Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cancer While Pregnant? Both Mother and Baby Can (and Should) Live!


Taking a cue from Pope Francis, our family is known to evangelize. His oft repeated message calls us to share the word of God where we are, saying, “The Church must be in the streets”. As a passionate pro-life advocate, my participation in this call often centers on the sanctity of life. As His creatures, God’s first gift to us is our very being. In as much as He is the author of life, we owe Him our utmost effort in preserving it.

Sharing a Personal Story


Our family has had its share of opportunities for ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to the pro-life message. One such story – finding myself to be a pregnant 14-year-old – has been a past topic. Another is the experience our daughter, Erika, lived when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 20 weeks pregnant. Sharing her story has been a valuable tool for reaching out to those in similar circumstances – a surprisingly significant segment of society. That she was given only two options – abortion followed by treatment or waiting until after birth for treatment – is typical of advice most frequently given across the country. Often we see stories of a virtuous, heroic mother who forgoes treatments in deference to the life of the child she is carrying. What isn’t as commonplace is the medically advanced, morally sound option of treatment while pregnant. This is the alternative I feel a spiritual pull to share. After all, both mother and child deserve the best chance of survival!

Knowledge - a Powerful Ally


Unfortunately there’s much misinformation out there. For this reason, our daughter, a molecular biologist, Howard Hughes research scholar, and former forensic biologist did her share of research when presented with two unacceptable options by local doctors. What she found was that chemotherapy during pregnancy does not raise the risk of miscarriage or other problems. In fact, the oncologists who treated her at M.D. Anderson in Houston had been successfully using this method for over 20 years. Although these children continue to be closely monitored, there have been no incidents of detrimental effects to date. This option is as safe for the unborn child as that of no treatment. Even though our daughter was high risk for miscarriage (4 occurrences prior to her second live birth), her doctor assured her the option of chemotherapy treatment would not increase her risk.

According to Erika, “The maternal-fetal doctor I saw in Houston told me that the biggest ‘risk’ of chemo treatments while pregnant was the increased likelihood of early contractions. However, she again assured me that a) any time a pregnant woman is stressed, she’s likely to have contractions and b) those contractions are rarely productive”.

So what causes all of the misconceptions and why isn’t this scientifically proven method more commonly shared? Perhaps doctors poorly explain or fail to acknowledge the truth. It’s also possible that doctors aren’t as familiar with chemotherapy during pregnancy as they could be. Every woman presented with a cancer diagnosis while pregnant is free to choose what she feels is best, but being armed with the facts – all of them – should be a vital part of that decision-making process.

I tell our story via the pro-life memes I create and share.

Life for Both


As is typical, the outcome proved to be win-win when our healthy, full term granddaughter was born on Thanksgiving Day 2009. She joined all of the other ‘chemo babies’ of the past 25+ years, whose mothers had an increased chance of surviving a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy. Today, Rachel is a precocious 4-year-old who ranks in the 90th percentile in height and weight for her age group. She’s a beginning reader who aspires to out run her rambunctious 6-year-old brother. Whenever we are out and about, her disarming smile is sure to garner comments and begin conversations. In true evangelizing style, we never miss an opportunity to express our gratitude to God for this living miracle of ours. Many a stranger has walked away from a checkout line or gathering, knowing that a cancer diagnosis while pregnant doesn’t have to be a death sentence – for the child or the mother.

Celebrating another year of life at the Horses and Hope Event in KY
Visit the Designs by Birgit fan page on Facebook for hundreds of pro-life and faith memes to share!

NOTE: A similar version of this piece first appeared at Catholic Stand.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ridiculously Easy Tomato Paste - Plus 2 Recipes Using It

If you're like me, you either have a flood of ripe tomatoes right now - or your neighbors do. So what to do with this onslaught of 'love apples'? Make tomato paste, of course! My husband and I love making our own pizza, spaghetti sauce, and barbecue sauce - so why not make them using free tomatoes from the garden? This is a recipe I developed about four years ago and, I confess, was created out of pure laziness. I'd gone the route of blanching and peeling the tomatoes, but decided there had to be a simpler way. Boy was I right!

