Monday, July 27, 2015

Paula Kaye's Famous Street Tacos

Okay, I am not going to be that mommy blogger that posts a thousand recipes on her blogs, but you need this one. YOU NEED THIS ONE. It's so easy. It's so delicious. It is super budget friendly. AND, bonus, it's gluten free. You're welcome, gluten-conscious people of America.

I know I am the worst food photographer ever; but I could only last about three seconds before inhaling these street tacos. Which I made for myself. At eleven o'clock at night.

I have had these beauties a handful of time at the Compton's house, but the last time we had them Paula Kaye walked me through her discovery of them. She had a friend who had been a missionary (to Spain? Brazil? I can't remember), and would buy "street tacos" from the vendors. Once you learn about them, you will never need to actually look at the recipe again, because your heart will have it memorized, and treasured forever.

Small white corn tortillas (the brand with the Mexican Flag on it is best and costs the same as the Great Value brand) (I have a family of six and we still haven't finished off one entire package of these tortillas, and we have had these for dinner one night, then some of us for lunch the past two days, each of us having at least three at a time. So...yeah one should be enough)
Shredded chicken (you can boil it in chicken broth and delicious spices, but if it's a last minute thing you could get rotisserie chicken from Walmart, which is also really tasty)
Fiesta blend shredded cheese
Your preferred brand of hot sauce
Cilantro (fresh is better in my opinion, but the dried kind in the shaker is good, too)
*Lime Juice
*Refried Beans or Spanish Rice
*Sour Cream
*Ranch dressing

1. Heat a large skillet or pan on medium - high heat, depending on if you like your tacos kind of crispy. No grease or oil or butter or whatever necessary.
2. Arrange your toppings onto the tortilla in this order: refried beans if you choose, then cheese, then shredded chicken, then hot sauce (less is more, people), then cilantro. If you would like lime juice on your taco, squeeze a little on there, too. Don't overdo the toppings too much, because the tortillas are small. You could put less toppings on there, but eat like, fifteen of them. Or three, if you're a more reasonable person.
3. Place taco flat on pan until the cheese has melted.
4a. Carefully fold taco over and press just enough for it to shut.
4b. Here you can slightly unfold the taco to stuff in the extra toppings you want.
5. Serve and devour so quickly you basically burn the roof of your mouth beyond repair because YUM.

Alternative cooking method:
Ignore step one, place tacos on plate and microwave for about one minute. They're a little messier, but still really good and it's fast.

*indicates optional but mouth-watering additions to the original recipe

I made sure each of the guys learned this one because it is such a cheap, easy, fast recipe that will be perfect for their bachelor pads some day. Or when they're young, poor newlyweds. Or filthy rich, who cares? These things are so good. The guys have decided this needs to be a weekly meal, so it's going to be our Wednesday night meal before church. The conversation went like this:

Me: "Would you guys get sick of these if we had them once a week?"
The guys: "We could have these three times a week and not get tired of them."

I also made some kick-butt homemade salsa from veggies at the fruit stand at the end of the dirt road.

I'm assuming you're going to go to Walmart tonight and buy these ingredients. Know that food has connected us across space and time, dear reader, as I also assemble and eat mine sometime after ten o'clock.

*Recipe Update*

I made crockpot pulled pork the other day, and we still had a ton left so I thought hey, I'll use some of this to make street tacos for myself (because yes it is 10:30pm and if you must eat you may as well eat something with sustenance so you stay full instead of eating 800 cups of cereal).

 And I did. And YOU GUYS. You're welcome for more leftover ideas that don't taste like leftovers. #streettacosforpresident 

Monday, July 13, 2015

What's a House Mom?

I think I am probably overdue for a bit of a DTR ("define the relationship"). Now, I know this post isn't going to keep anyone from asking me the same questions over and over, but it can't hurt to have a FAQ post for those who will take the time to read it.

