A penny to satiate my curiosity?

20 Feb

Over at joanmwatson.com, I have a request for thoughts from people in the pews (or people not in the pews) and would like to extend that to my readership here, too. So would you mind heading over there and leaving a comment to satiate my curiosity?  Thanks in advance!

Why ashes?

18 Feb

What is it about Ash Wednesday that gets people more excited than they get for Mass any other day?

I’m conflicted about this.  I have been reading a lot about parish renewal and missionary evangelism, so I’m all about “capitalizing” on days like Ash Wednesday or other days that bring people to church and using these opportunities to evangelize.  Rather than complain about the Christmas/Easter Catholics, why don’t we make them feel at home so they want to come back next week?  How often do we shoot ourselves in the foot by complaining about people coming to Mass?  Whether or not they took our parking space or our pew, we should not only be glad to see them, we should invite them back and give them a reason to see us again.

But at the same time, let’s remember that ashes are not the single most important thing about today. What brings on these musings?  Here in this southern city, we had a sleet storm on Monday and below freezing temperatures since Sunday.  Coupled with a brief flizzard this morning, roads (especially neighborhood ones) are treacherous in many places throughout the city.  We just aren’t equipped to treat our roads quickly, and most people down here are gun-shy about driving.  And for good reason … one uneducated driver on ice-covered or even snow-covered roads, and boom, everyone is in trouble. So even with my mad Indiana driving skills, even I get a little gun-shy on the hills around here.

All that to say, many people might not be able to get out to Mass today.  And you know what? It’s okay, everyone.  It’s actually not a holy day of obligation. And even if it was, the Church doesn’t ask us to risk life and limb to get to Mass.

This may sound strange, coming from the director of adult formation for the diocese of Nashville.  And don’t get me wrong, I love sacramentals and penitential traditions as much as the next person.  I’m not saying Ash Wednesday isn’t important.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to get to Mass today.

….But why are you going to Mass today?

Why wasn’t everyone upset that they couldn’t go to Mass yesterday?

Perhaps it’s time to step back and remember what Lent is really about.  Will we be okay without ashes today?  Yes.  But will we be okay without Jesus today?

This post is not for those people who are not in the habit of going to Mass, but those of us who are.  Has it become just that…. a habit?  Do we go on Sunday because we have to?  or because we want to?

Are we upset to miss Mass today because it’s the thing we’re supposed to do to start Lent? Because we feel like we need to get ashes because that’s what we’ve always done?  Because we want everyone know that we’ve started Lent the way we’re supposed to?

Or are we upset to miss Mass today because that means going another day without receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament?  Are we worthy to receive Him?  Are we longing to receive Him?

At the end of the day, ashes are ashes.  As one priest quipped, “Of all sacramentals, I think dirt is the lowest.”  Why are we so eager to receive dirt when we’re not as eager to receive Jesus?  Yes, sacramentals are good and holy. It’s great to go to Mass on Palm Sunday and get our palms.  Or get our throats blessed on the feast of St. Blase.  These are great opportunities to grow in holiness and are especially moving for those among us who might not be able to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for various pastoral reasons.

But what is a sacramental?  What is its purpose?

“Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1670)

So while sacramentals give grace, they don’t give grace the same way the sacraments do. Their purpose is to consecrate our daily lives, reminding us of the goodness of the material world and the ability for every aspect of our life to be holy and sanctified, and to prepare us to receive the sacraments.

We don’t receive ashes just to receive ashes. They are to remind us of our weakness and sin, our need for God’s mercy, and to shock us out of our complacency.  But do they still do that?  If you’re just receiving them just to receive them, because it’s what we do on the Wednesday following Mardi Gras, are the words “remember man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…” calling you to a deeper meditation on your ephemeral mortal life?

Ashes are dirt. Blessed dirt, but dirt.  Catholics do some crazy things, but we do not receive dirt just for the sake of it. We receive it in order for that dirt to prepare us to receive the sacraments of confession and Holy Eucharist.

So if you can’t get out of your house today to receive ashes, here is your challenge.

