By Ann Cipperly
As Mother’s Day approaches, Micah Melnick, founder and executive director of BigHouse, gives her thoughts on motherhood, whether someone is a birth or foster mom or one of the “mothers” in a child’s life, such as a grandmother or Sunday school teacher. Micah and her husband Blake have three children of their own, and her vison of BigHouse, the first one of its kind, has served over 20,000 children in Alabama’s foster care system.
When Micah was growing up in Opelika, her parents, Angie and Michael Brown, always had lots of kids at their home and around the dinner table. With four children, her Mom cooked a lot of meals. “My Mom taught us that we have to be inclusive and include people,” Micah said. “That really spoke to me. My Mom showed me in her deeds and inviting more people to the table.”
Micah met her husband Blake, who also grew up in Opelika, in high school, and they started dating. They both attended the University of Alabama and got married while they were college students.
They returned to Opelika in the summer of 2009 when she graduated with a degree in human development and Blake graduated with a master’s degree. He received a position at Auburn University for his PH.D. in airspace engineering and started teaching at Auburn in a lecturer position.
They moved into her grandparents’ house that is next door to her parents. “We love it and have updated it,” Micah said. “We have completed fun projects and made it our own. I have many memories of my grandmother cooking and making cornbread every night. She would serve beans or meat with the cornbread, and sometimes my grandfather would just eat it with buttermilk.”
While Micah was in college, her parents took five siblings into their home in the foster care program. Blake’s parents, Ellen and Michael Melnick, were foster parents and adopted a child before he was born. “Their experience in foster care and later adoption,” said Micah, “opened my eyes to the often-overlooked experiences of children caught in this system.
“We saw when my parents got their five sibling group that it was evident to people that they should help them,” she said. “We saw their Sunday school class and neighbors getting involved to help when they saw the needs, they wanted to do something.”
As a result, in February 2009, when Micah was 22 years old, she founded BigHouse, the first of its kind, to create an organization that shares the needs of foster families with anyone in the community. “We could get a community wide effort instead of just people who might know a foster care family.”
While working at BigHouse, Micah had their first child, Anderson, in March 2010. He is now 12 years old and has always been part of BigHouse. The Melnick’s other two children are Maggie, 7 and Myers, 3.
As executive director, Micah has continued to balance her growing vision of BigHouse with being a mother of three. “One of the things that I learned from my Mom was that when you have a big family and a full life with the kids playing sports, you have to make dishes that are family friendly and quick. My Mom can make complicated dishes, but she taught me how to make dishes that I love to make in my kitchen. These are dishes I can remember with few ingredients.”
Her grandmother’s cornbread is still a family favorite. Last year, Micah’s Mom made an Instagram video of her showing how to make the cornbread recipe. “I had several friends who wanted to make cornbread and know how to make it good,” she said. “It was neat since we did it in my Nana’s kitchen where I remember making cornbread as a kid.”
Micah remembers when she was growing up that she would make breakfast in bed for her Mom on Mother’s Day. Looking back, she wonders if she made a mess for her Mom. “My Dad always did a good job making sure we had planned something fun to do or something that we helped with,” she said. “My Dad’s birthday is May 12, which is around the same time, so at times it has been a celebration of parents.”
For Mother’s Day weekend this year, they are going to an Atlanta Braves game on Saturday night. Blake generally helps the kids make breakfast on Sunday. Micah and Blake will spend time on Mother’s Day with each of their mothers.
On Mother’s Day and every day, Blake shares in the raising of the children, the caring of their home and their work. He does all the laundry. “The main reason I can do BigHouse and be a working mom is that we balance things together,” said Micah. “I have friends my age, and our husbands step in and help. We can’t do it all. We also coach Maggie’s softball team and do other activities with the children together.”
In honor of mothers, Micah is sharing her thoughts on all the mothers in a child’s life. “On Mother’s Day, whether you are actually a birth mom to a child, a foster mom or you are mothering children, we can all have an impact on a child’s life in a positive way. We have the capacity to love children that are not birthed to us but very much ours.
“Any moms who feel like they are not living up to whatever unrealistic expectations that society has for moms, give yourselves grace that you are what your kids need. However they came to us that was God’s design for them to be loved by us.
“I want mothers to know that they are doing a good job,” Micah added, “and give them grace to enjoy their kids and not be worried about the house and yard and all the pressures we have. Lately, I have been feeling like our kids are like sand, you just can’t keep the young; they grow up so fast.”
Micah and Blake recently put a pool in at their house. Micah is finding it is nice not to have her phone at the pool. “I leave my phone inside and go out to the pool for a couple of hours and play with my kids and just be present with them. It is allowing myself not to be worried about who is emailing me or if I need to wash dishes, and just being present with our kids. I encourage moms to find a way to connect with their children. For us, it was having this pool.
“I feel like this pool has been a gift because I cannot have my phone in it. It is so hard to make yourself do that. I don’t want my kids to grow up and say my mom was on her phone all the time. I am trying to be mindful of that.”
As Micah is spending quality time with her family, she is excited about the BigHouse Retreat that is being built. After looking for over two years for land, a lot was found on Grand National Parkway and ground was broken in March this year. While the goal has been to be finished by the end of year, it will probably be around February next year.
