Although I am not Catholic, once my youngest son attended a private Catholic high school, I began participating in some of the Catholic traditions, and one of my favorites is celebrating the Lenten season. Prior to recognizing Lent as a season to be celebrated, the best thing in my Protestant mind about Lent was celebrating Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday!! I still love to celebrate Mardi Gras. I love throw beads! I love the New Orleans style Dixieland jazz band! I love seafood gumbo and jambalaya and oysters and pralines and beignets and King’s Cake!!! One of these days, I’m going to celebrate Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter itself!!
This year, though, I am most excited about Fat Tuesday because it means the Lenten season has arrived. Honest. In the past, I have tried both successfully and unsuccessfully, to give up wine and coffee. (Believe it or not, coffee was much harder to give up than wine!!!) This year, I am not giving up a “thing” for Lent; rather, I am going to work on increasing my gratitude. (For those of you who know me well, this will be a greater challenge than giving up wine and coffee combined!!!)
The way that I intend to (hopefully) increase my level of gratitude is to become more aware of what I have rather than always focusing on what I don’t have!!! I spend so much of my time and energy focusing on what I do not have that I am not grateful (or even aware!!!) of what I do have!! SOOOO, how do I intend to accomplish this feat, you ask?
I have researched the government’s definition of poverty (OK, wow. How does someone who has “nothing” earn more than double the amount designated as “poverty level” in the United States for 2012???? We can already see where my gratitude problems exist, at least in part!!) Next, I located the amount of money designated as a “thrifty” food budget for a family of one comprised of a woman in my age group, according to the Food & Drug Administration. This amount is $5.30 a day. On some days, that may be all I spend. I eat oatmeal for breakfast. Maybe I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and have a piece of chicken and a vegetable at dinner. Maybe all of that would only cost $5.30. Maybe. But what about the wine I “had” to have with my chicken dinner? What about the butter I put on my oatmeal and vegetable? What about the herbs I cannot cook without? What about the fact that I “couldn’t possibly” eat bread that wasn’t whole grain? Heaven forbid if the vegetables needed to be organic . . . and that doesn’t even account for the fact that on most days, I want to cook something “fun,” which means I need mushrooms and fresh herbs and specialty seasonings (and even more wine!) and it undoubtedly requires fresh seafood (which must be “wild caught” and NOT “farm raised” . . .). It is no WONDER I’m not grateful!! I want what I want, when I want it . . .
Here is the plan. I am committed to feeding myself on $5.30 a day for the 40 days of Lent. Now, I have purchased groceries and cooked meals for my family for long enough to know that this is entirely possible. It should even be easy, given that I am a decent and very experienced cook. However, the sacrifice – the point of the “project” or “plan” or my commitment to a thrifty food budget – is to learn to be grateful. I can go without what I want for a day or two and then I start “getting itchy.” I want to eat something fun. I want to try a new recipe. I want to have wine with my dinner or while I am watching a movie. And I get frustrated when I cannot have what I want, when I want it (like when I am waiting for payday). And then I get angry. And then I get bitter. “I NEVER get to have what I want. I don’t have ANYTHING. My life SUCKS.”
SOOO, I am going to eat on $5.30 a day during the Lenten season. That is $212 for 40 days (and nights!) I am going to “chronicle” what I hope culminates in a growing and greater appreciation for what I do have, as well as an increased understanding of what it really means to be “poor” and “have nothing.” I hope I learn to be grateful. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and offer your insight and words of encouragement.
LET THE PARTY BEGIN!!! After all, it’s still Fat Tuesday!!!