Set aside thirty minutes of your day. If you’re snowed in, this shouldn’t be hard.  Turn off the television, your phone, and your computer. Make a spiritual communion, asking the Lord to come into your heart even though you are not able to receive His Body and Blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Ask Him to sanctify this day and your journey to Easter, to give you the grace to grow in holiness during this Lenten season.  We’re not Pelagians, so we know that we can actually do nothing – zilch – to grow in virtue this Lent unless it first comes from Him.  No amount of dirt on our forehead – no matter how muddy that holy water made it – can transform us this Lent without Him.

Can’t get to Mass this Ash Wednesday?  Your Lent doesn’t have to suffer from it. In fact, this could be the most transforming Lent of your life.  I’d wager to bet Jesus would rather you spend thirty minutes of quiet time with Him in prayer, stuck in your iced-up house, than phone-in Mass just to receive ashes.

Ready or not, here it comes.

11 Feb

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the week before Ash Wednesday, and it’s suddenly a dash to self-evaluate habits, priorities, and routines and, through some spiritual introspection that probably should be a daily occurence and not a 4th quarter scramble, figure out a game plan for the next forty days.

Oreos magically appeared in the breakroom this morning, so naturally I began thinking of giving up snacking between meals, mid-chew of a happy birthday Oreo that just wasn’t worth the energy it took to put in my mouth.  I dumped a french vanilla coffeemate pod into my mug, and while deciding that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with non-refrigerated cream, thought maybe I should start drinking coffee black.  I walked back to my office, upset that I was sleepy even though I re-set my alarm and missed early morning Mass, and decided I needed to relocate my alarm clock across the room so that my bed was easier to exit at 5am.

So what is the game plan?  I need to figure it out, and soon.  I know I need to give up something that is hard enough to make me really desire Easter.  I know it’s been a lazy Lent when it goes by quickly or when Easter is just another Sunday to me.  At the same time, I need to do something that’s doable, or it’s not going to last.  That year I tried to give up electricity after sundown?  Yeah, didn’t work.

I know I need to be creative.  Elizabeth Scalia has some great points about how our brains are turning to mush and how Lent is our opportunity to begin to change that. I agree 100%.  Reading more and staring a screen less would definitely make me a better person.  The idea of a social media fast is aluring, but not practical with my job.  Perhaps I need to tweak it a bit to make it useful.

I’m all about giving up the normal things… chocolate, alcohol, etc etc etc.  I don’t buy that whole “don’t give up something, do something!” thing.  That was a fad when I was growing up, and it’s just not Catholic.  Being Catholic is both-and.  Yes, do something. But give something up, too.  I’ve learned the beauty of the fast-feast interplay over the past several years, and while it’s material for another post, suffice it to say that Judeo-Christian tradition for the last 3,000 years knows what it’s doing.

So I’ll be fasting from something good.  That’s important.  Self-discipline is definitely a virtue I need to work on these days.  But maybe I also need to give up something whose complete absence would actually make me a better person.  Maybe something I won’t splurge on come Easter.  You know, actually develop virtue over the next 40 days, that might sustain into the next fifty or a hundred?


As Saturday approaches…

9 Feb

Okay, so I’m giving this tip free of charge to any husband/boyfriend/male-currently-alive-in-the-universe. You can thank me later, when your wife/girlfriend/female-currently-alive-in-the-universe isn’t mad at you.

She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day.  Get her something anyway.

Maybe she’s not even pretending about not liking the day.  She could be completely telling the honest truth.

But she will not be mad at you if you give her flowers.

Okay, so maybe some woman out there would be mad.  But I don’t know many females like that.  Honestly.  It’s like Pascal’s wager.

1. She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day but she actually does. Buy her flowers. WIN!

2. She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day and she actually doesn’t. Buy her flowers. Who doesn’t like getting flowers, even for some lame Hallmark holiday? WIN!

3. She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day, she actually doesn’t, and she’s so morally opposed to the day that it overpowers her natural female inclination to like flowers. LOSE.

I think you’re better off buying those flowers.


Biscuits and Bikes

8 Feb

Saturday was a gorgeous day – one of those Nashville February days that make you forget there has to be a March before April.  It was 65 degrees and sunny, and luckily I filled the day with fun to take full advantage of the beauty.

