Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lenten Commitments

We are not Catholic, not even close. But for some reason we have observed Lent as a family ever since the first year we were married. This year was no exception and as the end of Lent draws near (this Friday), I thought I’d share with you my Lenten commitments.

In the past, we have done the usual, typical Lenten sufferings; TV, Coffee/tea, no eating out, etc. But the boy’s religion course this spring included a chapter on Lent and it opened up a new realm of possibilities for me. This book explained that Lent is not only about giving stuff up, it is also about doing things for others. Some of the traditions it mentioned were giving to the poor, making hot cross buns for neighbours (representing Jesus’ cross) or pretzels, of which apparently the typical pretzel shape represented the crossed arms of one praying. We did make hot cross buns and I’ve definitely cleaned out our closets and shelves. I still want to try to squeeze in a pretzel making though...

As a family we gave up listening to the radio. At the risk of aging myself rapidly, songs “on the radio these days” are insanely inappropriate. If the Lenten period is for reflecting on your faith, and other people, it seemed inappropriate to fill our time and thoughts with songs, that if were on regular CDs I would never buy for my kids or allow them to listen to in general. Plus, when you listen to the radio, the songs just come on at random and there’s no deliberateness about choosing what you’re listening to, it's very non-committal - like flicking through the channels on TV instead of sitting down to watch a specific show or movie. Radio ads are just as inappropriate as the songs themselves, as are the show hosts. It’s not like the radio was on all the time either, it just seemed a good thing to do. Instead, we put in the deliberate effort to chose CDs or listen to books on tape/CD... or it’s just quiet.

So that is our ‘giving up’ this year.

That being said, I also chose to do something else for myself during Lent. I had, already before Lent, been trying very hard to be more deliberate about my purchasing decisions, as well as food choices. I also decided at New Year’s that for this entire year (and hopefully beyond) I would not buy any gifts; that all gifts had to be hand/home made. (This is super easy for girls, boys/men are a different story. If you have any ideas, please let me know!) So I was already on the path that led me to my Lenten choices.

I decided that for the period of Lent I was not going to buy anything that, within reason, I could make myself. The ‘within reason’ clause is there because, obviously there are many things I COULD make if I went out and bought machinery or factories or a wheat farm... or a cow... but realistically this was not going to happen. My purpose in this decision was many-fold. I believed that in forcing myself to consider when shopping if I could make an item myself I would: consume less, waste less money, not buy anything for the sake of convenience, I would consider the origins of items (their production values and ethics), go without something if I’m not willing to make it and understand my abilities as a human to make and create instead of just buying and buying. The process itself over the past month has been very interesting.

For one, I have bought (almost) no clothes. I love to sew and if I had all the time in the world I could make almost anything. Unfortunately and fortunately, this means that I cannot shop during Lent. There was a time I had to cave and buy some pants for Nikolai because the ‘within reason’ clause came in. Mattea was sick, I was not feeling well, there was way too much needing to be done and Nikolai was in his last pair of threadbare pants. Other than that, I have had only one or two slip ups, including a larger purchase this week. This has been very difficult for me, I will admit. I am a sucker for fun clothes, especially for the kids. I had already placed a shopping freeze on myself, but I know better than anyone how easy it is to cheat on your own rules and I think that all things considered, I did really well!

Grocery shopping has been another interesting experience. Just the other day Bridger looked in the fridge and said “when is Lent over so you can do a proper grocery shop again?” I really don’t think it’s that bad... but you know kids.

It’s true, when I look at foods on the shelves and think, even if I NEVER will do it, that I can make it, I just can’t buy it. Like crackers. It’s baked or deep fried dough... why would I pay for that? Plus it comes with so much packaging! Everything has SO MUCH packaging!!! Every bread bag and yogurt container sure adds up, so making our own cuts back on that stuff considerably. I skip the bakery section completely but produce is good because I cannot grow carrots THAT quickly! Some dairy is fine. I cannot make milk (and making it from powder doesn’t really seem any different. It’s not the need to PHYSICALLY make stuff that I’m trying to nurture.) I have been making my own yogurt which I have now down to a fine art. I was never a yogurt eater and this stuff is good! I figured since I could eat this now, I tried some of the store bought stuff Barton had and it tasted very chalky. So, I still don’t like it.

Ever since reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” I’ve been wanting to make cheese. We can’t buy the necessary enzymes here in St John’s though so my mom is sending me some. It will be a post-Lent cheese making excursion and I will be sure to share the details!

I make bread, bagels and buns, granola bars and obviously desserts. I also saw a recipe for English Muffins which I thought would be fun so I think I’ll try it. I was also already making my own baby wipes so I’ve continued to do that. I didn’t run out of laundry detergent, but want to make my own of that too, when the time comes. I am trying to find a recipe that does not include Borax and that is not as easy.

Encompassed in this is, of course, the issue of eating out. There isn’t really anything in a restaurant that I could honestly say I can’t make, so eating out is tough. We don’t do it a lot anyway, but grabbing a quick meal when I don’t feel like cooking is out, like say, Costco pizza?! I had to cheat on this once, as there was a going away party and I really felt like I needed to be there. I wasn’t sure how to get around it so I bought something I wouldn’t make at home. I know, it’s not the same...

I did go for coffee with friends and brought my own tea bag thinking I’d just ask for hot water... then I had the brainwave that I can’t make milk, so I had a steamed milk... and hot water. I decided at the get go, that the loophole of letting other people buy things for me was not acceptable, much like giving up TV but taping your favourite shows for after Easter... I will admit that on occasion it has happened out of either accident (it’s really easy to forget when some things are just a complete habit!) or desperation, but on a whole I am proud of myself! It’s very difficult; I will often have my hand on something and then think... “Oh wait, I can’t buy that.”

I would like to carry on with the bread and yogurt because they’re just so good and it is really rewarding to make bread! We are not really packaged food eaters, but I am hoping that the awareness of what we eat and buy for the sake of ‘quick and easy’ will carry on after this and we will consider a little more what could be made at home (which is a million times healthier anyway) by our own hands.

I want to always keep the thought in the back of my mind when I shop “do I really need to buy this?” to avoid over-consuming and being wasteful. You should probably randomly call me on this...


Bobbi said...

Good for you! I make our bread too and it is so much better than store bought. Plus for me there is something so soothing about kneeding bread. I let my mixer do most of the work but get it out on the counter for the last little bit. Helps to calm me. lol

I've been meaning to make yogurt, too. I saw a demo once but when I tried it it totally flopped. Maybe you could give me some pointers?


Thanks Bobbi! I can totally talk you through the yogurt!

I don't have a machine for the bread so the entire process is a great upper body workout for me!