Lent 2015

I don’t have a lot of traditions but Lent seems to be a consistent one that I uphold. For me it’s a journey of both sacrifice and growth. I give something up to experience the sacrifice inherent to the original Lent and I try to find something creative to do each day as a way of growing. Last year, I chose to write a blog post every day. That wasn’t only a growth goal, it turned out to be quite a sacrifice as it takes a lot of dedication and time to write even a banal few paragraphs. Towards the end, I resorted several times to haikus or complaints about how hard it is to write every day. I’m not sure that’s in the spirit of the goal.

This year, we have a family Lenten sacrifice. We have struggled some over the last year or so with financial issues from a “we’re in a new relationship and there are some things to hammer out” view, from a “we’re spending too much money on bowel movements and hangovers” view and not to mention from a “we had a really awesome wedding in Savannah” view. Some of these were conscious choices we made. I wouldn’t trade the wedding for anything. Others were habit, the habit of just pulling out a card. Paying for some average food and a couple of drinks with a card is painless. Paying for average food and a few drinks with a $50 bill isn’t so painless. If you read any of the mainstream “no-debt” resources, almost all of them advocate paying with cash to make you aware of your spending, painfully aware in some cases. From this awesome post at Get Rich Slowly

  • Paying in cash forces you to consider the real purchase price – No matter what you’re buying, the fact that you’re paying in cash turns it into an entirely different experience. That’s because you have no choice but to consider how much money you’re paying overall, and not just what you’ll have to pay on a monthly or yearly basis.
  • Paying in cash might help you spend less – When you force yourself to pay in cash, big ticket items start to lose their appeal. Try walking into a dealership with the intention of paying $15,000 or $20,000 for a newer car. All of a sudden, the prospect of keeping your old paid-off junker becomes an incredibly attractive option. Am I wrong?
  • Paying in cash keeps you out of debt – The best thing about refusing to finance things is that it keeps you out of debt in the first place. We all know what a slippery slope that can be. There are so many benefits to being debt-free, including the option to save more of your income, less stress, and of course, the feeling of not really being beholden to anyone. It’s a freeing feeling, and it’s one that I will never, ever surrender without a fight.

Dave Ramsey says much the same thing. The powers that be tricked us when when they gave us all credit and debit cards and taught us that we could afford anything. Anytime something is easier, it should immediately arouse suspicion especially when it comes to spending money. So we’re embarking on a Lenten journey of paying cash for everything outside of bills and auto fuel. I’m toying with shutting down even the bills and sending in actual checks like people in the Stone Ages did (no offense, Mom). The upside of all of this is that come April 1st, we won’t have to listen to the sucking sound of a $1000 or more black hole coming from the bank account as our credit cards swallow money.

For a positive family Lenten challenge, we’re going to spend one night a week dedicated to just us. We’ll have dinner and then play a game or read a common book. The goal is for it to be interactive, to avoid the passivity of the computer or the TV. I’ve been wanting to learn Go for a long time so if we just trade off every week between that and Rummikub, maybe I’ll only get my tail kicked every other week.

On a personal side, I’m going to repeat last year’s sacrifice of sugar. I started this year with some new personal record blood work (where the personal record is cholesterol through the roof). I have some personal ideas about carbohydrate intake and cholesterol that are, umm, not mainstream. Last year, I had my LDL levels down to 164 which is pretty good for me. In January, they were back up to 245. Obviously, that’s a heart attack waiting to happen according to the mainstream medical media. I’m pretty sure it’s a result of 4 months of eating like I was getting married and next to zero exercise. That 164 value came in May last year when I was eating well, had just come off of giving up sugar for Lent and was exercising a reasonable amount. I don’t think that’s a fluke. To really kick things off with a bang, I’m going to do my longest fast ever, 48 hours. There is a wealth of information out there in support of regular and intermittent fasting as a healthy practice. I’ve been doing intermittent fasting (food intake only between 12 and 8ish) for a couple of weeks. But the health benefits of a 48 hour fast are hard to ignore so I’d like to start integrating that into my eating. So starting today, until Thursday night, it’s water and coffee and tea only.