Ridiculously Easy Tomato Paste


Ingredients:

Tomatoes


Tools:

Soup Pot and/or Crock Pot
Knife
Cutting Board
Strainer

Process:


  • Cut tomatoes into halves or quarters - don't peel or core, just remove stems.
  • Place into soup pot or crock pot and simmer until they fall apart. I cook 12 quarts at a time and it takes 24 hours.
  • Use the soup pot lid until liquid begins to form, then uncover to enhance evaporation.
  • Run stewed tomatoes through a colander or strainer, making sure to leave only the skins behind.
  • Pour tomato meat and juice into crock pot and simmer, uncovered, on 'low' setting until desired consistency. This might take longer than you'd expect - don't hurry the process.
  • Allow to cool.
  • If you want a smoother paste, run through a food processor or Ninja at 'high' speed.
  • Place into containers for freezing. I use 4 oz. plastic baby food containers (for pizza) and Zip-Lock sandwich baggies, containing 2 cups of paste (for barbecue or spaghetti sauce).


While this process may take some time, it couldn't be easier to carry out. I occasionally stir, as I'm walking through the kitchen from time to time. No need to babysit the paste, it will continue to simmer, unattended, quite nicely!

I've been using this process for four years now and am amazed at how fresh the paste remains - even after an entire year in the freezer.

NOTE: to prevent discoloration (which doesn't affect flavor), add a few drops of lemon juice.

RJ's Tangy Barbecue Sauce

2 cups tomato paste
3/4 cups brown sugar or Splenda (for low carb version)
1/4 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons hickory-flavored liquid smoke
1 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • Pour tomato paste into a non-reactive sauce pan (I use stainless), on low/medium heat. Add butter and begin to simmer. 
  • Add all other ingredients and simmer until desired consistency is obtained, stirring frequently. 
Serve immediately or allow to cool and store. I use an old, squeeze ketchup bottle. I'm a MasterPiece Barbecue Sauce lover, and this is just as good. If you use Splenda, this recipe is good for low carb diets. 

Will be good to use for several weeks - but probably won't last that long!

RJ's Artisan Pizza


Your favorite white bread recipe (will make two pizzas)

For each pizza:
1/2 recipe of bread dough, ready to bake
6 oz. tomato paste
Toppings as desired
Seasonings as desired
Mozzarella cheese (we make our own)

Roll out dough and place on pizza stone. Add paste and spread evenly. If you use raw vegetables add them as well. Bake at 400 degrees for 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven. Add other ingredients and layer as desired. Make sure fresh herbs and seasonings are beneath other ingredients, including cheese. Bake for an additional 6-7 minutes and then kick up to high heat broil, until golden brown. Allow to rest, then cut and serve.

This pizza dough is light, tender and thin. If you have a favorite recipe for pizza dough or prefer a thicker dough, use your own recipe. We sometimes bake it in a large cast iron skillet as well.

What type of homemade foods do you make? Ketchup? Cheese? Breads? Share your recipes in the combox!






Saturday, July 26, 2014

Novena to Saint Afra - Martyr for Conversion

As the wife of a convert, I have an affinity for the saints tasked with converting souls for the Church Jesus brought to us in His human role. During our lives, we are all in need of conversion from our sinful ways, as well. Two obvious favorites, Saint Monica and Saint Augustine, quickly come to mind. However, there are other, less commonly known saints to petition as well. One example is Saint Afra whose feast day is August 5th. How fitting, then to pray for the intercession of this former pagan for the next nine days.

This former barmaid and prostitute's character was so nefarious that she was instrumental in the corruption of many youths in her city of Augsburg, in Bavaria. Yet Divine Grace triumphed when this most wretched creature was brought, from the very lowest abyss of disrepute, to the glory of martyrdom.

Tradition holds that Saint Afra and her entire family, as well as her three servants, were converted by the holy bishop, Saint Narcissus. It appears that, for the rest of her life, she recollected and was tortured by her past crimes against God. This lead her to liberally give to the poor, who sometimes refused her charity because they considered it the wages of sin. She would then fervently pray to God for remission of her offenses and beseech them to accept her gifts.

Saint Afra was arrested during the persecution of Diocletian, and brought before a judge, named Gaius, who said to her: “Come now, sacrifice to the gods; it is better to live than to die amid torments.”

Saint Afra replied: “The sins which I have committed before I knew the true God are sufficient; wherefore I cannot now do that which thou commandest. I never will do so: it would be adding a new insult to my God.”

