Entries Tagged 'Reviews' ↓

Back-To-School with Westfield Brandon

Sponsored post.

I’m not sure if it is the flashbacks from my childhood or the fact that my kids will be rid of their video game temptations, but back-to-school time gives me warm fuzzies way down deep. New backpacks, new pencil cases, new shoes, new educational ways to keep my kids’ brains from atrophying from prolonged exposure of “The Regular Show”– yay for back-to-school time!

This year, I was once again invited by Westfield Brandon to do some back-to-school shopping on Florida’s tax-free weekend. (Cue happy dance!) And, let me tell you, I had a serious must-get a list: shoes, backpacks, clothes, socks (HOW do they manage to wear so many holes in socks?), and jackets all needed to be bought.


I am going to be real with you, however. Sure, this is a sponsored post, but there are legit reasons why I love shopping at Westfield Town Centers. Here they are:

Westfield Town Centers put families first. I was impressed by that fact last year and I continue to be this year, too. We went in the Family Playhouse space three times over the course of the day. There is a quiet atmosphere, comfortable couches, a TV, a kitchen area, private nursing areas and a family bathroom. Shopping is exhausting and over-stimulating, especially on a tax-free weekend. We needed to power down in there, it had to happen and this was the perfect spot.

Westfield also has a bunch of play areas for younger kids. And who can forget the AMAZING carousel in the middle of the Center, and even the bungee fun being offered, too. You can shop, play, shop, play, eat, shop, play. I don’t think my boys could have lasted as long without that general activity pattern.

Westfield also offers programming for families on a regular basis. Check out what’s happening here.

Westfield Town Centers give you options and sales. I am always amazed by how many stores there are at Westfield Brandon. That place goes on and on and on. And then we were pleasantly surprised by certain stores. For instance, our first stop was at The Children’s Place because I needed to buy a gift. Hold on, there were clothes big enough for my 7 and 10 year old! I didn’t know that! We wound up buying my 10 year old the COZIEST zip-up hoodie with this fuzzy lining that will be perfect for winters here and trips north. It was, by far, his favorite purchase of the day (even if he was too cool to pose for it so here’s my seven year old holding the bag).

Westfield Town Centers have fun. While we were there, they were offering fun contests, games and make-overs. I saw lots of people involved and trying them out. The staff there were fun and welcoming and nice to kids when their $5 bill wouldn’t go into the token-making machine. (Thanks for the exchange for a crisper one!) Even the security guard tried to make my husband his new buddy while he poured over the map.

Westfield Town Centers offer you more than a food court. I have no beef with a food court, sometimes a quick stop has to happen. But I love how their restaurants are slightly separated from the Center and set in a pretty, landscaped area. It’s a nice reprieve and it is right there on site. We inhaled our food at Red Robin and got right back to it.

Westfield Town Centers give away shopping sprees! Westfield Brandon is currently offering families a chance to win a $1,000 back-to-school shopping spree! Hello, can you imagine how much that could help a family out? Be sure to enter here!

So, sure, our day utterly exhausted us (yes, the crowds were something to behold, as expected) and after five hours of hard-core shopping, I thought I broke my family.

But we really had a great time. My seven year adores his new Ninjago hoodie and Perry the Platypus shoes. My ten year old will be rocking an awesome backpack sure to withstand the rigors of fifth grade and really nice sneakers that won’t disintegrate on week one. There’s something to be said for “having fun” while you go back-to-school shopping, and we did.

Disclosure: I am working directly with Westfield. I am being compensated as an independent blogger. All opinions expressed in this content are mine.

Tampa Theatre: Holiday Classics with the Kids

It feels like every holiday season is another opportunity to make a tradition. Because time is ticking, folks. My wee ones are already rolling their eyes at my Christmas carols, Santa hats and jiggle bell bracelets. I have only a few years remaining to do things that they look back on and say “Remember when we were kids and we used to [insert nostalgic memory here]? That was awesome.” (Because I am sure EVERY family memory of ours will be… “awesome”.)

When I was offered the opportunity to review my movie experience at the Tampa Theatre, I was thrilled to go. You see, they are showing their Holiday Classics and the first was A Muppet Christmas Carol. So off we went, down to the city, with carols blaring and kids trying very hard not to smile about it all in the backseat.

