Monday, December 30, 2013

"Bio is Best"

Recently, in a discussion about foster to adopt and adoption, someone made this comment (paraphrased) "Rightfully, the courts/DSS/CYS are all about reunifying the child with their biological family." It doesn't matter who it was that said it; that is the general attitude of the legal apparatus in this country. I'll be honest, I have some real problems with that supposition. Please note, I agree that ideally, all children would be raised by their married biological parents who loved them, were responsible, and who gave their children all the attention, encouragement, and guidance they need to become healthy, well-developed, responsible adults. However, we don't live in that ideal world; heck, if we lived in that ideal world, people who wanted to get pregnant would all get pregnant, and those who do not want to get pregnant would not. Since we don't live in this world, let's unpack the "bio is best" supposition to see why I have serious problems with it.

1) "Biological family is always best" presumes that biological parents are always the best possible parents for a child. If that is the case, why is any child ever removed from their parents' custody? If that is the case, then why do we not change children's legal status and return to considering them their parents' property, theirs to do with as they please? If bio is always best, then biological parents can do no wrong, regardless of whether they beat their children, prostitute them, neglect them, torture them, or even leave them to die. 

2) If "bio is always best," then this presupposes that simply by the fact of being unable to conceive and bear a child, every IF couple is unfit parents. Do we really want to presume that the simple act of giving birth is all it takes to be the best possible parent? Do you really want to compare stable, loving, married couples against drug addicts with no way of supporting themselves and find those stable but IF couples wanting? This is the same presumption behind people telling IF couples that "maybe God didn't want you to be parents."

3) Who requires prospective biological parents (or even prospective step-parents) to undergo criminal background checks? Where are prospective biological parents required to attend a series of classes on child development and child rearing? As of when are prospective biological parents required to undergo health screenings? Much is demanded of prospective foster or adoptive parents. While I understand that it is all done to try and protect children, it does not seem right to insist upon so much more from them while telling them that they will never be as good as biological parents. 

Here's the thing: it takes a lot for a child to be removed from the custody of his parent or parents. No, I am not saying that the system never makes a mistake or that children removed from their parent(s)' custody should never be returned to them. As we are all human, mistakes are made; people can learn and change. However, I think that rather than assuming that reuniting a child with his biological family is always and everywhere the ideal, the attitude should be one of determining what truly is best for the child's welfare. Too many children are returned to parents who continue to abuse or neglect them because of the assumption that family reunification is best.

If we are going to continue with assumption that family reunification is always and everywhere the best option, then perhaps we should bring back children's homes. I am my mother's first-born, but before me she had six children. All six of those children attended her wedding. You see, my mother worked in one of those children's homes; she cared deeply for those children in her care; at least one of them considered her "Mother." (At the wedding, this developmentally disable girl went up to my father's mother and said "I guess this makes you my grandma," which my grandmother was not quite sure how to handle.) Mom was amazed when I told her how much has changed, how biological parents now have all the power while prospective adoptive parents have little.

A small chance of maybe being able to adopt should not be held out as a carrot to induce parents to foster children; they should be told the hard truth that they will always be considered the lesser option, the choice of last resort to be the forever parents to the child/children that they foster. And if there are not enough people willing to foster under those conditions, then bring back children's homes. If foster care is always and everywhere a temporary stay, then a short stay at a children's home should do no (or at least little) lasting harm.

In many states under our current system, prospective adoptive parents can be asked to cover the birth mother's living expenses and medical expenses, while the birth mother retains all rights to change her mind at any time. I cannot help but wonder how often a struggling pregnant woman sees this as chance to have all of her expenses paid, without any intention of giving up her child. (Yes, I realize that this is deeply cynical of me, though I am sure it happens.) I cannot begin to guess at the pain and heartache that couples who have struggled to afford to cover all those expenses, only to be left with nothing, experience.

Please note that I am not remotely suggesting that we return to the bad old days, when the children of unmarried women were taken from them for no greater reason than their marital status or when the "unfit" were forcibly sterilized. I am also not suggesting that people should need to obtain a license to have children, either (though every once in a while, the idea is very tempting). What I am saying is that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, that we are letting the "perfect," the ideal get in the way of the good. Not every person who bears or conceives a child is a fit parent; let us recognize that, and in those cases, find good homes and families for those children.

This summer it seemed like every time I turned around, I was seeing something about the need for foster parents. At the time I wondered if it was a sign that we were being called to go that direction. However, the more that I considered it, the more I looked into the attitudes behind CYS and even many private agencies, I decided "No." I would rather not be a parent rather than eternally be considered a second-class, not as good parent simply because I did not conceive and bear that child. In the future we may consider adoption again, but we will almost certainly focus on international adoption. Though international adoption is more expensive, there are no concerns about birth parents changing their minds, no need to sell yourselves as the best possible home and family for the child of parents considering adoption; there is less wait and hope and pray that someone will pick you; in many cases, within a certain time you will adopt a child. There is also the assumption that these children need families to adopt them, not that adoption is a semi-acceptable substitute for a biological family.

Truly, I am not as bitter and cynical as this post may make me seem; I am just deeply troubled (oh alright, and pissed off) by the presumptions behind "bio is best."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Un-Christmas-like Rant

Sometimes, like now, I almost feel like I should assign myself lines to write; in this case, the sentence would be "I love my in-laws." Then again, I'm not sure that writing that 100 times would help right now. I do love my in-laws, and they are wonderful people, but to describe them as disorganized and not the plan ahead type is a dramatic understatement. I don't know if it's because my family has always been somewhat spread out or if it has more to do with personalities, but my family has always been the scheduled, plan ahead type. My brother and I made wish lists for as long as I can remember, then Mom would send part of our lists to each set of grandparents. Everything was done ahead of time, so there was no last minute rushing around.

Last week I had Husbandido ask his oldest brother for suggestions on what to get the boys (our nephews, ages 10 and 13). We just needed one or two smallish things to complete their gifts; we had already purchased books and some other things for them. It took repeated follow-ups before we got an answer; in fact, we didn't get an answer until Thursday evening. The answers we got weren't really helpful, either. Granted, we are somewhat fussy gift givers. Both boys spend way too much time in front of screens, so we try to stay away from video games. (To give you some perspective, the younger boy was wearing a men's 28 waist pant at age 8. That Christmas, with his parents' permission, we gave him karate lessons to try and get him more active.) Neither boy has very much patience, so Legos wouldn't work either. We spent 3 hours on Thursday evening trying desperately to come up with what to get that would meet our requirements, didn't cost an arm and a leg, and would be equal for each boy. (Can you tell that I've seen more than my share of meltdowns over presents and who is favored?) Finally we decided on a Pokemon guide for them to share, and a Mario brothers tee shirt to add to what we already had for the older boy. We already had books and lightsaber M&Ms dispensers for both, and Minecraft magnets for the younger boy. We thought that we would be getting together in the evening on Christmas Eve, so our Amazon order should arrive just in time. 

