27 July 2012

NFP: Going Green

You've likely noticed, across the blogosphere, that this has been National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.  I had hoped to post something (several somethings, really) earlier in the week... sed nunc infantulum habemus, et non somnum.  Oh well.

Some people would say that having had a baby before our first anniversary automatically disqualifies me from promoting NFP's effectiveness.  While I disagree--NFP provides you with information, and it is up to the couple to determine how that information influences their decisions--I'm happy to leave the technical explanations and defenses of the different methods to others in the interest of keeping this post short so that I can hopefully grab a quick nap while the baby is still asleep.  If you are interested, CatholicMom.com has an excellent collection of information and resources here

A guest post on Caffeinated Catholic Momma yesterday about NFP and feminism reminded me of another missed connection, if you will, that has always confused me: NFP and the green/environmentalism movement.

NFP is environmentally-friendly.
When you don't introduce anything artificial into the marital act, there is nothing left over to be discarded.  I know, the first rule of the tautology club is the first rule of the tautology club. 
  • NFP doesn't create litter.  There is no latex or polyurethane to be sent to the landfill or to work its way through the water system out to lakes and oceans.
  • NFP doesn't contribute to chemical pollution.  There are no extraneous hormones to disrupt ecosystems: mounting evidence shows that the surplus of estrogen from hormonal contraceptives is contaminating our water supply.  Researchers link the heightened levels of estrogen to consequences ranging from gender mutation in fish to the possibility of an increased risk of prostate cancer and decreased sperm production.  
  • NFP's environmental impact continues to shrink.  With the burgeoning number of websites and apps dedicated to NFP systems, there is an ever-decreasing need for paper in charting fertility cycles.
NFP is healthy for women.
If you are looking to make healthy lifestyle choices, why would you choose something artificial over something natural?
  • NFP is organic.  There is nothing artificial going into the woman's body: no chemicals, no hormones, no foreign materials.  By not requiring the woman to purchase contraceptives manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, it fits the locavore lifestyle.  By not introducing artificial chemicals and hormones into the woman's body, it fits the vegan lifestyle.
  • NFP doesn't interfere with the body's hormonal balance.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer links estrogen-progesterone hormonal contraceptives, which significantly elevate the woman's levels of these hormones to mimic pregnancy, with increased risk for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and liver tumors.
  • NFP allows the woman to understand her body's fertility cycle, rather than suppressing it and treating a normally-functioning reproductive system as a problem.

Whether a woman is trying to live a "green" lifestyle for the sake of the environment or for her health, NFP offers a very viable option, in many ways more in line with her objective than artificial contraception.  Why, then, is artificial contraception still the default option for the majority of these women?

26 July 2012

Attack of the Monster Rhubarb

I mentioned a few days ago that we have been blessed with a steady influx of produce recently from friends and family with gardens.  Over the past few days, it seems that everyone's rhubarb has suddenly, simultaneously, reached the critical must-be-picked-now point.  We are so grateful for their generosity, but I am becoming overwhelmed by the sheer size of the stalks appearing on our doorstep!

On the right, you see a normally-sized slice of rhubarb.  On the left, a slice from one of the monstrous rhubarb stalks that seem to be becoming the norm, as everyone's rhubarb grows more quickly than it can be picked and processed.  (In the center, of course, is a quarter).  Some of these immense stalks have been so unwieldy, our largest knife has had difficulty getting through more than one at a time.

Note:  This is not the tender, hothouse-variety rhubarb you may be used to seeing at the grocery store.  This is your entire daily requirement of fiber (and then some) bursting out of its allotted anthocyanins.  We are still a few weeks away from the state fair and accompanying largest-vegetable contests.  If the rhubarb doesn't slow down soon, I can't imagine what this year's winners will look like!

20 July 2012

Rhubarb Season

We know it's July when the produce starts piling up, and this week the rhubarb has really come into its own.  Our apartment doesn't offer anywhere to plant a garden, but we have been so blessed by generous friends and family with large rhubarb patches: our freezer is filling quickly!  I spent a recent evening chopping up another two gallons, which came from one of my father's friends from church.

