A non-dairy Lent off to a rough start

Lent is fairly new to me. The first time I did it was in the small town where I lived in Mexico, when I was teaching English at a private Catholic school, and I realized that everyone was giving up something, even the elementary school students. I figured I had to try it once I found out that fifth-grader Sofia was giving up chile sauce for 40 days. A Mexican giving up chile sauce — that is a big freakin’ deal, folks.


Giving in to peer pressure, then, just as I had taken to crossing myself every time I passed a church (because even hooligans would cross themselves while passing the churches in their pimped-up cars, and I felt completely weird not doing it), I decided to give up cookies.


This was a big deal for me, because I had gotten addicted to several different types of cookies that could be bought at any corner store — especially Polvorones, which were like shortbread with an orangey twist, and Príncipe, which were buttery sandwich cookies with chocolate cream in the middle. Of course, giving up cookies only meant that I chose to eat Mantecadas, little buttery muffins, and other sweet bread products, so the exercise turned out to be easier than I expected.


In the past couple of years, I have given up other things for Lent that were not so easy to give up — Facebook games one year, when I was particularly addicted to a few of those, and last year I gave up online shopping. Some of those Facebook games were given up forever, and I definitely shop less online now (but especially after losing my full-time job). Lenten resolutions, I have found, can tend to be a bit like New Year’s Resolutions Part 2, as our priest had said on Ash Wednesday last week. But I do try to focus on being more mindful of my behavior and to take a stab at abstaining from bad habits.

This year I have been thinking and reading more about the point of Lent, and how giving up something or adding something doesn’t always get us to the place we are trying to go — being a better person and being closer to God (whatever God is for you — I have to confess that most people who call themselves Christians would find my concept of God totally wacko — more like the Force in Star Wars than the God of the Old and New Testaments).

I decided this year that being closer to God means giving up something that causes harm to animals — milk products, because I learned in the past couple of years that calves are often slaughtered as a byproduct of milk production, as cows are of course constantly impregnated to ensure that they continue producing milk. I also learned that milk is actually quite bad for humans, very fattening as well as leaching out calcium rather than providing calcium for bones, and it accelerates cancer growth as all animal proteins have been shown to do. (Just yesterday, a friend of mine said there have been studies showing that teenagers who drink a lot of milk regularly have more acne than those who don’t. And here I am in my mid-30s still wondering what to do with my skin….)

Anyway, I learned all these things a while ago, and we succeeded in substituting non-GMO soy milk (unfortified with calcium) for milk in our coffee, tea, cereal and cooking, and we have reduced our consumption of cheese and ice cream, but we have not been able to cut those things out completely.

Recently, I noticed how much butter I use. I love it on toast, love to cook with it, and of course I simply have to bake with butter — I would never use margarine or oil in a pie crust or cookies. In Chicago we would substitute half of the butter with applesauce, when we had an apple tree in our backyard and made tons of applesauce, but we still used the butter. It’s just so tasty! And it makes everything so flaky and rich!

When I realized that I had not even cut down on my use of butter, I figured I’d have to give it up now, or at least try for 40 days.

And here we are, about a week into Lent, and I have not been able to avoid dairy completely yet. The first day, Ash Wednesday, we actually had leftover pizza, and I figured I’d give up one of my Sundays during Lent so that we could finish it (since Sundays don’t actually count in the 40 days of Lent). Then, the next day was Valentine’s Day, and after dinner at a Thai restaurant we stopped in a café for dessert, and we just had to share the molten chocolate cake, which most likely had dairy in it, but in any case I had completely forgotten about going dairy-free and had automatically put milk in my coffee when it was brought out. So there went another Sunday.

On Sunday then, we finally looked at the ingredients on the Portuguese raisin rolls we had been eating for breakfast for the past three days — popular in our household because they have all-natural ingredients and no preservatives — and discovered that they were made with both milk and butter. There went the remaining three Sundays of Lent.

Monday, I went to brunch with a friend, and I focused so much about ordering my usual farm fresh eggs but with extra potatoes instead of sausage (Oh yeah, did I mention I’m trying not to eat any meat, either? Eggs are OK, though, for now….), that I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the toast would be buttered. And, once again, I automatically poured milk into my coffee.

