Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Planned Parenthood and the Two Bobs

Remember that scene from Office Space with the two Bobs? (If not, you can watch it on YouTube here.)  I like to imagine it would be that same way with Planned Parenthood.*

I can see the two Bobs sitting across the table from a PP representative:

BOB: So what you do is you make referrals and you send the women down to real healthcare providers?

PP: That -- that's right.

BOB: Well, then I gotta ask, then why can't women just go directly to the healthcare providers, huh?

PP: Well, uh, uh, uh, because, uh, doctors are not good at dealing with women.

BOB: You physically take the mammograms from the women?

PP: Well, no, my, my preferred clinic does that, or, or the hospital.

BOB: Ah.
BOB: Then you must physically bring them to the clinic.

PP: Well...no. Yeah, I mean, sometimes.

Bob: Well, what would you say… you do here?

PP: Well, look, I already told you. I deal with the goddamn women so the healthcare professionals don't have to!! I have people skills!! I am good at dealing with women!!! Can't you understand that?!? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!!!!!!!

*This dialogue was authored by my friend Robert S. and submitted as a comment to one of my Facebook posts. I asked him if I could blog it, and he gave me permission. Thanks, Robert!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why Are We Pushing NFP? Because Sometimes It's Needed.

Emerging from my blogging hiatus to address a particularly tiresome article from the "holier-than-thou" Church brigade.

This time it's Michael Voris hosting an article by Dr. Jay Boyd, claiming that the Church is wrong in "pushing" NFP.

Note that Boyd claims NFP is licit, but claims that those using it to avoid pregnancy aren't adequately discerning grave reasons to do so. She implies that there are very few grave reasons in which it is necessary for a Catholic couple to avoid pregnancy, and it's far better to simply have has many babies as physically possible and leave the rest up to God. (Which is kind of like throwing yourself off a cliff and trusting God to save you.)

This is the comment I left in reply, in its entirety:
From Gaudiem et Spes, by Pope Paul VI:
"Let [parents] thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else [not Jay Boyd, and not Michael Voris] should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice,(12) married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate."
I've heard Jay Boyd make the claim before that use of NFP is not virtuous. However, she has never been able to back up that claim with actual Church teaching.
The Church, contrary to what Jay Boyd and Michael Voris claim, does not teach that every couple MUST use NFP. She teaches that the parents themselves, and no one else, should make decisions regarding family size in the sight of God (see quote from Gaudiem et Spes above). Sometimes that means using NFP to avoid. Sometimes that means using NFP to acheive. Sometimes that means not using NFP at all. A Catholic couple can do all three in the course of their married life, depending on their circumstances.
It makes no sense, as Jay Boyd is trying to claim, that the Church says NFP is licit but that it should not be used. If it is licit, then Catholics can freely discern whether or not they should use it, and if their reasons are just. Those reasons, however, are subjective, not objective, and only the couple themselves, in the sight of God, can decide if their reasons are just.
It seems Dr. Boyd and Michael Voris are practicing Matthew 23:4: "For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men's shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them."
Michael Voris is not married. Dr. Boyd had a tubal ligation after two children because she was unaware of Church teaching re: sterilization. They have never had to shoulder the burden of a large family in tandem with the financial difficulties of a subpar economy, mental stress and/or illness, physical illness, etc. (Please note that large families are WONDERFUL and joyful, and those who have large families are to be commended for their great generosity. However, the blessing of a large family also comes with great responsibility, especially financially, unless one is blessed to be independently wealthy.) So it is easy for them to say that couples "overuse" NFP. But thankfully the Church does not teach what they claim it does.
Edit: And because I'm sure I'll be asked - my husband and I have been married since 2001 and Catholic since 2003. We have 5 children on earth, and 3 in heaven. My most recent miscarriage was in June 2015. My doctor has recommended that we avoid pregnancy for 3 months in order to give my body a chance to heal. I'm sure Jay Boyd and Michael Voris would think this reason is not sufficient, but my husband and I have discerned through prayer and reflection that it is, and thus we are using the Marquette Method of NFP to avoid pregnancy. Thankfully we, not them, have the final say in the sight of God. We reevaluate our reasons for avoiding at the start of every cycle to determine of they are indeed just reasons to avoid.
Not surprisingly - although hilariously - Mr. Voris redacted my comment, claiming it was an "ad hominem" attack, and that the details of his and Dr. Boyd's personal lives were irrelevant. [Note: since that time, a moderator for Church Militant contacted me to let me know that he, not Mr. Voris personally, redacted my comment. I have since been banned from commenting at Voris' blog. I guess he just can't handle the truth.]

