Living well on a budget, without being truly cheap.

Crock Pot Breakfast Goodness

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

This is another Embrace the Crock Pot moment, give it a Big Bromance Hug!

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and typically my biggest meal of the day.  I like a hot breakfast though, cereal just doesn't cut it for me.  But there are times when I just don't feel like cooking in the morning, especially when I know I've got a very busy day ahead of me at work.

Enter the trusty crock pot, perhaps the bachelor's best kitchen friend.

Cook your breakfast from the comfort of your bed.

That's right, put the crock pot to work while you sleep.  If you can put your coffee pot on a timer to start brewing at 6am, why not do something similar with breakfast?  Let your crock pot do the cooking for you overnight.

Here's a simple to put together recipe that will get you out of bed quicker than a Chief's exit from the NFL playoffs. 

Crock Pot Breakfast Goodness 

Ingredients:

  • One Tablespoon olive oil
  • One Russet potato, peeled, rough chopped
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • Splash of milk
  • One teaspoon of seasoning salt
  • 4-6 ounces of little smokies or diced ham
  • One teaspoon dried, minced onion
  • One teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese (American is a nice alternative)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

'Twas the night before breakfast....  (OK, a little seasonal humor there...).  Put in the olive oil and brush it around the bottom a bit.  Add the chopped potato and the seasoning salt, this serves as the foundation of the dish.  Toss in the meat.  Scramble the eggs with the milk, minced onion, garlic powder and pour over the meat and potatoes.  Put the lid on setting your crock pot to low.  Go to bed.  In the morning and about 15 minutes before you're ready to eat, top the crock breakfast goodness with the shredded cheese and let it melt.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!


Christmas Shopping - Give the gift of 'Freedom of Choice"

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you hate Christmas shopping, you're not alone.  Trying to figure out what to buy for everyone, budgeting for it all, fighting the crowds while thinking about something else you'd rather be doing with your time....  I know, not a very holiday friendly mindset, but it is the reality for many folks.

Enter, gift cards

Some people think gift cards aren't personal enough, that not enough 'thought' was put into the gift....

Horse manure.

Gift CardsGiving a gift card means the recipient gets to purchase what THEY want, spend the free money as THEY choose.  You can't GET any more personal and suited-to-the-individual than freedom of choice.

Don't worry about Mom giving you the, "Tsk, tsk."   If she was to really think about it, there is no downside to giving a gift card.  Just about any retailer takes a Visa or Mastercard giving the recipient the freedom of choice to shop where they want and yes, you can even personalize gift cards these days.  If you know a person's favorite store, you can get them a card for their favorite store because just about all the popular retailers offer gift cards. 

And here are the best reasons to give the gift of gift cards:

  • It's a virtual guarantee the person you gifted will get what they want.
  • It's a lot easier to budget your Christmas shopping.  While it's true there is no mystery in a person knowing how much you spent on them, there's no more surprise to you in learning how much that drone costs and still feeling obligated to buy it for little Johnny and then having to adjust (reduce) your budget for everybody else.  With gift cards, everybody gets 'X' dollars and you can't get any more fair than that.  
  • It's far easier to be able to focus on just gift cards for everyone, speeding up your shopping experience.  There's no going from one store to another, from the mall to that plaza, to that downtown boutique or specialty store across town.  You can pretty much get any kind of card you want in one trip to the grocery store.  You'll be done faster, able to focus on other holiday things, like decorating, volunteering, spending time with family, visiting with friends you haven't seen in awhile, going to a party you might otherwise miss, baking up goodies.
  • Gift cards are far more easily mailed.  There's no standing in long lines at the post office needing to mail a bunch of packages.  Just drop a Christmas card with that gift card enclosed at the drop box from the comfort of your warm car.

Gift the gift of a gift card for Christmas, it's freedom of choice for the recipient and greater holiday freedom for you.


Drink Review: Kentucky Deluxe blended whiskey

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I like whiskey, but not straight whiskeys, I'm a blended whiskey kind of guy.  What is the difference between a straight whiskey and a blended whiskey you ask?