Upcoming “Holiday Classics” being shown the the Tampa Theatre.

The Tampa Theatre is always a treat. This “movie palace”, built in 1926, is nothing like your typical movie complex. There is a fantastic marquee out front and an ornately decorated lobby found just past the ticket booth. It was designed to look much like a Mediterranean square with Tuscan decor and an evening sky above.

Of course my kids thought it looked a little bit like Hogwarts and were about 95% convinced Snape was holding a potions class downstairs, about where the signs pointed to Restrooms. Their imaginations went wild.

Cool water fountain!

The theater itself is just as fantastic with a twinkling night sky above, the same Mediterranean villa theme, gargoyles, various decorative birds and The Mighty Wurlitzer organ which rose out of the stage to play a few Christmas carols before the fun began. The theatre primarily plays movies — in fact, it still plays old 35mm film movies. They are working to install a new digital projection system built uniquely for that theatre.

It was a great program, with Mrs. Claus singing songs and telling stories, an elf to keep with the holiday theme and then the film itself, A Muppet Christmas Carol, which I had actually never seen.

We had a great time but I honestly think my kids were more impressed by the theatre than the movie itself. (HOW could my kids NOT appreciate The Muppets the way I do??) Of course, I kept thinking that a movie night at the Tampa Theatre would make a fantastic date night, too.

Be sure to catch one of the upcoming holiday movies being shown on select weekend days during December.

The Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

Elf The Musical (And My Affinity For Elf Culture)

If you know my family, you know what kind of freaks we are for the movie Elf. I loved it when my first son was only a baby and used to HOPE my children would enjoy it just as much as I did someday.

(Because. You know. “It’s just nice to meet another human that shares my affinity for elf culture.”)

Well, wish granted. My kids have already watched the entire movie start to finish this season and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

A few weeks ago, I heard that Elf The Musical was coming to town. Imagine my reaction. Can’t? Cue another Elf quote to illustrate my enthusiasm: “SANTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I KNOW HIM!!!”

(Oh, yeah, the quotes. We rock them constantly during the holidays. I’m not sure any of my family members can burp without adding a “did you HEAR that?” afterwards. But I digress…)

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and Gordon Gray (Santa) in “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

I could not believe my luck when The Straz Center very graciously invited a group of Tampa bloggers to watch Elf, The Musical. My 9yo son and I went tonight, armed with our favorite quotes and all kinds of musical Christmas cheer cued up and ready to go.

However. Before I officially launch into my review, I want to set some very clear expectations first. This is particularly important for those of you who are thinking about going and are as much of a fan of the movie as I am.  So, listen up.

1) Buddy is fantastic. But he is NOT Will Ferrell. (Who can be?) Don’t go in expecting any hint of a Will Ferrell imitator, either. Buddy isn’t Will, so let that go. THIS Buddy is extraordinarily talented and may even be more earnest and singy and dancy than Will. But it’s a musical and this is theater, so Buddy should be those things. Embrace the new Buddy.

2) Elf The Musical will not copy the movie scene by scene. That would be impossible to do. It does follow the story for the most part, but with a little twist. And the majority of that twist would be original music (but not the tunes from the movie). Like I said, let the movie go a bit and you will be fine.

3) There will be quotes from the movie, for sure. But it won’t cover ALL of them. (Brace yourself, there is no enormous burp and a “Did you hear that?”) And that’s OK. It works out just fine. In fact, this version adds in a few NEW funny quotes of it’s own. Appreciate it as an original piece of musical theater, because it is.

4) Be prepared to get into the Christmas spirit with a whole lot of song and dance.

If you go in with those expectations, you will love it. Honestly, the music was very good and the dancing was fun. It’s a great cast and I ADORED the live orchestra. I think that really adds a lot to the show. The set is great and I was impressed by how they wove the story together on a stage. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it, either. It got a standing ovation at the end.

OH, and here’s the most important part. My 9yo loved it. He laughed and recognized it and read the playbill carefully at the intermission and then raced back to his seat. On the way back to the car, he leaped around and rehashed his favorite parts. (“You smell like beef and cheese!” “You sit on a throne of lies!” “Just cool it, Zippy.”)