Yesterday, though, I had Husbandido double-check with his parents about the schedule and menu. Without bothering to check on everyone's schedules, my in-laws scheduled the Christmas gathering to start at 2 pm. Husbandido doesn't get off today; his usual work day doesn't end until 3:45 pm. He's been careful about using his vacation days, in case I need surgery or if we succeed, since he's allowed to roll over some of his days. On top of that, the menu is stuffed shells and sandwiches, so nothing that I can eat. I was more upset about the schedule; he was more upset about the lack of consideration in the menu. We spent much of yesterday evening going round and round over whether he should take a half day, leave a couple of hours early and make up the time on Friday, or just get there two hours after everyone else. On top of that, the early gathering meant that I would be best off dropping Husbandido off at work, then picking him at the end of the day, so we could go straight to his parents. This would mean leaving before the UPS guy arrives. To my mind, Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve deserves its own circle of Hell; it is not something I would ever willingly do. But we were left with a tough choice: try to explain that his gift hadn't arrived yet and deal with the fallout or me go out shopping to search for a replacement gift. Husbandido kept telling me that I didn't have to go, and shouldn't go shopping. But honestly, I've seen way too many meltdowns and tantrums to want that for Christmas Eve. (Lest you think our nephew is a totally spoiled brat, part of his behavior, especially the lack of emotional controls, is due to him being somewhere along the autism spectrum.) Worry and stress over the situation made it hard to fall asleep; it was after midnight when I finally dozed off. So I hauled my sorry self out of bed at 5:30 this morning, dropped Husbandido off at work, and promptly hit the mall. It took me over 2.5 hrs, several phone calls to Husbandido, and searching an entire mall plus a separate department store, but I finally found something. I'm running on 4 to 5 hours sleep, which I don't do well. God grant me the patience to make it through today!

Oh - and on top of it all, I've started having good mucus. With the chaos yesterday, we didn't get a chance to be intimate, and tonight I'll be way too tired. Just what I want for our first month spending more than $200 on meds.

Fortunately, I've had some time to come home and cuddle our cats, which has helped my mood significantly.

To leave you on a brighter note, here are two beautiful performances of "In Dulci Jubilo," which is one of my favorite carols. First, the King's Singers.

And then, the Vienna Boys Choir.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Extravaganza Round-Up Part II

Now that I'm mostly over that pesky bug that one of my house guests gave me, as well as the minor accident we were in the Sunday before last, I can finally finish my wrap-up! (We're both fine, though Husbandido's car needed 4 new tires, and I am really not thinking about the "minor" body damage that knocked out one of the running or fog lights yet. [Is 2013 over yet? I'm really hoping for a better 2014.])

I was fortunate that my mother was willing to help with the cooking after my brother's family arrived. Let's face it, playing with a grandchild is probably a lot more fun than making potatoes au gratin or roasting a turkey. Together Mom, Husbandido, and I put together a pretty good Thanksgiving feast. We struggled a little with the GF pumpkin pie (Pillsbury refrigerated GF pastry dough), but it turned okay, if a little over cooked. (While the crust wasn't particularly buttery tasting or flaky, it was perfectly serviceable - meaning that while it wouldn't compare to the best gluten containing pastries/pie crusts I have had or made, it was good.) It took searching through a few cookbooks to find a recipe for potatoes au gratin that worked with the ingredients that we had, but they turned out fine. Our turkey looked tiny in the giant roasting pan, but it avoided any liquid overflow (like when we hosted Christmas for the in-laws a couple a couple of years ago... I'm still hearing about the smoke and having to kick everyone outside briefly while I cleaned the inside of the oven). 

The  big excitement of Thanksgiving was our uninvited guest late in the evening; an uninvited guest of the variety that we are NOT supposed to have, given our 3 cats. Yep, my SIL, sitting and reading in the living room, spotted a mouse. Husbandido, Dad, and Brother took to the task of hunting down the mouse. I tried to enlist first Biscuit, who was completely unwilling to be around so many strangers and hid behind the TV stand, then Robin. Fortunately for me, after a while Robin realized what was up; he did a great job following the mouse and flushing him out from under the sofa. After Robin caught the mouse, he happily trotted through the dinning room, past my mom, into the office, where more problems arose. You see, Robin didn't want to give up the mouse, and when Husbandido eventually convinced him to let go for more than a moment, the mouse ran under his desk. The one good point is that the office has a door, so at least the mouse was contained. Husbandido's desk is large heavy piece, with a hutch on top, so getting that mouse back out took some doing. Eventually, though the mouse was vanquished.

Friday proved to be the most difficult day of the visit. We went to Sarris' Candies and Ice Cream to celebrate my mom and SIL's birthdays. Since there wasn't a table big enough for all of us to fit around open, we split into 2 tables, Husbandido and I at one table, everyone else at the other. What was so hard for me was seeing my mom talking about kids and child rearing with my brother and SIL, knowing I may never have those kinds of discussions about the stages children grow through and her advice and wisdom. The other interesting event was decorating. Since Saturday was when we would celebrate Christmas, it was time to get all the decorations up. I've never "speed decorated" before, and honestly, I hope I don't need to repeat the experience! I usually really enjoy the process of decorating, but feeling crunched for time made it a lot less fun. Then there was also trying to set aside particularly sturdy/nonbreakable ornaments for Posey (my new nickname for our 16 month old niece) to "help" decorate with. Her help mostly consisted of picking up ornaments and carrying them around in bags, boxes, or baskets. It was really cute... if slightly frustrating, given time constraints. Here are a few pictures of the house decorated.

(You can't tell clearly from the picture, but the angel on the left is mourning, while the one on the right is holding an infant.)
(Yep, I am a total sucker for Precious Moments. I also refuse to remove our memorial for the child we lost from the mantle.)

Saturday, we took Posey to a Gymboree open gym. Conveniently, the Gymboree is located in a shopping mall, so the rest of us were able to go shop while her dad and grandmother took turns supervising her. Shopping with my mom and SIL had some good moments, and some bad. It's never a good feeling when one of the people you are shopping with is asking for a size smaller, especially when that is one you have no hope of ever fitting into. (And I had been feeling pretty good about losing close to 10 lbs, too. Nothing like comparisons to leave you feeling like a fat blob.) When Posey was getting tired, my mom brought her out, to join everyone else; only she hadn't realized that my brother had put her shoes in the stroller, so she searched for them in the shoe cubbies. Mom put what she thought were the right shoes on Posey, then started walking around with her. When we ran into them, we had to let her know that she was a shoe thief. Thankfully she was able to return the shoes before their actual owner (or her parents) found them missing. 

Saturday evening was the big Christmas celebration. My Mom loved the wreath I had made for her. 

Brother and SIL seemed to appreciate Father Leo's book, and were at least amused by the Raku pottery piece (purchased) and wreath I made to match. (They really aren't into decorating.)
I received a ridiculous amount of GF baking mixes from King Arthur and Cup 4 Cup (produced by Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame; Brother and SIL are foodies), so expect another major product review post in the not too distant future.

Mom and Dad didn't quite know what to make of the gecko/Redwood burl objet d'art that I made (other than "it's going to wait until they drive out to come home with them"), but I think they liked it. It is a bit... overwhelming. Fortunately it's outdoor safe, intended for placement in their front courtyard.

This is the chaos after all the presents were opened. I'm letting the cats have the boxes to play with for a while, though there's been less playing than I anticipated.

