"How do you do it?"

There is a variety of ways this question is posed. The more mundane style "how do you balance family and church life?" is meant benignly enough, normally. The intended complimentary "How DO you do it?" to its relative "I don't see how you do it all" or "get it all done" comes with an unintended hint of suspicion and skepticism. The debate or public discussion form "Can women really have it all?" is blatantly sexist.
I have heard every version by now. I have three small children and a husband who works full time as well. He is rarely asked any version of this. Most do not intend it to be anything but complimentary or to sort out their own confusion about gender roles. Occasionally the asker will self-correct. Recently one asker said "How do you balance being a mom and a priest?" then quickly trailed off and mumbled "although I guess that really applies to anyone...".
In the Episcopal Church, there are two things that anchor us. The first is communion, Eucharist. Being a priest who also loves to cook and feed people, you can imagine how powerful this anchor is for me. The second is baptism, that grace-filled moment of adoption into God's household. We never baptize someone without the whole house saying anew the Baptismal Covenant. Find a Book of Common Prayer or follow this link, open to page 304, and read how we profess our faith in this covenant.
"I will, with God's Help".
How do I "do it all"? Same as anyone else: with God's help.
There is no secret formula to living this life and making the most of it. There is a required step, however: the realization that it's only by the grace of God that anything is accomplished in the first place.
But what does that look like practically? Obviously I can't just pray and everything will be perfect. There is the important aspect of human agency in accomplishing God's work and for me, that includes the ministry of being a mom and wife.
So, I do pray and hope to do the best I can at all times with the full realization I will fail miserably but also with the full realization that that's ok. I'm not perfect and, thankfully, I don't have to be.
What I do have to do, is make sure my kids have a decent dinner to eat every night.
Over the years of our marriage, my husband and I have naturally divided the labor in the house. Most things we share, some things are more one person's responsibility than the others, and some things fall squarely in one person's wheel house. Cooking mostly falls in mine, though my husband is a great cook and often offers to handle dinner.
Now, back to the idea that women "can't have it all". Since WWII ended and more women stayed in the work force, appliance companies have noticed a hungry market for "miracle appliances" in the kitchen. The goal has been, well, first to sell something and make some money, but second to make it easier for women (the traditional keepers of the kitchen) to better manage work and family responsibilities.
One of my favorites: the Crockpot. Even if I have a full day of meetings and appointments or I have an evening meeting, dinner will be done at dinner time. I have one large one with a timer (thank you, Honey, for the one time you can get away with giving your wife an appliance for Christmas because she asked for it) and one with three separate smaller pots. I can cook a whole meal without being home. It's glorious!
Here is my "How do you balance" dinner:
Crockpot Whole Roasted Chicken
1 whole chicken - We're part of a chicken CSA (wonderful!) so ours comes cleaned up but with the neck still attached. This helps make a delicious broth in the pot with the rest of the drippings.
1 cup or so of white wine - We never finish a bottle in our house (we're bourbon drinkers) and so I freeze what's left in 1 cup portions and throw that in the crockpot still frozen
kosher salt to taste - I almost always use kosher salt when cooking. I like the texture and results better.
bunch of herbs - I have a container herb garden in the front yard so I take my scissors out and cut whatever herbs I feel like using. This week it was rosemary, sage, thyme, and Italian parsley.
1 Tbsp Minced garlic or a couple of smashed garlic cloves


Place your beautiful bird in the pot, salt it, dump the wine and garlic on top, and place your bunch of herbs in last. Cover and cook on low until the meat pulls away from the bone and you know the bird is done (usually 6 hours or so). The juices in the bottom of the pan can be used as-is as a gravy or your can make a roux in a pan and use these juices to make a thicker gravy. Obviously you'll need to strain the liquid first. Few people like a whole smashed garlic clove in their bite of gravy; though my daddy would probably love it.


Triple Crockpot Sides
There are plenty of options here but we have some favorites.
Sweet Carrots
Put 2-3 cups whole baby carrots in the pot. Cover with water. Throw in a handful of brown sugar and a large pinch of kosher salt. That's it! If you want to get fancy, there are lots of herbs you can add: crushed or grated ginger, curry powder, thyme (fresh or dried), tarragon, etc.


Three Bean Stew
In a bowl, mix 1 can (drained) each of 3 kinds of beans (we like chickpeas, cannellini, and black beans). Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes. I like the Muir Glenn organic tomatoes with garlic and onion. Add 1 tsp or so (to taste) ground cumin and 1 tsp ground coriander. Add 1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon. Stir together then put in crockpot.


Crockpot Roasted Potatoes
Quarter 6-7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (don't forget to wash first!) and put in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the potatoes. Melt 2-3 Tbsps salted butter in the microwave and drizzle over potatoes as well. Salt and pepper to taste and add 1-2 tsps. dried parsley. Toss together then put in crockpot.


I set all three of these side dishes on low and leave them for the day (6-8 hrs). All of these can be left for a long time. The bean stew and carrots can't overcook. The potatoes will eventually.
I came home on Wednesday before our noon service and started these dishes. At 5:30 p.m. I said "hi" to my family and did the "How was your day?" check-in. At 6:00 p.m. I walked out the door to a vestry meeting and told my husband dinner was in the crockpots. I got home around 8 p.m. in time to tuck the kids in to bed and hear a little more about school. I even got to read them a bedtime story.
Was it a full day? Yes. Did I still have time with my family and felt like I had showed them my love with a good dinner? Yes. Did I fulfill my calling as a priest and rector of a parish that day? Yes. Is it Friday and there are dishes still in the sink?  Yes.


It's not a perfect system but it's perfect enough.







Comments

  1. I have decided not to read your blog on an empty stomach. Yummy recipes along with time invested solutions to a busy life. Thank you! Putting on some Three Bean Stew this morning...

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