The retreat property includes almost 9,000 square feet with the porches. The boutique will be in back and arranged as a store with donations where foster parents can select clothes and items for their children without charge.
When BigHouse first started, there were about 40 foster families. Currently, it serves between 150 and 200 foster families in East Alabama. Their biggest event is at Christmas, when they have about 500 kids to shop for their needs and gifts.
“It is pretty big,” Micah said. “BigHouse offers a buffet, and foster parents can take part in what is beneficial to their families.
“It has grown organically. It started with thinking about what does my family need and how could we support another family like mine with things they need. Every program has started from talking with our families asking what they need and what would be beneficial to them.”
The BigHouse Retreat will be the first of its kind. It will be a space where families can play on the playground and sit on the porch in rocking chairs and swings. The big family room has space for events.
“We want it to a place where foster children can have good memories.” Micah said. “When they look back on their life, they can say they were at BigHouse, and it was really fun.”
For all the mothers, may Mother’s Day be an enjoyable day, and a time to realize their love has had a positive impact on their children that will have a lasting effect.
2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Buttermilk Cornmeal Mix
1 tsp. Crisco or vegetable oil
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
¼ cup vegetable oil
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Coat an 8 inch iron skillet with 1 tsp. of Crisco or other vegetable oil. Place in oven for about 5 minutes to heat up.
Combine cornmeal mix, buttermilk, egg and oil until batter is moist but lumpy. Carefully take skillet out of oven and tilt to cover the skillet with melted shortening. Pour batter into skillet.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Makes 8 servings.
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ cup Crisco
¾ cup buttermilk (may need more for desired consistency)
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Combine self-rising flour and Crisco by blending Crisco into flour in a bowl with your hands. Once combined, add buttermilk to bowl and blend with hands until a kneadable dough forms.
Form dough into 2 ½ inch circles and place in iron skillet.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until brown on top.
1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
1 large pkg. yellow saffron rice, cooked
1 can Rotel
1 block of Velveeta cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 bag nacho cheese flavored Doritos
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine browned beef, cooked rice, Rotel, Velveeta and cream of chicken soup into one bowl and pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish.
Bake for 30 minutes. Take out of oven and cover with crushed Doritos and shredded cheese to create crust. Finish baking 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling.
Chicken and Rice Casserole
1 ½ cups cooked rice
1 ½ cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup diced celery
1 small onion
1 can cream of mushroom soup
¼ stick of butter, melted
Crushed Ritz crackers
Heat oven 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredient except melted butter and crackers; pour into a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Cover with crushed Ritz mixed with melted butter. Bake for 45 minutes.
Taco Soup with Black Beans
1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 can black beans, not rained
1 can kidney beans, not drained
1 can corn, not drained
1 packet dry ranch mix
1 packet dry taco seasoning
Combine all ingredients, cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours in a crock pot.
1 pkg. fully cooked shrimp (based on family size)
1 box of fettuccine noodles
¼ cup butter
1 pint heavy cream
4 oz. pkg. (half of 8 oz. pkg.) chive and onion cream cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. garlic powder
Boil noodles per package directions.
In a large nonstick skillet, add butter, heavy cream and cream cheese. Stir and simmer until butter and cream cheese are melted.
Stir in Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and creamy. Add thawed shrimp and allow them to heat.
Serve over noodles.
2 cans chicken
2 cans crescent rolls
2 cups shredded cheese. divided
1 can cream of chicken soup
Take a spoonful of shredded chicken and cheese and fill each crescent roll and roll up. Space filled crescent rolls out evenly in a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish.
Blend can of cream of chicken and small amount of water in a bowl until creamy and easy to pour, then pour over crescent rolls. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake according to crescent roll instructions.
Potluck Perfect Green Beans
5 (15 oz.) cans green beans
10-12 slices of bacon (or bag of real bacon bits)
⅔ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tsp. minced garlic
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line foil on a baking sheet with a rim. Then spread out the bacon and bake it for 20 minutes or until crispy. While the bacon is cooking, open and drain the green beans, then spread them out in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, melted butter, soy sauce and minced garlic. Pour mixture over the green beans. After the bacon is crispy, remove it from the oven, drain and chop. Spread it over the green beans.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, then bake the beans for 40 minutes.
Savory Breakfast Casserole
2 packs Italian herb croutons
1 lb. breakfast sausage, browned and drained
2 cups shredded cheese
1 cup milk
Layer croutons in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Then cover with layer of sausage and cheese. Whisk 12 eggs and cup of milk together and pour over mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
*Better if prepped the night before and stored in refrigerator.
Cinnamon Roll Breakfast Casserole
2 tubes cinnamon rolls with icing, in refrigerated case at grocery
½ cup milk
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup maple syrup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut each cinnamon roll into 8 pieces.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside.
Pour the butter on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Spread the cinnamon roll pieces evenly over the butter. Then pour the egg mixture over the cinnamon rolls. Pour the maple syrup over the egg mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes. Top with the icing from the cinnamon rolls.
Buffalo Chicken Dip
1 can chicken
1 cup sour cream
1 block (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cheese, divided
1 packet dry ranch mix
Franks Hot Sauce to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Drain chicken and shred with a fork, add sour cream, cream cheese, ranch mix, 1 cup of cheese and hot sauce to taste. Spread in a 9 x 9 inch casserole dish and cover with remaining cheese. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.