Is it getting close to Lent? I wouldn’t know because I can never figure out when Mardi Gras is. I know that Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday is the last day to do bad things like lift up your top in public before you give up being a slut for Lent, so to figure out when Mardi Gras is, you have to figure out when Ash Wednesday is, and when Easter is, and to do that you have to know the phases of the moon or when the wheat was harvested or some other pagan calendar item. The pagans were notoriously disorganized, so their calendar is too hard for me to figure out. Easter can be anywhere from early March to late April and I have a hard time counting backwards six weeks.

I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, but my mother-in-law has. She brought back hats and trinkets and beads. She kept them in a big green garbage bag, along with her nativity set and anything else that could be roughly categorized as a toy. When the kids were little and we went to Youngstown to visit her, our kids would go get The Big Green Bag and make up something that used up all the things in there. The Virgin Mary sometimes wore Mardi Gras feathers in her hair; stuffed animals were chained together with green and purple beads in what appeared to be an S&M shindig of some sort. My kids were imaginative; going to hell, but imaginative.

From my calculations (and by that I mean what’s on the end aisle in Walmart) Mardi Gras is coming up, which means I have to start thinking about what I’m giving up for Lent. When I taught CCD, I used to tell my kids that instead of giving up something, they should do something positive, like do volunteer work or set a prayer time. I talked on and on about the importance of really thinking about what they wanted to do for Lent, making it meaningful and not just perfunctory. They never, ever listened to anything I ever said, so on our first class of Lent when we went around the room and told what we were doing, 17 out of 25 kids said, “I’m giving up chocolate.” Seven kids said, “What’s Advent?” and there was always one who tried the old standard: “I’m giving up school.” Ha ha. That line is older than your mom. No beads for you.

My CCD kids would laugh their butts off when I told them I was giving up video games. Thinking I was the original Mrs. Old Fogey (and this is even when I was in my hipper, more stylish phase of my late 30s when I had highlights and didn’t bite my nails), they couldn’t imagine me gripping a controller and playing James Bond on the Nintendo 64. I told them the story of my gaming obsessions and how I had to go cold turkey off all computer games, Gameboy games and video games for Lent.

Before developing this vice, I gave up alcohol, which is a very popular choice, especially among pregnant women and recovering alcoholics. It really was not as hard as it sounds even without the threat of fetal alcohol syndrome hanging over my head. I always gave myself a dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day, but I never really went overboard on that day either. March 17 has always been more of a day to wolf down corned beef than to overindulge in whiskey or green beer. And I’ve always been smart enough to never give up any food group, especially fatty meats.

At my age and station in life, I have so few vices, it’s hard to figure out what to give up. I don’t drink too much, I don’t eat too much (at least not in a sinful, gluttonous way), I don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, and I already am starting some new volunteer projects. Not that I’m sinless, but it’s hard to come up with a way to be a suffering Catholic for six weeks, short of self-flagellation.

But hey, wait a minute. I’ve got a shirt that has a tag that scratches the heck out of me the entire time I wear it. Combine that with the little hairs on your neck from getting a haircut and I think I’ve got this year covered.
Here’s my favorite Lent joke, compliments of my brother-in-law Dan:

An Irishman moves into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone.

An hour later, the man has finished the three beers and orders three more. This happens yet again.

The next evening the man again orders and drinks three beers at a time, several times. Soon the entire town is whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers.

Finally, a week later, the bartender broaches the subject on behalf of
the town. "I don't mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?" 'Tis odd, isn't it?" the man replies, "You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank as a way of keeping up the family bond."

The bartender and the whole town was pleased with this answer, and soon
the Man Who Orders Three Beers became a local celebrity and source of pride to the hamlet, even to the extent that out-of-towners would come to watch him drink.

Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. The bartender
pours them with a heavy heart. This continues for the rest of the evening - he orders only two beers. The word flies around town. Prayers are offered for the soul of one of the brothers.

The next day, the bartender says to the man, "Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all..."

The man ponders this for a moment, then replies, "You'll be happy to hear
that my two brothers are alive and well. It's just that I, meself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent."

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