Step into the Light

Equinox Truck

Now we enter that half of the year where the days are longer than the nights.

The equinox came this morning at fourteen minutes past midnight. I have to make an effort not to fixate on that single moment. I was asleep anyhow. Better to extend the celebration. The equilux was last Thursday here in New Orleans. Why not start there?

I got a second equilux this year, as I flew up to Philadelphia. The equilux, that day when sunrise and sunset are most nearly twelve hours apart, varies by latitude. It comes a day later there.

I went to Bryn Mawr College for the fifth Mindfulness in Education conference, which culminated in a full day of (mostly) silent meditation. I’ve never done anything quite like that before.

In retrospect, it was a great way to celebrate the equinox. Mindfulness surely cultivates balance. But I missed my family.

Then I came back home, and kept Persephone home from school Monday, so we could celebrate the equinox together. In addition to baking our weekly bread, we dyed eggs to decorate an “egg tree,” prepared a vernal-themed feast for dinner, and ran to the doctor for the girl’s four-year checkup and vaccinations. The meal was delicious: spring greens with sprouts, quiche, and charoset for desert. I also made black and white cookies, but didn’t get them done until later that night. By the time I finally hit the sack I was quite exhausted. I bit off a little more than I could chew. Not very balanced.

In the spirit of purification, I haven’t had anything to drink since Mardi Gras. (Well, actually since the weekend after Mardi Gras, but really, who’s counting? We had a visit from Ed the Meat Poet and I popped a cork.) I’ve been tapering off the coffee too, down to just a few swallows this morning. I hope to start on some dandelion-chicory root tea later this week. The idea of a seasonal detox session is appealing to me. In the same spirit I’ve even looked into fasting, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that quite yet. I am eating less, but that’s a topic for another post.

And if the spirit of the season can be maintained why not continue until Hellacious Saturday? Or Easter? Or Passover? Or forever?

Six months ago, at the autumnal equinox, I dedicated myself to a full year of discovering or uncovering my religion. This is the halfway mark, the inversion of that time across the mirror of the year. The dark half of the year is behind us for now, the light half ahead. The past six months have been fruitful, but my spirits have often flagged. I haven’t written about that much. The idea was to post less often and to write more thoughtfully, but to remain continually engaged in that process. Instead I’ve lapsed into periods of complete disengagement. Perhaps I need that reflective exercise to maintain a proper perspective.

It’s always a good time to begin again. Looking forward, I feel a buoyancy.

Rites of Spring

dandelion roots 4

Another advantage of sickness — it can be a good excuse to go on a sobriety binge. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m sick my desire to drink alcohol and caffeine diminishes severely. I don’t want anything to make my recovery longer.

Actually, let me make a liar of myself. In the first week of this bronchitis, I continued to enjoy a little coffee in the mornings, maybe a quarter-glass of wine at dinner, and a hot toddy (with a shot of Wild Turkey 101) before bed.

But in the second week I tapered off completely, and now I am stone cold sober and decaffeinated as well.

Cold turkey is fine for Wild Turkey, but for caffeine the gradual approach is best. I should know. This has become something of an annual ritual for me. This is my eight coffee reduction in almost as many years.

Usually I wait ’til May for the coffee reduction, but this year I had the bronchitis as an excuse, and it occurred to me that this could be a sort of purification ritual in preparation for the vernal equinox. That seemed somehow appropriate to the spirit of the season. I often get into the spirit of Lent by giving up alcohol, so why not caffeine at the same time?

Just to be clear, for me it’s not an act of penance. It’s about feeling good. I enjoy coffee and other adult beverages, but I also enjoy laying off for a while.

In fact, all notions of penance aside, I wonder if the common practice of abstinence at this time of year doesn’t resonate in part because of some spirit inherent in the season itself, something about the character of spring.

As I write this I’m drinking a cup of roasted dandelion root tea. It’s supposed to promote healthy liver function, but mainly I bought it just because I like herbal teas that taste sort of (for lack of a better word) medicinal. I drank a lot of elderflower and licorice root tea when I was sick, but now I was ready for something different, and the dandelion root caught my eye at the grocery. The liver detox claim is an added bonus.

