Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The (no) Sweet Life

Julia Spencer-Fleming: For most of the USA, this time of year is known as OhGodWillWinterEverEnd, but for those of us following liturgical calendars, it's also Lent, the forty days (and nights) between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Lent has many similarities to February, the month in which it usually begins: it's dreary, it seems somehow much longer than it is, and it exists in a limbo of non-festivity; Christmas only a pine-scented memory, Easter (and spring) unimaginable as you squelch through mud and decaying snow. In our churches, we forgo pretty floral arrangements and swags and banners (admittedly, the flower thing may be because the flower guild's budget is low after the big Christmas blow out - five hundred poinsettias don't come cheap.) The readings can be charitably called pointed - the past Sunday we were reminded we are a "sinful and adulterous generation." Which makes me believe I'm definitely missing out on fun somewhere. Even the hymns are depressing - check out this dirge-like classic:




So what am I doing to get through this, the DMV waiting room for the rest of the year? I have sacrificed sweets. Oh, dear readers, it's painful. I've always had a sweet tooth. My mother tells a story about having to pin a note on my that read "Don't feed" because I would go from neighbor to neighbor asking for cookies. The only reason I finished my BA in four years was because I powered through every paper eating a party-sized bag of M&Ms while drinking a six-pack of Coca-cola. (No, I didn't sleep for two days afterwards, why do you ask?)

I am everymore a dessert person. I like dessert after dinner. Hell, I like dessert after lunch. I've substituted my usual candy/cookies/pastries with oranges, unsalted almonds and raisins. I'm waiting to experience that thing over-eager diet writers describe, where just a bite of yummy fruit is more than sweet enough for me! So far, this has not happened. I don't care how deprived I am, a handful of dried fruit tastes nowhere near as good as a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Like, if they were men, the raisins would be Steve Mnuchin and the peanut butter cup would be Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The only reason I made it through the first week of Lent without cheating was the fact I cleared the fridge and pantry of anything sweet. (We still have three-month old candy canes in the cupboard, but even I take a hard pass on those.) The real challenge came a couple days ago, when I had dinner with our own Brenda Buchanan and her wife Diane. Like an idiot, I volunteered to make dessert. I managed to bake brownies, take them to Brenda's house, and bring back one for Youngest at the end of the evening, all without tasting them myself. However, I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, that I licked the bowl. Not in a dignified way with the scraper, either. I got right in there. I had brownie batter on my cheek.

Will I make it through to Easter? Possibly. Will I have developed healthy new habits and learn to prefer apple slices over Snickers Bars? Not likely. But in the dreary days of February and March, sometimes the struggle is is sufficient unto itself.


As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.



52 comments:

  1. Julia, you are truly brave to make brownies and then not have one.
    Generally, I’ve found the whole sacrificing something for Lent to be a bit of a dilemma . . . once I finally decide, I’m usually pretty good about not cheating, but after a forty day eternity the year I sacrificed coffee, my children informed me that I would never, ever, ever do that again.

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  2. Look who is up early! That is because I am scheduled for a colonoscopy today, and the doctor added an element -- 10 oz. of magnesium citrate four hours before the procedure. GAG. So, I love Julia's post about fasting!
    I told a story to my Sunday School class this week -- I was a Brownie leader (for six years) and so, of course, we sold cookies. One of the moms would be the Cookie Lady -- and have all the cookies at her house to be organized for distribution -- during Lent. One little girl, whose mother was Cookie Lady for three years, gave up sweets for Lent every year! Yes, she lived in a house with hundreds of yummy boxes of cookies and didn't eat one!
    Good luck, Julia! Only a month to go.

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    1. Denise, that woman had WAY more self control than I. Good luck on the colonoscopy, and remember, it's true what they say: the prep is WAY worse than the procedure.

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    2. A-OK -- Doc said see you in 5 years.

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  3. Sweets and eating between meals for me this year. Last year was wine--really, what was I thinking!

    Don't you think the cruelest joke of all was that Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine's Day this year? Hang in there, Julia, we're half through.

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  4. So true, nothing beats a decent decadent dessert - even if its only a peanut butter cup. My family never did Lent - I didn't even know about it until years after I left home. Maybe mild Protestants don't do that kind of thing? Quakers certainly don't, so I'm exempt from the 40-day deal (not that I have any self-discipline any more, anyway!). Good luck with your fast, Julia. Me, I'm off to find a piece of dark chocolate for breakfast. ;^)

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  5. Dessert FOR breakfast is my favorite. Pie. Though truly I'm not a big sweets eater unless they're really really good. I'd never pass up one of Lucy's cakes. But I can't abide brownies.
    Needless to say, I don't know from Lent.