To begin, I'm going to give a very general explanation of what a house parent does. As a house parent at Willow Springs Boys Ranch, it is my responsibility to care for our boys exactly the way any normal parent cares for their child. We disciple them, go to church as a family, schedule doctors appointments, drive them to school, take them clothes shopping, feed them, give them ibuprofen for their headache, teach them how to grow up into responsible adults, have them clean their rooms and then clean their rooms again according to the correct definition of a clean room, help them resolve conflicts with their ranch brothers, coach them in social interactions/reactions, etc. All the things one would do for a child, we do for our children--because they are our children. The main job of a house parent is to parent.

Now, a little more specifically, what does a house mom do? When we applied to work at Willow Springs, the instructions were, for the most part, pretty general:

  • Do the things a mom does that these boys have likely not experienced. This includes home-cooked meals as often as possible, so that they see a mom putting love and care into their food (think about how much emotion is involved when you're eating food prepared with love and care. Now multiply that times about 100 for boys with complicated backgrounds). 
  • Be a cheerleader. When they get a good grade on their test, voice your pride. If they are really good at something, nourish that and support it. 
  • Be quick to listen. Think about how often teenage boys open up: not often. Any time they do come to you with their feelings or concerns, be quick to listen and slow to respond. If you respond too quickly, they may be hesitant to open up again.
  • Be available. If you're doing dishes or cooking dinner or whatever, be prepared to multi-task. Our guys need to know that I'm here for them, even if that means they are talking to me while I cut up 1,000 potatoes. Above all else, don't become detached from what is going on in the home and with the boys.

Some specific things I do that fall in line with these expectations, as well as things that I have found to be healthy and encourage the family atmosphere include:

  • I must accept the fact that food is a BIG DEAL to them. I work really hard to find a balance of healthy meals that still meet their emotional needs. We make them try everything at the table, even the vegetables. If they don't get seconds, hey, more for me (I love veggies). We don't eat dessert all the time or have pop in the house except for on special occasions, and by doing this, it actually feels special and they can learn healthier relationships with food. The balance of healthy food and comfort food has worked really well in our house, because they love the comfort food so much that they trust me to make the healthy food taste just as great. There's no apologizing for meals (unless something on Pinterest turned out, like...really bad. But that rarely happens), and we eat dinner as a family. Setting the table and not having the TV going makes a huge difference. 
  • I let them see Blake and I being affectionate toward one another. It matters for them to see a husband and wife who love each other and treat each other respectfully, and to know what that looks like in real life. We hold hands when we're driving. Blake will hug me and kiss me on the cheek while I'm making dinner. Blake kisses me good-bye every time he leaves. If Blake and I disagree on something, unless it is a very serious or private matter, they usually see us work it out respectfully and quickly. 
  • Obviously, we don't spank our boys. However, we are not against spanking, and there are times when we have to spank Adeline. It's important that they see spanking done in a way that isn't fueled by anger and is done calmly and not excessively. 
  • Consistency. If we tell them doing a certain thing is going to lead to a certain consequence, we make sure that consequence happens, and it is going to match whatever the offense was. If two of our boys can't stop arguing to the point that we send them to their rooms, we aren't going to make them stay there all day, just for however long it takes for their temper to level off. When the consequence is over, it's over. When the incident is resolved, it's resolved. 

That was a smidge longer than I anticipated. Now, let's move on to the FAQ's.


So, do you have another job besides being a house mom?
Nope. Being a house parent is my full time job.

Are they horrible to you?
I'm not saying that hasn't been or never will be part of the job, but no. Our boys are generally very respectful. Part of that is due to our guys' personalities, and the other part due to the tone we have set for this house; Blake has worked especially hard to make sure that respect is the norm. Blake is really awesome.

Are you ever scared to have your daughter around them?

Good grief, no. She adores them and they love her. They interact so gently and appropriately with her, and most nights while I am cooking dinner they are playing legos with her or coloring in her Hello Kitty coloring book with her. They always help me get her in and out of her car seat. They stay about a million miles away from dirty diapers, though. She knows all of their names and is equally excited about running up and hugging any of them. Obviously as her mom and considering she is a toddler, it's not like she has free reign from any supervision. While our guys are great and super helpful and loving, they aren't her parents, so either Blake or I am always around to keep an eye on her if the other is busy.