Manda and I had decided to celebrate Saturdays being work-free (a relatively new concept for me, and a brand-new one for her) by hitting up a new brunch place for breakfast. Biscuit Love began as a food truck and now has a brick and motor location.   We got there in the nick of time – not ten minutes after we ordered, the line was out the door.

IMG_0750I couldn’t resist the basic biscuits and gravy, which is not the most photographic food.  It was great, and my only complaint was that the gravy cooled off too quickly, which is always a danger with biscuits and gravy.  IMG_0749Manda had the Lily- biscuit french toast with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote.  I’m definitely getting that next time.  And there will be a next time. To seal the deal, they had good coffee and absolutely delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice.

After hitting up the sales at the Ann Taylor Loft next door, I dropped Manda off back at her house… but quickly called her while I was still in her driveway.  It was a beautiful day… why not go bike riding?

Nashville has a bike rental program that features stations of bikes throughout the city – rent a bike, ride it around, and return it at the same station or a station across the city.  There is a station right on a greenway, so it’s the perfect opportunity to rent a cute red bike and jump on the greenway. We rode to the grocery store, visited a friend at work, and ended up riding to another park a few miles away.

I’ve missed riding, so it definitely inspired me to get my bike down here and ride more often.  It was the perfect Saturday adventure!  And maybe I began to burn off that gravy. At least began.

Here’s to 65 degree days in February.


2 Feb


I’m a little addicted to C.S. Lewis quotes these days.

Sunshine through raindrops

29 Jan

As I was driving to work today, a quick rain shower of sprinkles hit my window.  Stopped at a stoplight, I looked up and saw the sun peeking out from behind a cloud directly in front of me– one of those incredible sunbeams shooting into the sky moments, when the brightness seems even brighter because it has the contrast of the clouds in front of it, and the streaks of sunlight seem almost personified.

But I was looking at it through raindrops on my windshield.

When I looked back at the raindrops, I didn’t really notice the sun.  Then I looked at the sun, and the raindrops became less noticeable- they were just something I was looking through.

And I realized, as I tried to take a picture of it to remember the moment, that life is a lot like that picture.  There’s hope and beauty and happiness, but often we have to look at it through raindrop splatters. Sometimes we’re enjoying the sunlight, but other times life is more focused on the raindrops.

The last few weeks have been filled with friends facing hardships, in their marriages, relationships, or families.  It’s cliche to say we look for answers during these times, but it’s true.  If we honestly believe God is Love, surely there’s some explanation?  Theologically, we try to explain suffering away by sin.  And yes, if we didn’t have original sin, there wouldn’t be suffering. But that’s a hard answer to give to someone who is suffering from something other than personal sin.  Maybe it’s the right answer, but it doesn’t make sense in our heart.

What about the young devout married couple who are yearning to have a baby but are infertile?  What about when we want something good and holy, but God chooses to take it away or not give it to us?

I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes we should stop coming up with answers.  Sometimes it’s better to just tell ourselves that life doesn’t make sense.  There aren’t answers to everything. I have tried to rationalize pain, to explain suffering, to understand sorrow.  And it just doesn’t make sense.  You can’t explain why your heart feels a certain way.  There aren’t answers.  And yet, in a funny way, I think that’s the first step to finding the answer.

A friend was struggling with something recently — a suffering that didn’t seem just, didn’t seem to make sense — and I realized that God was asking a great deal of this person.

“Why?” I wanted to shout at the tabernacle.  “It doesn’t make sense.  Why is it so HARD?” I don’t hear voices when I pray, but if I do, I’d tell you that I heard:

If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.

And I looked up at the cross and realized my friend wasn’t alone.

Snow day Home Repair

24 Jan

Remember my last attempt at home repair?  Yeah.  Well, this week I had another project on my hands, I was pretty sure it would be easier than the inside of a toilet.


My secret hope is that someone from HGTV reads this post and decides I need a new bathroom ceiling.  I don’t really mind it, actually, which is why I’ve never proposed the project to my landlord.  But if HGTV wanted to do it for free, I wouldn’t say no.