Sunday morning my mom woke up very sick; sick enough that we thought my parents might need to delay their return to Arizona. Mom managed to get up and dressed in time to say goodbye to my brother's family. Amazingly, Dad got almost all their things packed in their suitcases, and they did leave on their scheduled flight. I was worried, but Mom made it back okay. It was nice to have everyone visit, but I've been enjoying the peace and more relaxed schedule now that everyone's gone.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who are the poor?

This Advent and Christmas season I wanted to share two passages from Mother Theresa's book No Greater Love with you. At this time of year especially, we focus on helping those less fortunate than ourselves, whether it be through Angel Trees, Salvation Army red kettles, end of the year donations, food banks, or volunteering. Unexpectedly, Mother Theresa asks us to look closer to find the poor - to see the poor close at hand, in our own lives.

p. 93
The world today is hungry not only for bread but hungry for love, hungry to be wanted, to be loved. They're hungry to feel the presence of Christ. In many countries, people have everything except that presence, that understanding.
In every country there are poor. On certain continents poverty is more spiritual than material, a poverty that consists of loneliness, discouragement, and the lack of meaning in life. I have also seen in Europe and America very poor people sleeping on newspapers or rags in the streets. There are those kind of poor in London, Madrid, and Rome. It is too easy simply to talk or concern ourselves with the poor who are far away. It is much harder and, perhaps, more challenging to turn our attention and concern toward the poor who live right next door to us.
When I pick up a hungry person from the streets, I give him rice and bread, and I have satisfied that hunger. But a person who is shut out, feels unwanted by society, unloved and terrified - how much more difficult is it to remove that hunger?
You in the West have the spiritually poorest of the poor much more than you have the physically poor. Often among the rich are very spiritually poor people. I find it is easy to give a plate of rice to a hungry person, to furnish a bed to person who has no bed, but to console or to remove the bitterness, anger, and loneliness that comes from being spiritually deprived, that takes a long time.
p. 101
 We know what poverty means, first of all, to be hungry for bread, to need clothing, and not to have a home. But there is a far greater kind of poverty. It means being unwanted, unloved, and neglected. It means having no one to call your own.
Do we know our poor people? Do we know the poor in our house, in our family? Perhaps they are not hungry for a piece of bread. Perhaps our children, husband, wife, are not hungry or naked, or dispossessed, but are you sure that there is no one there who feels unwanted, deprived of affection? Where is your elderly father or mother? Abandonment is an awful poverty.
Who are the poor in your life? Who do you know who may be feeling more alone than ever this season? A single sibling or cousin who feels like they no longer fit into their family when everyone else has married? An elderly aunt or uncle in a nursing home? A friend estranged from her own family, with nowhere to go? The couple longing for a child to share the joy of Christmas with? Many of us are ourselves poor in this way, but in recognizing our poverty and hunger, we learn what it is that we can give to one another.

If you'll excuse me, I have a great-aunt and a grandmother to go write to....

"The Lord hears the cry of the poor, Blessed be the Lord."


Monday, December 9, 2013


For so long, I had prayed for and desperately wanted answers, but as today drew near, I found myself becoming apprehensive. Did I really want to know? What if the news was all bad: that we should give up on having a biological child? On the other hand, my frustration with our RE stemmed almost completely from a lack of answers and the approach of just pushing my reproductive system harder rather than fixing what is wrong.

Regardless of what I thought or wanted, our follow-up arrived this morning; here is what we learned.

According to Dr. P, my pre-ovulatory hormones are okay. Estradiol should be around 260 - 300 around ovulation; mine was 132, so I am not producing a good quality egg (type 3 ovulatory defect).

Post peak is even worse, though. I tried to write down all the values mentioned, but I missed one of the expected estrogen values for either P+7 or P+9.

Estrogen     Expected     Me           Progesterone     Expected     Me
P+3             88                46            P+3                    9.4               8.3
P+5             108              63            P+5                    14.4             12
P+7             120(?)         63             P+7                    15.7             14
P+9             120(?)         82             P+9                    13.6             7
P+11           98                78             P+11                  8.1               4.8

My FSH and prolactin were normal. Vitamin D levels were very low, 21, where normal is 50 -75. TSH was 1.93; I missed what normal is.

Here's the plan: I need to start taking 4,000 IU of Vitamin D-3 daily. Next cycle I will start on Femara, 6 tablets on day 3, taking Mucinex to maintain/improve CM, and post-peak HCG injections (P+3,5,7,9). I'll be doing P+7 blood work every cycle. We were cautioned not to expect treatment to work right way; it could take 2 -3 cycles before I return to anything like normal fertility. If we do not succeed within 6 cycles, it will be time to consider diagnostic laproscopy. As of right now, there is no plan to put me on thyroid hormones.

My thoughts and reactions: Eep! I was expecting post-peak progesterone to be low, especially given how many days of spotting I've been having, but I didn't expect the low estrogen values. I can't say I had really thought about my vitamin D levels at all, so that was also unexpected. I wasn't at all prepared to jump straight to post-peak HCG injections; I thought I'd get to start out with progesterone pills. While I'm not needle-phobic by any stretch of the imagination, I can't say I'm eager to dive into regular injections. Add it all up, and I'm definitely feeling overwhelmed by it all. On the positive side, it does seem like our doctor is taking everything seriously; there isn't time wasted putzing around. He clearly considers this protocol one with a good chance of success. I can't help but wonder if I have always had all of these problems; while my earlier sympto-thermal charts weren't beautiful, they weren't anywhere near as much of a mess as my CrMS charts have been. Is age starting to take a toll on me? There's no real way to know, so that speculation doesn't really do any good. All it does is make me more nervous and apprehensive; somehow I have to let go of it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Adoration in Advent

Eucharistic Adoration doesn't come naturally to me; the first few times I went left me feeling  like a fake, like I had no idea exactly what do with myself. Over time I learned that bringing others' prayer requests with me, rather only my own concerns, helped. After praying, I turn to one of the books I have set aside for during Adoration. Much of my hour was filled with finishing No Greater Love by Mother Theresa; in fact my promised hour was done by the time I finished it. But instead of leaving, I felt a pull to open up Happy Catholic: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life... by Julie Davis. This was the reflection that I opened to:

Hold On, I Know I've Got a Quarter Here

God is not a vending machine.             Joan Kimber

So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron, who accepted their offering, and fashioning this gold with graving tool, made a molten calf. Then they cried out, "This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:3-4)

The reason the Hebrews demanded a golden calf is largely misunderstood these days. It was not to worship the statue. They wanted to summon him at will to answer their prayers. 

It is convenient to look back over the chasm of time, shaking our heads sadly at these willful people. They had Moses in their midst, God's own choice, and they still tried to get their own way.

We would do better to look in the mirror than to "tut-tut" over the Hebrews. We are no better. We don't want to suffer, we know just how to solve this problem if he'd just listen to our prayers, and Lord Almighty, do hurry up, because we surely don't want to wait around!

How limiting this is. It narrows our vision and our recognition of God's plan, which is so much broader than anything we can possibly know. Not only that, we are cutting ourselves off from the surprises he has planned. Those of us who have had any glimpse of the divine plan know that we never would have thought of anything like God's intricate, elegant, multilayered design.

We would do far better to follow the Car Guys' wise advice: "Don't tell the mechanic what to fix. Just tell him the problem, and let him come up with the solution."

That he knows it is enough.