If you can reign in your Elf movie obsession and refrain from being too literal, and if you are prepared to just ENJOY theater that gets you into the holiday spirit, go. It will make you smile. And after all, isn’t smiling your favorite?

Elf The Musical is playing at The Straz Center in Tampa, November 20-25.

Westfield Citrus Park: Safe Trick-or-Treating in Tampa!

When my kiddos were very wee, Halloween spooked them. A lot.  The masks, the fake graves, the styrofoam zombies, the dark and the unknown made the treats almost not worth all of those tricks. We went out anyway, of course. But we only went to a few houses and avoided anything that could possible traumatize them.

(You know the “dress up like a Scarecrow trick and then jump at the kids when they walk up your sidewalk” thing? Yeah, well, my nine year old STILL avoids that house on Halloween night years after a scarecrow jumped at him. He was two. NOT COOL.)

Sometimes, an alternative Halloween event is the way to go.

Westfield Mall in Citrus Park IS offering a fun and safe trick-or-treating alternative this Halloween for Tampa residents. Families are welcome to come to the mall in costume on Halloween between 5:00pm and 7:00pm and enjoy a safe trick-or-treating experience. This event is limited to kids 12 and under and no masks or fake weapons are allowed — so the fun will truly be safe and scare-free. Families can expect:

  • Trick-or-treating at local retailers. Look for the “Welcome Trick-or-Treaters” sign!
  • A free trick-or-treat bag–these are being offered to the first 500 WFamily members.
  • The chance to register for a free WFamily membership.
  • Well-lit, early evening, zombie-free Halloween fun!

Lots of Tampa families have already RSVPed on Facebook, so you can expect a fun evening socializing with other spooky families. Don’t forget that Westfield Malls are always family friendly and offer clean family rooms set up for nursing, diaper changing and relaxing. The Westfield Mall in Citrus Park also has a brand new play area, too– it will make a great stop-over in between trick-or-treating fun.

Be sure to visit the Westfield Citrus Park Facebook page here to learn more about the event.

Happy Halloween!

Full-disclosure postscript:

I am working directly with Westfield. I am being compensated as a member of the WFamily Influencer Program.

Pinterest Reviews: Halloween Spider House

I love decorating for the holidays. But, do you want to know what really makes me ADORE this time of year?  My oldest son’s squeal-worthy excitement when we get the boxes out of the attic. He has so much love for the cheap plastic pumpkins and strings of orange lights.

I can only hope that look on his face never changes. But, it will. I know it will. So, NOW is the time to make Halloween and the rest of these holidays count.

So, back to Pinterest, I saw this crazy cool idea on there about a month ago. I pinned it. THIS I wanted to try.

According to the link, these spiders are available at Walgreens. So, this morning, I got up and took my 6 year old up to our closest Walgreens. Sure enough, there they were. Not quite as big, and we didn’t get as many at that size (the biggest we could find were $9.99 each). But we got a bunch in a variety of sizes and brought them home.

My husband, being SUCH A FRICKING TROOPER, got up on the roof, in the beating hot Florida sun, and proceeded to gently hammer the legs of these creatures (we used small nails, nothing damaging) into our roof while I directed from the ground.

“Make sure they are LOOKING at us! OK? OK?!!!”

I have to say. It looks pretty amazing. (And I don’t think the pictures do it enough justice, either.)

Recommendations: This was a Pinterest WIN.

My only concern? Weather. Fingers crossed hurricane season really IS just about over… heh.

Pinterest Reviews: Shower Floor Cleaner

I have been on a pinning rampage recently. Like so many others, pinning for me has replaced that no-think time when you curl up on the coach and read a magazine. Except that it is free, covers every topic you love, requires no paper and keeps what you want to try carefully organized for you.

Well, today I decided to put some pins to task. What IF they worked as well as they promised?

Here is the first pin that got me oh-so-hopeful (via The Craft Patch).

Here is my shower floor (criiinge, this is embarrassing…) BEFORE I tried it:

And then I followed the steps exactly. And waited about 2 hours. The house reeked, by the way. My kids ran outdoors and yelled that it made them gag. I didn’t care. I was too damn hopeful.

After the two hours had passed, I went in and started wiping. Nothing. Then I started scrubbing. HARD. I went Mr. Miagi, wax-on-wax-off on that shower floor. I really tried. I really, REALLY wanted it to work.