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    1. I was having this discussion with the girls the other day. Is pie a sweet, since you can eat it for breakfast (at least here in New England.) What if it's fruit pie? Is it more fruit? Less a pastry? We could definitely use a Talmudic scholar to parse this question for us.

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    2. Putting on my rabbi/Reb hat here. If donuts are breakfast, why not pie? Or cake? Donuts, after all, are cake. And panCAKES.

      There.

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    3. I bow to your greater wisdom, Karen. And what about sticky buns?

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  6. I've given up giving things up. It just doesn't happen anymore -- apparently, 12 years of Catholic school lose their influence after decades. I agree with Julia about February; it's dreary and goes on forever and ever. This year hasn't been too bad (sunny and in the 50s in western NY today!) but it remains my least favorite month.

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  7. Oh Julia, I feel your pain. I can only remember one dessert I ever gave a pass to--some sort of gummy peanutbutterish cookie an exchange student brought to a 'welcome to the anthro department' party. I too am making the attempt to give up sweets--not for Lent but for the sake of my summer shorts.

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    1. Flora, I confess there's a secular reason for my giving up sweets as well. After comfort-eating my way through the months after Ross's death, I noticed I was reaching for the sweatpants instead of jeans WAY too often. Hopefully, I'll drop a couple pounds (and then probably gain it all back when the Easter candy goes on sale for half price!)

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  8. Yes, more fruit and fewer cookies at my house during Lent. And I hid in the pantry a large box of chocolates that arrived after Christmas. February is such a short month compared to March and mud season, which lasts forever.

    And I agree about turgid Lenten hymns!

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  9. Good news, I learned from an Anglican friend that while Mon-Sat are fast days, Sundays are actually feast days! I grew up Catholic and no one ever shared this joyous tidbit with me. If you count the days from Ash Wednesday (Valentine's Day so inopportune) to Easter, but skip Sundays, you'll get 40 days. I counted again before posting this (I count every year just to be sure).

    As for my Lenten vow, usually I pick sweets or something I like (once, as a family we gave up Dunkin Donuts). Sometimes, like this year, I try to adopt something positive (daily devotional, intentional acts of service & kindness, etc.). Well...I gave up yelling. I don't do it much but really don't want to do it at all. Admirable. Didn't last. The puppies chewed my reading glasses and my daughter's prescription glasses last fall (she has a backup pair that she has deemed ugly). Replacements were covered under insurance in January and the new glasses arrived the first week of Feb. She and I guarded them with our lives yet somehow I found BOTH completely chewed on Feb. 15th! I'm sure I shouted NO at least five times and may have stomped my foot like a mature calm adult. *sigh*

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    1. Changing how you react to events is the hardest thing to do! At least you can just drive past DD. It's not practical to kennel your puppies for forty days. :-)

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    3. Or myself which would just be cheating :)

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  10. I did not grow up with the idea of giving things up for Lent so it came as rather a shock to me when my high school boyfriend's mother suggested to him that he give up me! Not sure if she was serious or not - I think she was - but he gave up gum instead.
    A while back I gave up my evening popcorn (doc said this was a healthy snack!) because we determined my dog was allergic to corn. Maybe once a month now I might make a batch but the dog only gets a very tiny bit so it really isn't fair to her.

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  11. When I gave things up for Lent, I always focused much more on how I missed and wanted them than I did at other times. It was five and a half weeks of drooling over the chocolate or potato chips (or whatever) that I wasn't having. One year I gave up calling my sisters names, and boy did I think of some great ones that I had to save for after Easter. I'm not sure that all this was accomplishing the purpose of enabling me to focus on more spiritual things than sweets. In fact, I blame this Lenten practice for my powerful sweet tooth and all the other problems I've ever had. Who knows, I might have loved February and March had I not endured all those Lenten hymns.

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  12. Since I'm not really a "sweet" person, I've never found it hard to give up dessert. And I can (grudgingly) give potato chips a pass if I have to. If you asked me to give up chips and salsa, I'd be in trouble.

    A few years ago, my language was really bad so I gave up swearing. It didn't last long past Lent - broke it the day after Easter. But eventually, I did give up my foul-mouthed ways and I swear a lot less now. And only when really perturbed.

    This year I gave up obsessive worrying. Or at least I'm trying. It would go a lot better if my boy would do his homework (he's getting better).

    Mary/Liz

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  13. Had I known you'd given up sweets for Lent I never would have allowed you to bring dessert, Julia.

