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I might be crazy...

...but I'm going to attempt NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) this November. If all goes according to plan, expect to see a lot more of me 'round these parts!


Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

This chicken enchilada recipe, which I've gradually modified over the years to its current state, is one of our favorites:

  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2-3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 2-3 cups shredded cheese (Mexican blend or Colby Jack work well)
  • 8-10 flour tortillas (8")
  • 1 can of your favorite enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium pot, combine cream of chicken soup, sour cream, cooked chicken, and green chiles. Stir over medium heat until combined and warmed through; remove from heat. Spoon a bit of the mixture (in a line, just off center) onto a tortilla; sprinkle cheese on top of the mixture. Roll up the tortilla and place, seam side down, into a 9x13 baking pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour enchilada sauce over the top; spread, if necessary, to cover tortillas completely. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes, until cheese is golden. (If you like a crispier cheese topping, broil enchiladas for a couple minutes at the end of cooking time.)

If I have extra chicken mixture after I've filled all the tortillas, I spread it over the top before I pour on the enchilada sauce. Sometimes I substitute green onions for the green chiles (sprinkle a few green onions on top for a pretty garnish). If I'm serving a larger crowd, I just use an extra can of cream of chicken soup to make more filling.

Mmmm, I'll definitely be making these for dinner tonight!


Desperate (Biblical, Infertile) Housewives

A reader recently e-mailed me this thought-provoking question: "Do you wish that you had fertilized more eggs and frozen [the resulting embryos]?" The answer to that is a qualified yes and a resounding no.

The failure of two IVFs certainly does leave one questioning the methods. If we had fertilized more eggs, would I be pregnant by now? Maybe. Would we have gotten two embryo transfers for the price of one (or four for the price of two, as the case would have it)? Most likely. Is it tempting to pursue a different course, to fertilize as many eggs as I can produce in one go? Sure. It's tempting because my idolatrous heart wants pregnancy and children at any cost, thinking that a cuddly baby (or two, or three) would be more satisfying that the joy of loving my Savior through obedience. But by God's grace, that temptation to play willy-nilly with little few-celled human lives in pursuit of my dreams is kept in check by convictions about what God has to say about life and about his sovereignty and goodness.

My reader's question dovetailed neatly with some of my recent musings during my devotional reading. Our pastors have recently begun teaching through the book of Genesis, so I'm taking some time to read a couple chapters in Genesis each morning. It's an interesting read for an infertile. Sarah - barren. Rebekah - barren. Rachel - barren. Of Rebekah's struggle we don't know much, other than the poignant statement that she conceived after her husband prayed for her (Gen. 25:21). (And then she went on to have twins. I can just imagine the comments; "Ooh, twins! Do they run in your family, or did you use mandrakes?") Sarah, desperate to find her own way to fulfill God's promise to make a people from Abraham's descendants, convinced her husband to impregnate her servant girl. Ditto Rachel, who was caught up in a jealous battle with her sister. I used to read these accounts and scoff at the crazy lengths these women would go to for the sake of having children. Then came my own infertility and an increased sympathy for these biblical characters (and a gratitude to God for including their struggles in his inspired word!). But still, their methods seemed a bit baffling. Sharing your husband with another woman just to have a child to which you'd have a very dubious claim? I would never do that! And yet in moments dank and grim, I wonder how I'd look to them*. During this recent reading of Genesis, God has allowed me to see more of my own heart in these ancient women. To my modern mind, the ways that Sarah and Rachel fought against infertility in their polygamous society seem so obviously wrong. To them, I'm sure all of our contemporary assisted reproductive technologies would seem bewildering and unthinkable. The culture is different, the methods are different, but here's the thing: The hearts that desperately desire children, the hearts that are deceitful above all things, those hearts are the same. Those hearts need a perspective of grace to see that the fact that nothing else seems to work does not make it right to go against God's standards in the quest to attain the blessing of children. When I consider what steps to take next, now that two IVFs have failed, I want to remember my early sisters and to see that I am just as capable of the same sinful desperation. In a culture where ART is normal and acceptable, I want to beg for God's mercy to keep me adhering to his principles - particularly the sanctity of human life and of marriage - in the face of the array of options.