Do they actually live in the house with you?
Yes. Our house can hold up to eight boys total, and we have four right now. Two have their own room and two are sharing. Family couldn't really happen if we didn't live in the same house.

Is your life completely hectic?
Sometimes, but most parents' lives are pretty hectic. If what you're really asking is if our job is hard, then the answer is yes. But just because the job is hard doesn't mean it isn't great.

Wait...if I'm talking to you and Blake...but your kids aren't with you...who is watching the boys?!?!?!
Sometimes we just leave them at the house completely unsupervised, I mean, they're practically adults, right? I'm being sarcastic. We have amazing relief houseparents who live on the property who come over one full day a week (as in overnight) and one weekend a month. They come with their three little ones to stay at the house with the guys and cook them dinner and relieve for us so we can get the break we need to regroup and do our job well. In the family dynamic, they're like the house aunt and uncle. They are also the ones to cover for Blake and I when we go on vacation.  

Are any of your boys special needs or anything like that?
Sometimes this question is meant specifically for special needs such as autism or down syndrome, and no, we typically don't take in boys with special needs, because we don't have the means necessary to do so. 

Are they all boys who have gotten into trouble, like, are they all "bad kids?"
No. Willow Springs is for boys who need an opportunity for success that they haven't had a chance at in the past. Sometimes they have gotten into some trouble, but a lot of times they just need a place to go. We don't have a contract with DHS for placements, so many of the boys who are here do have parents or guardians, but for whatever reason that parent or guardian needs help raising them. 

I hope this blog has helped answer some of your burning questions regarding our ministry at Willow Springs. Please, if you have any more questions about what a house parent/house mom specifically does, you can leave a comment below or you can message me on Facebook or tweet me on Twitter or however you choose to contact me. I would love to tell you more about what God is doing at Willow Springs and in my life as a house mom!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Marriage: Three Lies and a Truth

Christmas Picture 2012

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary. Four years ago, right now, Blake and I were eating an oven baked pizza in our house in Shawnee because we had been way too nervous to eat before our wedding at 2pm that afternoon. Or maybe that's when we were walking out of Family Video with a couple of rented movies to watch. My timeline is a little fuzzy. 

For a blog post in honor of four years of marriage, Blake suggested I do a "two truths and a lie" post, where I say two true things and one false thing we have learned in our four years of marriage. Then I said it has to be three truths and a lie so that it adds to four, because that's cuter. We started brainstorming some of the marriage advice we received while we were engaged and reached an interesting conclusion: either we heard more (or remember many more) false statements about marriage than true ones. I think this could be due to the fact that when you are married and living life and someone suddenly asks you to give them marriage advice, you just regurgitate something you heard that you think could possibly be true for them. Also, we received some advice that was kind of depressing, either because whoever gave it was a Debbie downer or thought it would help us be "realistic" or something. All this to say, it is necessary for this little game to be "three lies and a truth." 

OKAY! So, let's play.

  • Marriage is 50/50; it's all about give and take.
  • Sometimes husbands and wives just don't get each other, and that's okay. That's what girlfriends/bros are for.
  • Kids won't strengthen your marriage, they will strain it.
  • Marriage is hard, but it is also really fun.
Don't read ahead just yet! See if you can guess. Read them a couple more times. Find the true one (or the one Blake and I find to be true).

Okay, now for the big reveal!

LIE #1: Marriage is 50/50. It's all about give and take.

Thankfully, Blake and I covered this one in marriage counseling with Odus, so we didn't learn this was a lie the hard way. Marriage is not 50/50. It is 100/100, as in, you are both giving 100% all the time. If at any time you decide, "Hey, I've been giving a lot lately, it's about time my spouse matched my giving," then you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Plus, if both of you are giving your 100%, you might be exhausted, but you won't be bitter. You will be thankful for each other and for the ability to communicate and work together as a team. I would way rather lay in bed with Blake at the end of the day completely worn out than for one of us to feel okay and the other to be perturbed because they were pulling most of the weight all day. Also, instead of constantly wishing your spouse would be more romantic or complementary or whatever your "love language" is, focus on pouring out whatever love language they speak, and typically they will pour out your love language right back. I'm going to assume that whoever you married likes when you feel loved; if you don't feel loved, don't try to force them to show it. Lavish love on them, and it will elicit a response. Focusing on giving instead of entitlement changes everything, marriages included.

