Yes, I purposefully gave my kids knives…and let them play with fire…and I’d do it again!

As part of Camp Hough I taught the kids how to cook a few things.  Because of this it sparked an interest in some cooking shows, specifically Chopped. If you have never watched Chopped, you should. Four chefs are presented with a basket of some CA-RA-ZY ingredients. There are 3 rounds, an appetizer round, an entree’ and a dessert round. Each round, the chefs serve up their dishes to some hard core, sort of scary judges. At the end of each round, one of the chefs is “chopped” by the judges. The remaining chefs move on to the next round.
As the summer was winding down, the natives were growing restless and I needed a break from the ongoing school preparations. Sooooo, what better way to pass a morning than to arm my kids with knives and fire and have them compete against each other. I can think of very few things that bring a family closer than some healthy competition and sharp objects. I changed things up a teeny bit. I gave them ingredients that they had to use for a complete lunch, a main dish a side and a dessert. And we only had one round of 30 minutes. To say that they were pumped is a minor understatement.
For your viewing pleasure, I present to you: Chopped…Hough Edition.
Sign, Courtesy of Gianna Marie
The contestants with their secret ingredients… bologna, and apple, string cheese, croutons, saltines a marshmallow and a pack of fruit juice gummies. 
It was about to get crazy up in here!
Hannah and Gianna showing off their knife skills (?). I was scared, I’ll admit it.
Isaac headed straight for the stove to get some butter melting for his gourmet grilled cheese, egg and fried bologna sandwich.
Gia’s work in progress
Rather than a sandwich, Hannah opted to give it a twist and make a melted cheese and bologna roll up.
Noah made a gorgeous salad. 
Hannah was hands down the most creative. She melted down her gummies with a splash of water and candied her apple slices in it! It was actually really good!
Noah’s desert was a marshmallow stuffed with gummies. That is a lot of sugar going on there!
Gia creatively (?) made a dressing for a spinach salad with strawberry yogurt. It was….interesting….yep, that’s it. 
The overall winner was Isaac. His sandwich was really good and his dessert was quite tasty also. He melted his marshmallow into some peanut butter and mixed it in with some apple and blueberries.
It was so fun to watch their little creative juices flowing and to see what they came up with.They seemed to really enjoy it. Their descriptions of their food was great too. Isaac was talking about his “simple salad of spinach and a light dressing.”
Aiden, Jonathan, Coley and I were the judges, although I am 99.99999% sure that Coley didn’t actually taste any of the food. They each won an award, most inventive (Gianna), best presentation (Noah), best dessert (Hannah) and the ultimate Chopped Champion (Isaac). It was messy and dangerous, but they had a lot of fun and (mostly) cleaned up after themselves. The best part was, they had to eat whatever they made so that nothing went to waste, so I didn’t have to make lunch! Bonus!

Back to school…also known as Groundhog Day….

DISCLAIMER:  This is a pretty loooong post due to the utter ridiculousness of school this year. 

I have always been a mother that loves summer with the kids, but welcomes the big yellow bus in the fall. In fact I have been known to break into song and dance as the kids load onto the bus. But not this year. This year “Back to school” is like a bad nightmare that just keeps happening over and over and over again. Think along the lines of the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.” I swear every time that I wake up, we are school shopping or school packing or moving into school or starting kindergarten or…blah blah blah. You get it. A girl can only handle so much “back to school.” Enough is enough. I am done with all of this ridiculousness.
After celebrating the twins’ graduation party, the oldest 5 headed back to Michigan with some of our family. Brian and I made a whirlwind trip to Grand Rapids to retrieve our kids and have a super quick visit with some loved ones. On the way home, I developed a fever and developed a rash. Some how I managed to contract Lymes which basically kept me in bed for about a week. (Seriously folks, that is no freaking joke! I was a mess!) After all of that wasted time in bed (Did I really just say that?!), we were up against the clock. I had 5 elementary school kids to get first day of school outfits for as well as backpacks. I had a senior in need of binders and pens and ticonderoga pencils (He was VERY specific!). I had two college freshman that needed dorm and college stuff and NO time! Any of you that know Coley would not be surprised that she had done the majority of her shopping and was pretty much organized and packed a couple of weeks ago. If you know DJ, you will not be surprised that he had nothing but a list that needed some…tweaking. He showed me his list and the amounts that he had budgeted for his “needs.” Let me point out that his idea of things that he needed and what he actually needed were not the same thing. The best thing on the list was a pillow. He definitely needed a new pillow, but he had budgeted $50! I just laughed and asked him if he was looking for a pillow stuffed with clouds from heaven. He was very happy to find a $60 pillow for $7.99 at Ross. After 2 days of intense shopping, he was set and had spent about half of what he had originally budgeted. (Your welcome DJ!) It was really nice to have that one on one time with him before he left. We even had a delicious lunch at the Burgatory…ummm YUMMO!