(I can't reccomend this little book more highly, though it doesn't always jump out at me quite this much; in addition to her book, Julie also writes over at Happy Catholic.)

In my earlier prayers, in addition to laying all the requests and intentions at His feet, I had also been asking Why? "Why did You raise a friend's hopes so high just to dash them? Why do You seem to answer some prayers so quickly and easily, while others are left waiting?" 

This reflection was just what I needed to hear: God is not a vending machine. We put in our prayers, our hopes, our dreams and cannot know what we will receive; it may be what we asked for, or something else entirely. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holiday Extravaganza Round-Up (Part I)

First of all, a gigantic Thank You! to all of you for your thoughts and prayers. I made it through my week of hosting without any major meltdowns, and I didn't get sick until everyone was leaving; I'm counting that as a win.

A few days before my parents were scheduled to arrive, I found at they weren't going to stay in Philadelphia through Monday and drive out on Tuesday; they were driving out on Monday. (They were in Philly for a wedding the weekend before Thanksgiving.) Needless to say, losing a day to clean and finish the gifts I was making ratcheted my stress levels up several notches. Before coming out, my mother kept offering to help with the preparatory cleaning, which I both appreciated (help is always nice) and resented (Really? You don't think I'm capable of getting my own home clean enough for guests?). Though I wasn't able to get it all done, the most important things were completed (but I really ought to write a letter to and send that Thanksgiving card to Grandma...). Fortunately or unfortunately, my parents' GPS had them taking 376 through Pittsburgh to drop their rental car off at the the airport... at rush hour. First they called and said they would be getting to the airport earlier than planned, leaving me rushing out of the house and struggling to get in touch with Husbandido, who works near the airport and was scheduled to pick them up. Of course he was in a meeting, so I had no clue how it was all going to work: if I was going to leave my poor parents waiting out in the cold or if we would make it in time. The mess that is 376 at rush hour meant that my panic over my parents' early arrival was totally unnecessary; I was eventually able to reach Husbandido, and he was able to pick them up in time. We had a nice dinner out and a quiet evening, visiting at home. 

I was more conflicted about Tuesday; back when I thought my parents were arriving that evening, I had scheduled an appointment to have my hair done that afternoon. That in addition to my regular Tuesday morning Bible study left me feeling like I was abandoning my folks on their own all day. In the end, I followed my mother's urgings and went to both, which was probably good for me, since that was some of the last time away from everyone I would have until they left. Somewhere between 4 and 6" was lopped off the back of my hair, and it's a totally different color than I would ever have chosen. I like how it turned out, but I was disappointed that no one else seemed to like it that much (Mom and Husbandido, I'm looking at you.) 

Wednesday was a return to chaos. My brother and his family were scheduled to arrive that evening, but problems getting snow tires on their car kept delaying their departure. My parents, Husbandido, and I had talked about a movie, but we didn't want to run the risk of not being home when Brother & family arrived. We decided not to go see Catching Fire, and Husbandido worked late. Then we got the update from Brother - they wouldn't be arriving until after 11, so we set out to see the movie. (It also meant a lot of leftover roast.) Catching Fire was sold out; we saw Frozen instead. I was skeptical at the start, but I ended up really enjoying it. As we were leaving the movie theater, my dad got a text from my brother saying that they would be getting in around 10:15/10:30 pm. It was a good thing Catching Fire had sold out; otherwise we wouldn't have been back in time. There was the usual chaos getting everyone settled in, but no major problems.

Since this getting long, I'll break here and continue tomorrow.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Two Years Ago at Thanksgiving

Several years ago my parents became snowbirds; they now spend much of their year in Scottsdale, AZ. Two years ago at Thanksgiving was the last time that my brother, SIL, my husband, and I would all go out there for either for either Thanksgiving or Christmas (we alternated holidays). I loved going out there, swimming, playing pool volleyball, relaxing in the spa, while celebrating the holidays; it was such a change from cold and gray; the sunshine was blissful. It all changed two years ago...

Two years ago we were waiting for our first appointment with an RE. (Waiting for appointments is way up there on my list of least favorite things.) I had tried several months of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, hoping to be able to avoid needing that appointment; the acupuncture helped me deal with the insane levels of stress from the job I hated, but it didn't take away the need for that dreaded appointment. After those months of trying, I knew the symptoms of early pregnancy backwards, forwards, and inside out, since I had spent so long hoping to see them in myself. Instead of observing them in myself, though, I became the first to know without being told, that my SIL was pregnant. Was I happy for them? Yes... and no. But first some background...

Growing up, my parents, especially my father, compared my brother and I at every turn: grades, activities, behavior, you name it. So yes, I was (and still am, though to a lesser degree) competitive with my brother. I wasn't particularly thrilled when my kid brother married before I did, especially when some of my new SIL's family insisted that I had to be the younger sibling because I wasn't married. (That incident happened 7 or 8 years ago, and I still get pissed off thinking about it. You'd think they were stuck in the 1950's, where not being married straight out of high school or by the end of college was unthinkable for a woman.) Due to a set of difficult circumstances, my PhD was never finished, while my brother left grad school with a master's degree. I really wanted to achieve one major life milestone before my brother; since it wasn't marriage or finishing grad school, couldn't it have been having a child? 

I was happy for them because of the fertility problems they had already been through. They knew before they started trying that they would need medical assistance; due to a benign tumor that grew near her pituitary gland (removed previously), SIL did not cycle on her own. However, within 4 or 5 cycles of trying, they conceived, though that pregnancy was not viable. After 6 months for recovery, this second pregnancy came within just a few months of trying again. Even now, after almost two years, I struggle with this; they conceived twice in less than a year of trying, while we are coming up on three years of trying. (I'm really not trying to get into the wretched game of "more infertile than thou," but isn't the definition of IF supposed to involve trying for 6 months or a year? It also doesn't help that SIL seems to get the sympathy, while I got the dumb suggestions. Having a medical explanation instead of being labeled "unexplained" can do that.)

That was probably the most difficult holiday I have ever been through. I was mad at everyone: mad at God, mad at my body, mad at my parents (for making me so damn competitive), mad at my husband for not getting it. But I couldn't show it to anyone but my husband, or maybe briefly my mother. I had to be happy, and solicitous of my SIL, and do my level best to keep family harmony and happiness. (Who me, a people pleaser?) I was miserable and would have loved to leave early, but I couldn't. I was trapped. I felt like a horrible person, insanely guilty, for not being thrilled about their pregnancy. Heck, I still feel guilty about it. The most I could do to deal with it was put myself through brutal, punishing workouts, and even that didn't help much (and scared my mother - telling her "If I'm not back in a couple of hours, I'm probably passed out on the workout room floor" was not one of my brighter ideas.) 

Last year my family gathered at New Year's, so I didn't really have to face this memory. This year, though, we are getting together for Thanksgiving, and I'm struggling with the memories. It doesn't help that I'm going nuts trying to get everything ready in time for this holiday extravaganza (we're celebrating Thanksgiving, my mother and SIL's birthdays, and Christmas all in one long weekend), as well as once again waiting for a doctor's appointment. (December 9 is when we are currently scheduled to get the answers from all the tests done in October.) 