LIE #2: Sometimes husbands and wives just don't get each other, and that's okay. That's what girlfriends/bros are for.

Be wary of any advice that separates husbands and wives. Marriage is about unity, and while men and women may seem to think differently at times, it is no excuse for driving a wedge between a husband and wife. I realize this may not be true for every couple out there, but Blake knows more about me than anyone. I trust his advice more than anyone else's, and I trust him with my feelings more than anyone else. If I seek out someone to talk to, it isn't because I think Blake wouldn't understand, but because whoever I vent to might happen to be more readily available to listen at that moment. 

Now, I'm not saying there isn't a need for wives to have their girlfriends and husbands to have their guy friends. People need community and that is part of it. However, the idea that Blake should just accept that I'm not going to get how his mind works or that I should just accept the fact that I'm on a different emotional plane than he is seems lazy and disrespectful. Accepting this negates the need to learn how to effectively communicate, and seems to segregate a part of your heart away from your spouse, which isn't unifying at all. Working through this isn't always going to be easy. Sometimes it will force the two of you to sit on your bed for hours talking, take five minutes to cool down and keep from yelling, resort to creative ways to explain yourselves (imagery, charts, who knows?), and all kinds of tedious conversation; but on the other side, you will understand each other, you will respect each other, and you will have something that a girlfriend or bro just can't give you.

LIE #3: Kids won't strengthen your marriage, they will strain it.

Yeah, look at all that strain I'm holding in my uterus.

At least the graduation gown helped hide my planetary belly.

Yeah...Addie didn't strain my marriage so much as she strained my stomach and my ability to breathe. And hold in pee.

I think we strained Addie's patience with our silliness infinitely more than she ever strained our marriage as an infant. 

Look, I know where people are coming from with this. Having kids is really, really hard, and it will completely change your life. When you have a newborn, everything is strained because you aren't getting any sleep. Children do not strain your marriage. You strain your marriage. Pregnancy doesn't strain your marriage. If you choose to be a husband that just looks at your wife and thinks "you are not my wife, you are crazy," you are going to strain your marriage as well as the possibility that you are going to live past tomorrow. If you are a pregnant wife who looks at your husband and thinks, "he has no idea what I am going through," even if that's true, you are straining yourself and your marriage. Help each other. Listen to each other. Be on each other's side. Husbands, tell your wife that she is still beautiful when she has Cheerios in her hair. Wives, don't get mad when your husbands can't read your mind because they are trying really hard to do so. Husbands, when you can see that your wife is losing it, instead of rolling your eyes, just relieve her of her duties. If Blake can tell my patience is wearing thin, he stops me in the middle of my third load of dirty dishes for the day and says "I'll clean up, go sit down for a while," and I accept his help. If I can tell that Blake is getting wound up, I go to him and say, "Is there anything I could do for you on your to-do list that will take some pressure off of you?" and he will let me know how I can help him. Wives, don't assume that your husband doesn't care. He might not be super intuitive, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care. 

Ultimately, if anything, kids may be a distraction from effective communication, but only if you let them. If you find yourself resenting your spouse, it probably isn't your child's fault. Take a good, hard, honest look at how you think about your spouse, and ask yourself whose fault that really is.

TRUTH: Marriage is hard, but it is also really fun.

When you try to FaceTime your brother but he won't answer so you send a screenshot of your disapproval.

Going on adventures when you're married is the funnest.

In four years, Blake and I have already seen a lot of the difficulties life can throw at you when you are married. We have been at odds with friends. We have struggled through painful conversations. We have dealt with the pain of miscarriage. We have been really poor. We have heard troubling news from doctors. We have said goodbye to loved ones until we see them again in heaven. We have held each other and cried and waited for God. There is going to be a lot of this and so much more of it during our marriage. 