On the contrary, I think it is very relevant. It's simple truth that those facts are VERY pertinent given the scope of their arguments against NFP. They've never been "in the trenches," so to speak, yet they claim authority on this topic. Neither of them have never had any experience whatsoever with needing to discern their family size in the context of Catholic moral teaching, yet they claim that those of us who are obligated to make this discernment are somehow not being generous enough (despite Church teaching that says no one else can make that judgement except the couple themselves in the sight of God).

Have you heard the conservative argument that it's very easy for liberals to be generous with someone else's money? In the same vein, it's easy for the unmarried (Voris) or sterilized (Boyd) to be generous with someone else's fertility. It's no trouble at all to claim that others can and should have 10+ children when you don't have to bear the burden of feeding, clothing, educating, cleaning up after, and spiritually tending those children.

It's easy for them to tell another couple they aren't being generous enough with their family size when they don't have to pay that couple's mortgage, grocery bills, utilities, car payment(s), student loan and/or medical debt, and other expenses.

It's easy for them to tell another couple they aren't being generous enough with their family size when they don't suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, or other illnesses.

But for those of us struggling to raise a larger-then-average family in the midst of financial hardship, mental or physical illness, and other serious concerns, we recognize the Church's wisdom in encouraging us to know and learn a method of natural family planning so we can use it if and when we discern it is prudent to do so (and remember, the Church calls us to responsible parenthood, which encompasses generosity and prudence - not just generosity).

Why does the Church "push" NFP? Because it's better to learn NFP in the months leading up to your wedding when you are (presumably) not having sex, so you can chart your cycles and learn your body without having to factor in intercourse. After the wedding, you and your spouse can discern what to do - avoid, achieve, or just ignore NFP completely if that's what you feel God is calling you to do. And if there comes a time where you discern that avoiding pregnancy is needed, you already have the knowledge at your fingertips and don't have the added stress of trying to learn a method from scratch in the midst of stressful conditions (new baby, health difficulties, financial woes, etc.).

The Church also "pushes" NFP because so few Catholics use it. That's what baffles me about Voris, Boyd, and others who discourage NFP. Talk about straining at gnats while swallowing camels! Any Catholic couple who chooses to avoid pregnancy and elects to use NFP instead of contraception should be commended, not condemned. Even if their motives aren't 100% pure (which is impossible for anyone but the couple themselves to discern), at least they are trying to act morally, which is a good first step toward a complete conversion of heart regarding their family size.

After all, NFP can be hard. It’s almost like it was designed to persuade couples who do have allegedly selfish motives that the reasons they have to avoid pregnancy aren’t really that serious. Who voluntarily abstains from sex with their spouse if they don't have a really good reason for doing so?

If Catholics are inclined to be selfish, they aren’t going to use a method like NFP, which requires one to be selfless. As blogger John Gerardi says, “When Catholics want to be selfish, they don’t use a method of fertility planning that involves enormous amounts of self control and long periods of continence.  They just use contraception, something naturally tailored for people who are trying to be selfish.”

How does it make sense to attack Catholics who are trying to do the right thing? How does it make sense to take a situation than you have never been in, yourself, and presume to make judgement about it? I don't mind when my priest gives me advice about discerning family size - in fact I welcome his advice, because he knows, thanks to the confessional, the intimate details of my life, my marriage, and my struggles. He's heard the confessions of other couples in my position. He's studied for years, as part of his vocation, to counsel couples in these situations. He is the one of the shepherds the Church has appointed to help me make spiritual decisions.

Neither Voris nor Boyd have been appointed by the Church as the shepherds of other Catholics' fertility - they have taken that responsibility unto themselves and it is most emphatically not needed.

But I will extend an offer to them. They can come and live in my home, among my family, and help my husband and I raise our children and pay our bills. Then, perhaps, we will consult them when discerning our family size.

Otherwise, they should butt out.