At this point my lists have lists... and I'm stuck worrying about toddler proofing my house. I'm exhausted and have already had epic, toddler-level  meltdowns. (Oh, the irony.) Yesterday's started when I realized I had lost a $25 gift card that I had just bought; of course I frantically retraced my steps trying to find it, to no avail, and the meltdown lasted pretty much the rest of night (almost 6 hours). I've been having a hard time falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night, and I'm someone who really needs her sleep. To say that I'm a mess would be quite the understatement. My parents arrive on Monday, and brother's family arrives on Wednesday. If you can spare a moment, please offer a prayer that I will have the strength and grace to get through this with my sanity more or less intact.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Tribute to the Husbands of IF

Now that I have systematically insulted all of my wonderful readers in my last post (thanks for coming back, by the way), I'm going to step around you and compliment your husbands. Like my last post, this one contains huge, sweeping generalizations, which I freely acknowledge. So if this doesn't apply, feel free to scoot elsewhere (but I hope you'll come back some other day). 

From what I have seen, there are a lot of Type A IF ladies (or, as the other Stephanie suggested, maybe it's just that those of us that are Type A are just more likely to seek out one another for comfort), and many of us struggle to find hope and optimism in the face of continued "Nos." But many of us are truly blessed with husbands who are patient and optimistic beyond reason (sometimes to the point of being downright annoying about it). I cannot help but think that these wonderful men are God's gift to us, for in His infinite wisdom, He knew how badly we would need them. To them, I offer this tribute:

As much as my husband drives me absolutely bonkers at times with his unending optimism and ridiculous rose colored glasses, there is no way I could make it through this without him. Thank you, God, for giving me him.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Type A and IF*

Pardon the brief post, but I keep pondering: which came first the chicken or the egg? Oh wait, not that question... this question:

Are Type A** women more likely to be IF or does IF make you Type A?

Let's face it, even before a full-fledged diagnosis of IF, a woman is likely to get caught up in charting, temperature taking, mucus observations, trying desperately to use fertile days, becoming more aware of pregnant women around her, etc. Then once doctors are involved, there's remembering to take all the meds and matching them to cycle days, scheduling appointments, fighting with insurance, and even more pressure to time intercourse just right.

It seems to me that an awful lot of IF women I know could be described as Type A, myself included. I've been Type A my whole life, but one data point is not enough to answer the question. I can definitely see IF bringing out the worst of my Type A Characteristics, so I'm left wondering which came first. What do you think?

*Disclaimer: this post contains gigantic, sweeping generalizations, so if you're offended, please consider that I was not in any way whatsoever talking about you.
** For the purposes of this post, I am describing Type A people as organized, planners, driven, possibly status conscious, and just a little bit compulsive (or should that be obsessive? maybe both?). In an IF context, the status a woman is most aware of is childless and/or not pregnant.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The No Good, Very Bad Year

You know the expression "if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all?" There are plenty of days that feels like me. Here is a brief summary of the disasters of the last (slightly more than) year.
  • Carpenter ants in the woodwork around one of the front upstairs windows, but the wood was decaying in all 5 (this meant both an exterminator and replacing the woodwork)
  • A leaking water heater (which needed to be replaced) [both of these happened shortly before I quit my job in July 2012]
  • Our only 3 year old dishwasher was dying, right before Christmas and house guests. (Yep, that needed to be replaced, too.)
  • My husband was in a car accident in January, which damaged the body of his car.
  • Our cat, Mara, got very sick, then died from a tumor. (February)
  • DH's car needed more expensive repairs (struts needed to be replaced). (May)
  • Our air conditioner quits working... on a Saturday night when we have guests over for a day of grilling and gaming... and it's one of the hottest days of the year. Fortunately it didn't need to be replaced... yet. (It's looming, as is the furnace, roof, driveway...) (July)
  • Yet more problems with DH's car shaking. (September)
  • My car needs new rear tires. (September)
  • Robin, another of our cats, needs to be hospitalized due to a urinary blockage. (Fortunately it  he is going to be fine, but the vet bill was... not cheap.) (September)
  • Our lawn mower, which was only 5 years old, died. (October)
  • Vandals destroyed our mailbox. (October)
  • You know that furnace I mentioned looming? Well, it doesn't need replacing, but it does need a some expensive parts. (today)
I've left out some random minor emergencies, like being diagnosed with recurrent infections of the ear canal, a sting on my big toe that left me hobbling for a week (all I did was take the recycling out!), and unexplained back pain that handicapped me for a week.

I think our emergency fund is beyond emergencied out! (And that doesn't even get into the IF disasters/expenses.) Our luck is due to turn any day now, right? Granted, at the end of 2012, I was saying that 2013 has to be better, so there's no guarantee. God, please help me to trust that You will provide.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Love is the Center

While I was excited at the selection of Pope Francis, as time went by I became disappointed with him since so many of his statements seemed to be ready-made for misinterpretation, especially once spun by the media. How many times have his off the cuff statements required clarification that no, Catholic doctrine and teaching hasn't changed? But recently I've started to see where he is coming from.

Love is the center. Whatever we do, we should do from love.

When we love, do we not want to be with and speak to our beloved?
When we love, do we not want learn more about our beloved?
When we love, do we not want to give generously of all our gifts, to share them with our beloved?
When we love, do we not want tell others about our beloved? (Think of those annoying times when a friend or family member would not shut about how wonderful their new guy or gal was.)
Whoever does not know love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8 (NRSV)
God is love; love is the center.  

I chose those particular questions because I recently read "The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic" by Matthew Kelly, and those questions correspond to the four signs: prayer, study, generosity, and evangelization. Prayer is speaking to and spending time with God. Bible study and learning more about our Catholic faith are learning more about God and His Church. Sharing our time, energy, talents, and money with those less fortunate and the church are generosity. (Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. Matthew 25:40) Telling others about God is evangelization.

Keeping love at the center also ties in with something I've been thinking a lot about: the yes behind the no. Seemingly everyone out there knows that the Catholic church is against premarital and extramarital sex, contraception, abortion, divorce, and gay marriage. Just hearing the nos that the media and culture shout about leads many to think that all those prohibitions are mean, and that all those celibate men in the Vatican just don't want the rest of us to have any fun. Some might even interpret as the priests and hierarchy trying to control us. Except behind every no there is a loving yes. Yes to valuing yourself as more than just a sexual object. Yes to giving yourself solely and completely to one person. Yes to the mystery and joy of sex (not just scratching an itch or meeting a physical need). Yes to the miracle and wonder of new life. Yes to a life long bond between spouses. Yes to treating others as people, not objects or things to be used. Yes to the equal dignity and complementarity of men and women. Yes to putting the needs of children first. Those aren't really nos; they are yes to something better, something given with love.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Hostessing Compulsion

This is not the post I intended to put up today; in fact, I have a truly fabulous post (complete with giveaway!) about Sarai and surrogacy that is this close to being finished, if I could only remember my second point (time to go back and re-read the source material). Instead, here I am, writing about my compulsion to host and have everything be perfectly perfect. 

