Maxie’s Birthday Celebration [Pictures]

I like to stretch out my kids’ birthday celebrations so they can get as much fun and excitement out of it as I can make it.  Normally, these celebrations break down to three parts over a course of a week: a birthday party at their school; a celebration on their actual birth-day by taking the day off and do something special; a full blown birthday party with friends and family on the weekend.  It is definitely a lot of work, but we have so much fun in the process.

This year was no exception.   We celebrated for three consecutive days for Maxie’s birthday, which fell on a Thursday.  I took the day off but Mario had to be in at work for the morning, so I took the boys to the park while waited for him to come home.  Little after lunch, Mario showed up with a birthday cake, which made the boys very happy so we forgave him.  In the afternoon, we took the kids to the Aquarium of the Pacific.  Yeah, we have been there many times before, but given Mario’s tight schedule, there weren’t too many choices.  It was a lot of fun nevertheless.

Here’s Maxie’s cake number 1.

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Please note Maxie had a candy in his mouth, and no, I didn’t beat him up ;-).

The next day we celebrated Maxie’s birthday at school with his class.  I baked some cupcakes and brought along drinks and snacks.  The little kids had a good time.  I love to watch them tackle the cupcakes.  Most of them are pretty messy and some are only interested in licking off the frosting, which includes Ravi.

Here’s the cake (eh, cupcake) number 2.

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Finally, we had our party at home on Saturday.  I have talked about the massive cooking involved to make this party a success.

Here’s Maxie’s cake number 3.

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Actually we narrowly escaped cake number 4 by pleading with A-Pa (grandpa) and Mom (grandma) that we really couldn’t deal with another cake anymore.  I must have gained like 3 lbs during these three days.

Fun, fun!  We will try again next year, to make it better and bigger!

Flo.

 

Maxie vs. Cupcakes [Recipe]

I am beginning to love baking.  Earlier this year I got the Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes book with the goal of becoming proficient at baking cupcakes for my kids’ birthdays and other special events.  I have tried a few recipes, and recently I baked the Marble Cupcake.  These were tasty cupcakes.  It was the first time I did marbling and I could use some practice to make the colors mix better.

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I had hoped that Ravi and Max would eat them.  Ravi did but Maxie enjoyed playing with the cupcake rather than eating them.  More specifically, Maxie enjoyed taking the cupcake liners off and then dissecting the content.  I watched him and he took off the liner off every single cupcake while not taking a single bite.  I had to intervene and save the fruit of my labor, and try a few for myself.  It was really fluffy and moist, I don’t know why Maxie didn’t want to try.

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Martha Steward Marble Cupcakes

Ingredients
Makes 16 cupcakes

1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Stir together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine milk and cream.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk mixture, and beating until combined.

3. To make chocolate batter, measure out 1 cup batter, and transfer to another bowl. Combine cocoa and the boiling water in a bowl. Stir into reserved 1 cup batter.

4. Fill prepared cups with alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate batter, filling each three-quarters full. Run the tip of a paring knife or wooden skewer through batter in a figure-eight motion to make swirls. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until tops are golden and a cake tester (i.e. toothpick) inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

5. To finish dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

 

-Flo.

Mass Cooking Event 2013 [Party Recipes]

Since Maxie became more (eh, a little tiny more) independent this year, Mario and I have decided to throw some parties to reconnect with our old friends that we longer have time to hang out with.  We pretend these parties are for Ravi and Maxie’s birthday, but we invite none of their friends but our own.  We hope this tactic will work for another few year before they begin to demand real birthday parties with their own friends.

So the party we had last Saturday was for Maxie’s birthday.  This time around, our invite list had 90% acceptance rate and that translates into over 30 guests.  Once I got over the initial shock, I went to work to find the easiest recipe that cover all bases (courses, meat type, special preferences…etc.)  My strategy in tackling these large meals is to bake, and choose recipes that requires  minimum cutting and can be at least partly prepared in advance. Here’s our menu.

Meal Menu

Balsamic Strawberries with Whipped Mascarpone Cheese

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Mediterranean Salad

Portuguese Chicken

Meat Loaf

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

 

Once the menu was finalized, I began to generate a shopping list and broke it down into two categories: grocery store buys (Ralphs) and bulk buys (Costco).  I had planned to take Friday (the day before) off to prepare for the food.