Friday, June 19, 2015

When You Look for the Bad Expecting to Find It, You Surely Will

I was disappointed (but not altogether surprised) to read a post at The American Catholic today in which blogger Donald McCleary agrees with a post at "St. Corbinian's Bear" proclaiming that "The tone of [Pope Francis'] Papacy is anger."

My response:

I have to wonder if we're truly experiencing the same papacy, because I get the exact opposite impression. My impression of Francis' papacy is one of love, care, and concern. Where is this "anger" coming from? I don't perceive anger in Pope Francis' words at all. I perceive passion for particular issues. I perceive a wry sense of humor that doesn't always translate in written form. I perceive compassion, and an urgency that all those who are believers in Christ live their faith, not just pay lip service to it.

Most importantly, I perceive that Pope Francis wants us to look beyond the myopia of our own comfortable little spheres and start thinking globally about the welfare of all our neighbors, not just the ones who live, think, and believe as we do. Not just the ones who vote for the same candidates that we do and hold the same political preferences we do.

I'm sad that some self-professed Catholics are showing such disrespect towards their Holy Father. For example, St. Corbinian's Bear calls him "naive," "confused," and accuses him of "idealizing" (idolizing?) the poor because they are "the Poor" and not because he truly has a heart for them. [To which I say, why are his actions not enough to prove his love for the poor? He doesn't just give lip service to this, he lives it. Daily. And he doesn't boast about it. What more do you need? What would convince you that he truly loves the poor?]

Do Catholics have to agree with every word or action taken by the Pope? No. But:
This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. (Lumen Gentium, #25, emphases mine)
As a Catholic you should respect the office, which includes respecting the man currently holding that office, even if you disagree with him. Calling the current pope "naive and confused," as well as leveling unfair and unproven accusations against him, is not respect.

