Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Halloween Horror Story With a Happy Ending...

Happy Halloween!!!
It has been a fun... interesting... and mostly hilarious day here at the Leong house. I was very excited about Hope's "Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz" costume!! But did I mention that I accidentally bought an "Anna from the movie Frozen" wig? And by "accidentally" I most definitely mean "it was the only wig with long braids at Target and I wasn't about to traipse around town looking for a Dorothy wig. But "accident" makes me seem like a much less lazy Mom so can we please just go with that?

It didn't matter anyway - Hope HATES things on her head. Hoods, hats, headbands, bows... and now... wigs.
The photo shoot took about six hours of quickly putting the wig on and then furiously snapping photos and hoping one came out. Well, that describes just about every photo shoot, I suppose.
I called for help - I was most definitely a damsel in distress trying to get these pictures - and Batman arrived!!!!!
Actually, "Sassy Batman" arrived - Batman's cousin.
"Let me assess the situation," he said.
And then he assured me he could handle this costume crisis. "I got this, Ma'am," he proclaimed!
Sure enough - the next photo was our best. (As in, "I best come up with another plan.)
But even "Sassy Batman" couldn't keep the peace. Dorothy just refused to channel Anna or vice versa.
But then... in a twist of fate... I found myself in the basement hiding with a bowl of Halloween candy in our storage room. I turned my head and saw a flash of yellow and black. Drunk on candy and lazy Mom regrets, it took a moment for it to register. And then it stung me... it was the Halloween costume I bought for Hope before I bought the Halloween costume I thought I didn't buy! (Follow that?) And it was perfect!!!

Here is our BUSY BEE!!!!!
It made perfect sense. She is totally a busy bee even without a costume. And she must have known how fitting it was because she didn't mess with her headband antennae! 
The wings were a different story, though.
Hope is too little to go "Trick or Treating" and doesn't eat candy, so the costumes were just for pictures and fun at home. I gave her the pumpkin to carry around and practice "Trick or Treating" in the foyer and she had fun collecting treasures to fill her pail.
We learned from our neighbors that our street is a ghost town on Halloween. No one comes around - and everyone goes to other neighborhoods. Thank God, because I had already eaten half the bag of candy during the wig catastrophe. We had planned to split up - one of us would stay home with Hope to answer the door and the other would bring Brian to our old neighborhood to see friends. We were excited that now we could ALL go!

Batman was raring to go immediately after dinner. 
I didn't have time to get dressed all day so I just went out as is in my bathrobe. Oh yes... this is how I look when I wake up in the morning, naturally. I generally work hard to make myself look like a tired, haggard old housewife when I go out. You know, so I don't intimidate the other ladies. Ha ha!
We met up with Brian's friend, Daniel, and his brother, Nicholas and toured around the old neighborhood. Hope was a great sport in the stroller as we walked and laughed and watched the boys run from house to house. It was a chilly, but beautiful night.
When we got home, Brian told Mia all about it.
We have a good sport in Mia, that's for sure.
Our Halloween had the potential to turn into a Horror Story - but we finished with a fairy tale ending.

Hope everyone's Halloween was happy and fun!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

We Were Boo'd!!...

Brian had a really special weekend! Actually, this has been Brian's week!! This week was Parent/Teacher conferences which I was really looking forward to. Brian has really turned a corner after a tough start to First Grade. Between adjusting to the new workload and dealing with some grief, it was not the easiest transition. But something clicked after Gavin's birthday passed and he was coming off the bus smiling again - always excited to tell me that he had a great day.  I had great conferences with his teachers who each told me that he was a hard worker, respectful, well behaved and doing well in all of his subjects. One thing his first grade teacher told me that made me laugh was that he is sometimes so serious when he's working that she has to tell him to smile. He does take his work very seriously! He is like that at home, too!!