Today, Tuesday, I was doing well most of the day with my non-dairy diet. But at dinner I ate some pretzels, and then we checked the ingredients — buttermilk solids.

It seems almost impossible to get away from dairy!

And I have other things I’ve resolved to do for Lent — try to eat for a week on a food-stamp budget and go to yoga class at least once a week — but neither of them have started yet. Now that I’ve blogged it, though, I may have no choice but to hold myself more accountable.


The flu, mardi gras pancakes, lower back pain

It was a hellish week. Finally caught the flu last weekend as my DH Shane was getting over it, but I don’t have a demanding full-time job and long commute, so I didn’t come down with complications (like Shane’s sinus infection). Being feverish sucks, though. Couldn’t do one of my stories because of that second bout of aches and soreness.

Shane recovering from the flu with Tigger

Shane recovering from the flu with Tigger

As I recovered, I had two nights of insomnia, and I have no idea why. One night I was up till 2 or 3 a.m., reading about Joan of Arc and Arminianism vs. Calvinism on Wikipedia before finally falling asleep on the futon. And then two nights later I was up all night, feeling  nervous, fluttery in my chest, for no apparent reason. I hadn’t even had any caffeine, but I was jittery like I had had a few cups of coffee before bed.

Partly it was because I had to write two articles before noon the next day. I stayed up late, till about midnight, writing one of them, and by the time I finished I felt shaky and tired. I had that feeling like an overtired child who gets all cranky and throws tantrums and can’t sleep. For a couple hours, I tried to sleep, but I figured I’d better do something constructive, so I got up and wrote the other article, which I had been planning to write in the morning. I finished at about 4 or 5 a.m. but still I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed with Shane when he had to get up, and I thought, well, finally I’ll be able to sleep, but I didn’t. I watched episodes of Stargate Universe, instead. Then I worked the rest of the day copy editing on the paper (as it was going to press that evening) and didn’t sleep till that night.

stargate (Source: gateworld.net)

While I was lying in bed trying to sleep, the only thing I could guess was making me anxious was that stupid pancake supper I was helping to organize for church. I was having all kinds of anxieties about it flopping in a huge way, with nobody coming, or me losing it and yelling at people from my church who were trying to help but being bossy. I ended up writing a long email to my friend Ruth about my worries and how I wouldn’t be able to stand working for the church much longer, and she wrote me the sweetest reply, right away, and she said she loved me and not to fret, which made me cry.

Lucky me, the pancake supper turned out wonderfully, and it was the help of all those people who were also anxious about pulling it off who made it happen, who came early and set up and cooked bacon and sausages and pancakes on griddles and made fun conversation for those few hours beforehand.

Ruth at the mardi gras pancake dinner

Ruth at the mardi gras pancake dinner

One of the strange things I did that made me nervous was I mixed two traditions together, Shrove Tuesday pancake supper plus a mardi gras theme, with feather masks and beads and New Orleans jazz music and king cake. I wasn’t sure it would work, and I have the feeling others weren’t sure about it, either. The king cake turned out very well, though — it was tasty as well as fun to have everyone look for the baby Jesus (a whole almond) inside their slices, and the winner got to wear the crown I bought. As Shane said, always good to have activities. (Though probably a good idea not to make people run with pancakes and frying pans; I was concerned the floor would be slippery from people tracking in snow.)Mardi gras Mary Ann

In the end, it was probably the mimosas that made the dinner fun. We had a pretty good turnout, even though the previous night’s snowstorm kept many of the regular supper guests indoors, and we made almost twice as much in donations as we had at the last fellowship dinner. Success!

Father Shane serving mimosas

Father Shane serving mimosas

Mardi gras beadsI think the busy day of baking (king cake and Valentine’s Day Bake Sale cookies) and setting up tables and cooking and cleaning up tired me out completely. As I was getting into bed, a sharp pain shot through my lower back. It messed up my plans to go cross-country skiing the next day, after all that glorious snow. So instead of playing in the sun and snow, I stayed home this afternoon trying (unsuccessfully) to find a comfortable position in which to sit or lie down and watching a documentary about Tribe Called Quest. But then Ruth had us over for a delicious Sunday dinner, and we had a wonderful time with her and her husband and their beautiful rescue dog, Charlie. What a blessing it is to have good friends!