So do I wish that we had fertilized more eggs and frozen embryos? Ultimately, no. God has given us convictions that freezing embryos would presume upon the future and would be disrespectful to life made in his image. We might change our IVF protocol, we might pursue different ways and means of having children, but we will keep seeking to trust that God's ways are best. He has laid down principles for my good and for his glory, and I have no regrets in following those.

*Thanks, Mr. Nash. And thanks, Dad, for frequently quoting his poetry to me.


Three Cheers for the New OB-GYN

The appointment with the new OB-GYN went really, really well. This doctor seemed pretty knowledgeable about infertility, for someone who's not a specialist. He knew that the diagnosis of a luteal phase defect has become suspect in medical circles recently. He talked with me about how important it is to find a good RE (one who "won't sell you snake oil," he said) when you have so much invested emotionally, physically, and financially. He didn't treat me as though I am ignorant but assumed a mutual familiarity with the tests and treatments as we discussed those topics. A doctor who understands how difficult infertility is and who respects his patient's opinions and intelligence - gasp!

He gave me some helpful thoughts about the options before us in getting a referral to a new RE. Although he said he respects Dr. Peppy as a doctor, he did seem to question how little testing she had done before launching us into treatments. He highly recommended the doctors at the Fertility Institute at Posh Hospital; because he does not know anything about the doctors at Oh Baby Fertility Center, he was unable to recommend them. I browsed the IVF Connection boards (thanks to the commenter who pointed me that way!) to see what people had to say about Posh Hospital and Oh Baby; many people raved about Posh Hospital, while only one or two people commented about Oh Baby. It sounds like Posh Hospital does very thorough testing, which appeals to us right now. So we're leaning that way, but we're still thinking and praying. The new OB-GYN said that he'd write an open referral and that we could call anytime to finalize it with whatever RE we choose. Keep the poll votes coming in (and I think you can change your vote if you want to do so based on the new information), and I'll let you know what we decide.


Rejoicing with the Shiny, Happy People

Carolyn McCulley offers an excellent article on rejoicing with those who receive blessings that you want. To whet your appetite:

At the mall, you spot a former classmate — and her conspicuous baby bump. Another baby shower invitation lurks in your future.

You? You still wait. And wait.

At first, waiting is hard. Hope lurks around the corner of every new situation. But experience eventually confers a steely resignation. It doesn't even feel good to cry anymore. Self-pity has lost its allure.

Then, the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit breaks into your grey fog of dashed hopes. In a heart filled with unexpectant apathy, these gentle words bubble up in the first moments of waking: "Rejoice with those who rejoice."

Impossible, you think drowsily. I need to withdraw from those happy, shiny people. That's how I manage it, this guarding my heart. Opening your eyes, anger surges over the first light of the day. God, you gave them what I want. But you haven't given it to me. And you want me to rejoice about it?! I don't think that's even possible.

Ah, but it is possible, you know. It's not only possible, it's a biblical command. A command, however, that is wrapped in grace and sprinkled with hope. (Read more...)


Doctor, Doctor! Doctor, Doctor?

On Thursday, I have an appointment with my new OB-GYN. (Remember that insurance change I mentioned before?) The appointment will be a consultation to discuss renewing my referral to an infertility specialist. I've been doing a lot of research to prepare for this appointment, because we're thinking about making some changes before we pursue our last two insurance-covered IVF cycles. We're considering adding a little alternative medicine into the mix - maybe acupuncture, maybe chiropractic care, maybe professional massage, or maybe some combination. I've been educating myself on those options, and I plan to ask the new doctor what his opinion is of the effectiveness of those things in conjunction with ART (assisted reproductive technologies). We're also strongly considering asking for a referral to a different fertility center. Initially, I really wanted to stick with Dr. Peppy and the folks at her network of clinics; despite the insurance changes, I wanted the comfort of the familiar. But this post about the importance of comparing success rates at local clinics spurred me to do a little research. I had looked at the SART reports for Dr. Peppy et al before, and they seemed pretty decent. With my new-found motivation, I looked at the reports again and this time compared them with other nearby clinics. I found three other clinics here in the western suburbs of Chicago with better success rates! I called all three to ask two main questions: (1) do you take our insurance? (2) are you willing to work within our Christian ethical constraints (fertilizing only a few eggs, transferring all viable embryos, freezing/discarding none)? Only one did not work with our insurance, and the two remaining both said they'd accommodate our beliefs. At my consultation on Thursday, I plan to ask the new OB-GYN what he knows about these clinics and their doctors, to find out which is best in his opinion. We'll get a new referral from there. Here's the break-down of the options (using 2005 data, the most recent available):

Dr. Peppy et al
Total cycles: 2,270
Number of cycles* for patients <35: 802
Percentage of transfers resulting in live births (<35): 36%
Proven in the past to be willing to work with our ethical concerns, albeit somewhat grudgingly.