I had a shopping list a page long!  Friday morning I went shopping immediately after I dropped off the kids.  2 stores and 2 hours later, I finally get what I needed and headed home.  But I was already behind schedule, No time for lunch or breaks!  I scheduled Maxie’s birthday party that same afternoon and I had to bake cupcakes, make frosting, bag party favors, and prepare snacks.   I spring into baking action immediately.  Good thing I treated myself to some latte in the morning, that’s breakfast and lunch right there!  By 3:15PM, I got my act together and raced over to the daycare.  Good thing nobody got mad at me for being late.

At night after sending the kids to bed with Mario, I came back to the kitchen to begin real work.  I checked the time, it was 9PM.  The goal for that night was to do all the cutting, mixing, and any other prep work that can be done ahead.  That means browning all 9 lbs of chicken legs, and cut and pack all its ingredients; mixing up the meat loaf; defrosting the shrimps and put them into marinate.  I store the prep’ed item into large zipped lock bags and then into the refrigerator they go.  By the time I finished it was 12:30PM.

I began cooking Saturday morning at 9AM.  The main dishes were already prep’ed so all I had to do there was to bake them.  The challenge was to do the strawberries, brussel sprouts, and Mediterranean Salad while baking and keeping the kids out of the kitchen.  There are definitely a down side in the open kitchen floor plan.  12:15PM, my first guest arrived to find me in my pajamas needing a shower.  How embarrassing.  12:40PM, Flo has cleaned up her act and ready for prime time.  One last dish, meat load, in the oven.  Success!  It felt like a war and I barely had time to breath.  So I didn’t take any pictures of the food.  But the food did turn out great.  I personally loved the Portuguese Chicken and the strawberries.  Mario loved the Mediterranean Salad.  Even the brussel sprouts had fans.  Supper success!

Okay, we are getting to the recipes.  Some links are already attached to the menu above.  Here are the other ones and some of my comments.

Balsamic Strawberries with Whipped Mascarpone Cheese:  I wanted to keep this one fresh so it was made entirely on Saturday morning.  Very tasty and simple to make.  5 stars!

Ingredients:

1/3   cup balsamic vinegar

2       teaspoons, plus 4 teaspoons sugar

1/2   teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2   cup chilled whipping cream

1/2   teaspoons vanilla extra

3      pint baskets strawberries, hulled & halved

Directions:

1.  Combine vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, and lemon juice in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup is reduced to scant 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl; cool completely.  (Note: this can be made 2 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.)

2.  Combine mascarpone cheese, cream, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons sugar in medium bowl. Whisk until thick soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

3.  Combine berries and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar in large bowl; drizzlewith balsamic syrup and toss to blend. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4.  Divide berries and syrup among small clear plastic cups. Top with mascarpone mixture.

 

Mediterranean Salad. Mario’s favorite.  Made entirely on Saturday morning.

 

Portuguese Chicken.  This dish took the longest to make and most of that was the night before.  All I had to do the next day was to assemble and bake.  I used 9 lbs of organic chicken drumsticks, so I used 3 times as much ingredients.  I also used foil on sheet pans instead of baking in a pan because I don’t like to clean up.  My favorite dish of the day, well worth the time.  5 stars!

Sorry I cannot give credit to the originator of the recipe, as I got it from my friend Drew who got it from somewhere else.

Ingredients:

1   cup all purpose

1   tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika

3   lbs chicken pieces (with skin and bones)

2   tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

14.5  ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

4   ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped

1/2 tablespoon onion powder

2   large roasted red peppers from jar, halved, cut into 3/4″ stripps

6   large garlic cloves, pressed

4   large fresh italian parsley springs

4   large fresh bay leaves, bruised

1/2 cup dry white whine

1/2 cup tawny port

1   tablespoon Dijon mustard

1   tablespoon tomato paste

1   tablespoon butter, room temperature

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Whisk 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1.5 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in large bowl. Add chicken pieces to seasoned flour, 1 at a time, and turn to coat. Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin side down, and saute until brown, 3 – 5 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate; reserve skillet.

2.  Arrange chicken in single layer in large ovenproof pot. Top with tomatoes and juice, prosciutto, onion powder, peppers, garlic, parsley, and bay leaves; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon paprika. Add wine and Port to reserved skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Remove from heat. Whisk in mustard and tomato paste; Pour mixture over chicken and bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to oven.

3.  Braise chicken until very tender, about 1.5 hours. Discard bay leaves and parsley. Using tongs, transfer chicken and toppings to platter. Return sauce in pot to simmer. If thicker sauce is desired, stir in 1 tablespoon flour and butter in small bowl until smooth paste forms. Add flour paste to sauce and whisk to blend. Simmer until sauce thickens to desired consistency, whisking often. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon over chicken and serve.