We have also traveled to different countries and cultures together. We got our degrees at OBU together. We have five awesome kids (one we made, four we gained, plus other guys who have come through our house in the past). We have an awesome job with amazing co-laborers. We have been a part of amazing ministries and have had opportunities to share the gospel that we never could have done apart from each other. We laugh all the time. We binge watch Netflix and yell at imaginary characters together. We are complete foodies and we eat everything. We text each other ridiculous things while the other is in the bathroom. We have fun and we are so not sorry about it. 

Look, it's baby Blake and Michelle taking kissy pictures in their college library! Awh.

Some honorable mentions for this post:

LIE: You won't like each other as much later as you do now.
We still think we're awesome.

LIE: Sex will be really great your first year of marriage or until you have kids, but then it's going to be kind of "meh."
Just. Nope.

LIE: No matter how long you have been married, there will still be secrets you keep from your spouse or things you won't do in front of each other.
Leave the door unlocked because sometimes there is just too much going on for you to poop in peace. 

LIE: It's hard to find time for each other after you have kids.
Napping together is still time for each other. You can find time for each other even if you're not doing anything.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer Update

I have been a house mom getting stuff done today.

I woke up, poured my (obviously EOTE) cup of joe, and: rescheduled my doctor's appointment; did some prep for a class on purity Blake and I will be teaching in a couple of weeks; scheduled senior panel pictures for one of our guys who is going to be a senior this year (#whatislife?); got dinner in the crockpot for tonight (what would my family eat if not for Pinterest and crockpots?); ordered a piano book with some easy arrangements of works by Beethoven, Mozart, and others that one of my guys has been begging to be able to play; worked through the calendar to begin scheduling and planning a summer recital for my piano students; and made everyone lunch...except myself. I'll eat something later. I'll also shower later. Everyone knows when you're a mom you basically have to choose two of the three: 1. Everyone getting fed 2. Getting everything on your list done 3. Showering and feeding yourself.

Let me tell you, readers, this summer has been crazy. Two of our guys are working full time summer jobs, we had VBS last week (or the week before? I have no idea what day it is), everyone wants to go do different summer activities at the absolute last second, and if you aren't already feeling like this summer is flying, let me remind you that in one month and ten days, school is starting. That means we are about half way through the summer.

We celebrated three birthdays in the month of June, and we have two birthdays to celebrate during July, as well as our fourth anniversary. Two of our guys are going on home visits this weekend, and the other two are going to stick around and get to do fun fourth of July activities with my side of the family. Most of these activities involve eating. Thanks again, Pinterest! We are also taking the guys out for a day on the lake, where we will get to rent a boat and do tubing and water skiing all day. After going to Florida for a week last year, this is going to be our "family vacation" for this year. I can't wait to tell you all about it, it's going to be a blast and the guys cannot stop talking about it.

A chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and mini chocolate chips for our 16-year-old, and an orange creme cake for the hot 24-year-old. I forgot to buy candles before we had cake so they each only got one. Oops.

A way-easier-than-it-looks ice cream cake for our 15-year-old.

As far as needs around Willow Springs, first I want to thank anyone and everyone who has been involved with the renovations at the Mac house next door. We have all of the funds needed for the renovation! All we need now are volunteers who can get it done, and the funds needed to reopen and support house parents and boys living there. We tend to find that whenever the means necessary are there, God brings applicants to fill the houses. God has provided, and He will continue to provide what everyone needs. Please keep praying for us, and if you feel God leading you to give, know that God is moving in the lives of the boys at Willow Springs, and whatever boys end up at Willow Springs.

Please keep praying for our guys. Even in the short time since school ended, I can see them changing and growing, and can see evidence of God moving in their hearts. It can be a tough process with teenagers to see if and when they are hearing God or paying attention to ways He is moving in their lives, and sometimes it feels a little fruitless, but it isn't. It is happening; it is unique and different for each young man in our house, but it is definitely happening.

If you have been involved with and investing in the lives of these young men, please know that we notice and we appreciate it. It takes a village to raise a child, right? Please continue to pray for all of us at Willow Springs who fight for the success of these young men, and thank you for all that you do to support us!