Straight whiskey is generally defined as distilling a fermented cereal grain mash (it could be corn, rye or barley) to create a spirit and then aging it in oak barrels for at least two years.  To note, corn mash is typical of American whiskey, rye mash is most common for Canadian whiskeys and Scotch is made with barley.  The taste of straight whiskeys is sometimes described as harsh by some, but it's the oak, or woody, aged taste that straight whiskey drinkers appreciate.

A blended whiskey is the product of blending different types of whiskeys, the mixing of one or more higher quality straight or single malt whiskeys with less expensive spirits which are "grain neutral," essentially tasteless and odorless alcohols, similar to vodka.  Blends can also have other ingredients such as caramel coloring and flavorings. The result is usually a 'sweeter' bourbon, rye or scotch whiskey and less of the "wood" taste.  Blended whiskeys are also less expensive. 

Some examples of straight whiskeys are Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Templeton Rye, and Laphroaig. 

Some examples of blended whiskey include Canadian Mist, Seagram's Seven, Cask & Crew, and Cutty Sark.

20171207_114450Being a bourbon guy, my go-to brand is Kentucky Deluxe, a bourbon blend.  It's very drinkable on the rocks and provides a nice base for any mixed drink calling for whiskey.  I like blended whiskeys for that sweeter element to them, and then yes, there's the price. 

A straight bourbon whiskey like Makers Mark goes for around $30 a bottle (750ml, a.k.a, a "fifth"), Jack Daniels, around $20.  A straight rye whiskey like Templeton runs around $30 and a straight scotch like Laphroaig about $35.

Bourbon blends are less expensive, with the likes of Canadian Mist and Seagram's Seven going for around $11 or $12 a bottle.  And the blends in rye and scotch are cheaper too with a rye blend like a bottle of Cask & Crew going for around $22 and a scotch blend such as Cutty Sark costing about $21.

My go-to, Kentucky Deluxe, goes for about $9 a fifth and a "Texas Fifth", a.k.a.,  a half gallon bottle, goes for about $16.  Yes, it's bottom shelf stuff, but I'm here to tell you that in a mixed drink blind taste test between Canadian Mist and Kentucky Deluxe.....  You can't tell the difference and that $2 or $3 I save can go towards some citrus to garnish those drinks with.

  

 

 

 


Reviewing Seed Catalogs

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

With some very chilly weather hitting the area and winter finally settling in, now is a good time to check out plant/seed catalogs and online websites.  Here are some choices that may be of interest to you.

Jung Seeds & Plants:  I've had a pretty good experience with Jung's over the years, their shipping is timely (some outfits will ship starter plants/stock way too early for northern states) and their product is sound.  You can't go wrong with their veggie lineup.

Burpee:  Another standby, and their seed packets can be seen in many stores come late winter/early spring.  Menards, Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, True Value and major grocery stores come to mind.  The Burpee website has a product review section which is kind of nice in making purchasing decisions.

Park Seed Co.:  This is another company with quite a bit of history, 143 years in fact.  Reasonably priced, their catalog has good content and their sale items are attractive, as opposed to lower quality offerings on other, less popular sites. 