When the judge ordered her to repair the temple, she answered, “My temple is Jesus Christ, whom I have continually before mine eyes, and to whom I every day confess my sins. Since I am unworthy to offer him any other sacrifice, I am anxious to sacrifice myself, in order that this body, with which I have offended him, may be purified by torments; this reflection shall make me suffer most willingly.”

Some accounts relate that Saint Afra was martyred by being burned alive, while others say she was beheaded. Her feast day is August 5th. Read more of her story at Catholic Saints and Catholic Answers.  

Feel free to leave your intentions in the combox. Start on Sunday, July 27. Will you join us in praying this prayer as well as an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the next 9 days?

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          Prayer to Saint Afra for Conversion - Daily for 9 Days beginning Sunday, July 27

Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful Savior of the World, we humbly beseech you, by your most Sacred Heart, that all the sheep who stray out of your fold may one day be converted to You, Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
Saint Afra, pray for the conversion of souls. Saint Afra, we beseech you to intercede on behalf of [mention your intention]. Saint Afra, pray for us! 
Say the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

9 Intentions as We Pray the Saint Anne Novena

Glorious St. Ann, filled with compassion for those who invoke you and with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present affair which I recommend to you under your special protection.

St. Ann, please, recommend to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and lay it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy issue.
St. Ann cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted. (Mention petition now.)

Above all, obtain for me the grace of one day beholding my God face to face, and with You and Mary and all the saints, praising and blessing Him through all eternity. Amen.


Good St. Anne, mother of her who is our life, sweetness, and hope, pray for me. 

Click this link to follow the St. Anne Novena online.  


St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandmother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was not called by name in the canonical gospels. Instead we find our information about her from apocryphal literature. Anne, derived from Hebrew, is a name meaning 'grace' and is befitting of she who brought forth she who bore our Savior. In Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, her name is given in its Arabic form, Hannah. In the capacity of Forbear of God, she is celebrated during two of the Twelve Great Feasts - the Birth of Mary and the Dedication of Mary to the Temple.

Since the feast of St. Anne is celebrated on July 26th in the western calendar and July 25th on the eastern calendar, many of us are now observing the devotion of praying a Novena for her intercession on our behalf. Although we usually personalize our intentions when praying a Novena, St. Anne in known for being the patroness of several causes. Therefore I present the following nine petitions:

1. St. Anne patroness of unmarried women - intercede for those who are seeking a spouse, contemplating marriage, or discerning the religious life as a sister or nun. May their discernment be made with grace and true love, we pray to the Lord.

2. St. Anne, patroness of housewives - intercede on behalf of women who tend to their households, whether they be single, married, mothers, or caretakers. May they pursue this calling with a selfless love of God and others, we pray to the Lord.
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3. St. Anne, patroness of women in labor - intercede on behalf of mothers who are currently pregnant, trying to conceive, suffering from health issues related to their feminine role, those in the process of birth, and all mothers who lovingly tend to their children. May they find comfort and peace in the loving bosom of your daughter, Mary, we pray to the Lord.

4. St. Anne, patroness of grandmothers - intercede for those whose motherhood has reached its second generation. May these mothers of mothers and fathers be inspired to gently present a virtuous example for all in their extended families, we pray to the Lord.

5. St. Anne, patroness of horseback riders - intercede for those whose livelihood or recreation involve our equine friends. May they remain gentle and safe in their pursuits as good stewards of Gods creatures, we pray to the Lord.

6. St. Anne, patroness of cabinet-makers - in as much as your son-in-law was a carpenter, may you intercede for others who pursue this noble craft. Protect them from harm and guide their hands in virtuous creation, we pray to the Lord.

7. St. Anne, patroness of the Mi'kmaq people - intercede on behalf of these first inhabitants of Canada, that justice and peace may fill their lives in their indigenous land, we pray to the Lord. 

8. St. Anne, protector from storms - intercede on behalf of those who suffer from natural disasters, such as storms, floods, earthquakes. May they find shelter, comfort, and aid when needed, we pray to the Lord.

9. St. Anne, patroness of miners - inasmuch as Christ is compared to gold and Mary to silver, remember all those whose livelihood depends on the depths of the earth. May miners be protected from danger and harm, while those who employ them take gentle care of their safety, we pray to the Lord.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pro-Life, Pro-Gun Rant - Misrepresentations That Drive Me Crazy

We all have inequities that send us over the edge. Those pesky slants, people put on happenings, that completely distort reality. I have many such peeves but wanted to share one such misrepresentation and the meme it drove me to create.

