Monday, February 20, 2012

Lent Me a Hand

It's raining and I have the coffee pot brewing.   The smell of the hot brown liquid wafts through the air warming an otherwise cold kitchen with it's Brazilian perfume.  It's a combination of two grocery store bagged Starbucks - a medium house blend with a dark cafe Verona.  I like to experiment to find the right combination and frankly one of these bags on sale at Publix is cheaper then one low-fat salted caramel cappuccino Venti.   I add my Splenda, carmel toffee creamer, call my name and pretend to be my own barresta.    If it's mid-day and I have a nice small piece of dark chocolate, then I'm in heaven.   Seriously, St. Peter had better greet me with both to convince me that this is really it before I go through the pearly gates.  

I don't drink coffee for the caffeine - I stopped drinking the full octane stuff when I was trying to become pregnant with Amber over 16 years ago and never went back.  It turns out that full out caffeinated beverages give me terrible headaches.   I just really enjoy the taste and the ritual of starting your day with a steaming cup of Joe, even if it's neutered.  So it's in these last few days before Lent starts that I fully appreciate every taste of that savory broth.   Because once Ash Wednesday hits, I'm off coffee for 40 days until Easter.  Not only coffee but I push it one step further - I give up chocolate too.   Lent represents for Christians the time that Jesus spent in the desert, fasting, praying and avoiding temptation from the devil before he was crucified and rose from the dead on Easter.  At this point in my life, I only occasionally go to Mass and actually teach Religious Education to teens at our local Unitarian church - but for some reason, giving up that which I love the most (my husband and kids excluded) gives me a sense of comfort.  It makes me appreciate the other things around me and allows me to try things I wouldn't ordinarily because I don't have my coffee and chocolate crutches to fall back on.  Lent is a time to repent and reflect and I try to do both - but I also look at it as an opportunity to expand my knowledge beyond what I already know and push myself outside of my comfort zone. 

I was raised Roman Catholic and Lent was always an interesting time in my house.    All five of the kids had to give something up and usually it was candy.   Cussing for me would have been better but then if we had to report to our mother what we had given up, I'd have to admit to having a filthy vocabulary and face the possibility of getting my mouth washed out with soap - so candy seemed to be the safest option.   For Catholics on Fridays, you couldn't have traditional meat like pork, beef or chicken but fish was fine.   Friday nights were generally Mrs. Paul's Fish sticks or crab cakes and corn or corn pudding.   The tartar sauce made it somewhat more palatable if twice the calories.   I soon began to dread these dinners and the mere mention of Mrs. Paul's would make me shutter.  It wasn't until I was in my teens that someone noted that you didn't have to eat fish on Fridays, you just couldn't eat meat.   Suddenly a whole new vegetarian world opened up that included cheese pizza, eggplant parmesan and spaghetti without meat.  It was a revelation and suddenly Friday night dinners during Lent were fun - hey we could eat cheese pizza!   It was always interesting to me that I never wanted bacon cheese burgers at any other time of year, but when you know you can't have them you wanted them more during those Lenten Fridays. 

Chocolate is another hard one to give up and I have for decades now during Lent.   I'll freely admit that I'm a chocoholic - that the minute I'm stressed and I get a taste of the chemically altered cocoa bean mixed with butter and sugar, I instantly calm down.  It's a scientific fact that the way to a woman's heart is through chocolate.   According to a recent Harvard study, eating a little dark chocolate one to three times a month can help lower the risk of a heart attack but three times a week can increase it.  It lifts our mood and makes us more receptive to our male partners.   So why on earth would I give out something that makes me so happy?   Because when you have constant access to something anytime you want, you take it for granted.   You assume it will always be there for you and when it's not, you miss it.   You miss it badly.   So when midnight on Easter morning hits - I hit the Cadbury Eggs, the malted robin's eggs and the dark chocolate Hershey kisses in pastel foils.   Being back with my good confectionary friend feels great and for the next few months I will not take them for granted.   As for my coffee amigo, the pot is fired up on Easter morning and the Starbuck special blends flow. 

Then a realization hits me - I'd made friends with Chai Latte's, decaf green teas, White Bean iced drinks, caramels, pralines and other non-chocolate, non-coffee concoctions.  My taste sensations were expanded but now I was back to what I know best.  Those other flavors were there for me and now that I'm back with my old friends, I'll probably call on them less and less.  Oh hell, who am I kidding - I'll drop them like a rock until I need them again in the late winter/spring when Lent rolls around again.    Does that make me shallow?  Yeah it pretty much does.   

Maybe this year for Lent, I need to look at how I treat that which I love (which includes Max and the kids) and appreciate it as well as the new flavors and opportunities that come into my life.   I'll work at finding a balance and trying not to let things bother me so much.   I'll push myself outside of my comfort zone.   I'm still looking for a job and trying not to take the rejection as a personal sign of my shortcomings but a way to improve what I do and to see myself outside a narrow range of career opportunities.   I need to look at Lent as a way to cast my net out and see what comes back.   It sounds like something Jesus would do.   And Mrs. Paul, I might just give you a call one of these Friday nights for just old times sake. 

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