Here it is AFTER I was done. (And by done, I mean that my arm was shaking.)

OK. Well. If you squint, maybe you can see an improvement. …Maybe? I’m not sure.

I will say that I sprayed that stuff on my glass shower door and it DID work. Well. Not 100% but the scum is mostly gone. But my floor is really still pretty gross.

Granted, this is a tough one to try it on. I have tried everything over the past years to get a clean shower floor. Bleach, CLR, Soft Scrub. Nothing does it. So. Maybe it was too much to ask for. But I also tried it on my kids’ tub and I didn’t see much of an improvement either (and that tub is a lot cleaner… looking).

Final recommendation: A house stinking of vinegar just wasn’t worth the (slight?) improvement that I saw. Oh well.

I probably just need to rip the whole shower out and start over anyway.

Family Updates at Westfield Mall in Citrus Park

I spent part of my day at Westfield Mall in Citrus Park yesterday. Yup, I was on another mission to see what is happening right now at one of my favorite malls. Not surprisingly, they had some new updates to share. So, now I am sharing these with you!

I swear it says Citrus… not Cipus.

The Westfield App

The folks at Westfield asked that I try out their new smartphone app. Well, I downloaded this new app and wound up using it before I even got INTO the mall. Why? I wanted to know which part of the parking lot had the most direct access to Starbucks. It worked. It also showed me what deals and discounts are happening at which stores in the mall. I could search by deal or type of store or search for a store and then find what deals are happening there before I head over. It also has a concierge option where you can ask it questions like: “WHERE ARE THE COOKIES?” And it told me to go to Blondies Cookies. Hooray! It would be kind of cool if it got more social and had some ways to see which of my friends had checked in to which stores or if any friends were hanging with their kids at the play area. Maybe someday… Oh and this app is FREE and can be used at any Westfield Mall. Learn more or download it here.

Family Activities

Westfield Malls are ALL about families. At Westfield Mall in Citrus Park, they offer Westfield Family Fun Days every third Thursday of the month at 4pm. They also offer a number of other events and promotions for families hosted by various mall retailers. Learn more here. Tampa folks: the next Family Fun Day is happening this coming Thursday, September 20th at 4:00pm!

Great play areas with cute kid-sized tables nearby.

But you know what really impresses me most about Westfield Malls? The family friendly spaces. In particular, the Family Rooms where there are clean, comfortable spaces for little ones to play and watch a little TV. They also have comfortable, private breastfeeding areas for moms. I know that back when I was breastfeeding on the hour, a lounge like this would have made an outing to the mall MUCH less overwhelming with my kids. Great job with this, Westfield. Other great spaces are the play areas — one of which is going to be newly renovated later in October at Citrus Park.

Family Lounge at Westfield Mall in Citrus Park

My kids and I had a blast yesterday. Shopping is much less of a pain when the kids have fun things to do, too.

I will leave you with this last cool bit of knowledge. Photobooths have gone social! For $5, my kids and I got three strips of cute pics and I got the chance to post them to Facebook, Twitter AND (for an additional fee of $1.49) upload the video of our picture taking session to YouTube!


Full-disclosure postscript:

I am working directly with Westfield. I am being compensated as a member of the WFamily Influencer Program.

Back-To-School Shopping at Westfield Mall

Sponsored post.

From time to time, I enjoy using my blog to get to know various products and services–and then shout my thoughts here as objectively and honestly as I can. My next adventure brings me to the mall, actually. Westfield Malls, to be exact. Over the next few months, you will be hearing from me as a WFamily Local Influencer. I’ll be sharing my experiences in their local malls once in awhile and hope to give you some good, outsider intel about what is going down there.

Fun, right?

My first adventure happened about a week ago when my family did some Back-To-School shopping at the Westfield Mall in Brandon, Florida. Check this out, I have lived in the Tampa area for about 8 years and I had never been there! So, I got to scope the whole place out as a newbie. I also got to check a bunch of items off my list with a very appreciated gift card, thanks to the folks at Westfield.

I know *I* was fired up to get as much as I possibly could.

And I say “I” because, admittedly, my kids aren’t really into shopping. It bores them, they will wear anything, they just want to chase each other through racks of clothes and then they wind up getting yelled at a lot–so, as a family, shopping isn’t always a fun thing.