My boss is also off booze for Lent, so I offered her a bag of the tea. She tried it and absolutely hated it. Couldn’t finish it. I have to admit it is plenty bitter. It’s also plenty dark. As I was drinking this cup I forgot myself for a moment and thought I was drinking coffee. Then it dawned on me — that’s probably why my boss and I reacted so differently. She’s not a coffee drinker. I on the other hand have learned to love the bitter taste.

As I went looking for a photos of dandelion root, I was astonished to stumble across this recipe for dandelion root coffee, made with equal parts roasted dandelion root and roasted chicory, and a little cinnamon. I’m going to have to try that if I can only find the ingredients.

But what really gets me is when Elana, publisher of said recipe, notes:

Dandelion is a fantastic liver cleanser and spring is the perfect season for liver support.

Which bears out my previous ruminations. Maybe there’s something to the idea of spring as a season of purification.

I’m enjoying this hot bitter drink now, but cold bitter drinks are especially refreshing when the weather heats up — which it will soon. Last year our Beltane party confirmed my love of amaro. Might have to do that again.

Dandelion Roots 4 / oceandesetoiles / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Spring Purification Ritual

I don’t know who came up with the idea of giving up something at this time of year. I first encountered this practice as a part of Christian Lent, of course. I’ve been surprised to learn that many Christian practices actually have their roots in much older traditions, something which I find fascinating and deserving of more widespread awareness. I haven’t researched Lent, so I’m not sure what the origin of this seasonal abstinence might be — but in any case, I like it, especially when held up against the compulsively acquisitive aspects of our consumer-oriented society. Giving something up, abstaining from something rather than indulging. It’s refreshing.

So anyway. I have given up alcohol and haven’t had a drop since Mardi Gras. That feels like a good natural rhythm for me at this time of the year. It gives my liver a break and lets my mind explore sobriety.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve given up alcohol for Lent, though. I’ve just given it up. I don’t feel tied to any particular calendar, nor am I holding out ’til Easter. It popped in my mind that 36 1/2 days equals one-tenth of a year, so I decided to set that as my goal, which puts me up to April 2nd at noon.

I’m about a third of the way there.

Of course, I’m not holding my breath. I’ve done this before, and I know from past experience that sobriety can be alarmingly habit-forming.

Holy Hell Week

I haven’t consumed an alcoholic beverage since Mardi Gras. A number of my friends “kinda sorta” gave up alcohol for Lent, but they all gave up on giving up some weeks ago, and they look at me with a mixture of amazement and annoyance.

Instead of alcohol, I’ve mostly been drinking mineral water. After sampling a number of different brands, Gerolsteiner is my favorite, no question. I think I like it because it’s so highly carbonated.

This is the last week of Lent. For my final act, I am going off coffee as well. I’ve been tapering off all last week, and today is my first caffeine-free day. Slight headache, but not to worry. I know what I’m doing. This is my Fourth Annual Coffee Reduction.

I’m looking forward to several days of blissful drug-free sobriety before I break my boozefast on Good Friday. Then I will descend back into a vortex of drunken depravity.

March of Ashes

Wednesday wasn’t enough. I’m declaring an entire month of ashes. We can call it Ash March. Or maybe the March of Ashes. That sounds about right.

I guess it’s called Lent if you want to get technical. I’m not drinking until Easter at least. No, I’m not Catholic, but it feels right to give it up the booze for a while. Something about the rhythm of life.

I hope my recent posts haven’t sounded too cavalier. It’s my nature to accentuate the positive, but there’s no denying that New Orleans and the Gulf region are still in a lot of pain. I’m still grieving for all that’s been lost myself. I weep every day. Some conversation I had on Mardi Gras made me realize that even the lucky few with undamaged homes, even people who lost no loved ones, even these people are traumatized. They lost their city, their way of life.

A long hard journey lies ahead of us. This March of Ashes will last for years.

Speaking of Ashes and Lent, check out agitcorp’s account of the Krewe of FEMA — totally brilliant.