 I also spent a day shopping with my three girls. Coley was able to pick up a few things that she still needed and Gia and Hannah picked out their back to school outfits. We started the day getting back to school hair cuts. Coley very bravely had her hair cut off…I mean seriously y’all cut OFF! It is absolutely adorable! We have had a rough few years with our red headed one. I will be honest, I wasn’t sure that we would ever be at this point. But as I watched her get her hair cut, I realized that her transformation was just getting started. We were here with her to help her try and navigate the very scary and dangerous waters of self doubt and sadness. And here she was grinning from ear to ear, so comfortable in herself, so confident, so ready to go. (sigh) OK, enough of that for now. After getting haircuts and a little back to school shopping, we went to a nail salon so that the girls could get their nails done. This was a totally new experience for the girls. It was a fun little treat to watch them get their nails polished while Coley had acrylics put on. It was a good, good day.
All of this shopping was followed up with Kindergarten orientation for Aiden. Ugh. I was so worried about how we would do. Aiden is one of those kids that can be very shy and backward if he is in a new or uncomfortable situation. I had imagined him covering his face and hanging onto my leg bawling as they tried to take him on the tour of the building. But I was pleasantly surprised that with only a second of hesitation he got in line along with the other children. He did fine, although he did inform me that he was not making any friends because he already had enough. He loved his teacher and left orientation really excited to start school.
Then it was about to get really, really…well real. Sunday rolled around and it was time to take DJ and his $7.99 pillow to Saint Vincent’s. He was going a few days early to go to soccer training camp to decide if he wanted to play or not. He had to report to the coaches office by 9:00 am but he wasn’t getting his room key until 6:00 pm. He had a couple of practices and some physical screenings and an impact test along with lunch and dinner to keep him busy. Brian and I spent the day wandering around campus. We managed to slip into the basilica for mass. We went to lunch and were able to talk about what all was going on with our kids or more precisely this whole back to school craziness. We sat there trying to wrap our minds around what was about to go down and to convince ourselves that we were ready for all of the change that was coming at us full speed. We managed to have a little bit of time with him in between soccer things. He seemed to be really anxious. Brian in his wise and wonderful offered him thoughtful advice about having confidence and seeking God’s will always. I, on the other hand, asked him if he had enough facial hair to play on the soccer team, and threatened to sing Frozen songs in front of everyone if he didn’t smile. 
On one of his breaks, we took DJ to the store to get him some snacks and munchies. I kept reminding him that he wasn’t going to have unlimited access to our pantry to satisfy his big guy appetite. Six o’clock rolled around (finally!) and DJ got his key for his room. We (and by we, I really mean Brian) got his stuff moved into his room and put it all away for him while he went to another practice. It was funny how we didn’t say a word, but moved around the room getting it situated for him. I knew that I would need to make sure that his bed was made and that his clothes were all put away (at least once this semester!), but I was surprised that Brian seemed to be feeling the same way. By the time DJ returned from soccer practice we were finished. He seemed to be relieved that we were still there and was very appreciative to have his room neat and tidy. And then it was the time that I had been dreading all day. It was time to say good bye. Brian gave him a big hug and a heartfelt goodbye and then it was my turn. ugh. I hugged him and made some lame attempt at a joke. I was feeling so overwhelmed with pretty much every emotion there is. I just kept seeing the little guy that was the first to call me mom, his sweet smile at our wedding as he carried the pillow with our wedding rings, the sick little boy that I had to hold while they tried to put an IV in his neck when he was diagnosed with cancer. I saw the awkward 7th grader as he climbed onto the bus on his first day at West Shamokin, the handsome senior that was crowned Prom King just a few short months ago. But mainly, I saw a little piece of my heart break off and stay in St. Benedict Hall in Latrobe.
Car was loaded, kid was ready…it was time.
Dad and DJ
Me and my boy
Here he is in his room, ready for some serious learning. Too bad classes didn’t start for another week!