Burgess:  Another popular company, also a brand you'll find in the stores come spring.  Some of their bulb collection is hit or miss.  In my experience the rate of a bad bulb is higher than other companies.

~~~~~

Mike's Indoor Garden Update:  I'll be harvesting green beans soon!

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Get Free HDTV with an Indoor Antenna

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Let's face it, cable TV just costs too much money, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it!

I'm a football junkie, both college and pro and I must admit, that after going through a spring and summer without cable TV last year, I was pining for football in September.  Despite loving my Roku streamer and all the entertainment it provides, it lacks football.  So I called the cable company and added TV to my internet package.  I was fine with that, not really liking the price but loving the football, until Cox Cable sent me my latest bill jacking my cable TV price up $19 a month.  It's a rate increase that crossed a line for me, pushing my total cable tv/internet bill to $161 a month!

OUCH!

I tried to do the online Chat on the Cox Cable website to talk about the rate hike, but I was blown off by their Chat Representative, who stated she couldn't discuss rate increases and gave me a 1-800 number to call.  Already having spent roughly 10 minutes in the chat... Waiting; "Hi, thanks for using Chat, how can I help you?"; verifying my ID; waiting; the rep asking for my patience while she pulls up my account information which for some odd reason takes forever; waiting; then I restate that I wish to discuss the rate increase and she responds with, "Oh, I can't talk about rate increases"....  Sigh....  You couldn't have just told me that when I opened up the Chat window leading with that very question??!!!    Frustrated by the run-around and not having the patience to call a 1-800 number for more of the same, I then wrote a snail mail letter to Cox Cable to see if they would drop me back down to the rate I was paying prior to the increase, you would think they would want to keep a good customer right?  I got no response.  So last Friday, I disconnected my Contour TV receiver (a box Cox forces you to rent for about $8+ tax a month), traveled to the nearest Cox Cable "Solutions" Store, turned in the TV equipment and reverted back to my internet only package.

So what am I going to do to avoid football withdrawals?  After all, the College Football Playoff, bowl games and the NFL playoffs are right around the corner.....  And heck, I'm hosting a Super Bowl Party!  I can't have a Super Bowl Party and NOT have the game on!

Mohu Leaf 30Enter, the Mohu Leaf mini Indoor HDTV Antenna

With a range of 30 miles, this multi-directional antenna picks up all the network affiliates in town and then some!  I'm getting ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and a number of other channels (31 in fact).  Now about 10 of those are a mix of Spanish speaking, church going and shopping network so I won't watch any of those, but to remember - I WANT FOOTBALL!  I'll get plenty of football on the major networks.  This is free broadcast TV, the antenna cost me $18 at Walmart.  The only outlet I won't have for football watching is ESPN.  I can live with that.   The antenna is mine, there's no equipment to rent, no subscription required.  All the channels come in crystal clear, in many cases of better picture quality than what cable provided.  The only issue I have is the local ABC affiliate sometimes does that querky digital pattern distortion thing, but I have yet to optimize the antenna for the absolute best placement, so that issue may yet be resolved.

All the local network affiliates are within 20 miles of where I live and that's why I went with the 30 mile range antenna.  Mohu also offers other indoor antennas with 50 and 60 mile ranges in the $50 price range which if you think about is still an excellent deal given it's a one-time purchase.  I may have even picked up a few more stations with the increased range, but I figured I was getting what I wanted with the Mohu mini.  If you're in a more rural setting, then the 50/60 mile range models are what you'd need.

The antenna itself is paper thin, you can easily attach it to your wall or cabinet with push pins or velcro (provided), it's reversible (white or black) and paintable!  This purchase is a winner-winner-football-watching-dinner!

The Mohu Leaf 30 Indoor Antenna is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly at only $18 and delivers as advertised.  If you're thinking about disabling your cable, this is a great way to do it!  Now if you'll excuse me, the Chiefs are on Fox and the Patriots are on CBS.....

The Mohu Leaf gets five out of five Bachelor on the Cheap Stars!

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Food Review: Arby's Bacon Beef 'n Cheddar