Beer Break Fast

No, I didn’t have beer for breakfast this morning. But last Friday, I broke my beer fast. I haven’t really had any alcoholic beverages since Mardi Gras; I gave ’em up for Lent and just kept going past Easter. So Friday was my first drink in about two months. I had a couple beers with dinner at Katie’s. It was a beautiful evening for sitting outside on the patio, but the beer didn’t really do much for me, except make me feel bloated and somewhat stupid.

Well, I thought, maybe it’s the brand. Abita Amber, the local brew by default. It’s on tap almost everywhere in New Orleans, and frankly it’s just not a great beer. Maybe I needed a better beer. Maybe I need a higher alcohol content. I know that sounds counter-intuitive.

So Wednesday night I had a Pilsner Urquell and a Fransiskaner Weissbeir at the Brewhouse on Carrollton with some oysters.

Normally we go to Tyler’s for oysters. But the oysters at Tyler’s have been bland and dirty lately; the flavor may be due to seasonal variation, but blame the dirt on the shucker. The oysters at the Brewhouse were only slightly more flavorful, and not as cold as I’d have liked, but at least they were relatively clean. But I digress.

The beer was better. It didn’t leave me feeling bloated or stupid. And I enjoyed the flavor. But I didn’t really cop a buzz. And although beer commercials never talk about it, that’s surely one of the main reasons to drink beer.

Mind you, I used to drink a beer religiously as soon as I got home from work, and would get a very reliable buzz. Now, not so. Has my body chemistry changed? Have I unlearned how to drink? Can I reacquire the buzz if I apply myself? And would it be worth it?

I have noticed that I no longer get a low-energy feeling in the afternoons, as I used to. I can’t say for certain, but I have a theory that this is related to not drinking.

So one of these days — maybe tonight — I’m gonna try a mixed drink, maybe a bourbon and Coke or a gin and tonic or a whiskey sour or a Sazerac, and see how that hits me.

Malted

News Flash: A scientific study indicates that malt liquor is the drink of choice for homeless and jobless people.

Who knew?

On a related note, I had my first non-alcoholic visit to a bar last night when Xy and I went to Tyler’s for oysters and beer. I had an O’Doul’s. What the hell, I felt reckless and had two.

And once again, I was astonished to discover that my enjoyment of the experience was not noticeably diminished.

St. Patrick’s Parade

I had a new experience today: I went to a parade in New Orleans and I didn’t have anything to drink. I thought that might make a difference; I thought maybe I would be more bored or feel more awkward. But it didn’t seem to make any difference at all, and I was just as bored and awkward as ever.

Actually I had a good time. But it was truly surprising to me that not consuming alcohol just didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Xy got pretty drunk, though. Many thanks to our host in the Irish Channel, David Bryan, for keeping her upright as we walked through the streets.

I’d never seen the St. Patrick’s parade before, and I was amazed that it was as big as a Mardi Gras parade. I’m not sure when I’ve seen so many white people in one place in New Orleans. Oktoberfest, maybe.

Christian Math

I’ve always been under the impression that Lent lasted exactly 40 days.

Looking at the calendar the other day, I noticed the count from Ash Wednesday to Easter was more like 46.

Turns out that Sundays in Lent don’t count. There are exactly 40 non-Sundays in there. Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, so I guess it doesn’t fit in with the pain and suffering of the Lenten season.

Hmmm. That means an extra week of not drinking. I thought I was signing on for 40 days!

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Lapse

It may seem ridiculous, but I gave up alcohol for Lent. Even though I’m not Christian, I find something ever-so-slightly appealing in the idea. I like to break my habits. It’s not just for the sake of my innate perversity; breaking habits is refreshing. Plus not drinking for forty days might even be healthy.

Yesterday was day number ten. Xy and I went out for a fine dinner at Tommy’s Cuisine, a relatively new restaurant which is located right underneath our old apartment in Julia Place. The host seated us and asked if we wanted anything to drink.

“Can they make a Sazerac?” I asked.

The host winked at me. “The best in the city.”

Totally habitual. It wasn’t until the drink arrived that I remembered I was on a sobriety binge. But I was too embarrassed to send it back, and too cheap to let it go to waste. So I drank it.

What the hell, I had two. They were good.

I don’t take the Lenten thing to seriously, but I wish I’d remembered. Ah well. Today, I’m back on the wagon.