    You could have brought celery sticks or some other healthy appetizer. But no, you acted selflessly for our benefit (and licking that mixing bowl was merely the most efficient way to clean it up.)

    You were the very picture of self-discipline (says the woman who has been wearing out her sweatpants this winter), sitting there sipping an after-dinner cup of tea while we inhaled those terrific brownies. Thank you for your sacrifice. It was deeply appreciated (as are you!)

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  14. Observing Lent has never been a part of my life, and I have much admiration for those of you who manage to avoid sweets, swearing, etc. for forty days! I have a friend who gives up chocolate and fried foods in alternating years...for the whole year! And Julia, I'm with you on the inadequacy of substitute desserts. My family likes to joke about the time my mom suggested her young grandson have a pear for dessert. He replied, with disdain, "Nana, fruit isn't dessert." I couldn't agree more.

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  15. Julia, your post made me laugh out loud. I completely understand the batter bowl incident. As a sugar-motivated person, I find your fortitude admirable and a bit awe-inspiring. Like Ingrid, observing Lent has never been a part of my life (is it wrong to say "Thank God" here?), because I am not someone who is great at giving up things I enjoy, or more accurately, make life worth living. I think I would rather shave my head than give up dessert or sweets. No, not kidding.

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  16. I've just had a couple of days of an icky stomach bug so I'm still at the stage where anything too sweet seems awful. So right now I could forego sweets for the rest of Lent. My problem comes when we are invited out to meals and the hostess has made a time consuming and wonderful desert. How to say no to that without offending? I don't.
    But I have given up alcohol except for glass of wine when we go out to dinner.not perfect but a start

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  17. Having been brought up Presbyterian and become a now somewhat lapsed Episcopalian, I've never really seen the spiritual benefit of giving things up for Lent (or maybe I just have no discipline!) although I have tried to practice doing something positive for the forty days.

    This year, however, I'm trying not to eat any ADDED sugar, and the fact that this coincides with Lent allows me to feel a bit righteous. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so you'd think no added sugar would be easy. NOT. Sugar is in EVERYTHING. So, Julia, I feel your pain, and maybe after Easter will allow myself an occasional treat. Here's hoping we can all fit into our jeans...

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    1. I know, right? After that health report came out that said basically anything with sugar will KILL YOU DEAD, it seems like a good time to cut back.

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  18. Back when I was an active Episcopalian I would give up beer and alcohol for Lent. Believe me, this was a real sacrifice during tax season. I would come home from a full day plus a few evening hours doing taxes and long for a beer. This year I didn't notice Lent's arrival as I've been in a personal Lent for several months now. Mom fell, again, and this time fractured some bones near her wrist. This was at the end of December. She was mentally fine when she went to the hospital. She was a different woman when she came out. She's confused, asks after dead family, is confined to bed or a wheelchair now. I spent a few weeks clearing out her independent living apartment. In fact I'm turning in the keys today. She's over in the long term nursing facility now. It is depressing as hell to visit her and I feel guilty that I don't want to do it. I hate lying to her, telling her Dad is at home, that her parents can't make the trip to visit. Mom turned 98 last month, so you know her parents are long gone. So, that's my Lent and I need my wine and beer. I apologize for whining at you but some things are best not spoken out loud.

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    1. Pat, no need to apologize for the whine. You and your mother are in a difficult time of your lives. May you have strength and persistence for your days.

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    2. Hugs to you, Pat. Enjoy your wine and beer in peace and good cheer!

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    3. Pat, you don't need to do anything other than live your life right now. You're right: your life IS a Lenten sacrifice right now. (You've certainly earned the right to whine! And wine.)

      DebRo

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  19. I feel for you. I have a sweet tooth as well. If I didn't, I could actually lose weight with the running I do. Instead, I run so I can eat sweets.

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  20. For years I chose to give up pride for Lent. How prideful of me to think I could do that, right? This year I’ve chosen another deadly sin, sloth. So in decent weather I’ve resumed my daily walks, and as of yesterday I am going to the gym 2-4 days a week. I had my fitness regimen evaluation yesterday, have a chart of which machines, how much and how often. I also plan to start a weekly pool thingy, for old ladies with arthritis. And maybe yoga for the lame and halt.

    I am going back to the machines this afternoon, and tomorrow revisiting that root canal that went south, getting an extraction and temporary bridge until the permanent one can be installed. I may give the gym a pass the rest of the week, depending on how much I looK love ke a victim of domestic violence.

    Oh. Did I mention we’re getting snow on Friday? Nuff said. I’ll stay home and fast.

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    1. Oh, Ann, thinking about you tomorrow! Let us know how it goes!