Last winter it was disappointing to open the freezer and not have any home-grown produce; it is reassuring to already see fruits and vegetables starting to build up to get us through the coming winter!

Rhubarb is technically considered a vegetable, although it is generally cooked as a fruit.  Because of this, a New York court officially ruled rhubarb to be a fruit in 1947.  It grows well in Alaska's temperate, sunny summers, and is harvested from June through the first frost, usually in September.  If you can get past the tartness, rhubarb is very healthful:  Just 3.5 oz of rhubarb provide 28% of your daily vitamin K, 10% of your vitamin C, 9% of your calcium, and 6% of your potassium.  The leaves are poisonous, though, so be careful to remove them and wash your hands before working with the stalks.

Many Americans seem to know rhubarb primarily through pies--it was commonly known as "pie plant" throughout much of the country during the 19th century.  When I was growing up, it seemed like rhubarb made its way into everything in my mother's kitchen: from rhubarb cookies, to blueberry-rhubarb jam, to rhubarb upside-down cake with warm milk, rhubarb was synonymous with dessert, and can likely take much of the credit for my continued love of sweet-but-tart foods.

18 July 2012

Before the dawn

The old adage holds that night is darkest just before the dawn.  With an infant in the house, particularly one who seems to have his "day" and "night" backwards, most nights I've spent wondering whether dawn is really coming.  (The sun is rising here around 4 am these days, and set just before midnight last night, but you know what I mean.)

Looking down at the baby, finally asleep at 7 o'clock this morning, it struck me that God has a lot of graces to offer parents with a new baby:  After spending all night rocking, bouncing, singing, feeding him, changing diapers, etc., the expected response to seeing him finally sleeping now that I had to get up would be frustration, but all I felt was love for him and gratitude that he is a part of our family.

Unfortunately, my brain is still fogged from the lack of sleep and I don't have the wherewithal for a whole post today, but I wanted to be sure to share this excellent post about Catholic parenting at Truth & Charity in case you haven't had a chance to read it yet!

14 July 2012

Pardon the delay...

The past week and a half have been a blur of crazy days and sleepless nights; our son was born last Thursday (July 5), came home from the hospital Sunday afternoon, and has consumed our every moment since. The dear little boy has his "day" and "night" mixed up, and we haven't been accomplishing much more than just making it through each day! Right now, we are hoping to continue posting at least once a week, more often if possible, until he settles into a better schedule. I should have a photo up soon!

04 July 2012

Chicken Provençal (or, French food for the 4th of July)

Before anyone pulls out their cannons of righteous indignation at the idea of cooking a classic French dish the evening we celebrate American independence, I hasten to remind you of two things:  Firstly, the colonists were fighting for independence from Great Britain, not France; it's not as though we had bangers and mash.  Secondly, the French unofficially began helping the colonists in 1776, and they entered into a formal alliance with the signing of the Treaty of Alliance and the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1778.  Many scholars believe that the colonists' defeat of Great Britain would have been much less likely if the French had not taken part.

Not to mention the fact that chicken provençal is, no matter what day it is, a delicious dish.

This is my mother-in-law's recipe; she typically serves the dish over rice, but we opted for pasta tonight, and are talking about trying it with a nice rosemary-basil focaccia next time.

Chicken Provençal
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved
Black pepper
Olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
0.5 c chicken broth
0.25 c dry white wine
15 oz diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
2 Tbsp kalamata olives, chopped
0.25 c fresh basil, chiffonade

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat.  Season both sides of each piece of chicken with black pepper and cook until browned, about three minutes on each side.  Remove to a clean plate and tent with foil to keep warm.  Add onion and garlic to olive oil and saute until onions are translucent.  Add chicken broth, wine, and tomatoes; cook until slightly thickened, about six minutes.  Reintroduce chicken and simmer until chicken is fully cooked, about four minutes.  If necessary, add reserved tomato juice (we didn't find it necessary).  Just before serving, stir in olives and basil.

