Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dust and Ashes

Once again, the Liturgical Year has turned and we are once again at the start of the season of Lent, at Ash Wednesday. It's a day of reflection. A day to prepare for the solemn days ahead.
 Yearly, people use this as a time to purge an unhealthy habit. "What are you giving up for Lent?" and "I have that up for Lent." are comments you are sure to hear. In addition, there is the movement to "take something on". Instead of sacrificing your daily chocolate, you can instead sacrifice your time to daily spiritual pursuits.

Then, there's always a combined approach.

Lent for our kids is relatively simple. I don't make desserts so that is their biggest change from a food perspective. They are too young to fast so we don't even attempt that. Instead, over the years, we've prayed a modified rosary, adding to it each year as we move towards the day that we can say a full one.

Peter and I are a bit different in our approach to the season. Many years ago, when we were vegetarian, we made our Fridays vegan since simple "no meat" wasn't a big deal. As we have gotten older, we've tried to take each year and really give Lent meaning, personally.

This year, we are trying something that sounds a little radical but, I think, had the possibility to really expand our faith. We both love to eat and cooking - like, really cooking from scratch, start to finish - makes me happy. Many faiths use different liturgical times to move away from the staples and culinary delicacies of their relative area. For example, a part of fasting for Greeks includes giving up olive oil. It is easily accessible and a common part of Greek cooking. We wanted to embrace this type of fasting, but asked ourselves "what is an American staple food?"

It is so easy to get just about anything at the grocer or local farmer.  Even trying to eat locally and seasonally, while making things difficult, is still relatively easy. So we came up with a new Lenten culinary sacrifice: eating the staples of the poor.

While we aren't millionaires, we are wealthy in so many ways. We are diverse eaters and, pretty much, if we want something for a meal, I get the materials and make it. For many people around the world, having clean water is a dream. For many, having their fill of a basic staple like rice at every meal would be a fantasy. For some in our community, just having three nutritious meals a day is a pipe dream. We want our Lenten journey to make a difference not just for us but in a greater way.

For the forty days of Lent, we will be following a vegan diet that consists of staple foods from around the world. Dinners like rice and beans (Latin America), polenta with cannelloni beans (Italy), rice and lentils (India), you get the idea... will be made with enough to have lunch the following day.  Breakfasts will be fruit or toast. Drinks like black tea or coffee and water are okay. In addition to this, no eating out. No desserts. No snacking. We wont be hungry, which is more than many people have, but we won't be

On Sundays, which are quasi days off, we will pick something from our freezer. It may be vegetarian or not; it will depend on what I grab.

The money we save in groceries is being donated to the local food bank and Operation Rice Bowl.

People think we are nuts. Heck, we may be. But I feel like I'm struggling. I need something to reboot. We practice a strict fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, so I'm hoping fasting and praying will be a bit of a reset. Spending the season really focusing on others and all the things I have in my life.... I am hopeful Lent will be a wake up.

I need it to be. Desperately so.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lent 2014

Well, Lent is upon us. Wasn't it Lent just yesterday? The last year especially has been a blink-and-miss-it kind of year.

Peter and I celebrate Lent a bit differently. Back when we were strict vegetarians, we wanted to embrace a sacrifice of food but since we already has given up meat, we needed something different. So, we would go vegan on Fridays. For years, we have embraced a spiritual pursuit rather than giving something up. And then... Kids. How to do honor and sacrifice to the season with the wee ones.

From a diet standpoint, the only big change for the kids is no dessert. Otherwise, they are too young to participate in actual fasting. I plan to just make them regular pancakes on Saturdays too (instead of chocolate chip) but that, again, is about as far as we will take food with them. Spiritually, we have, each year, added more and more to the rosary and done, albeit still abbreviated, a family rosary daily. We will continue that tradition.

And now... Our food. In a country where everything is fairly easy to get, it's hard to give up staples, so we've opted to embrace them. Many people live on the simple staples of rice and beans or some version of it. This Lent, that is what we will do as well. Simple breakfasts of toast and possibly a spread of some sort, lunches of leftovers, and dinners of the staple foods our brothers and sisters from around the globe eat. The money we save will go to Operation Rice Bowl or our local food bank... Haven't decided yet. This Lenten season, gone are the lunches out, designer coffees, and fancy dinners in favor of something more simple that, hopefully, will give us a deeper appreciation for all we have and a renewed Spirit and faith.

Sundays, I plan to make a non vegan meal and we still plan to celebrate St Patrick's Day with our annual dinner. But mm Monday through Saturday... Lent is on.