Saturday morning was a soccer game. They don't technically keep score, but the kids always know who won. The other team crushed Brian's team. Brian's team didn't even make one goal. 
But we were so proud to see how he was hustling out on the field and trying his best to defend the ball. Or is it defend the goal? You know what I mean. Ha! He has really taken to Soccer and - I can't believe I'm going to say this - so have I. I'm going to miss it when the season ends in a few weeks. But - onward and upward to Basketball!
Saturday afternoon was VERY special. Brian attended a Halloween themed "Cooking Workshop" all afternoon at our friend, Claire's, business - "Home Cooked!"
He invited his friends, Daniel and Grace, to come, too!
They decorated their own chef hats...
...and then got right to work. The Home Cooked team did such a great job commanding the kids attention (there were about 12 kids in the workshop) and making it fun and informative. The first thing they did was work together on "Chocolate Halloween Bark." Brian and Daniel thought it was hilarious that they got to punch Oreos in a bag to crush them.
But when it came time for Brian to do his assigned job of adding sprinkles to the bark, his laser-like focus came out. Ha!
They also made "Mini Spider Donuts" and took a snack break to eat one... and "Mummy Cupcakes." The main entrée was "Blood and Brains" - or Chicken parmesan Spaghetti Bake.
Brian even made garlic butter for the ciabatta bread! And to keep the vampires away, they told him.
At the end of the workshop, all the kids pitched in to clean up before they collected all their packaged up food for dinner! Brian was thrilled (as were we!) that he was making dinner for his family that night!
When we got home, he carefully spread his garlic butter on the bread and we put the dinner in the oven. 
He helped me set the table and we even lit candles for the special occasion!
His dinner was (no lie) AMAZING. I mean - better than anything I've made in years. It even had spooky parmesan cut outs of ghosts and bats on top! We ALL devoured it... making sure to save room for the scary desserts!
The Spider donuts were a big hit with their pretzel legs and M&M eyes.
And his mummy cupcakes were sinful. I wish I could get away with eating the last one. It's staring at me while I'm typing this. But really - could YOU steal the last cupcake from this cute face???
As if his day hadn't been exciting enough - we got "Boo'd" that same night!! If you're not familiar with this adorable tradition, it's when you anonymously leave a bag of treats along with a "You've Been BOO'd" sign for your neighbor's child (or children) - ring the doorbell and run! They have to hang the "We've Been BOO'd" sign in their window and then leave a bag of treats for another neighbor. It's so much fun for kids.
The photos are dark, but Brian was SO excited to find the bags on the front porch! He took a quick look into the yard - hoping he'd catch a glimpse of someone running away. But there was no one there.
The bags were filled with candy and toys and silly putty for Brian. Hope's bag had a little stuffed dog (which will make a perfect "Toto" for her Halloween costume!) and a huge bubble wand! Someone on our street must know how much Hope loves bubbles. With the amount of bubbles flying into the air on most days, I guess it was a sure bet!
The weekend ended with a bang when we attended a "Trunk or Treat" event at Brian's school Sunday afternoon.
 If you've never heard of that, it's another fun tradition! Families line up their cars in the school parking lot and decorate their trunks. Then the kids "trick or treat" from trunk to trunk - to people they know and who know them. It's such a great idea! Some families decorated their cars quite elaborately - I was very impressed. Brian had requested a "Minecraft theme" but after I spent a week at home with a cold - and taking care of a little girl with a cold - I opted for the "Trunk or Treat in a Bag" from Party City for $5.99. Not kidding - it's really a thing and it really was that cheap and yes, I was really, really grateful for the easy way out.
Ed was the best. He decorated the car when we got there and then handed out the candy while I walked around with Brian and Hope. Brian was Batman, obviously. Hope went as an almost two year old stroller escape artist. She really hit it out of the park. I went as the suburban cowgirl slash tired Mommy.
Speaking of Hope - she had such a tough week, but was so sweet through it all. You know it's bad when your little toddler - who only has a small arsenal of words - spends most of the day pointing to her nose and saying "tissue?" and "clean?" with a sweet little smile. But lots of tissues... and lots of snuggling from me and Mia got BOTH of us through it! 
She is busy, busy, busy (even when sick!) and I feel like I'm constantly darting from one thing to another all day long... but boy, is she so much fun. Hope is fearless and happy, sleeps well and loves big, adores her family and is equally adored by all of us.

It was a beautiful, fun Fall weekend.

Okay, I have to end now and get away from this cupcake. It won't leave me alone!!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Home Cook Heroes...