Please note that I am not talking about hosting the way the Rockefellers' host or even Martha Stewart hosts. However, my standards are pretty high; the house should be truly clean, not just stashing stuff away where no one can see the mess; there should be an overabundance of good food, no one should leave hungry; the decorations should be tasteful, elegant, and not destroyed by the end of the day, and everyone should have a wonderful time. I don't ask much, do I? Especially when the gatherings can include up to 20, ranging in age from 3 to 13 for the kids, and adults from 30 to 70. Somehow I expect to be able to feed and entertain them all while not leaving a mountain of dishes for the next day. (Who me? Type A? Perfectionistic? Never.) 

On top of it, my wonderful MIL (who I would call S - except there are way too many S's in our combined families, so I guess I'll just call her MIL for now) managed to raise her 4 children in what is admittedly a tiny house. To say that it is a tight squeeze when we gather there is an understatement, which is probably why she so loves it when we host. To top it off, only one of my darling husband's siblings, his sister, ever hosts any family gatherings, and she hosts once or twice a year. My in laws all live in the Pittsburgh area, so we end up gathering frequently. If you average it out, it ends up being around once a month. We host my in laws three or four times a year, and I still end up feeling guilty for not doing more. (Am I nuts? Maybe. On the other hand, that does still leave my MIL with 5 or 6 gatherings, and she is starting to get up in years.) 

One of Husbandido's brothers is off the hosting hook; he's single and lives in a one bedroom apartment. His other, oldest brother, though... Well, I've never seen the inside of their house, and we've been married five years; according to Husbandido, that SIL is something of a hoarder, and there isn't really room to move in their house. That branch of the family is also the most likely to flake out and cancel or not show up at the last minute. In addition to oldest brother and SIL, there are their two boys, a daughter from SIL's previous marriage, her two kids, and sometime's SIL's sister and her daughter, so that can easily halve my expected attendance. If I'm expecting 20, suddenly only having 10 means a lot of leftovers (and a cranky me). 

As usual, we hosted the October/November birthday party at the end of October, celebrating Husbandido, his sister, oldest brother's wife, and MIL. Yup, my gift giving insanity starts in October. We're again hosting my family's holiday gathering, too. My family is spread out, with my parents Scottsdale snowbirds and my brother's family in Michigan, so we gather less frequently. Until my niece was born we all went out and spent Thanksgiving or Christmas in the Arizona warmth and sunshine. Since then we've hosted; I don't blame my brother for not wanting to fly that far with an infant/toddler. Hosting my family is both easier and harder. It's easier because there are fewer people (7 including us, and counting our toddler niece as a full person), which means fewer dishes and fewer insanely picky eaters. It's harder because it lasts longer; instead of being over in hours, it lasts days (usually 4 or 5, which is a lot longer to keep everyone entertained and from annoying one another). So roughly a month after hosting a giant party, I am hosting an extended house party, featuring Thanksgiving, end of year birthday celebration (my mom and my brother's wife), and Christmas. And yet somehow I feel guilty because we haven't offered to host Christmas for my in laws. (Husbandido's sis and her family are going to her husband's family for Thanksgiving, so MIL is currently scheduled to host Thanksgiving [albeit with a greatly reduced crowd] and Christmas.)

And so here I am, obsessing about finding just the right Christmas and birthday gifts for everyone, wondering how I am going to have everything clean and our cat re-trained for a different feeding station in time. Why am I so obsessive about getting just the right gift and being the perfect hostess? I think there's a semi-reasonable rationale hiding in there: I don't have the fabulous career I once expected, and neither do I have the adorable children I planned for. Sometimes it seems like giving great gifts and hosting great gatherings are my only opportunities to shine. When put it out there like that, in black and white, it looks a little sad, but it's true.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Faith for the Fallen: Gratitude

Even before October 13th's readings and homily about Namaan and the ten lepers, I had been thinking about gratitude. Why? Because of my cat. Bear with me a moment, as I'm sure you're wondering how I could possibly be learning about gratitude from a cat. Cats are notorious for being finicky, independent, and self-absorbed, and they certainly can be all that, but not this cat. I've written about Biscuit before, but she continues to impress and teach me. The biggest lessons I have been learning from her are about trust, adaptability, and gratitude. 

Having been a stray, struggling to get enough food and stay safe, it would have been easy for her to overindulge or horde food, especially since she shares food and bowls with Bilbo; instead she is willing to share, so that both have enough to eat. Over the past four months, as Biscuit has come to trust us, she has showered us with affection. When Robin is yowling at back door, wanting to go outside, Biscuit will come over and rub against him, but when we let Robin out onto the deck, Biscuit has no interest in following him. I can only believe that having lived "out there," she knows that what she has here, with us, is better. In so many small, feline ways, Biscuit continually shows her thankfulness for her new life with us.

Sometimes I am really good about giving thanks for all the wonderful blessings I have received; other times, I become so focused on what I don't have that I forget or ignore what I do have. Our need to do something to try and emerge from this struggle can make it incredibly difficult to maintain a focus on how we have been blessed. With infertility, those time consuming somethings can be charting, testing, doctor's appointments, chart reviews, dietary changes, coping with side effects of medications, or researching treatments or adoption, amongst so many more. If your struggle is continued singleness while you desire marriage, the time and focus consuming somethings could be singles events, networking to meet more people, or online dating. It is so, so very easy to focus on what we can do instead of what we already have. Our more focused culture certainly exacerbates this. Even worse, in focusing on what we don't have, we can take for granted what we do have. 

I have certainly taken my husband and family for granted at times during this IF struggle. When I talk about my husband, I am frequently told how lucky I am: he cooks, helps with the cleaning, listens, and even insists on doing what I want. He works hard so that I can stay home. He encourages and supports me getting involved and volunteering, even when it takes away from our time together. Not only do I not always feel lucky, I don't even say "Thank you" or show appreciation as much as I could. I have been much more likely to show my irritation than my gratitude. Though my mother doesn't really understand what we are going through, she has made a consistent effort to listen and support us, even to the point of helping pay for tests and treatments. Without her help and commitment to continuing to help I would not have been able to leave the job that was causing me so much stress. I would have had to stay in that position, despite our belief that the stress was contributing to our IF, in able to afford continuing treatment. 

Recently I have made a commitment to be more thankful and to show my gratitude more often, both in prayer and to those around me. While I'm starting to improve, I still have a long way to go; I hope you will join me in trying to cultivate a stronger sense of gratitude.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Gluten Free Me

To say that going gluten free has made me cranky would be an understatement. However, I have been blessed in that I have been able to go to two different GF tasting events within weeks of being told to go gluten free. So far, I have been able to keep the buying and discarding to a minimum, thankfully. Bad enough to be spending a fortune on GF products, but even worse to spend that much on something that I won't eat. Here is my assessment of the products I have tried so far; please share your recommendations of what is worthwhile and what to avoid in the comments. I'm using a one to five star scale.