As to the claim that his papcy has a tone of "anger," I have found a plethora of quotes to the contrary (all but the last are from this document at the USCCB site; the last is one that Pope Francis said a few days ago during his general audience, and it touched my heart):
Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect! (3/19/13)
You tell us that to love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person the face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely. And you are, dear brothers and sisters, the face of Jesus. (5/21/13)
For us Christians, love of neighbor springs from love of God; and it is its most limpid expression. Here one tries to love one’s neighbor, but also to allow oneself to be loved by one’s neighbor. These two attitudes go together, one cannot be exercised without the other. Printed on the letterhead of the Missionaries of Charity are these words of Jesus: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Loving God in our brethren and loving our brethren in God. (5/21/13)
“God is love”. His is not a sentimental, emotional kind of love but the love of the Father who is the origin of all life, the love of the Son who dies on the Cross and is raised, the love of the Spirit who renews human beings and the world. Thinking that God is love does us so much good, because it teaches us to love, to give ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us and walks with us. Jesus walks beside us on the road through life. (5/26/13)
A God who draws near out of love walks with His people, and this walk comes to an unimaginable point. We could never have imagined that the same Lord would become one of us and walk with us, be present with us, present in His Church, present in the Eucharist, present in His Word, present in the poor, He is present, walking with us. And this is closeness: the shepherd close to his flock, close to his sheep, whom he knows, one by one. (6/7/13, Sacred Heart)
Jesus wanted to show us his heart as the heart that loved so deeply. For this reason we have this commemoration today, especially of God’s love. God loved us, he loved us with such great love. I am thinking of what St Ignatius told us.... He pointed out two criteria on love. The first: love is expressed more clearly in actions than in words. The second: there is greater love in giving than in receiving. (6/7/13, Sacred Heart)
These two criteria are like the pillars of true love: deeds, and the gift of self. (6/7/13, Sacred Heart)
What is the law of the People of God? It is the law of love, love for God and love for neighbor according to the new commandment that the Lord left to us (cf. Jn 13:34). It is a love, however, that is not sterile sentimentality or something vague, but the acknowledgment of God as the one Lord of life and, at the same time, the acceptance of the other as my true brother, overcoming division, rivalry, misunderstanding, selfishness; these two things go together. Oh how much more of the journey do we have to make in order to actually live the new law — the law of the Holy Spirit who acts in us, the law of charity, of love! Looking in newspapers or on television we see so many wars between Christians: how does this happen? Within the People of God, there are so many wars! How many wars of envy, of jealousy, are waged in neighborhoods, in the workplace! Even within the family itself, there are so many internal wars! We must ask the Lord to make us correctly understand this law of love. How beautiful it is to love one another as true brothers and sisters. How beautiful! Let’s do something today. (6/12/13)
Nor is the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, extraneous to the material world, for love is always lived out in body and spirit; the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. (6/29/13, no. 34)
In the Gospel, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, that speaks of a man assaulted by robbers and left half dead at the side of the road. People pass by him and look at him. But they do not stop, they just continue on their journey, indifferent to him: it is none of their business! How often we say: it’s not my problem!  How often we turn the other way and pretend not to see! Only a Samaritan, a stranger, sees him, stops, lifts him up, takes him by the hand, and cares for him (cf. Lk 10:29-35). Dear friends, I believe that here, in this hospital, the parable of the Good Samaritan is made tangible. Here there is no indifference, but concern. There is no apathy, but love. (7/24/13, Providence)
That is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is? It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one's neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good. (10/1/13)
[A] faith which is lived out in a serious manner gives rise to acts of authentic charity. (10/31/13)
The true disciple of the Lord commits himself personally to a charitable ministry whose scope is man's multiform and endless poverty. (10/31/13)
Every day we are all called to become a “caress of God” for those who perhaps have forgotten their first caresses, or perhaps who never have felt a caress in their life. (10/31/13)
Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. (11/24/13, no. 2)
What counts above all else is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love”.[40] (11/24/13, no. 37)
Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel”. (11/24/13, no. 39)
In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. (11/24/13, no. 169)
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. (11/24/13, no. 269)
Benedict XVI has said that “closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God”,[209] and that love is, in the end, the only light which “can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working”.[210] When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God. If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries. (11/24/13, no. 272)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43-44). Jesus asks those who would follow him to love those who do not deserve it, without expecting anything in return, and in this way to fill the emptiness present in human hearts, relationships, families, communities and in the entire world. (2/23/14, Cardinals)
“You are God’s temple … God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Cor 3:16-17). In this temple, which we are, an existential liturgy is being celebrated: that of goodness, forgiveness, service; in a word, the liturgy of love. This temple of ours is defiled if we neglect our duties towards our neighbor. Whenever the least of our brothers and sisters finds a place in our hearts, it is God himself who finds a place there. When that brother or sister is shut out, it is God himself who is not being welcomed. A heart without love is like a deconsecrated church, a building withdrawn from God’s service and given over to another use. (2/23/14)
The gift of piety means to be truly capable of rejoicing with those who rejoice, of weeping with those who weep, of being close to those who are lonely or in anguish, of correcting those in error, of consoling the afflicted, of welcoming and helping those in need. The gift of piety is closely tied to gentleness. The gift of piety which the Holy Spirit gives us makes us gentle, makes us calm, patient, at peace with God, at the service of others with gentleness. (6/4/14)
Giving primacy to God means having the courage to say ‘no’ to evil, ‘no’ to violence, ‘no’ to oppression, to live a life in service of others and which fosters lawfulness and the common good. When a person discovers God, the true treasure, he abandons a selfish lifestyle and seeks to share with others the charity which comes from God. He who becomes a friend of God, loves his brothers and sisters, commits himself to safeguarding their life and their health, and also to respecting the environment and nature. (7/26/14, Homily)
In your Christian lives, you will find many occasions that will tempt you, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, to push away the stranger, the needy, the poor and the broken-hearted. It is these people especially who repeat the cry of the woman of the Gospel: “Lord, help me!” The Canaanite woman’s plea is the cry of everyone who searches for love, acceptance, and friendship with Christ. It is the cry of so many people in our anonymous cities, the cry of so many of your own contemporaries, and the cry of all those martyrs who even today suffer persecution and death for the name of Jesus: “Lord, help me!” It is often a cry which rises from our own hearts as well: “Lord, help me!” Let us respond, not like those who push away people who make demands on us, as if serving the needy gets in the way of our being close to the Lord. No! We are to be like Christ, who responds to every plea for his help with love, mercy and compassion. (8/17/14, Youth)
In effect, the visible sign a Christian can show in order to witness to his love for God to the world and to others, to his family, is the love he bears for his brothers. The Commandment to love God and neighbor is the first, not because it is at the top of the list of Commandments. Jesus does not place it at the pinnacle but at the center, because it is from the heart that everything must go out and to which everything must return and refer. (10/26/14)
In the Old Testament, the requirement to be holy, in the image of God who is holy, included the duty to care for the most vulnerable people, such as the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Ex 22:20-26). Jesus brings this Covenant law to fulfilment; He who unites in himself, in his flesh, divinity and humanity, a single mystery of love. Now, in the light of this Word of Jesus, love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love. We can no longer separate a religious life, a pious life, from service to brothers and sisters, to the real brothers and sisters that we encounter. We can no longer divide prayer, the encounter with God in the Sacraments, from listening to the other, closeness to his life, especially to his wounds. Remember this: love is the measure of faith. How much do you love? Each one answer silently. How is your faith? My faith is as I love. And faith is the soul of love. (10/26/14)
[Jesus] gives us two faces, actually only one real face, that of God reflected in many faces, because in the face of each brother, especially of the smallest, the most fragile, the defenseless and needy, there is God’s own image. And we must ask ourselves: when we meet one of these brothers, are we able to recognize the face of God in him? Are we able to do this? In this way, Jesus offers to all the fundamental criteria on which to base one’s life. But, above all, He gave us the Holy Spirit, who allows us to love God and neighbor as He does, with a free and generous heart. (10/26/14)
Having come to earth to proclaim and to realize the salvation of the whole man and of all people, Jesus shows a particular predilection for those who are wounded in body and in spirit: the poor, the sinners, the possessed, the sick, the marginalized. Thus, He reveals Himself as a doctor both of souls and of bodies, the Good Samaritan of man. He is the true Saviour: Jesus saves, Jesus cures, Jesus heals. (2/8/15)
Jesus, seeing the crowds of people who followed him, realized that they were tired and exhausted, lost and without a guide, and he felt deep compassion for them (cf. Mt 9:36). On the basis of this compassionate love he healed the sick who were presented to him (cf. Mt 14:14), and with just a few loaves of bread and fish he satisfied the enormous crowd (cf. Mt 15:37). What moved Jesus in all of these situations was nothing other than mercy, with which he read the hearts of those he encountered and responded to their deepest need. (4/11/15, no. 8)
As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviours that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other. (4/11/15, no. 9)
"I would like to underscore the last phrase of the Gospel we heard today. After Jesus brings this young man back to life, son of the mother who was a widow, the Gospel says: 'Jesus gave him to his mother.' And this is our hope! All our dear ones who have gone -- all -- the Lord will restore to us and we will meet together with them. And this hope does not disappoint. Let us remember well this gesture of Jesus! 'Jesus gave him to his mother.' Jesus will do this with all our dear ones in the family. (General Audience, 6/17/15)
I hope that the bloggers who claim that Pope Francis' papacy is one of anger will start reading all of Pope Francis' words with an open mind and spirit, instead of constantly looking for anger expecting to find it.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