 

Meat Loaf.  Mario and I both much more prefer the old fashion meat loaf. It is so simple that I thought it might be too common so I used a fancier recipe. But the old fashion definitely beat out the fashionable this time.

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail.  I followed the entire recipe 6 weeks ago at Ravi’s party but most people just skipped the sauce.  So this time around I only made shrimps and they are so good.  I got two 2lb bag of large shrimps from Costco, defrosted and marinated with olive oil, salt and pepper the night before.  All I had to do on Saturday was to pour them out onto baking sheet and bake.  But do be careful of the bake time.  It took me 12-15 minutes instead of 8-10 minutes from the recipe.  The simplest and tastiest recipe that day! Love it!

 

This party was definitely an improvement from previously ones.  Once my last dish was in the oven by 12:30PM, I was free to enjoy myself.  The party lasted till 4:30PM and we all had a great time.  The best part?  It was so easy to clean up.  Since I mostly baked using sheet pans with foil, all I had to do was to toss them into trash and call it done.  I sent most left overs home with friends so no packing away food also.

Total time spent on making this party awesome?  9 hrs, including shopping.  Since I had kids, I don’t cook much anymore so I enjoyed cooking this gigantic meal.  Exploring new recipes and techniques are my new challenges and I love to push myself to become more daring each time.

-Flo.

Maxie, You Turn 2 Years Old Today!

My dear Maxie,

You turn 2 years old today!  A big happy birthday to you.  Mommy and daddy wish you the stars and the moon, but we know all you want is the love of your family.

You are such a loving child.  At night before you fall asleep you would practice kissing on mommy and daddy.  Some on the cheeks, some on the lips; some sloppy, some gentle.  Even Ravi gets lots of love from you.  You hug him all the time and try to kiss him though he refuses most of time.  You love being held and kissed; your favorite pastime is to watch television while leaning back into mommy’s arms.

You are sweet but you are also fiercely daring.  Let’s just say mommy is afraid of taking you to a playground alone.  You have no sense of fear!  Mommy turns around to look for Ravi for a minute only to find you half way up the 10 feet climbing wall designated for much older kids.  You love climbing onto the tables, chairs, ladders…etc.  You fall down too when mommy and daddy were there to protect you, but you remain dauntless.  You keep getting up after a few tears to climb again.

You are one curious little kid.  You love to explore into every corner of our home.  Opening the drawers and cabinets to find treasure troves inside is your favorite pastime.  Nothing is safe from you anymore.  By now, you have opened every single door and toddler-handled every single item inside them, but luckily you haven’t broken nearly as many things as I have imagined.  DVDs are always separated from their jackets and covers, toys are always teared down and misplaced from their designated locations, and mommy’s cooking utensils can always be found amongst you toys.  You would never stop unless you find out: What would a book do if I bend it this way?  What happens when I push this button, or all these buttons?  What’s in there?  What does that funny looking thing taste like?  When you are left alone for more than 2 minutes, mommy would expect to find you in the middle of some major mess.

You got into trouble this last month.  You have been flushing strange things into the toilet for months but finally a batch of clean diapers had clogged the toilet.  Daddy was very mad, for about a minute.  Then he went on to conquer that clog.  It took him three days and a whole bunch of new gadgets, but finally that toilet is flush-able again.  Though you were oblivious to all the trouble you caused, you will find that our toilets are locked from now on.

You have transitioned into the two’s class at your daycare about 3 weeks before your second birthday.  We were very happy for you.  Your daddy and mommy love the facilities dedicated to this class.  They have their own play area with a new play set and swings, and a wonderful group of teachers we love so much.  It was the same class Ravi attended and it makes us feel like coming home again.  The best part is, Ms. Norma, you favorite person in the whole world since you were 6 months old, has recently been assigned to this class and we are so relieved that you will be well taken care of.

You are a talkative toddler.  You have always been very vocal, but mommy and daddy couldn’t tell what you were saying.  Just recently we have begun to hear words from you, specially when you repeat after Ravi.  When we pay more closer attention, you say a lot of different things (we kinda guessed) though your pronunciation is a bit off.  You also mimic what we say a great deal.  Sometimes it is alarming to have you repeat what we say.  Mommy and daddy are sorry that we don’t understand your “language” yet, but you don’t seem to be very frustrated and keep trying to talk to us.  Sometimes having you go point or show us what you want is more effective.  Maxie, the more you say things the better we will understand you.  So we will all keep practicing.