What are you doing this holy season?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Critique of Everlasting Memories "Bound with Love" Necklace

As I mentioned in Nicholas and Sophia’s birthday post, we decided to begin a new tradition for the kids: since we don’t give Nick, Sophie, or Alex physical birthday presents, Bobby, Maya, and Michael will get a small gift from their older sibling. On Nicholas’s birthday, Bobby got a pretend Mass kit (oh, the cuteness!), Maya got twin baby dolls, and Michael got a football rattle. On Sophia’s birthday, they each got books.

Unexpectedly, I received a present, too.

A few days after Nicholas’s birthday, I received an email from an Everlasting Memories representative, asking if I would be interested in reviewing a piece of their memorial jewelry. With all the craziness going on at Casa Haytko, it took me a bit to actually touch base with her. Within a few days, a black velvet box was on my kitchen table. In fair disclosure, this review is based on an item I received free of charge (approximately a combined $134.95 value); no actual monetary compensation was provided.

The piece I am reviewing is the silver Bound with Love cremation pendant. This particular item is available in silver or plated in yellow gold, rose gold, or black. There are three diamondesque stones that rest in the heart created by the two figures. It is approximately ½” wide by ¾” high. Hallie, the representative I worked with, upgraded the standard chain to a 20” silver chain, which allows the pendant to sit high enough that it is easily visible but low enough that if, for whatever reason, you want to tuck it in a standard cut blouse, you can.

 As soon as the necklace arrived, I was touched by just how beautiful it is and, for our situation, how apropos. (There are a variety of pendants available, some (like this one) that are geared towards parents that have lost one or more children, as opposed to something more fitting for a parent or spouse (which are also available). Some even allow for the engraving of photographs. See the website for more details and options. The necklace looked gorgeous on and I was impressed by the quality; I’m not really a jewelry person and a fair amount of what I own (excluding earrings, which I lose every time I wear them it seems!) has been made by our local jeweler. I can honestly say that I didn’t expect that level of quality from something that is produced in quantity, but the pendant is on par with my single made pieces. And, in this house, it will have to be!

 Remember the chain upgrade? I’d do it if I were you! In fairness, I don’t know what the standard chain is like, but the first thing Michael did when I held him after putting the necklace on was grab at it. At first, I was concerned he would be able to destroy it. But, no matter how many times I pried his little kung fu grip from it, he would return to it. It’s been over a week and I wear it all the time; he has yet to be able to damage the necklace. (And, I confess, it is too cute to watch him kiss the pendant, which he does the first time he grabs it now.) 

This pendant is crafted to be used for cremains, however I told the representative from the start that I would not be using it for such. Mainly, it is a religious reason but it is also a personal one; with running and racing, if I were to lose a piece of the kids somehow, I’d be mortified and devastated. I also wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving them in a jewelry box. With that in mind, this piece is still a beautiful necklace. Unless you know the screw is there, it blends into the side of the pendant and isn’t noticeable. In addition, you can use it for ashes of any sort. For those who don’t wish to wear cremains, you could easily burn a photograph or something similar that represents your loved one, and add those ashes. And adding ashes is very simple: the necklace comes with a kit and step-by-step instructions for how to open, add, and seal. The ashes won’t fall out, nor do you have to worry about someone removing them; once the necklace is sealed, it can’t be opened. 

 From a runner’s point of view, the pendant is heavy enough that you know it’s there but not so much that it is uncomfortable. I’ve worn it for 5K/3 mile distances with no issues at all. The weight seems just enough to keep bounce to a minimum without the potential to distract or bruise. Will I say the same after a half or full marathon distance? I’ll let you know. And that chain… I’ve said it before. If you’ve got the potential to have the chain ripped off by an over-grabby child or you think you’ll wear this during exercise, etc., then I highly suggest the upgraded chain. 

 From a customer service standpoint, I found my interaction to be very prompt and extremely courteous. I can imagine that, especially depending on your stage of grief when you contact Everlasting Memories, their sales reps and customer service staff have been trained with how to help you select the piece of jewelry that best fits your lifestyle and honors your loved one in the most appropriate way. While I don’t think I would have sought out jewelry like this because of my own preconceived notions, I encourage you to check out their site. They have necklace pendants, rings, and even bracelets. Items can be personalized with engraving and overnight shipping is available. Right now, a simple “like” on Facebook will also garner you 5% off your order. 

 The arrival of the necklace was very emotional for me, but I think that it tells you the type of company EM is and the type of people they employ when I share this story. Peter had just fastened the necklace when he noticed something on the back that, at first, I had just overlooked as a possible notation of the maker or a symbol of the silver. (Hey! My eyes are aging right along with the rest of me!) I took it off to get a better look and there, on the back, were the letters “NSA”. Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander. Hallie, the rep who initially contacted me and with whom I’ve been working, confirmed that they had engraved it in memory of the children. It was completely unexpected and has made this something I will treasure forever.

Sunday, March 2, 2014