Flour/Baking Mixes

  • Grandma Whimsy's Rice Flour (Bread Flour coming out soon) ***** By far the best that GF flour/baking mixI have tried so far, with the caveat that I have not actually tried cooking with it. The products offered to sample at the Celiac/GF fair were indistinguishable from products made with wheat.
  • Jules' Gluten Free Baking Mix *** We have a large bag of the baking mix; so far we have tried pancakes and waffles with it. If the pancakes had instead been labeled crepes, I would have been happy with them; however, as pancakes, they fell flat. (pun intended) The waffles weren't bad, but the batter consistency was a little odd. (My husband liked the waffles.)
  • Gluten Free Bisquick **** The pancakes were good. First my husband made a quarter recipe of the GF pancakes for me, then he made a quarter batch of regular Bisquick pancakes for himself. He got to do the side by side taste test, while I just compared the appearance of the two types. The GF pancakes were roughly as fluffy as the regular pancakes, though they did absorb syrup a whole lot faster. According to my husband, the GF pancakes were slightly chewier/less cake-like. I was more disappointed with the GF Biquick biscuits, but that could be due our need to substitute other fats for the shortening. The biscuits seemed a little gritty, though adding jam made them easily edible. I'll be interested to see how they turn out when we try making them again using shortening.
  • Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix **** When they say individual serving size, they aren't kidding! We bought a small packet to try it, and it made exactly 4 pancakes. They were definitely light and fluffy, not gritty at all. The texture may have been a little chewy, and like the GF Bisquick pancakes, they soaked up syrup like a sponge. Oddly enough, the one I had reheated the next day may have been better than the one I had fresh. My previous exposure to Pamela's baking mix was the wonderful cake that Rebecca brought to IF cookout, which everyone loved. 
  • Against the Grain Baguette ***** The best GF bread I've tried so far, but it's $9 for a baguette. Needless to say, this will be an indulgence only rarely taken.
  • The Gluten Free Oven Sandwich and Multi Grain Sandwich Bread ***** Very good bread, so close to regular wheat containing bread, but it's also $8 to $9 per loaf (and not located nearby), so not something I will partaking of regularly.
  • Bloomfield Farms Cornbread & Muffin Mix *** Good, no texture problems.
  • Silvana's Arize Italian Bread * The texture wasn't very good.
  • Schar
    • Ciabatta Rolls **** Very good, but following the heating directions precisely is an absolute must. I tried just toasting one in a rush to get out the door and was a bit disappointed.
    • Sub-sandwich rolls ***** I wasn't able to find their hot dog buns, so we tried using the sandwich rolls for hot dogs. It was a happy experiment. 
    • Hamburger buns **** While the texture wasn't quite that of a standard hamburger bun, it was definitely similar to that of certain types of buns/rolls and was highly acceptable. (to borrow my husband's phrase)
  • Market District GF Buckwheat Blueberry Waffles * I threw 2 in the toaster to eat en route to bible study. I only ate one; the rest of the box is going in to my husband's work place. They're young, male, and hungry - they'll eat anything, right?
  • Vanilla Chex *** The only reason why my rating is so low is that it was way too sweet for me. 
Pizza/Pizza Crusts
  • Against the Grain Frozen Pizza ** For all that I loved their baguette, their frozen pizza was as cardboard-y as bad frozen pizza can be. I will definitely not be spending my money on it.
  • Jules Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix *** We have a second bag to try, which will help us determine whether the odd flavor came from our substituting a different type of vinegar for the apple cider vinegar. It wasn't bad, but when making the pizza, the crust was insanely sticky. The finished product was close, but not quite right. (Also, I'm a pizza snob; I love Lou Malnati's and Giordano's. Yes, I'm from Chicago.)
  • Kinnikinnick Personal Size Pizza Crust *** It wasn't gritty and had the general texture of a frozen pizza crust.
  • Glutino Premium Pizza Crust * I couldn't even finish the little sample sliver at the grocery store. Yuck.
  • Namaste * Gritty and disgusting; I couldn't even finish the sample.
  • Schar ***** Very good pasta, with sauce and cheese I couldn't tell it was a GF product.
  • Delallo ***** The best GF pasta I have had so far; even served cold in a salad, it was good. They are supposed to have a gnocchi coming out soon, which I am excited to try.
  • Jovial Brown Rice Pasta ***1/2 The directions were very firm about not overcooking, but taking the pasta out after 9 minutes left them chewier than al dente. Served with the same sauce and cheese as the Schar, it was good, but not quite as good.

Sweet Treats
  • Sunny Bridge Natural Foods & Cafe 
    • Pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese icing ***** Yum!
    • Flourless chocolate cake **** Good, but not as good as some that I have had. (Flourless chocolate cake is flourless chocolate cake with or without the GF label, at least to my level of sensitivity/caring.)
  • Truly Wize (
    • Gluten Free Iced Lemon Cake * The texture was gritty, which was a disappointment given how good the other products were.
    • Gluten Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake ****
    • Gluten & Dairy Free Chocolate Decadence ***** Incredibly rich, a small piece would be all you would need.
    • Gluten & Dairy Free Chocolate Roll ****
    • Gluten & Dairy Free Pumpkin Roll ****
  • Bloomfield Farms
    • Cake Mix ** Very light, but slightly gritty
    • Brownie Mix ***** Excellent
  • Schar Vanilla Sandwich Cremes ***1/2 Good, but not great. I'm not sure I would buy them, but I had no problems eating them.
  • Glutino Chocolate Covered Pretzels *** First complaint, the pretzels were too crunchy; the texture wasn't quite right. Second complaint, the balance between sweet and salty was nonexistent; it was just sweet. Chocolate covered pretzels have been one of my big weaknesses for a long time, so I was definitely disappointed that these were not really chocolate pretzel-y. The pretzels themselves were sweet rather than salty, almost graham cracker-y.
  • Enjoy Life Chocolate Chip cookie **** I'm usually more of a soft cookie person, but it did taste and have the texture of a crunchy chocolate chip cookie.
  • Sarris' Gluten Free Chocolate Covered Pretzels **** These were so very much better than the Glutino Chocolate Covered Pretzels; however, the balance of sweet to salty still wasn't quite right, and the pretzel was still a little crunchier than I would like. I think I may need to find a new favorite sweet treat. Maybe chocolate covered caramels or English Toffee...
  • Snyder's of Hanover Pretzels ***1/2 Can a pretzel be too crunchy? In my book, yes. These small pretzels were crunchier than a regular pretzel, though not as tooth-busting as the thick sourdough type. 
  • Lundberg Bean & Rice Chips - Pico de Gallo **** Satifyingly crunchy and with good flavor. However, they aren't the kind of chip you can eat very many of at a time... but is that a bug or a feature?
  • McKenzie's Original Hard Cider ***** When I studied in Ireland my junior year Bulmer's Hard Cider was my drink of choice; in my many years back here in the States I have been disappointed by the hard ciders available here. They are always too sweet, not quite right. McKenzie's is by far the closest to a UK cider that I have; I cannot recommend it strongly enough. (On a side note, their Green Apple Hard Cider was not as good as the Original.)
  • Gluten Free Clubhouse ( This is a sampling club for GF products; the idea is really appealing, but a month's membership is $49.95 plus shipping. It does give you 4 or 5 non-perishable gluten free products to try each month, as well as coupons and recipes. 
  • Bakery on Main Street Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars * Disgusting - I ate two bites, then gave it to my husband, who also considered it utterly disgusting.
  • Envirokidz Berry Blast Crispy Rice Bar *** More like a Rice Krispie treat than a granola bar, but edible. The berries were small and didn't add much.
  • Food For Life Brown Rice Tortillas ***1/2 Quesadillas and wraps are staple quick and easy main courses at our house, so giving those up completely is not an option. I was happy to find these in the freezer at our local grocery store, even though they are by far the largest tortillas I've seen. So far we've only used them for quesadillas, and they were good. There was no grittiness, and they crisped up nicely. The texture was a little different from that of a flour tortilla, somehow both crispier and chewier. (No, I don't know how that works.)
Overall, Schar has been the most consistent brand I have tried. I wouldn't necessarily say that their products are the absolute best in any category, but they have all been very good. I would feel comfortable buying any of their products.