On the growth side, I’m going to think about it some today but I’m leaning towards something similar to last year as well when I wrote every day. If I did that, I’d expand it out to “write, draw or play the saxophone/piano” every day. On the upside, I miss those right brain creative type things. On the down side, I have some goals for 2015 that would likely suffer because there are only so many hours in the day. Things like Spanish and reading would go to the backburner. I have ways to mitigate this because I have a 2 hour train ride each day. But writing more personal code or exercising would be harder and harder to fit in. So that’s going to be a mediation for today to try and identify what I really want to focus on and what’s important.

Fasting Resources for those so inclined:

Escaping The Cozy

Not too long ago, I went out to my vegetable garden to fertilize all the plants. I have events on my phone’s calendar that reminds me when it is time to fertilizer particular things in our yard. After I was done, I left the bag of fertilizer on the grill shelf outside because I knew I was going to have to fertilize again soon. Or maybe I was being lazy. Either way, the bag got left there. I use fertilizer from Gardens Alive and it comes in a heavy duty brown paper bag that sits upright. About a month ago, we went out onto the patio and were greeted by an explosion of brown feathers pouring out of the bag of fertilizer streaking towards the creek calling us horrible names as it went.

Turns out, a Carolina Wren had taken up residence in the bag, built quite a cozy nest and laid her eggs there. Our book on Texas birds notes that Carolina Wrens are notorious for nesting in odd places like car bumpers and mailboxes. I guess this one decided the small bag of fertilizer was perfect.

Over the next few weeks, we’ve watched mom and dad come and go. Scooter seems to be blissfully unaware of the proceedings thankfully as that was my biggest worry, that he’d start to investigate. His investigations with most wildlife aren’t of the harmless curious sort and he has a way with keeping the population of all sorts of things low in our backyard. Last week, K noticed chirping noises coming from the bag and mom and dad started bringing various insects back home. Now the biggest issue was managing to keep Scooter occupied somehow when the chicks made their virgin flight. Luckily, he went to boarding last week for a vacation which seemed to coincide perfectly.

On Tuesday morning, one of the parent birds was sitting on a tiki torch making a particular call over and over again. I quickly figured out that he was trying to coax his offspring to come out of the bag and fly around with him. I’m not sure how this normally works but I expected it to be a reasonably quick procedure. However, when I came home last night, there he was, still in the same spot doing the same thing. Apparently, it’s dark and cozy in that little bag of fertilizer and the outside world is noisy and scary. As of this morning, no chicks had come out yet even though both mom and dad had joined the effort, holding bugs in their mouths while they made that same noise over and over again. Tonight, after almost 36 hours of coaxing, they were gone.

It’s easy to find yourself doing the routine, living in a comfort zone. I feel like I’ve been living in that bag for quite awhile myself. Not in the same sense as relying on my parents to bring me grasshoppers to eat mind you. Definitely in the sense that it’s dark and cozy and doing things differently from what I’m used to is scary. My comfort zone in all sorts of things hasn’t measurably been expanded since well…I don’t know when exactly. I’ve been doing the same things in my career, in my hobbies and in my personal life for years. It’s resulted in some great successes but it’s also kept me from growing. That lack of growth is starting to haunt me, both figuratively and literally.

I’m terrified of risk. I’ve always been cautious but the constant reinforcement of not taking any risks has created a monster inside of me, one that is uncomfortable in all but the most comfortable situations. It’s become dysfunctional. Unfortunately, my instinctual way to fix it is do something extreme, totally change something in a drastic manner. That’s probably not good on any level. You’d never want someone who hadn’t exercised in years to suddenly run a marathon. What I need to do instead is instigate a plan for getting to the point where I can run a marathon. Right now, that plan is limited to a daily meditation but I’m hoping to expand it as my comfort zone gets wider.

Eventually, if you want to be happy, you have to take things into your own hands. You can’t keep thinking how things ought to be unless you’re willing to do what it takes to ensure they are. For a long time I’ve been afraid of the risks involved in making things how they ought to be. I’m trying to fight through those fears and start doing things.