It was a privilege to spend our Saturday morning cooking and serving brunch to the guests at the Gift of Life Family House in Philadelphia. The Gift of Life Family House serves as a "home away from home" for transplant patients and their families by providing temporary, affordable housing near the hospital. 
This is our third year serving the guests as a special way to honor our own donor hero, Gavin, on his birthday. As you may know, we were able to donate both of Gavin's kidneys at the end of his life. It meant so much to us to be able to do that. I'll explain why later.
It was also the third year in a row that our friend, Claire, made this brunch a huge success! Claire owns a fabulous business in Paoli, PA called "HomeCooked." I have used her services more than once - for ourselves and for friends. She offers pre-made home cooked meals that you can order ahead or pick up last minute. She's an excellent cook and a wonderful person. She came with her husband, Paul, and her two sons, Ian and Dane.
We were also joined this year by my sister, Bean and niece, Shannon who were a huge help!
Hope is always thrilled to see "BEE!" 
Granny was there, too, to help honor her Grandson. And to watch her Granddaughter be "helpful" in the kitchen.
Claire does an amazing job including the kids with the prep work. Brian and his buddy, Ian, were such hard workers making scones together...
...and drizzling them with icing when they were done.
I was so, so proud of Brian. Whenever he was given a job, he stepped right up and took it very seriously.
I'm also glad we can offer him opportunities to be altruistic. And there's no better way to start than doing something that is personal to him - and to our family. 
In the down time, while the food was cooking, he sat with Ian and tried to teach him Minecraft! It was very cute to hear them giggling.
It's hard for us to believe it's been three years.
The first year was a blur - it was only five months after Gavin died and I was just a couple months away from delivering Hope. Last year, Hope was a baby. And this year we were "twinning" and she was running around opening every cabinet door.
I brought the sign that was hung on Gavin's hospital bed as he was wheeled into the operating room for the organ harvest. I wanted to convey a positive spirit to all the transplant patients and their families. It is a personal mission of mine to attempt to remove guilty feelings. I have noticed that many organ recipients have a hard time because... obviously someone has to die so they can live. But that is exactly why we chose to donate our precious son's organs. He had to die - and there was nothing we could do about THAT. But we could attempt to help someone live. We didn't chose to donate to "make his life have meaning." His life already had a LOT of meaning - another great reason to donate. Those kidneys came infused with positive energy and super powers. 
It was a wonderful morning - delicious food - and we were surrounded by people we love. Helping others is, to me, one of the best ways I can honor Gavin. On his birthday, and every day. 
Every year I make sure to implore you - beg you, even - to become an organ donor. And, just as important, have the conversation with your spouse and/or loved ones about what you would do if the unthinkable happened to one of your children. If you are not an organ donor because of fears, worries, religious reasons - or you just don't understand how it works - please read THIS post about all the myths and misconceptions. If you want to see frequently asked questions, including how to become a donor, click HERE.

It is always heartbreaking to see patients who are waiting for organs... especially if they're children!! Unfortunately, I think it's human nature to not think about things like this unless you're in it... or it's happening to someone you love... or it hits your family.

But guess what. I consider all of you to be family. So please take this message to heart. You can honor Gavin and celebrate his life by registering to become an organ donor and/or having that hard conversation. And if you are already a donor, you can do two things for us. Spread the word! Create a Facebook post about organ donation and feel free to talk about Gavin as a way to start the conversation! The more people that get the bug in their ear about donation... the better! You never, ever know... the next person on the transplant list may be someone you know. 

And, if you're in the Philadelphia area consider volunteering your time, talent or dollars to the Gift of Life Family House. There are so many ways you can help! You could get a group together and be "Home Cook Heroes" like we were - brunch or dinner or baking - it's so fun! You could also have a "Wish List Drive" to collect much needed items to keep their kitchen pantry stocked - it would be an awesome event for Boy Scouts or Moms Groups or a class trip. Are you a retiree? They have so many things you could do. Do you have a bridge club or Mahjong group? Tennis club or ANY club? Get everyone together and make it a fun afternoon. You can even hit Chinatown afterward - and if you don't know where to go or what to order, contact me and I'll have Ed personally recommend things! (Right, Ed?) It will be an experience you will never forget... I promise. Click HERE to see all the volunteer opportunities at the Family House.

One last thing. Every year I also ask you to let me know that you're an organ donor - or that you became an organ donor because of Gavin's story. It means the world to me to see my blog comments and/or Facebook page flooded with "DONOR!" shout outs!

Today was a day of rest. It was "pajama day" in the Leong house. 
I'll spare you the Mommy and Daddy PJ pics. You're welcome.

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