Are you ready for some Lent? Got an idea about something Tom can give up?

Lent starts next week. I've written about Lent in the past, and I promise this won't be a rehash (for the most part). I bring it up, because it will be the earliest Lent (and Ash Wednesday and Easter) since 1913, when Easter also fell on March 23. If you can remember that (and you're not Shirley MacLaine), bless your heart.

In 2011, Easter will be on April 24, the latest date since it fell on April 25 in 1943 (it will also fall on April 25 in 2038), the latest possible date under the Gregorian Calendar system. As many people know, the date of Easter is determined by lunar cycles. It falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring (although some people who live inside computers will tell you it actually involves a 14-day period after the new moon, but, sorry, that's the same thing).

To determine Ash Wednesday, just count back 46 days from Easter, and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the day before Ash Wednesday.

I was standing in line one day at a supermarket up in the foothills when one woman asked the other when Easter would be that year. The other woman answered, "April 8. It's always on April 8."

I explained to the first woman what the deal was, and she thanked me. As for April 8 Woman, I backed away slowly, lest her strain of stupidity be contagious. To be fair, she wasn't wearing anything in particular that would identify her as an Arizona State grad, but I knew.

Even Wikipedia isn't stupid enough to agree with that woman. Wiki thinks Easter is on April 7 or April 14, depending on which one lands on a Sunday. (I'll pause while the non-math folks get the joke.)

As a good Catholic (whatever that means these days), I always give stuff up for Lent. But I've been doing it for so long, I've kinda run out of things to give up, so I'm open to suggestions.

Please don't say that I should go vegetarian. I've done that twice in the past, and it sucked both times. Once, in college, when I was on the staff at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the copy editor challenged me to go veggie. He was a strict vegetarian (who also smoked dope every freakin' night of his adult life; go figure), and he said that if I went vegetarian for a couple of weeks, I'd lose all taste for meat, and I would actually get to a point where the smell of meat would sicken me.

For 46 agonizing days, I ate nothing but lettuce and carrots and beans, and I was miserable. (Lent is technically only the non-Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but I don't make the distinction. I think it's stupid to give stuff up for Lent, but be able to pig out on that stuff every Sunday during that period.) I was irritable and light-headed, and I couldn't work out worth a damn. And the smell of meat, while not sickening me, actually became one of those sensory nirvana things, like the sound of a basketball swishing through a net or the sight of my wife walking in high heels.

I tried it again a few years ago, and there was no difference. In fact, we timed Easter Mass so I could go to Popeye's on the way home. I told the kids, "It's Easter. Y'all can have the eggs. I'm having the chicken."

While I was writing this, my daughter called me and told me that someone at her engineering firm is selling Girl Scout cookies. (Well, it's not her engineering firm, but it probably will be someday.) I told her that Lent starts next week, and the cookies will come during Lent. She replied, in the straightest of voices, "Everybody knows that Girl Scout cookies are exempt from Lent."

That explains all of those badges on her green vest, including the one for Rationalization for a Good Cause. It also explains why Pope John Paul I was known as The Smiling Pope. It was the Thin Mints.

In other news, I recently had an e-mail exchange with a RonPaulista, who took exception with my characterization of the Texas congressman. The e-mailer suggested that I would benefit from a research assistant and a fact checker. Yeah, wouldn't we all? Just think if Bush had employed one before the "Iraq is buying uranium in Niger" speech. Oh, wait, he did.

While doing the research for this column, I came across a couple of odd facts about the Gregorian Calendar. When it was first implemented in the Catholic parts of Europe in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, the Protestant countries resisted the change. England (and the colonies) didn't go along until 1752. That year, they went from Sept. 2 to Sept. 14 on the calendar, and the peasants rioted, thinking that 11 days had been stolen from their lives. (A few more-sophisticated folks thought it was a scam run by rich landlords to collect monthly rent payments sooner.)

Ron Paul would have thought that the North American Union used those 11 days to secretly build the highway from Mexico to Canada.

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