#2 Paying my respects to “my man”

A few weeks ago, my sister and I headed out to California to visit friends of ours who live in Burbank. Despite the history-making torrential rain that plagued us most of the weekend, it was a great getaway.  She and I have never had a sisters-weekend like that, and it was made perfect by the fact that we were visiting some of our favorite sisters, Therese and Bernadette Peters.  Sisters squared! Throw in Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and you have a regular musical adventure.

For the purposes of this post, however, I won’t be talking about seeing Walt Disney’s house, or having drinks at the homey pub where the animators used to hang out, or even Bernadette’s incredible opening-night performance as Rosie in Bye, Bye, Birdie.  Instead, we need to focus on the Empty The Bucket List item I accomplished: paying respects to Ronald Reagan.

When I was really little, I used to call Ronald Reagan “my man.”  No one is really sure why, but I’m glad I had the foresight at such a young age to recognize greatness when I saw it. I always admired him growing up, but when I wrote my thesis on him in college, I really fell in love.

He died the day my sister got married, and if anyone remembers my toast, I toasted him (my dad told me I had to toast my sister first). It seems Therese remembered, because she asked if we would be interested in going to his Presidential Library while we were out there.

She didn’t have to ask me twice. I tried to remain calm and act like if it worked out, that would be great… but inside I was doing dances of joy.

The rain stopped long enough for us to drive to Simi Valley and enjoy the view.

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The Library, which just celebrated their 25th anniversary, is a testament to a great man and a reminder of what moral leadership looks like. The beginning opens with a short video that introduces Reagan’s legacy to those who remember him well and those who may not have even been alive to know him.  I almost started to cry watching him again – witnessing his eloquence and strength in the face of hard issues, many of which we are facing again today.

The museum tells the story of his life, from growing up in Dixon, IL, to his announcing days, his time in Hollywood, and eventually his political career. You could read old high school essays and watch clips of his movies.

The library moves quickly, obviously spending the most time on his presidency, but even then not belaboring anything for too long. There were some places I would have liked to see more detail, but all in all, I think it moves at the right speed and has the right amount of information for those looking to get a good overview of his life and the issues of his presidency.

All of it was well-done, but several areas stand out –  The way they presented the assassination attempted made you feel as if you were witnessing it for the first time.  The mock-up of the Berlin Wall was dramatic and terrifying.  And it was a treat to feel as if you were in the Oval Office.

IMG_7958.JPGIt is set up exactly how it looked during Reagan’s presidency, although none of it is original except the chair behind the desk. One of the docents later told us that Reagan would occasionally sit in that office after the Library was completed and receive visitors.

There was even a jar of jelly beans, of course.

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While it’s hard to choose a favorite part, a highlight was definitely Air Force One. It’s the only place you can tour an official Air Force One, and like the Oval Office, it is set up exactly how it was during his Presidency.  Unlike the Oval Office, however, he really used it as President, and I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t a movie set or a mock up.  It was a little smaller than I expected – only a 727. No photos were allowed inside, although they did take a cheesy picture of us on the front steps and then tried to sell it to us.

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I loved the prevalence of quotes throughout the library, as well as all the things they had – I never thought I would see things like the suit he was shot in, the Bible he took the oath of office on, or his riding saddles.

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I loved this – his file of little notecards where he would jot down quotations. I need to start doing this!

The museum ended with a room about life on the ranch after the presidency, then a room about Nancy, and then a room about his funeral.  Once again, it was hard to keep back the tears.

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I’ll never forget the sight of these boots backwards in the stirrups of that riderless horse.

Outside (after the gift shop), there was a piece of the actual Berlin Wall, a beautiful overlook of Simi Valley, and then the tombs of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

I was able to pray at the tomb of Ronald Reagan.

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“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”

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“Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did  everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”

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And that, my friends, is emptied from the bucket list.

 

#1 Dinner at Besh’s

If you have even just glanced through this blog, you know that I love great food. It’s not just that I love to eat, it’s that I love to appreciate food.  Perhaps you could say that I love to appreciate saporific beauty.