But I was pleasantly surprised by this mall. Why? It made shopping with the kids FUN. No, I mean it. Sure, sure, the kids still had to behave in stores and try things on and not knock over racks of clothes but, thanks to well placed play-areas, food stops and one gorgeous carousel, the kids actually had a great time.

One highlight was a stop at ShakeOut where we were given milkshakes to try. These aren’t your typical milkshakes, either. They actually blend all kinds of goodies right in: cookies, cake, candy, Skittles, marshmallows… you name it. Holy crap, I died from the delish. SO, SO good. And if you live near the Brandon, Florida area — PAY ATTENTION — I have milkshakes to give away…

So, back to the mall. Sure, it was crowded. Sure, we got tired. But we got everything we needed without killing each other. All of my favorite shopping spots were there (including great affordable anchor stores for the kid “basics”), there were good spots to stop for coffee and kid-playing, and lots of restaurants for real meals (other than pretzels and milkshakes and the rest).


Interested in winning a shopping spree for yourself? Westfield is hosting a $500 Back-to-School shopping spree on their Facebook page. This isn’t limited to Florida residents, of course. Check out all of the Westfield mall locations found nationwide. Enter their contest here.


Also, want to try out those AMAZING milkshakes I was raving about earlier? I have four milkshakes to give away. Comment below that you want them. I know you do… so comment (even if it’s simply “I WANT MILKSHAKES!”) and I will pick a winner at random on August 14th. I’ll be emailing the winner for a mailing address so I can send the passes for free shakes.

Stay tuned for more about Westfield malls!

And here’s where I write my disclosure:

I am working directly with Westfield. I am being compensated as a member of the WFamily Influencer Program.

Soft Water Luxuries

This is a post reviewing a really fancy new water softener. If you need one, like I do, you’ll get why I’m pretty excited to have this opportunity to try one out.

If I still lived in Boston, this post would have made very little sense to me. Soft water, hard water… who cares. But I don’t live there anymore, I live in Florida and I have lived with Florida’s hard water for almost 9 years. And I have learned this: soft water is a fantastic luxury.

If you have hard water, my guess is that you would wholeheartedly agree.

A few weeks back, I was approached to review a Kenmore Elite Hybrid Water Softener. The timing was almost eerie. Only days before (I kid you not, literally two days before I received that email), my brother and I were standing in my kitchen lamenting my water glasses. They all look a lot like this:

“You need a water softener, Caroline. If your glasses look like this, imagine what the inside of your hot water heater looks like. And your washer and dishwasher.”

I had already lost one dishwasher to hard water — calcium deposits clogging the tiny water holes, the heating element almost entirely caked over.

He went on to lecture me about how a water softener would be a great investment for the house, how it would increase the value. Hard water screws stuff up, period, end of story.

Behold my (supposed to be clear, not frosted glass) shower door and shower head:


Fast forward to a few days later and I was accepting this review gratefully. I was curious, too. How does this thing work exactly?

Yesterday, a VERY nice (and kind of adorable) man named Felix came to install it in our garage. It took awhile. And? It did require holes to be drilled through the garage wall to the plumbing for our hose. Yep, that made me nervous. But when he was done, it looked very fancy and ready to go… and a whole lot like an ATM (wouldn’t THAT have been a fun little extra?)… or some sort of Star Wars droid.

But I digress.

I will be reporting back in a few months to let you know how it is working out. Because, you know, I’m excited to be able to SEE what I’m drinking again. Oh and rumor has it that my skin and hair will feel softer, too. And, according to my very wise little brother, all my appliances will have a longer shot at making it through a few more years here in Florida with me.

I’ll keep you posted…

Motherhood, The Musical: My Review

Is motherhood something to be laughed at? Because, you know and I know that there are times when mothers completely lose their sense of humor. Poof, gone, lost, for a very long time. At 4am with a screaming — or giggling, wide-awake — baby. At 5pm, the witching hour, when dinner isn’t ready yet and you’re ankle deep in toddler tantrums. At the grocery store when you can’t seem to get down an aisle without screaming at your fighting children. Motherhood can be slow, endless, Chinese water torture, threatening to pull you deep, down into stewing pits of parenting despair. I’ll admit that it’s the hardest thing I have ever done.