Anyway, that’s the ceiling of my shower.  The plastic ceiling panels needed replacing from the very beginning, and my landlord did it for me when we moved in.  But that corner has always given me trouble — when I have my patio door open in my living room, the air makes that panel flap up and down (even though it’s down the hall and around the corner), so if I don’t remember to shut my bathroom door, it can get pretty crazy in there.  Those panels crack pretty easily, so that one cracked a little and then cracked a lot, and then started falling out. Whoops.

So one day it had just given up.  It was not going back in.  So I decided I could be an independent single woman and replace it.  Today was that day.

Walking into a hardware store, even my favorite one, can be intimidating as a girl.  You might know what you want, but you know you probably look like you have no idea. And as I’ve mentioned before, the guys that work at the hardware store tend to be my age and good-looking, so it’s doubly hard to not look dumb.

“Um, hi.  I’m looking for that clear plastic ceiling tile for drop ceilings?”

Confused look.

“You know, if you have a drop ceiling and have ceiling tiles, you can cut this plastic see-through stuff down to fit into the ceiling tile so that you can cover fluorescent lighting…”  I was getting flustered, even though I knew exactly what I wanted.  Dang, this was supposed to be easy.

If only I had googled it and whipped out the phrase “polystyrene lighting panels” on him.  Luckily, he caught on (although he didn’t know the name for them either! ha!) and asked a coworker, who knew exactly where they were – at their other store.

So I drove there and had to go through the little charade all over again.  He directed me in the general direction and told me he’d send someone to help me, but HA! I found them before anyone came.  I am a woman, hear me roar.

So now I just needed to cut it down to size.


old tile, new tile (in potentia)

It’s harder than it looks, because you can’t just cut the thing-  it breaks and splinters all over the place.  So I decided to x-acto-knife-it, scoring it a few times, and then trying to cut it/break it evenly.  (and don’t worry, landlord, I didn’t cut it without protecting the floor!)


Not perfect, but not too shabby, if I do say so myself.


Much easier than the inside of a toilet.

Mission accomplished.



I’d go enjoy the snow now… if it was still around. Welcome to Tennessee.


Thanks for the memories.

22 Jan

The year was 1993.  My mom’s whole side of the family was having a giant Thanksgiving dinner, all 40+ of us (we had even rented out a school cafeteria for the occasion), and my aunt brought a cute new boyfriend.  Jeff Gordon.

My brother thought it was funny that his name was Jeff Gordon, although it was all lost on me.  “Why?  Who’s Jeff Gordon?” I remember asking him in the kitchen.

It wasn’t the same Jeff Gordon, of course, although this Jeff Gordon did work in racing, but the only racing I knew – IndyCar racing.  He later took us to the shop and I got to sit in Al Unser Jr’s race car.  A pretty big deal for a little girl from Indiana.  The Jeff Gordon my brother was telling me about was apparently an up-and-coming driver in something he called NASCAR.

Growing up in Indiana, with both sets of grandparents living less than 3 miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, racing was bound to be part of my childhood.  I remember standing in my grandparents’ front yard in May and hearing the roar of engines during practice. And I remember when NASCAR was going to start racing on the venerable oval – the year after that memorable Thanksgiving.

While I can’t put my finger on it, a love for NASCAR was eventually born in me.  Whether it was because I was in that phase of life where everything my brother did was cool (oh wait, it’s a phase? Hm…) or because I wanted something to love that was unique and different from my peers, I began following NASCAR in junior high and high school.  My driver?  Jeff Gordon, of course.

Eventually that love was made permanent when my dad took me to my first NASCAR race: the 2000 Daytona 500.  We would return the following year, where we would witness one of the most tragic deaths in sports history.

My college roommate shared my love (we were the only two girls to put “NASCAR” as a hobby on our roommate placement survey), although not my driver… but even though her driver was Tony Stewart, we managed to overcome differences and remain friends to this day.

I know it’s an enigma to people.  In college, I was that preppy girl who wore argyle socks and cardigans. But I was also the girl who tailgated in the back of a pickup truck, with a George Foreman and rootbeer, before going inside to watch the Daytona 500 on TV.  In grad school, when working for Scott Hahn, one of my coworkers mentioned NASCAR in passing, and the new guy didn’t realize I was a fan.  (I was probably wearing an argyle sweater that day.)  Chris repeated himself.   “Yeah.  Joannie’s a NASCAR fan.”  Matt burst out laughing.  A big laugh.