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Bacon Beef 'n CheddarWhenever craving a roast beef sandwich, Arby's is a go-to place for me - it is their specialty after all - and so when I saw their limited time offer of two Bacon Beef 'n Cheddar sandwiches for $6, I HAD to jump on it!

I ordered the sandwiches to go, along with a side of potato cakes, which I always get.  You can't go to Arby's and NOT get a side of potato cakes!

"So, how are the Bacon Beef 'n Cheddar sandwiches?"  You ask....

They're good, as Arby's Beef 'n Cheddar sandwiches always are...  The classic flavors of the thinly sliced roast beef piled high, combined with that cheddar cheese, elevated up a notch with the pepper bacon served up on that delicious poppy seed/onion fun.  It's another dose of YUM!  The only knock I have against the sandwich is Arby's is not particularly generous with that bacon.

20171201_122305Pictured above is the promotional picture of the sandwich from the Arby's website.  Pictured left, is what I was served at the restaurant (click to enlarge).  No, you never get that promo picture perfect sandwich at the restaurant, but not bad right?  20171201_122336But here's that bacon problem...  What looked good on the edges, wasn't quite so ample looking when you flipped the bun.  The bacon appears to be full strips laid across that luscious roast beef in the ad promo pic, it's not done like that in the restaurants, well, not at the one I sampled anyway.  It's a typical, sloppy, fast food preparation of a sandwich, resulting in not getting bacon in every bite.  Got plenty 'a bacon mouthful on half the sandwich, not so much on the other.....  Another note, Arby's claims this is thick cut pepper bacon.  It's got the pepper, but it's not thick cut.

20171201_111005Overall, this is indeed a good fast food sandwich, as in good but not great.  The bacon, the reason for the promo hype, is a bit of a disappointment.

My order cost a bit over $8 which is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly.  I had one sandwich and the potato cakes for lunch, leaving me the second sandwich to enjoy for dinner.  Will I buy Arby's Bacon Beef 'n Cheddar again?   While on the special, perhaps, but not from the regular menu if it makes the list.  I'd rather sample the next special Arby's chooses to offer up. 

 

 

 


Finding great grocery deals post Thanksgiving Day

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Timing is everything when it comes to finding some great deals at the grocery store during the holidays.

You really have no choice but to buy items at full price when prepping for that great Thanksgiving meal, the turkey or a ham being a key ingredient.

But what about after Thanksgiving?

When a grocery store orders too many turkeys or hams for the Thanksgiving holiday, they have to discount them to move them out and make space for incoming shipments in stocking up for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

20171207_103253Can you say, "Savings!"  Why yes, yes you can.

I bought an 8+ pound ham today for 99 cents a pound at Aldi.

BARGAIN!

That's enough to feed me for more than a week and store some in the freezer for later days, or, I can keep that ham on hand for a nice Christmas dinner.  I didn't bother to look at turkey prices because 1., I'm not a big fan of turkey (I would rather eat chicken) and 2., I don't have the freezer space.

Aside from turkeys and hams, other items that you might find great deals on because stores ordered too much or a "sell by" date may be looming are eggs, dairy products, fresh veggies and selected fruits.

But remember, timing is everything.  As soon as grocery stores move these items to make room for the new product coming in, those prices are going to go back up!

 


Food Review: Marie Callender's Pie

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I love pie, I'll take pie over any other kind of dessert offering, but I hate making them, namely the pie crust.  Making the dough is a labor intensive project if you want a flaky, golden brown and delicious final product.  It entails using chilled water and really cold butter with the flour, resting the dough, dusting the dough, rolling the dough, folding the dough, trimming the dough, pinching/decorating the edge, then finally, pre-baking the bottom crust of dough to make sure it's cooked through in presenting the final product, the pie.  I'd rather put that kind of labor into grilling or smoking meat.

Enter, Marie Callender's

Blueberry pieSo this Thanksgiving, I bought two pies made by Marie Callender's, a pumpkin and a blueberry.  Blueberry isn't a traditional Thanksgiving pie for most folks, but it is my favorite and it was calling to me as I pulled the pumpkin from the grocery store freezer.... 

"Pick me, pick me, you don't want cherry or apple, pick ME!" 

Originally intending to get a pumpkin and a cherry pie, I grabbed the blueberry with hesitation, not because I may or may not have been hearing voices, but because it's a new product offering from Marie Callender's.  I wondered if it had been refined enough in the company's test kitchen before making it to market.  There's only one way to find out.