Lastly, I am finding that I am generally happier with foods that are naturally gluten free than GF versions of normal foods. Why? 1) It's cheaper. 2) I don't feel like a freak. 3) There's no compromising on quality or texture. I am profoundly glad that I gave myself permission to go back to eating sushi a while ago. Rice, potatoes, and popcorn are my friends. (Yes, I am making sure to eat lots of fruits and veggies, too.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Many Paths to Heaven

During introductions at the start of bible study, one of the ladies was introduced by another member as "Saint M," for her patience and generosity. She has 10 children, including one with special needs, and yet she still finds quite a bit of time to help out in the parish. I don't know her well, barely know her at all, but that introduction gave me that twinge. You know the one, right? The assumption that parents of many children are more holy than the rest of us twinge. It isn't my place to say whether she is a saint or not; in fact, it's not my place to judge her (or anyone) at all. Only I really, really hate the assumption that parenting a large family is an automatic entry to heaven, perhaps even the best way to heaven. Yes, the Bible says:
"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. " Genesis 1:28, NIV
 Yet St. Paul writes:
" I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, NIV
You would hope that would remind people that not everyone is called to follow the same path. In fact, all you have to do is look at the saints' lives to be reminded that there are multiple paths to heaven; some saints were married and had children, others were celibate; some were martyrs, others lived long, peaceful lives; some saints were born wealthy, others poor. It would be pretty boring reading if every saint's life followed the same exact pattern. All I need to do to see the differences in the saints is look at the two saints for whom I was named: St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who lived a long life serving the poor. (The proximate reason for my first name is my father and grandfather, but ultimately the reason for the name goes back to St. Stephen. And yes, I know Mother Theresa hasn't been canonized yet.) It would be hard to find two saints with more different stories; one lived when Jesus walked the earth; the other was alive during my lifetime. One male, one female; one was martyred, the other died peacefully; one is known most for proclaiming the Gospel, the other for serving the poor. But both of their paths are ways to heaven. I can only hope and pray that we can help others see how many and varied are the paths to heaven.

Lately one Scripture passage has stuck with me:
 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him...
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6: 1-8, 16-18, NIV
Many of us have complained about how IF is an invisible cross and how it's invisibility causes added suffering, largely through the assumptions and thoughtless statements of others. Instead of rueing the invisibility of our cross, though, perhaps we should be glad for it. As is said in the Scripture passage above, "Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." All those times we struggle to show joy for others while quietly sorrowing for ourselves are seen by our Father. Though we may not have thought of it that way, we are precisely following Jesus' instructions to hide our fasting and suffering.

I've already run on far too long, but I wanted to close with a quote from Blessed Mother Theresa.
One thing Jesus asks of me: that I lean on Him; that in Him and only in Him I put complete trust; that I surrender myself to Him unreservedly. Even when all goes wrong and I feel as if I am a ship without a compass, I must give myself complete to Him. I must not attempt to control God's action; I must count the stages in the journey He would have me make. I must not desire a clear perception of my advance upon the road, must not know precisely where I am upon the way of holiness. I ask Him to make a saint of me, yet I must leave to Him the choice of the saintliness itself and still more the means that lead to it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Pulling the Plaster off Slowly

It's been about a year now, and it's only been in the last few months that I am truly starting to deal with it. Some people pull a bandage (or plaster) off quickly, trying to get the sting and pain over with quickly. In this case, the plaster is coming off on its own, very slowly.

I had a positive pregnancy test once, during my third Clomid cycle. I don't remember the date, but it was a Sunday. I woke up early to test, and it seemed like forever before the pregnancy test showed its result. I must have looked at it 3 or 4 times before I really believed it said "Pregnant." Meanwhile my husband, laying in bed waiting, was wondering what was taking so long. I came out of the bathroom, not saying anything, then threw the baby Serta sheep at him. (To say my husband has a thing for sheep is an understatement; this was our agreed upon signal that the test was positive.) Apparently my aim was less then stellar, and I hit him in the face. Fortunately stuffed sheep are not injury inducing.

That was the beginning of our three days of joy. I called my doctor's office and scheduled the first beta for the next day. At Mass, my husband said that as he was giving thanks, he felt closer to God than he ever had, almost as if he could feel the hand of God on his head. Then came Monday, and the first HCG test; the number was low, but the nurse assured me that it didn't mean anything was wrong; it was probably just super early (her exact words were "you're like one minute pregnant"). I was scheduled for a second beta on Wednesday morning. I was a little worried, but I believed that it was probably just incredibly early and that second test would show the needed doubling. Wednesday after the blood draw I stopped to buy new bras; my breasts were so sore and swollen that I couldn't comfortably wear the ones I had. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I was in the dressing room, trying on bras to accommodate my pregnancy swollen breasts when I found out that there was something wrong. Though the HCG levels had increased, they had nowhere near doubled. Those three days of joy were over; a nightmare had begun. Instead of thinking about our baby, I had to re-frame my thoughts to consider "it" a "nonviable pregnancy." It was the only way I could cope with all the tests and decisions, though I just about lost it when I was sent to the regular ultrasound unit, with all of its rules and signs about number of people allowed to share the joyful occasion. Neither blood work nor ultrasound could identify whether it was an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage that hadn't yet happened (as my doctor so eloquently phrased it). 

I was given the choice between a D&C, with the caveat that if it was an ectopic pregnancy I would later need a methotrexate injection, or just going straight to the methotrexate injection to end the pregnancy. Since there was a chance it was ectopic, we had to consider my health at risk. No matter how much emotional pain I was in, or how much guilt I felt about ending the pregnancy, I had to put it aside to be able to make a decision about treatment. Since methotrexate would end the pregnancy either way, it seemed the better choice, rather than having the D&C and possibly needing the injection later. (Better to minimize how much treatment you need, right?) I was so much more comfortable in the cancer unit to get the injection than I had been in the ultrasound unit; though our suffering was different, everyone in that waiting room was hurting, either because they themselves had cancer or because they were there supporting a family member or friend. To get through it all I pretty much shut down emotionally; I had to focus on each step of testing and treatment, on following the doctor's instructions.

Though we purchased a memorial that we keep on our mantel to remind us of the child we had for such a short time, it almost hasn't seemed real at times. All we had was those three days of joy, of believing that we were going to have a baby. I didn't have any sense of whether the child was a boy or a girl, and we did not name the baby. As early as it was, there was no identifiable body, just a heavier than normal period. And then it was over. 

In June that it hit me that our child would have been due that month; I wouldn't have been able to travel to the family reunion. But I had to shut it away to get through the child/family centered event. Now I am remembering that it was about this time last year that our TTC roller coaster took a horrifying twist. The bandage is loosening; I am peeking at the wound. It hasn't healed completely, though it is no longer so raw that it cannot be exposed. Slowly the plaster is loosening; the scar will be there forever but in time it will no longer be debilitating.