Misrepresentation - Guns kill people, they kill more people, more of the time and they should be outlawed. Actually, gun violence is significantly lower than in past years. You wouldn't know that if you listen to the media or read what those who want to stomp on the 2nd Amendment have to say. These same people will often say nary a word about the senseless killing of millions of unborn babies - killing that happens because of convenience or fear or misinformation. Here's my meme using a stat that might catch your attention:


According to the article,  Gun violence in US has fallen dramatically over past 20 years, Justice Dept. report finds, in US News/NBC, "the highest number (of gun offenders), 40 percent, said the guns came from a family member or a friend. About 37 percent said the weapons were stolen or obtained from an illegal source". That's almost 80% of guns acquired by gun offenders. So why the push to ban gun ownership for law-abiding citizens?

In case you suspect that I'm cherry-picking my stats, let me share two more links from the main-stream media:


On the other hand, no matter how many times President Obama and other democrats, liberals, and feminists say they care about protecting the lives of innocent children, they never make the transition to respecting the lives of unborn children. Instead, these littlest brothers and sisters of ours are called a 'mistake' and a punishment - even while they are sacrificed at the altar of convenience and fear. Yet a quick look at the comparison of the numbers begs the question, "why the inequity"?

In case you're wondering how many reported abortions there are in the United States, I'll share this link from the Guttmacher Institute (reporting arm of Planned Parenthood). According to their numbers "30% of women will have an abortion by age 45". That's no small number! This doesn't take into account the multitude of other abortions that go unreported - prenatal lives lost due to the abortifacient aspect of the Pill, Plan B (morning after pill), and D & C surgeries performed on women whose babies who still have beating hearts. This last is a moral crime against both the mother and the child, and was offered to a young woman I know, when it appeared she would have a miscarriage. Check out the other stats available from the Guttmacher Institute, by following the link below. Knowing their sentiments, I'd judge their numbers to be as low as possible. The reality is most likely much grimmer. I've also added a pro-life site with their sourced facts.

If this post makes you go 'hmmm', why not share it and let the rest of the world catch up to what we, the people of the pro-life movement already know. ABORTION kills an innocent victim - every time! If you want to stop violence against the innocent, against children - work to stop abortion!

Monday, July 7, 2014

5 Ways Facebook Can Bless Your Life

Facebook - some love it, some hate it - but it's all really a matter of how it's used.

We’ve all read stories of mothers neglecting their children to play some inane game. Dinners burn or go uncooked and families fall apart because a virtual ‘relationship’ got in the way. Other, smaller, proofs of the downside of extreme usage are most likely evident on a daily basis, somewhere in the world. There’s another, more worthy side to the Facebook coin, however. As with all pleasures, moderation is key. We are in control of how many hours we spend on Facebook or any activity, for that matter. Also within our power is the amount of food, alcohol, and leisure activity in which we indulge. To everything available to us here on earth, there is a need for temperance. There can definitely be too much of a good thing – but that’s more a reflection of our choices than it is on the activity itself. Although, I’d be remiss to claim Facebook usage perfection, I can share the boundaries I have set in place in an attempt to make my own virtual social interaction healthily balanced.

Facebook Pen Pals

With Facebook, the number of virtual pen pals available is limited only by our keystrokes – and time allotted. The examples are plentiful. Emily understands about your daughter’s neuropathy – because she’s living it too. Erika can give terrific tips about homeschooling because she’s a certified teacher who now teaches her own children. A side bonus is that her husband is a computer whiz. As a Canon Lawyer, Fr. V gives church-sanctioned advice on how to handle a relative’s upcoming illicit wedding. Other friends share recipes, organic weed killing concoctions, and child rearing tips. I’ve traded flowers with other avid gardeners and set up First Friday gatherings with other homeschool families – all courtesy of Facebook. All this is available at the tips of your fingers – spend as much, or as little, time as you desire.

Increase the Reach of Prayer Through Facebook

Who can’t use more prayers? I know I need all I can get – and some days we are thrust into an emergency situation when the quick response of friends is a huge blessing. Facebook is the perfect place to garner the assistance of some fierce prayer warriors. It’s also much more efficient than trying to make individual calls. Once you’ve honed your list of friends to a fine demographic, you’re golden when it comes to prayers – both for your benefit and for the benefit of others. What better way to demonstrate the spiritual power of the Body of Christ? I know my family has benefitted greatly from these connections.