The directions on the packages were straight forward, nothing complicated about it.

The blueberry pie went into the oven on Thanksgiving eve, brushing the top crust with a beaten egg before baking.  TIP:  Baking your pies the day before or first thing in the morning on Thanksgiving Day ensures your oven is free for the main events of the day, namely the turkey and the casserole sides, which need to be served hot.  You don't want to wait and bake your pies after roasting the turkey thinking they'll be done in time for dessert because they won't.  Pies need time to cool and set up.  The last thing you want is a runny (too hot and not set up yet) pie and the flavors just won't be there like they are with a cooled and set pie.  Although to admit, hot fruit pie over vanilla ice cream, while a bit messy, IS pretty darn good....

So after baking per the package instructions, I pulled the blueberry out of the oven, hit that top crust with a little melted butter and set it aside to cool.  The package recommends cooling the pie at least three hours, which I did.  Perhaps not even 30 seconds past that mark, I sliced into the pie with a side of vanilla ice cream on a dessert plate standing by to receive......   When Marie Callender's suggests at least three hours to cool, they should have stated at least four.  The pie was runny, filling falling aside as I plated the slice.  The picture on the box, NOT taken after just three hours of cooling.  So while the runny filling was a bit disappointing, the flavor was not!  Even though I didn't get a full amount of filling a slice deserves, the blueberrys were plump and juicy as advertised and that crust was flaky, golden brown and delicious.   Marie did a nice job on this new product offering, the only knock I've got against it is the cooling time, more patience is needed.  It's a repeat buy!

Pumpkin pieThe pumpkin pie was put in the oven first thing Thanksgiving morning.   I pulled it out of the oven and gave it the toothpick test when the time went off, put it back in the oven as the toothpick didn't come out clean.  I baked it off an additional 10 minutes to ensure doneness.  Oven temps do indeed vary.  Once cooled, this pie too delivered the flavor.  There is a reason pumpkin pie and whipped cream is the favorite on Thanksgiving Day and Marie's pie delivers!  Over the years of Thanksgiving celebrations, I've had home made pies from Moms, Grandmas, Aunts, pies from restaurants, pies from bakeries, pies from specialty stores....  I think I could put this pie in a lineup and folks would be hard pressed to pick which one was the store bought pie from the freezer in a taste test.  

Thank you Marie Callender's!  Your pies rock and the price is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly!  I don't think you could make a scratch made pie for what I paid for these.  The cost was about $5.50 each and think of all that time I saved without sacrificing flavor!

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The blueberry, fresh out of the oven.  TIP:  Always line your cookie sheet with foil, MUCH easier clean up!

 

 


Pre-Planning Meals from the Grill

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

What sounds better, a bologna sandwich for lunch, or a leftover grilled cheeseburger from last night's dinner?

Cheeseburger - no brainer.  If you've got some leftover burgers in the fridge, you can heat that patty in the microwave and assemble a burger about as quickly as you could in making a bologna sandwich.  And a burger is SOOOOO much better! 

If you've never pre-grilled a whole lot of great eats to consume for breakfast, lunch or dinner later in the week, you should start doing so.  Your meals - especially those on the go - will be more satisfying.

What I'm suggesting you do isn't a whole lot different than perhaps what your mom, grandma or spouse did/does in pre-making a few meals and putting them in the freezer.  It's convenient to be able to pull out a lasagna or a beef stroganoff and throw it in the microwave and/or oven on a busy night, when family members are all on busy schedules and there's just no time to prep a good meal.  This works out great for unexpected company too.  So take that pre-made lasagna thought and turn it into grilled fare.....  And grilled is SO much better!


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When you've got some time on the weekend, fire up the charcoal and get to grilling!  If you've got room in the fridge and freezer for leftovers, there's no reason not to stock up with grilled fare and enjoy it later in the week, without having to light a match or push that igniter button.

Got a package of hot dogs in the fridge?  Throw them on.  A couple grilled hot dogs reheated in the microwave for lunch is MUCH better than just a couple hotdogs taken out of the package and nuked or boiled.  Get the charcoal!