You love reading books.  Your favorite time to read is before bed time.  When you are all dressed up in your night cloth, you will grab a few books and ask mommy and daddy to read to you.  You love “A Very Hungry Caterpillar”, “Good Night Moon”, and animal and alphabet books.  You love being read to but you are not very nice to your books.  You have already broke a few by tearing off parts or pages, which makes Ravi very sad.

You love to take off your cloth and get naked!  Jackets and pants are the easiest items for you to take off, next on the list are shoes and socks.  You normally have a hard time taking off your top and onesie, mommy is very glad that those pesky buttons prevent you from  getting naked in public.   When we change your diaper or put on your night clothes, you would try your best to run away and take off everything that’s not buttoned down, then take off your diapers and happily run around au natural.  This is when mommy shakes her head disapprovingly and blames daddy for being such a bad influence.

My dear Maxie, if only you could understand how much mommy and daddy love you.  We couldn’t give you the stars and the moon, but we got all the love you need.  We cherish every single day we spend with you, we cram in every kiss and hug.  We are so blessed to be a part of your world.  Happy birthday my sweet little baby!

Love,

Mommy and Daddy.

 

 

Chinese Steamed Egg [Recipe]

In my life BC (Before Children), I used to threw parties and serve gigantic 10 course meals that takes the whole day to prepare.  Okay, that might be slightly exaggerated, but the fact is those days are over.  Now I go from my paid full time job to my obligated-by-blood full time job, aka taking care of my kids.  My time allocated to cooking has reduced to virtually nothing.  So it is wonderful that I can go to my steam egg recipe that I grew up with.  It is so simple that it used to be my go-to recipe when I was a student.  Nowadays I make it for my kids for breakfast and they love it.  It only takes 2 minutes to prepare and 12 minutes to cook,

Chinese Steam Egg

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 cup of chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

finely chopped green onion for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Beat 2 eggs in a bowl.  Add chicken stock, salt, and pepper.  Stir well.  Steam for 12 minutes.  Check to see if the egg is completely done by dipping a spoon into the center.  If no liquid egg mixture comes out, then it is done. If not, steam for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove from the steam pot, let cool slightly, add green onion and serve.

Two Eggs

Step 1: crack two eggs into a bowl

Step 2: Beat two eggs

Step 2: beat the eggs

Step 3: add 1 cup of chicken broth

Step 3: add in 1 cup of chicken broth, salt, pepper. Stir well to combine.

Step 4: steam

Step 4: steam and enjoy

This is such a simple recipe that I can make it all the time.  Even though I generally go the fast route, there are tricks to make this dish restaurant level.  Here are some of my tips:

1.  Use room temperate eggs and soup.

2.  Turn on heat to steamer after the egg mixture is already placed in the steamer.  This is one step that I most likely not to follow.  When I am short on time, I generally sacrifice quality by heating up the steamer while I prepare my egg mixture to cut down cooking time.

3.  Steam under mid to low heat continuously without opening the lid.  This ensures the egg mixture to bind slowly to give that jello-like texture.  Surprisingly the egg mixture is very tolerant of longer cooking time when cooking under mid to low temperature.

One of the reason I don’t cook Chinese dishes anymore is because they generally require lot more preparation and there are always tricks to getting the food taste better.  Steam eggs the right way does take some planning but it is definitely doable on the weekends.

-Flo.

Ravi at 48 Months [pictures]

It is hard to believe that Ravi is already 4 years old.  Here we are, getting older as each day passes by.  I am beginning to imaging how it would be when he is married and having kids of his own.  Of course I would be repeating over and over again like an old lady how he didn’t eat or sleep as a baby and it is finally pay back time.

But this is now and I cherish every moment that I can hold him in my arms.  I hope he would remember these days forever.  Here’s a million kisses to my baby.

-Flo.

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Maxie at 23 Months [pictures]

The major change in Maxie this month is that he is beginning to have more fun with daddy.  His fiery personality used to irk daddy to no end, but his adorable personally makes daddy surrender.  In my eyes Maxie is simply a replicate of his daddy.  It would just be a matter of time before he abandons mommy for daddy.

-Flo.

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Chocolate Syrup [Recipe]

I just came to the conclusion this morning that Maxie has finally became a chocolate milk addict, just like his brother!

When I handed him his usual bottle of warm milk, he refused vehemently, flipped it onto the floor and gave me his ultra evil stare (reserved for special occasions).  I let him be and went to work in the kitchen.  When I came back with a bottle of chocolate milk for his brother (Ravi always requests for one in the morning), he quickly grabbed it from my hands and began sucking on the bottle immediately.  Suddenly it all made sense to me.  He still hasn’t learn to say chocolate milk yet, but last night he pointed to his brother’s chocolate milk bottle to request for his own, and then drank two whole bottles after a full dinner!  I should have seen it coming from a mile away.  Well, at least I have a good chocolate syrup recipe!