Gathering Information Via Facebook

Don’t know the difference between Discipline and Dogma? Join a good, faithful Catholic group and the official definitions will become readily available. Want to know more about the Latin Mass? When you make good Catholic friends from all over the world, you are gifted with photos, videos, and information on an almost daily basis. If you’ve been wondering what difference there is between the Second Vatican Council and the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II, the official Church documents can be shared by someone who just happens to have links to all of them and is more than willing to share.

The goings on in this complex world of ours can be overwhelming. Even more overwhelming, are the many self serving slants by which we are accosted by today’s media. How to dig through all of the fabrications and distortions? I’ve found that a finely tuned Facebook account can be just the ticket. Much like a personalized Drudge Report, with snippets of news and links to the rest of the story, Facebook provides a way to filter sources of information. At this point almost anyone who is anyone, as far as information goes, has a Facebook page. All we have to do is ‘follow’ the ones whose information we trust. National Catholic Register, Church Militant TV, and EWTN gather Catholic information for me – while I rely on like-minded friends to fill my feed (and message box) with articles about news – both secular and spiritual – from all sorts of other reliable sources.

Facebook Evangelization

There are few more effective ways for individuals to reach a large group of like-minded others – all over the world – than through electronic media. Whether through blogging, email, or Facebook, the number of lives we can touch is astounding. Of these options, Facebook provides a platform like no other. I relish learning about my faith and sharing what I\’ve learned via the various aspects of Facebook, whether through my wall, fan page, or through the myriad of groups to which I belong. Are you discerning the devotion of veiling? There\’s a group for that. Is pro-life advocacy your passion? There are so many pro-life pages it\’s difficult to keep up. I\’ve personally shared my 200+ pro-life memes with other pro-life advocates from all over the world. How about praying a Novena? Look no further than the posts from your friends; someone is always praying a Novena. Not only will they remind you every day, they’ll add your intention to theirs as well. I’ve had friends go to Mass, Adoration, and even Lourdes – and remember my intentions while there. Our five little grandchildren, who are saints in Heaven, have had prayers said for them at national shrines. So, you see, the benefit is a two-way street. The faithful generosity of my Facebook friends is awe-inspiring!

Laughter: the Best Medicine

Have you ever been home alone and had a really bad day? There you are, about to embark on a pity-party of astronomical proportions. Then you see a random posting from someone who’s having a similar day. ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys’ – an old Polish proverb. Inexplicably, you laugh out loud. The mood is lightened and you feel better equipped to just let go of your sour mood. Then there are the ‘kid quotes’ that are the daily fare of mothers on Facebook. Who can remain annoyed when Junior just saw a commercial and asked if his turtle could be affected by ‘reptile dysfunction’?

So while some folks out there might think that social media of any type is a big waste of time, some of us garner some rather tangible blessings. It’s another example of the wonderful multiplicity God’s children display. What works for me, might not work for you; but don’t discount the very real benefits I’ve reaped. I’ve contacted a group of cloistered nuns, who helped pray for a miracle that was realized. There have been many blessings from people who are undergoing similar trials – both spiritually and physically. Sometimes groups of Facebook friends even meet IRL (in real life), as was the case when our daughter traveled to Houston for cancer treatment. All in all, Facebook can help us to realize that we are not in this world alone. We really are little frogs in a big pond. The priest from Nigeria, my Catholic friend from the Philippines, and a couple gals in Alaska all help me learn a bit about other ways of life. And the ‘other’ Birgit in Germany helps me retrieve childhood memories of nursery rhymes, prayers, and festivals.

As with all things in this world, one man’s garbage can be another man’s treasure and we are wise to limit our Facebook interactions to a reasonable consumption. Temperance in all things, our mother used to warn. ‘Don’t be too extreme in any of your emotions or actions or activities, because any good thing can be overdone.’ What can be a helpful resource is also very capable of becoming sinful, if we are excessive. As for me, I include Facebook usage in my daily examination of conscience. It can be a powerful tool or a deadly distraction. The side of the Facebook coin on which you land is up to your own discretion and conscience. There are so many more examples to share. What are yours?


NOTE: This post first appeared on Catholic Stand