Got some of those frozen hamburger patties in the freezer?  Throw them on.  I always grill up more hamburger patties than I think will be eaten.  I like deli meat sandwiches, but a burger, even leftover, is SOOOO much better.  And burgers aren't just for making burgers either.  Patties can make a great impromptu Salisbury steak.

Here's the key to pre-grilling:  Don't cook items all the way through like when you're going to eat it/them right then, for dinner.  You want to pull meats and veggies off the grill slightly under-cooked to the way you typically like them if you're pre-grilling meals for later in the week.  The reheating you do for that future breakfast, lunch, or dinner will finish the cooking process, charcoal flavor, preserved.

Grilling fare to consider, for some quick meals and/or sides/toppings later in the week:

  • Bratwursts.  I love brats, but who has time to do these properly for lunch during the week?  Cook some up (I like to poach mine in wine or beer and then finish them off on the grill) on the weekend to enjoy later.
  • Thinly sliced Ribeye steak for Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
  • Grill up your favorite fish for some fish tacos.  YUM!
  • If you ever make kabobs for dinner, do more than you think will be eaten.  Leftover Kabobs, along with a side of rice and pita bread, makes a fantastic quick meal!
  • Pork chops - this one is a big go-to for me.  I always cook up some chops when pre-grilling meals.  Grilled chops are great leftovers for sandwiches, chopped up and put in a quick stir fry, or smothered in gravy!
  • Chop up a few potatoes, steak fry style, toss them in olive oil, season them, throw them on the grill.  All entrees need a side right?
  • Breakfast sausage.  You'll stop going to the drive-through at McDonald's on the way to work if you've got some pre-grilled and ready to assemble breakfast sausage with a biscuit or tortilla.
  • Bacon.  See sausage, above.  And grilled bacon has so many uses.  Crumble it up and put it on a salad, turn those steak fries into cheesy/bacon steak fries.
  • Chop up an onion, throw it on.  Onions seasoned with your favorite seasoning salt and olive oil, then grilled, add a lot of flavor to that deli sandwich!
  • Slice up a couple of bell peppers.  What you did with the onions, can be done with peppers.
  • Pizza dough, yes, pizza dough.  A nice pizza crust with a smoky flavor makes for a nice, quick lunch or 'everyone is eating dinner at a different time tonight' kind of thing.  Just throw on some sauce, toppings and slip it under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Grill up a half-dozen personal pan size crusts.
  • Make a fruit cobbler in a cast iron skillet.  Combined with some vanilla ice cream, a great dessert for later in the week!

Those are just a few ideas, use your imagination.  Anything you enjoy in grilled fare, can be done in pre-grilling meals for later in the week.  Just remember to pull whatever it is, off the grill, slightly under-cooked to how you like it.  

If you don't have the time to plan out and pre-grill some meals on the weekend or during some downtime, if you still have some heat left on the grill from doing dinner, or maybe you used too much charcoal for the task....  Take advantage of that heat and don't let that charcoal flavor go to waste!  Grab that package of hot dogs, pull out that breakfast sausage.  Even if it's something as simple as slicing up a lemon or lime, getting a little char, then using that great flavor in the preparation of another dish later in the week is a good thing!  Heck, pull out the cast iron skillet and simply brown some ground meat for putting in a meal next week.  I can't say it enough I guess, take advantage of that heat.

And if you don't like to grill in inclement weather or winter time....  Brisket chili is a great cold weather treat and wouldn't it be nice to have something like apple wood smoked chops in your freezer? 

via www.grillinggoodeats.com


Download the Pacer walking app - it's FREE

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

I downloaded Pacer, a walking app, to my phone.

A free download, Pacer tracks your steps throughout the day and you can easily track your progress at any time.  The app even indicates stages for you, which is kind of a motivator....  Zero - 2,999 steps = sedentary. Walking 3,000 - 7,499 steps and you are lightly active.  Taking 7,500 - 9,999 steps and you are somewhat, or moderately active.  Walking 10,000 or more and you are active, as in taking steps to be healthy.  Helping you stay motivated to do more, the app also provides calories burned, 'active' time and mileage stats.  For even more data and features, you can subscribe, but I don't see the point.  All the basics you need are there in the free download.

The goal is to take at least 10,000 steps a day, or 4+ miles and keep my calorie count at around 1,800 a day.  If I'm disciplined enough, that should help me stay on track to losing about a pound a week. 

Walking your way to health....  It's fat losing and heart/cardiovascular healthy!  Get the Pacer app - it's a free tracker and that Bachelor on the Cheap friendly!