Ravi’s addiction to chocolate milk began when he was two and he drank incredible quantity of it everyday.  It is probably his second favorite thing in life, only slightly below his security blanket.  I used to buy the ready made boxes from Costco, but there were a few times when we ran out and he was mad!  That’s when I decided to make my own.  When I first started I tried out several recipes.  This one that I am using today is the best and also the simplest.  By using good ingredients, it tastes just fantastic.  I always sneak a sip when I make them for Ravi.

 

Chocolate Syrup (adopted from allrecipes.com), 10-15 minutes

Ingredients:

1.5 cup of water

1.2 cup of sugar

1 cup of coco powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extra

a dash of sea salt

Directions:

Combing water and sugar, bring to boil in a small sauce pan.  I keep it boil under low heat without stiring (because I am lazy) for approximately 5 minutes to allow the syrup to thicken.  In the mean time, I measure out a cup of good coco powder.  I use the unsweetened Ghirardelli Chocolate Baking Cocoa powder.  Once the sugar syrup is thickened, mix in the coco powder and sea salt with a wired whisk, and then turn off the heat.  When the syrups is slightly cooled (after 2 minutes), mix in vanilla extra.

 

Just add a couple of spoons of this chocolate gold to some milk!  Viola, you got yourself some tasty goodness!  And this syrup can be stored in the closed containers for up to 2 weeks.

The original recipe calls for 1.5 cups of sugar which I reduced to 1.2 cups.  Though Mario disagrees with this alternation, I do it to prevent my kids from over dose on sugar since they drink so much of the stuff.  But what the sugar does is to suspend the fine coco powder particles in the syrup.  So with reduced sugar, you will see some coco powder condense to the bottom of the container.  It doesn’t matter to me since I stir it anyway.  A good coco powder makes a huge difference in taste, so get the best one you can.  I also add the vanilla extra after the syrup is slightly cooled, since I don’t like the flavor to evaporate under boiling temperature.  Want to cut down preparation time?  I use boiled water instead of room temperature water.  I now can make a batch of this stuff in 5 minutes.

This simple recipe makes me feel like a good mom.  I can’t believe I can make something so taste with so little time and my kids love me for it!

-Flo.

The Boys Play with Microwave Oven

The boys have long been curious about the microwave oven but couldn’t reach the counter top it sits on.  It has buttons, lights up, beeps, and magically warm up their food, how interesting is that?!   One day we came home from shopping and spread grocery bags and coolers all over the kitchen floor. That day, they pushed the coolers toward the counter and stood on top to finally get their hands on the microwave oven.  I would normally get mad at them, since it is fairly dangerous, but they were so cute working together toward their common objective just like I’ve always hoped they do.SONY DSC

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So I just let them play and stayed real close in case they fall.

-Flo.

Don’t, Don’t Bite Your Friends!

To my dear Maxie,

You look so sweet and innocent; no one would ever guess that you were a biter.  But you were, like any normal toddler who wanted to explore for themselves what their teeth can do.

Some time ago we heard from your teachers that you have bit 2 different kids in one day.  Somehow one kid put her finger in your mouth, so you bit her; another one tried to take your snack, so bit him too.  I don’t blame you.  If anyone put their finger in my mouth, I would do the same.  Anyone try to take my snack!  Yeah, you got to defend what’s rightfully yours.  Mommy and daddy weren’t mad, especially after hearing that your teachers have determined to work with you to stop the biting.  On the way home, we played and sang along to the “Don’t Bite Your Friends” song from Yo Gabba Gabba to educate you on the etiquette of toddlers.   Just like magic, you stop biting at school, though you did bite your brother on the nose when he took your toys, but we’ll let that slide.

A few days later, we got a note informing us that you got bitten at school.  A few weeks later, you got bitten again.  After that, the topic sank to the bottom of the sea and never surfaced again.  Mommy is very thankful that you were not seriously hurt or hurt others during this arduous period, and that you bite other kids the same number as they bit you.  It is now even between Maxwell and the rest of the world.  The balance has returned.

BTW, we love the “Don’t Bite Your Friend” song and would recommend to any parent of a toddler.  So here it is, for your pleasure.  Don’t forget to come back and visit when your child is going through the same phase. Note that it too shall pass and life will be good againd in a blink of an eye.

Mommy (aka Flo).