One “back-to-school” down only 7 more to go…
The big bad senior, Jake, was more than ready for his first day of his senior year. I cannot even think about him going to college right now. I am totally, totally in denial that I have to do another college thing next year. So that is all that I am saying about this…the end.
Jake…the senior…sigh
The next batch of Houghlings to fly the nest were the middles. Isaac is the big 6th grader. The fact that he is going to be in junior high next year is not something that I can even think about. But he was excited to start the year, although he claims that he wasn’t, he was. Mother knows best!
What a goofy smile!
Next in line was my fifth grader, Hannah. She is just becoming such a young lady. I always tease her that her legs are 8 feet long. She then reminds me that that is not possible because she is not over 8 feet tall and that if her legs were 8 feet long…blah, blah, blah.
My pretty girl
Gianna was more than ready to get back to school. Fourth grade will never be the same. She was as ready as she could have possibly been, matching bangle bracelets and all!
Oh gosh…another one growing up right in front of me.
Noah was our reluctant 2nd grader. He is another that claims that he was not ready to go back to school, but he too is a liar! lol. Second grade is a big year in the Hough household because Noah will be preparing to receive his first communion in the spring!
Seriously, does he not look excited?! He does. I know.
The last of the little Houghlings is in transition. He is moving up in the family from one of the littles to become a middle. That’s what happens when you start school. I have to admit that I was really worried about Aiden beginning school. He can be very shy and backward when he is nervous, but he did fantastic! There was a teeny bit of confusion on his part. He was sitting at the table having his lunch and I mentioned that Pap-pap would be getting them off of the bus the next day because we would be moving Coley in to her dorm. He nodded and then looked at me and said, “Wait! I am going back TOMORROW?!?!” I held in my chuckle and said “Yep!” He then asked me if he would be going back everyday. When I nodded, his face got very serious and he asked me, “Is summer over?” I nodded again and he threw his hands in the air and let out a disappointed sigh. “Oh, I totally missed summer.” He walked away with his little head hanging down. I wanted to assure him that he was not the only person that missed summer, but he seemed to bounce back quickly, so I let it go. 
Oh my big, little boy…
The last one of our Houghlings to fly the coop, is one that I have no doubt will soar once she gets settled in. My girl, the other half of Nicole Hough squared, my lovely red head, Coley, was all packed up and we moved her in to her dorm room at the Franciscan University of Stuebenville just yesterday. We could not have been any more happy with her choice of schools. They have a very rigorous Biology program (that I KNOW that she will rock!) and the Catholic faith is practically tangible on campus. It will be such a great fit for her. I keep saying this, but I really, truly, in my heart of hearts mean in it. She will blossom there. I just feel it in  my bones. As we spent the day with her, getting her moved in, making a list of what else she needed, enjoying a “last supper” of sorts and making the obligatory Walmart run, I tried to focus on what was going on right there. A few times, I allowed my mind to wander and I was brought back to the many, many times that the little red head and I would engage in a battle of wills. To this day I can’t believe that she did not come out of me! She is every bit as stubborn as I am. Our early years were peppered with battles about what she was going to wear. She would insist that purple and purple always matched, even if the didn’t. She had been the “little mother” for so long before I came along, that caused a little bit of friction. I finally won her over when Brian and I got married and I took her shopping for her very own beautiful “wedding dress.” Once she decided that I was supposed to be there, that was that. She was my girl. We have definitely had our ups and downs, but she is amazing and strong and I am so honored to be her mom. 
A girl and her stuff…
She was organized beyond organized.
Coley and Dorothy, her roommate
Coley and her Dad
A girl and her “Muvher” 
DJ is doing so well. He decided not to play soccer, but has made a ton of friends and seems to be adjusting smoothly. Coley called us today, battling with a touch of homesickness. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear her struggle, but I know that she is going to be fine. (This I know. I am not sure, however, how I will be at the end of all of this. ugh) Please keep them both in your prayers. (Feel free to throw a few prayers out there for the husband and I.)
Here are a few other back to school pictures that I took that made me smile. Enjoy the goofballs:
The big bus
I love that he was snuggling with his blankie right before we went out to wait for the bus. My baby boy…
The last of the Mohicans…As soon as Aiden got onto the bus, JP looked at me and said, “I miss him so much!” The bus hadn’t even pulled away yet. It’s going to be a long school year.