UPDATE:  Just in case you're still concerned about the French-ness of our meal, we did finish the evening with a classic, all-American apple pie. :-)

Happy 4th of July!

However you and your family are celebrating our nation's birth this year, we hope that you have a wonderful (and safe) day!  With baby so close to the due date we will be sticking close to home, hopefully taking a short walk and throwing some rocks in the river this evening.

Although today wraps up the Fortnight for Freedom, the bishops of the United States encourage all faithful Catholics to continue praying and working for the preservation of religious freedom.  The USCCB's website has more information.

Here is a brief snippet of Archbishop Chaput's homily for the closing Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom, delivered earlier today at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC:

Today, July 4, we celebrate the birth of a novus ordo seclorum - a “new order of the ages,” the American Era. God has blessed our nation with resources, power, beauty and the rule of law. We have so much to be grateful for. But these are gifts. They can be misused. They can be lost. In coming years, we’ll face more and more serious challenges to religious liberty in our country. This is why the Fortnight for Freedom has been so very important.

The entire homily is definitely worth reading!  You can find it over at God and the Machine.

03 July 2012

Rain, reading, and reflections

Raining again today...  We have had heavily overcast skies with a few showers each day for the past several days -- a welcome relief from the heat for me as baby takes his sweet time coming, and certainly a welcome drink for the lush foliage greening up all over town.

Grey, rainy days have always made me want to curl up with a book and spend hours reading.  While that's not terribly practical with a house to keep up, dinner to make, and all of the daily chores to attend to, being stuck sitting on the couch with my feet up for hours on end has provided an unexpected opportunity to fit in some extra reading as I wait for baby to arrive.

My husband and siblings will all tell you that I read abnormally quickly.  They firmly believe that if I wanted to, I could sit down one morning with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and have the entire thing finished by the time I went to bed.  I think this is a slight exaggeration, but I did make it through quite a bit of reading material yesterday afternoon:  After finishing the last 175 pages of a book I'd been working on, I went through another two 150-page books, realized that we didn't have any other books in the house which I had not yet read, and picked up the first volume of the encyclopaedia.  The goal now is to see how far I can get through the 23-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica before baby arrives.  (To be fair, I will be skipping some topics: our set was published in 1973, and some things have changed to the point where it just isn't worth reading such an outdated article.)

I made it through the article on Acacia last night, and it is remarkable how many interesting little bits of information I've already come across.  It was enlightening to read about the abortion debate in the words of doctors contemporary to the Roe v. Wade decision.  The article on the patriarch Abraham brought back vivid imagery from my college biblical archaeology class.  The thing which sticks out most in my mind just now, though, may seem odd: the article on Abgar V, king of Osroene in Mesopotamia.

Abgar V lived from 4 BC to 50 AD, and was afflicted with leprosy.  According to the Roman historian Eusebius, Abgar learned of Jesus' miracles and wrote to him, asking him to journey to Osroene's capital city of Edessa and cure his leprosy.  Jesus, Eusebius says, wrote back and promised to send one of His disciples once His earthly ministry was complete.  It was an interesting story, one I had never heard before, but I went on to the next article (Abhdisho bar Berikha, a Nestorian bishop) without too much thought.

Today being the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, I picked up a book of saints' stories this morning before going back to my encyclopaedia.  As I was reading about the legends/traditions we have concerning his later life, I was startled to notice that his relics were venerated at Edessa beginning in the early 200s.  Had Thomas actually gone to Abgar V after the Ascension?

Further reading of Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica relates that St. Thomas did not visit Edessa himself, but sent seventy-two disciples, under the leadership of Thaddeus of Edessa, to Abgar V.  This assertion is questioned by other historical sources such as Adolph von Harnack,* but in either event, it seems to be widely accepted that St. Thomas' relics were moved to Edessa from Mylapore, India, around 232 AD.