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    2. Ann, you're winning the prize for most miserable February so far. Hope the dental work isn't too awful!

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    3. Ann, may your extraction be uneventful!

      DebRo

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  21. As a life-long Catholic I've known about the Sunday "reprieve". Sometimes I look forward to it, sometimes I don't really need it! In recent years, I've stopped giving up certain kinds of food, and instead try to give up a bad habit, like judging people, or having a negative attitude towards something. It's much easier to give up a food item! This year I'm trying--again--to work on the judging and the attitude. Now that I've put it "out there", maybe I will try harder!

    I'm also trying to do additional spiritual reading. For the last several years I've been reading, or re-reading, books by Jesuit priest Father James Martin. Last year during Lent I got to hear him speak at Yale. His books are a joy to read, which makes me wonder if I should save them for after Lent is over!

    DebRo

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    1. My parish in Falmouth MA is focusing on JOY for Lent this year -- reading a book about Joy by the Dalai Lama(?) and sent out a booklet with short essays about how people in the parish experience joy.

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    2. Denise Ann, I like this!

      DebRo

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  22. DebRo, thanks for your mention of Fr. Martin. I saw his name when Cardinal Sarah attacked his book on how the church relates to LGBT people. Is there one of Fr. Martin's books that you recommend starting with? I have been reading Fr. Richard Rohr's The Naked Now and am very impressed with it.

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    1. Jim, I'll compile and send a list when I get home from work.

      I love Fr Richard Rohr! I'm way behind on reading his books.

      DebRo

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    2. Hi Jim,

      I'm home from work! I don't know which of Fr Martin's books would be best to start with; I've loved them all. The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything might be a good place to start. Right now I'm reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Fr Martin writes about what he learned on visits to the Holy Land. Another one I enjoyed is A Jesuit Off Broadway: Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness, and More. (Someone who was writing a play about Judas got Fr Martin's name from a friend and contacted him to ask if he would be a kind of religious consultant while he was working on writing the play.)I've read about four or five other books by him as well. He is down to earth in person and in his writings.

      DebRo

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  23. I grew up Methodist and so didn't follow the giving up something for Lent practice. But, there are years that I've been mindful of that time period with its spirit of sacrifice and given something up. This year I am in the middle (almost middle) of giving up chocolate, but it has nothing to do with Lent, except that it happens to be Lent now. It has to do with watching my college team playing a basketball game and telling my husband that if they pulled it out, I wouldn't eat chocolate for three months. It wasn't a bet, more like me saying how impossible it was for our team to win the game with the time left on the clock, so impossible that I would put up doing without chocolate. Well, of course our team pulled a win out. I know that I didn't have to honor my statement, but I felt oddly compelled to do so. Like, here was something I needed to do anyway, and now I had uttered a commitment to do so. It's been a little over a month in which I've stuck to my commitment. For my February birthday last weekend, I fixed a delicious strawberry cake with strawberry icing instead of having the usual chocolate. I've been rather proud of myself. However, there is one temptation that is weighing on me, Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies. I bought two boxes with the intention to freeze them and eat after my no-chocolate period, but they aren't yet in the freezer. I'm thinking that if I don't eat one, I'll make it, but if I eat that first one, I'm a goner. Julia, I'm just glad I didn't do a blanket no sweets ban. That might not have worked for me.

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  24. Lo these many years, Sister Third Grade decided our class was giving up sweets for Lent. Problem was, she not only didn't tell us, she didn't tell our mothers. So when I showed up with treats for my birthday -- which can't NOT be in Lent -- and had to take 3 dozen cupcakes home because she wouldn't let me distribute them, she had some serious 'splaining to do!

    No, I didn't hate third grade. Why do you ask? :)

    But I do second the endorsement of both Fr. James Martin -- his FB posts are excellent -- and Father Richard Rohr, esp Rohr's Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.

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    1. Leslie, that wouldn't have flown in my kids' parochial school - St. Patrick's. You can bet when the saint's day fell during Lent (as it always does) there was an EXPLOSION of green cupcakes, candies, cookies, etc., etc.

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    2. Leslie, I think I had that nun in fifth grade.

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    3. Julia, St. Pat's was a big deal at St. Pius X, too. I don't remember, but I'm guessing we skipped it that grade, but made up for it in Brownies!

      Karen, my condolences!

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  25. Julia, I feel your pain. I'm sure I have licked the bowl AND eaten all the brownies. I don't even try giving up anything for lent.

    When Lent is over consider a trip to Disney World. If you stay in site and use the dining plan you get dessert with lunch and dinner!

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