And that’s why finding any outlet to laugh at parenting is so damn important.

And that’s where “Motherhood, The Musical” comes in.

I was asked to review this musical, now playing at the Straz Center in downtown Tampa, last week. And, since I am sucker for musicals (don’t even get me STARTED on my obsession with “Wicked”) and since I just really like the folks at the Straz, I was 100% down for some funny mom theater. Plus, I’ve seen lots of Facebook statuses raving about the show: “I laughed! I cried!” So, I was excited to check it out.

I rounded up two very deserving moms from my work to come with me and we set out for the Straz after a particularly crazy week at work.

The show was in the Jaeb Theater which is a smaller, cabaret style theater. We found our seats around a small table, surrounded by (no surprise here) many other mothers gathered for the show. The space was intimate — which meant a comfortable, more connected experience. I was impressed right away as the theater staff began the evening by reaching out to pregnant moms in the audience. They also sold pins with the profits going to autism research. And they even had cute “Motherhood, The Musical” postcards on the table which we could fill out and they would send for us if we dropped it in a mailbox in the lobby. (I sent one to my mother-in-law.) I have to say, the people who work at the Straz are just nice. They smile, they ask you how you are, they take pictures for you, they just make the whole vibe comfortable and welcoming. And, being a theater dork from way back, I think that really helps set the vibe for the show itself – so “cheers” to them…

Now, what did I think of the show itself? It was really great. Truly. But let me start with a couple negatives first.

Admittedly, they touched on a few cliches. You know, “we’re not gonna take cooking and cleaning anymore”  kind of thing. The naive pregnant mom, and the “knowing”, jaded other mothers hell bent on scaring the crap out of her. Mini-vans, grocery shopping, and husbands that have very little to do with parenting at all.

However. They took these typical motherhood cliches (which are only cliches because they are common experiences, by the way) and turned them into gut-busting, musical hilarity. The women who played the four mothers in the show were FANTASTIC. I kind of want to be friends with the divorced mom and the working mom. No, really. I want to have drinks with them because they have to be that awesome in real-life. (Hey ladies, email me! I can try to be awesome too!)

Also, the lyrics and the music in the show are both excellent. The lyrics are very well written, just FUNNY. Cliche or not, the mini-van song was hysterical. They took the sagging and leaking experiences of so many mothers and made anthems out of them. Even the “no more cooking and cleaning” thing was awesome. They rocked out. And I laughed. A lot.

And so did the women around us. Seriously. Women were howling, and stomping the floor, and standing, and cheering. Clearly, this show connected with the majority of the audience.

I also cried a little. No, I did. The song about “Every Other Weekend” in which the divorced mom sang about what it is like to be alone every other weekend. And how the kids come home spoiled by their fathers and she has to be the bad guy, and how she manages… well. I totally boo-hooed and said a little thankful prayer that I don’t have to experience weekends like those.

I don’t think this is a show for the majority of husbands. (Maybe some, but certainly not mine. His eye-rolling would have annoyed the hell out of me.) And, I don’t think this is a show for women who have no interest in parenting yet. I know one woman who saw it, but who isn’t anywhere near ready for children, and she said it “scared the crap out of her”. That said, bring your mother. Bring your mom friends. Bring your pregnant daughter. Bring the moms at work and the moms on your block and the teachers of your children. I suspect they will love it.

Also, if you’re going to get hung up the cliches and parenting generalizations, just check those at the door. Relax. Have fun. Let yourself laugh. Don’t take it too seriously. This isn’t supposed to be heavy stuff or some wildly prophetic social commentary. Its fun, and very funny. And it’s obviously something many, many, MANY mothers just “get”.

Cheers to the Straz and the awesome actors who rock that show out night after night (I kind of want your life). You did a fantastic job. Thanks for reminding me to laugh at this mothering stuff and then leave me ready to get back home and hug my boys super tight. Laughing like I did that night made me take a step back, accept the good and the ugly of this motherhood thing, and simply appreciate it so much more.

Want to go see it now? Get $29 tickets to see “Motherhood, The Musical” at the Straz Center through August 28th. Use promo code TIX29. The offer ends August 12th, though!  Restrictions and charges apply.