The Fertility Institute at Posh Hospital
Total cycles: 535
Number of cycles (<35): 160
Percentage of transfers resulting in live births (<35): 47.8%
Said they would definitely work with our ethical concerns

Oh Baby Fertility Center
Total cycles: 158
Number of cycles (<35): 58
Percentage of transfers resulting in live births (<35): 55.3%
When I explained that we were Christians and detailed our ethical concerns, the staff person enthusiastically said they would work with us and went on to say that they can, to avoid putting any "life" (her word!) in danger, freeze unfertilized eggs to be thawed and fertilized for later cycles.

What do you think?
On one hand, it would be nice to stick with a clinic that already knows me; on the other hand, it might be beneficial to get fresh eyes on our treatment. Changing practices could cause some delays if we needed to redo diagnostic tests, but maybe we ought to have those tests redone anyway since it has been almost two years since we did them. I like how much experience Dr. Peppy's group have (they have done so many cycles!), but their success rates are lower. Posh Hospital seems like a good middle ground, with a significant number of total cycles and higher success rates. Oh Baby hasn't done that many cycles, comparatively, but they have a fabulous success rate and I really liked the response I got to my questions. Then there's the factor of location; it's not a big deal most of the time, but something conveniently nearby is significant during the spate of daily appointments. Dr. Peppy's office is a 20 minute drive, but retrieval and transfer must be done in downtown Chicago (one-and-a-half hour drive). Posh Hospital is so close I could bike there (though that's probably not advisable with loaded ovaries!), and all monitoring, retrieval, and transfer are done at the same site. Oh Baby is probably 20-25 minutes away. So, leave your thoughts in the comments, and then - are you ready for this interactivity?! - cast a vote on the poll in the sidebar to the right. We won't necessarily go with the poll winner, but I'm curious to get input from all of you.

*cycles = IVF done with fresh embryos (not frozen) using the patient's own eggs (not donor)


Pumpkin Bars

A few ladies have requested this recipe* lately. This favorite dessert has lots of yummy fall flavor, but I keep the ingredients on hand year round!

Pumpkin Bars
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter (room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (freeze the remaining puree for later use)
  • 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line bottom and sides of a 9x13 baking pan with foil, leaving an overhand on all sides. (Andrea's tip: with your pan upside-down, mold the foil over the bottom, then flip the pan over and drop the foil in.) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, & salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream butter & sugar; beat in egg & vanilla. Beat in pumpkin puree (mixture may appear curdled). Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter in pan. Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 35-40 min. Cool completely in pan. Lift cake from pan, using foil as an aid. Peel off foil, and cut into squares with a serrated knife.


*I'd like to start posting recipes more regularly; I'll aim for once a week.


HTML & CMN* SOS (Updated)

I'm working on adding a third column to my blog, where I hope to feature a reading list. I've spent several hours already buried in HTML code, attempting to make some sense out of its (to me) foreignness. I'm close (I can get a third column to show up) but still without the proverbial cigar (with that third column in place, I can't yet get all the pretty dots to line up; plus, I get a weird dotted line all the way across my screen; it's not awful, but I'm more than a bit picky about such things). If anyone has a good grip on HTML and can tell me what to do, let me know! Until I sort things out, you may see a right-hand column popping in and out with various configurations. You're not going crazy; I am.

In the meantime, entertain yourselves by brainstorming names for our new chipmunk friend. A few weeks after the sad disappearance of Thelonius, a smaller and so far less mischievous chipmunk moved into the vicinity of our patio. We've thought of possible names like Francis, Aloysius, etc. - playing more on the monastery monk kind of theme, but we're not stuck on that. Leave your votes and suggestions in the comments to help us find a moniker for our neighborly chipmunk!

*CMN=ChipMunk Name

(UPDATE 10/7/07) Great galloping gargoyles, I think I figured out the whole 3-column thing! Let me know if it looks funny on your screen, but it's all aligned pretty well on mine.