“Joannie?  A NASCAR fan?  That’s a good one!”


“She really is!?”

I really am.

All this to say… it was shocking to hear the breaking news on the radio today- news that even took the hosts of NASCAR’s Morning Drive by surprise.  (yes, I listen to NASCAR talk radio every morning.)  Jeff Gordon will be racing his final season this year.  It was an announcement bound to happen eventually, but I’d wager few – if any- would have bet it would come today.

Before Jeff Gordon, 20 year-olds didn’t race with the big boys.  Especially not pretty boy 20 year-olds.  He changed the sport forever, and I’m part of that change.  He brought NASCAR to a whole different audience– an audience that includes me.  When I started watching NASCAR, I couldn’t keep Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett straight. But there was something in that young driver with his rainbow car that made me start to watch and listen and research and follow.  And for that I’m thankful.




comfort food to comfort

21 Jan

Today was a rather blah day. The kind of day you’d rather me not blog about.  If I was poetic, I would come here and blog about my problems in such a beautiful way you’d be moved to tears and find answers to unasked questions in your own lives through my metaphors.  But I’m not a poet.

Instead, I came home and decided I wasn’t going to dwell on my problems.  I was going to do what JoaninOrdinaryTime does best.

I was going to go out to dinner.

Okay, so I had already decided to go out to dinner, but if I hadn’t, I would have.  Or should have.

Good thing it’s everyone’s favorite week of the year… restaurant week!

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t as excited at the offerings as I have been in the past, but Manda and I knew one restaurant had never disappointed. Flyte.  Even their menu didn’t look very exotic this time around, but we knew that they delivered quality no matter what.

So I put on some makeup, threw on a cute pair of crazy pants, and went out for a single gal’s night on the town.

Course 1: Caesar. grilled anchovies / local romaine / black garlic


Verdict: It was better than this picture.  I was initially going to pick the turnip soup option, because Caesar salad seemed a little boring to me. But our waiter (who was great) sold me on it — and not in a used-car-salesman type of way.  I decided the black garlic (that’s what you see smeared on the side) and the white anchovies were daring enough to merit trying the “boring old Caesar salad” option.  And I was glad I did – it was delicious.  It was just elevated enough — not too crazy so as to cease being Caesar salad or look like they were trying to hard, but raised to the next level so that I didn’t feel boring eating Caesar salad during restaurant week.  The white anchovies definitely tasted like anchovies, but not in an oily, I-feel-like-I’m-licking-the-bottom-of-a-boat type of way.  They had been in vinegar rather than oil, and their distinct anchovy taste was far more gentle than what you’d expect.

Course 2:  Bear Creek Bourguignon. cippolini / root vegetables


Verdict: Again, not too adventurous, but again, delicious.  The meat was so very tender and the root vegetables were soft inside with a seasoned almost-crust on the outside.  Everything was on top of a whipped potato puree that I wish I would have had more of.  This was comfort food at its best.

Course 3: “Creamcicle” Parfait. blood orange / vanilla cream/ orange lace


Verdict: It tasted like a orange pushup from the Schwan’s man, topped with a little whipped cream.  Only a million times better.  It’s only now that I’m blogging about this meal that I realize the unwritten theme of it all was “traditional favorites, elevated.”  The blood orange dots on top were incredible.  I probably would have licked my plate if I could have.  The orange lace was a little disappointing… sure, it’s elegant and fun, but I didn’t taste any orange. Just some caramelized sugar.  But it didn’t matter. This thing was good.


We didn’t get a little “taste” at the beginning of our meal, but instead these little treats came with the bill.  (always helps with sticker shock).  Passion fruit tarts and Italian wedding cookies.  Let’s just say you can tell Flyte has a pastry chef.  Good night.

Of course, all of this was accompanied by a flight of three red wines from Europe.  Go big or go home, right?

So while I don’t have any grand life lessons at the end of this day, I do have a full stomach and a grateful heart. Thanks to Flyte, for turning this day around with your attention to detail, wonderful service, and delicious food.  And thanks to Manda, who is always willing to wine and dine with me.



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