My Blogiversary

Image from Baby Belly Kelli
I started this blog six years ago today (which I only remembered thanks to my Timehop app).

I know I don't update very consistently, but it's nice to have an outlet if I need one - and I've made so many friends in the blogging world, for whom I am truly grateful! Here's to many more years!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Francis' Burial

Here are some pictures from Francis' burial on Saturday, June 6, at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Laying Francis to rest.
The coffin and blanket on top were provided by the funeral home.
I was given the blanket to keep.

Francis' name will be carved on this stone.

Flower arrangement courtesy of my wonderful friends from my parish's Catholic Daughters group.

Francis was buried in a section of the cemetery specifically for babies under 20 weeks gestation.
It's called the Rachel Section and has this statue next to the headstones.
(Didn't notice 'til later that one of the cemetery employees was behind the tree.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In Memoriam

Sad news to share. On June 1, at my 12-week OB appointment, we discovered that our little Sprout had passed away. S/he was only measuring 10 weeks and had no heartbeat. I had two ultrasounds to confirm - one on a portable u/s machine, performed by my midwife, and one on a higher-quality machine, performed by a trained u/s technician. This picture is from the latter ultrasound.

I was shocked, and devastated, especially since four weeks previously I had seen Spout's lovely heartbeat flickering on the ultrasound screen. 

My OB recommended a D&C, since natural miscarriages can be harder and more prone to complications the further along you are. 

I agreed with his recommendation, and had the D&C yesterday. Thankfully everything went smoothly. 