We don't know with certainty, then, whether the story of Abgar V actually took place as described by Eusebius or not.  It provided a good several hours' worth of research and reflection, though, which is more than I expected to get out of a one-paragraph article in a nearly forty-year-old encyclopaedia!  We will have to see what other interesting facts and ideas I stumble across as I continue reading.

*von Harnack, Adolph (1905). The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries. Williams & Norgate. pp. 293. "there is no doubt that even before AD 190 Christianity had spread vigorously within Edessa and its surroundings and that (shortly after 201 or even earlier?) the royal house joined the church."

01 July 2012

Bl. Junipero Serra

Always go forward - never go back. -- Missionary motto of Bl. Junipero Serra

Society today tends to dismiss those who are physically frail or infirm as somehow being inferior to those blessed with good health.  How fortunate that the Church does not do the same:  A sickly young man named Miguel Jose Serra might never have been admitted to the Alcantarine Franciscans, and the history of the Faith in California would be very different.

Serra was born to illiterate farmers from Majorca, Spain, and suffered from poor health and physical weakness as a child.  He was permitted to enter the Alcantarine Franciscans as a young man, despite his struggles to perform many of his duties as a novice.  God blessed Serra's persistence:  When he made his solemn profession at the age of 17, his health improved dramatically, and he rapidly became known as a brilliant orator.  He took the name Junipero in honor of St. Juniper, one of St. Francis' companions.

Something was still missing for Fr. Serra, despite his rise to prominence.  He felt a strong call to the mission field, and in 1749, Fr. Serra left Spain for Mexico.  A mule was waiting for him when he disembarked at Vera Cruz, but Fr. Serra chose to make the 275-mile trip to Mexico City on foot with the other men.  He was bitten by a snake along the route, leaving a wound which would continue to pain him for the rest of his life; nevertheless, Fr. Serra went on to make many of his missionary journeys on foot.

Fr. Serra spent eight years among the Pame Indians, translating the catechism into their language and making many converts.  He returned to Mexico City to preach before being appointed superior of 15 Franciscans to take over administration of the missions already in existence throughout Baja California.  He also volunteered to oversee the spiritual settlement of Upper California, and at the age of 53, departed for the remote missions.  Over the next 17 years until his death, Fr. Serra established nine missions throughout Upper (present-day) California, as well as one (Mision San Fernando Rey de Espana de Valecata) in Baja California.  He baptized 6,000 native people, and confirmed 5,000.

Many instances are recorded of Fr. Serra receiving divine assistance in his missionary work.  One day he and a fellow missionary were traveling through a remote region of Mexico, and were welcomed into the home of a man, woman and child to spend the night.  When they reached their destination, Fr. Serra was informed that no one lived in the area where they had been.  Reflecting, Fr. Serra realized that the Holy Family had shown them hospitality for the night.

On August 28, 1784, with his health rapidly failing, Fr. Serra promised: "If the Lord in His infinite mercy grants me that eternal happiness which I do not deserve because of my faults, I shall pray for all dwellers in these missions and for the conversion of so many people whom I leave unconverted."  He passed away later that afternoon.

During the 1988 beatification ceremony, Bl. Pope John Paul II declared Bl. Junipero Serra to have been a "shining example of Christian virtue and the missionary spirit."  The Serra Cause, charged with advancing Junipero Serra's cause for canonization, invites all Catholics to join in asking the intercession of the Apostle of California:

Oh Lord Jesus Christ,
reward the apostolic zeal
of Your Seraphic son, Blessed Junipero Serra,
who leaving home and fatherland,
labored for the salvation of souls in Spain, Mexico and California.

By Your Most Holy name
may he be raised to the full honors of the altar.
Through the intercession of Blessed Serra,
look with favor on my special prayers
which have no earthly answer.
This we pray through Christ our Lord.

In honor of Bl. Junipero Serra, who would almost certainly have encountered sourdough starter as he journeyed through California and may have carried it with him during his travels, we are having sourjacks this morning.