I heard of John Besh several years ago, but since I still haven’t made it to New Orleans, I just assumed I probably would never get to enjoy his food.  After marking eating at a Bobby Flay restaurant off my bucket list three years ago, I thought I had pretty much emptied that bucket (that’s in the running for the name of this project… #emptythebucket). But there’s something alluring about John Besh, and suddenly he showed up on this not-bucket-list-but-something-list.  Perhaps it’s because he’s not your typical “celebrity” chef.

Or perhaps it’s because he’s Catholic.

Yes, I admit it. I wanted to eat at a John Besh restaurant because he’s Catholic. Because he’s on the board of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. Because he likes St. Josemaria Escriva.

Come on. If I can enjoy incredible food and also support a Catholic, I’m in.

So when he opened a new restaurant in Nashville, Marsh House, despite the fact that I had heard nothing about it, good or bad… I knew I needed to convince Manda to go there for our annual joint-birthday dinner.  Lucky for me, she wasn’t hard to convince.

The restaurant is attached to a hotel, which for some reason normally would kind of turn me off. But I was pretty set on liking this place, so I pushed that aside. The two hostesses were wearing adorable blue wrap dresses, and a nice man in a suit showed me to my table. He later stopped by to chat while I waited for Manda, just to make sure I didn’t need a drink while I waited.  I appreciated how down-to-earth the wait staff seemed, while also remaining completely professional.  (Like the wonderfully perfect gesture of folding your napkin for you if you left to use the restroom. Always a nice touch.)  We later found out that the nice man in a suit was the sommelier.

The menu is seafood-based, and the majority of it consists of small plates meant for sharing. There are also several meat and seafood entrees, and a raw bar menu that features a selection of oysters.

We both ordered cocktails – mine was whiskey-based and Manda’s had prosecco.  Both, while very different, were nicely suited for the cold weather.

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The one article I read about Marsh House was an interview with Besh where he spoke highly of the gumbo, stressing that he had worked with the chefs to make sure they got his recipe – or rather, his mother’s recipe – just right.  So Manda and I split the gumbo (which they dished up beautifully in separate bowls for us).  Manda also ordered oysters, and loved them. I passed.

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For dinner, I was excited to see swordfish on the menu, so I couldn’t pass that up.  Swordfish isn’t a fish I generally see at the places I frequent. I distinctly remember the first time I had swordfish – it was in 2001 at a restaurant in Rome in a neighborhood near the Aventine Hill. I was told that it had a more meat-like texture than most fish, and I ordered it on a whim… and loved it. Since then, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve had it, and I was anxious to try it again.

This didn’t disappoint. There was a nice light breading on it – more of a slight crust than anything – and it was served with winter greens and a tomato jam. Manda ordered the stuffed flounder, and it looked pretty incredible- almost a work of art, and probably more worthy of a picture than my dish. Oh well.

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We both saved room for dessert, of course… and when we couldn’t decide between the opera cake – a buttermilk chocolate cake with ganache and espresso – and the pumpkin cheesecake with cranberries and brittle… we ordered both.

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Good night. They were both incredible, but the pumpkin cheesecake was simply out of this world. I was afraid it would be a bit cliche- a concession to every PSL lover and a throwaway tribute to fall. I was wrong. Manda hit the nail on the head when she said it was more of a mousse than a cheesecake.  It was exactly what you wanted out of a pumpkin dessert – enough spice to bring home the pumpkin (since pumpkin doesn’t actually have much a flavor by itself) but a lightness that left you completely content and not overwhelmed.  The brittle and toasted marshmallow on the top were the companions you would expect – but surpassed expectations – and then the cranberry drizzled around the plate was a completely unexpected guest but rounded out the dessert without being a strange forced reference to Thanksgiving dinner.

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The atmosphere of the restaurant gave me the same feeling I had at Bar Americain – it was more relaxed than I expected, and there were people in jeans — but it was just the right mix of classy and casual – definitely an elevated feel that was comfortable without being ostentatious.  Our waitress mentioned that the decor was supposed to evoke a train station (which it did, without being over the top) because of back in the day, that’s what used to be in the neighborhood.  Any indication that a place recognizes the history of Nashville gets props from me, especially in a neighborhood like the Gulch that is congested with brand new restaurants, condos, and bars that are trendy today and will probably be closed tomorrow. So many of the places – and people – that have come to Nashville seem ignorant of the true charm of the city, which is quickly disappearing as it grows faster than is probably healthy.