We named the baby Francis. S/he will be buried at our local Catholic cemetery on Saturday. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How an Arizona Transplant Figured Out Lefse-Making

Lefse-making was always a big deal in my house when I was growing up. My mom would invite a houseful of relatives over, and the kids would run wild as the adults riced twenty pounds of potatoes and made hundreds of batches of lefse. Sometimes we'd have two or three lefse grills going at once. As the kids got older, we were allowed to help rice the potatoes. Then, we were promoted to moving and turning the lefse, which was a BIG DEAL and took a lot of practice to get right.

After I moved to Arizona, I missed lefse so much. It's not something you can buy locally (and really, once you've been raised on the homemade stuff, the store-bought lefse is just no comparison). My mom would FedEx me some packages from time to time, but that was a tricky proposition given how perishable it is. She'd have to pay to overnight it, and that isn't cheap.

Last December, I read this NPR article about lefse, and it stirred up my longing all over again, and I bemoaned my lefse-less state on Facebook.

"Why don't you just make it yourself?" a friend asked me.

"I can't!" I replied. "I don't have a lefse stick or a lefse grill, not to mention a pastry board or a corrugated rolling pin."

But I was suddenly intrigued. Could I make it work, even without the "proper" equipment? Maybe... just maybe. I asked my mom for her lefse recipe and a few tips, and read a few pages on LefseTime.com. I took inventory of my kitchen utensils and made one purchase -- a decent potato-ricer (more on that below).

One evening, shortly after Christmas, I gave it a shot.

And it worked! I couldn't believe it!


It tasted as just as good as it looked, too.
Now you, too, can share in the joy of Norwegian-American cookery, because I'm detailing my process here, and explaining what substitutions I had to make in lieu of the proper equipment.

Basic Lefse
Recipe from my Great-Grandma Hazel Bjertness

3 cups russet potatoes (4-6 medium/large)
6 tbls shortening (I use vegetable oil)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra, to be used while rolling)
2 tbls sugar

Here is some of the equipment you'll need: a potato ricer, a rolling pin, a pastry board or similar surface, a lefse grill or pancake griddle, and a long, thin stick to use to move and turn the lefse. A Kitchen-Aid mixer is also very helpful to have.

Peel potatoes and cut them into equal-sized chunks.

Place potatoes into a large pot of salted water and boil until they are tender (usually about 20-25 minutes).

Drain potatoes into a large colander. (Drain them well -- you don't want any excess water hanging around; that will make your potatoes too mushy.)

Now you get to rice your potatoes. For this step, a potato ricer is essential. I bought this one at Bed, Bath, and Beyond:

I like that it has three settings, but no removable disks (because I tend to easily misplace loose parts). Plus it's sturdy and will last a long time. I used one of those 20% off coupons I always get in the mail so price-wise it wasn't too bad.

Now, the ricing. Get a fairly large bowl to hold the riced potatoes in -- I use the bowl from my Kitchen-Aid mixer, since it's what I use to mix the dough after this step.

I use the "fine" setting on my ricer, which is the smallest one (the other two settings are "medium," and "coarse"), but if you only have a one-setting potato ricer, that should work too.

Ricing is fairly straightforward -- point the bottom of the ricer towards your bowl, use tongs to put a couple of chunks of potato into the main barrel and (slowly! hot potato spatter can hurt!) squeeze the handles together with both hands.

According to my mother, Grandma Hazel always said to "rice 'em twice." So that's what I do too -- when all the potatoes have been riced, I do it all over again.

Once the potatoes are riced (twice!) add the 6 tablespoons of shortening. As stated, I use vegetable oil because that's what my mother told me to use. I've seen other recipes that use butter or Crisco solid shortening, and if you really want to go for the unhealthy factor, I imagine lard would work too.

Mix well (I use my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer), making sure the potatoes and shortening are thoroughly combined.

Now you have to wait until the potatoes are completely cooled. If you have the time, you can leave the bowl sitting out at room temperature for a few hours, covered with a dishtowel. Or, you can use the fridge or freezer (just make sure you stir the dough every half hour or so to ensure even cooling).

Once the potato mixture is completely cool, add the salt, sugar, and flour. Knead well (I use the dough hook on my Kitchen-Aid mixer). Add more flour if necessary - you want a slightly sticky dough, but not too sticky.

