small wash cloths give you precision clean-up for spit-up and drool. They won’t protect your outfit, but they will help you easily sponge off that third outfit of the day and the car seat straps.
  2. Bottle – Even if you intend to exclusively breastfeed, there’s no telling when a crisis might strike and you will need a bottle. We needed one early on and if we didn’t have that little 4 oz AVENT in the cupboard, who knows how many tears would have been shed. Through the advice of a friend, I now lean towards the Playtex VentAire bottle for its great shape, unique venting, and ease of putting together .
  3. Syringes – In my experience, feeding is a science and not as natural as some make it out to be. So be prepared in case feeding doesn’t go as planned. Having a set of syringes on hand gives you the flexibility to deliver expressed breast milk or formula to your baby (if advised by your practitioner). This medicine set from Safety 1st is ideal.
  4. Binky (Pacifier/Soother) – We didn’t anticipate using a pacifier, but our friend Amy brought a Playtex Binky as a gift when she came to meet our baby. Thank goodness she did, because a few days later when baby was screaming, we ripped open that package and got instant relief. No matter what brand is in his mouth, it is now affectionately referred to as the “Binky”.
  5. Travel size wipes – You often receive lots of plastic containers to carry travel amounts of wipes in, but I found they let too much air in and dried the wipes up. The Pampers travel sizes (pouch) run about $2 a pack and are perfect for keeping in the diaper bag. The seal re-seals easily and I’ve never had a dry wipe.
  6. Bottle cleaner – Remember that spare bottle I mentioned? Having a dedicated Munchkin brand brush that dispenses soap to clean it is a great piece of kitchen equipment, especially if you’re only using a couple of bottles and can’t wait for them to go through the dishwasher. I’d also recommend a sterilizer!
  7. Plastic spoons – You might need to spoon or cup feed your baby, or give them probiotics. Having a few plastic spoons designed for baby’s small mouth really helps.
  8. Dish drying mat – For all those bottles you have on the go, an absorbent microfiber dish mat keeps your countertop dry and your equipment organized.
  9. Newborn or 0-3 outfits – Babies are small, and we actually had to buy sleepers and a few outfits because we didn’t have nearly enough newborn outfits. Keep the tags on them and then if you don’t use them, you can return them. Carter’s sleepers are soft and affordable.
  10. Sudocrem – Little travel sizes of diaper cream are perfect for the mummy and daddy bags, or if you have multiple change areas in your house.
  11. Tylenol for infants – Bless our friends who gave us this must-have. When baby had his two month shots, we were spared having to race out to buy this.

What’s your ultimate baby gift?

 

 

 

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