Now is a good time to preheat your grill to 500 degrees. My mother has a special Bethany Lefse Grill (as an aside: my little sister's name is Bethany, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence... then again, my mother really likes making lefse).

However, these fancy lefse grills run for about $100 a pop, so... needless to say, I don't have one. Instead, I use a pancake griddle - this one - which was a gift from my father-in-law:

A good-sized pancake griddle is a must for large-family cooking.

I have to be careful not to make the lefse too big to fit the griddle, but as long as I keep the rounds small enough, it does the job.

Next, you get to make lefse balls! 

Literally, flour your hands well and roll the dough into balls. Make sure your lefse balls are nice and smooth, no cracks, because cracks can cause problems when you roll them out. Size depends on how big you want your lefse rounds to be. The bigger the ball, the bigger the round. I make mine about the size of the bulb on those nose suckers they give you at the hospital whenever you have a baby (and then you never use them again because you can never find one of the darn things, and you just buy a NoseFrida instead because it works so much better).


Put your lefse rounds on a glass or ceramic plate or pan. Now you're ready to roll them out. My mother always used a special pastry board with a cloth cover - this one, in fact:

See how it has markings for different sizes of lefse or pie crust or whatever? Fancy.
but sadly I don't have one of those. I used my large Pampered Chef pizza stone instead (except mine doesn't have handles, because I got it as a wedding gift 13 years ago). I tied a dishcloth over it and doused it liberally with flour.

My mother also used a corrugated rolling pin with a cloth cover, but again, I don't have one. I just use a regular wooden rolling pin.

Rub flour allllllllllll over your rolling pin. (If using a corrugated pin, make sure flour gets into all the grooves.) Plop a lefse ball into the middle of your well-floured surface, flatten it slightly with your palm, like you're shaping a hamburger patty, and roll away. If you've ever rolled out a pie crust, you'll want to roll it like that -- start in the middle and work your way out, working your dough into a nice, thin, round circle.

If you've never rolled out a pie crust and/or you need to see an example, start at 13:23 of this video (the entire video is worth watching if you're a more visual learner).

Now comes the tricky part. You need to transfer this paper-thin lefse round onto the griddle.

The absolute best tool to use is a lefse stick:

But (big surprise!) I don't have one. So, I used a Pampered Chef frosting spreader:

Not quite the same but it worked surprisingly well. It would have been easier if it were longer, but I had to make my lefse rounds on the small side anyway, owing to the size of my grill, so I made it work.

Slowly and carefully slip the end of your stick or spreader under bottom part of the lefse (i.e., the side closest to you), and s l o w l y slide it forward until it reaches the other end. If you rip a hole in your lefse, stop and re-roll. If you made it to the other side with no rips, lift the stick/spreader (your lefse will be dangling from it, with each side hanging down and the middle supported on the stick) and transfer the lefse to the grill. Lay it down flat and slip the stick/spreader out. Use your fingertips (quickly, because it's hot!) to straighten or smooth the lefse on the grill surface.

This is one of the hardest parts, and it can take a lot of practice. I really recommend watching the video above, because it helps to actually see someone do it.

You cook the lefse on one side for about 30-45 seconds. Watch for bubbles in the dough, and peek under the edge to see if brown spots have formed. 

If so, flip it over using the same method you used to transfer it to the grill. The second side will cook faster. Lift the lefse off once it's done and transfer it to a cooling rack. Per the advice of my mother, I used wax paper between the layers and covered the cooling rounds with a dishtowel so they didn't try out. You can also buy lefse cozies, and I imagine tortilla warmers might work as well, although I've never tried this.

Wipe off any excess flour from the griddle and start the whole process over again.

Once your lefse rounds have cooled, store them in Ziploc freezer bags and keep refrigerated, or frozen if you aren't going to eat them right away. (But be sure to eat a few fresh off the griddle; they're best that way!)

Warm in the microwave for 15 seconds prior to eating, if they've been refrigerated. I like mine spread with butter, sprinkled with white sugar, and rolled up. My grandfather used to eat his with butter only, and they can be eaten with no topping at all. I've even heard of some who wrap it around meatballs.

If you've read this far, kudos to you! Hope you enjoyed my long-winded tutorial. Happy Syttende Mai!