How many of these new places are worth the hype?  Probably very few. But, while I admit I went in tonight pretty biased … I’d like to see John Besh’s place stay. The menu was elevated without elevating anything just for the heck of it.  Most of the ingredients were recognizable, and while brussels sprouts and beets made an appearance, the menu was largely devoid of the trendy ingredients that people probably only eat because the person next to them told them they should.

First item of the list complete.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Chef Besh had come out and talked with us about Josemaria Escriva. Maybe next time.

dusting this off for some new life…

I have a project, and I decided a few days ago this project will involve this blog.

Next week I celebrate a birthday.  When birthdays roll around, people tend to reflect on the year that has passed and the year to come.  I don’t feel like I’ve ever been particularly philosophical on my birthday – I am grateful for the blessings God has given the past year and I look forward to the ones in store.  I never make plans about what the next year should hold, because frankly, I have no idea what’s in store and I’d rather just wait and see.

But this year, I decided to make a plan.  This coming birthday isn’t a milestone, per se, but I do have a lot of fun things already planned for the coming year, so I decided this year will be full of bucket-list items.  I have plans to do great things, and I’m going to document those great things on this blog.  New life, joaninordinarytime!  Here comes some adventure!

The tricky thing is that I don’t know what to call this.  Some of the things I plan to do are probably bucket list items.  But others are just fun things that I have never really put on a bucket list… because let’s face it, there are really only a few things on my bucket list, and one of them is Australia, and that’s not happening this year.

Plus, I’m not turning 80, I’m turning much less than that. So it seems a little silly to call it a bucket list.

So I need your help.  These are items that I’m accomplishing this year so I don’t have to put them on my bucket list someday. But that’s a mouthful and certainly doesn’t fit in an Instagram hashtag.

Are you ready, world?  It’ll all be documented here. And it starts tomorrow (a little earlier than my birthday, but who says you can’t celebrate early?).

But first I need a hashtag.

2016 Pilgrimage Recap

This was published in the diocesan newspaper this week – I thought I’d share it here, since it’s hard to link to the print edition of the paper.

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When I began work as Director of Adult Formation for the diocese, I knew I wanted to take people on pilgrimage.  My own time spent in Rome had a deep impact on my spiritual life and the discernment of my vocation, and I knew that no amount of study or reading could replicate what happens on a pilgrimage.  To walk in the footsteps of saints, to experience Catholic culture lived out, to see the Holy Father, and to pray and celebrate Mass with fellow pilgrims are formative experiences that cannot be taught, but lived.

Before the trip even began, our group experienced sorrows and joys.  One of the couples planning on coming with us had to cancel their trip after the husband was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away two weeks before we left.  He and his family were remembered along every step of our pilgrimage, and we offered Mass for the repose of his soul in Assisi.  Two of our pilgrims were united in Holy Matrimony on the feast of Pope John Paul II just a few days before we left, and on our trip Father John Hammond blessed their marriage before Mass in St. Peter’s basilica, directly in front of Pope John Paul’s tomb.

The high point for everyone was the chance to see the Holy Father.  Months before we left, we found out that both the Wednesday General Audience the Pope holds weekly and the special Papal Mass that is held every year for All Soul’s Day had been cancelled.  Francis was traveling to Sweden right when we were arriving in Rome.  Since these were the only opportunities our pilgrims were going to get to see the Pope, I had to break the hard news to everyone.  They weren’t going to get to see Francis.

Behind the scenes, I worked with my fellow tour leader, Mountain Butorac, who lives in Rome with his family, to see what we could do.  Since we were familiar with the Pope’s routine, we knew there was a good chance that he would stop at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major after returning to Rome from Sweden.  He usually goes to pray in front of a famous icon of the Blessed Mother before and after his trips.  We planned our visit of St. Mary Major for Tuesday afternoon and prayed, not daring to tell any of the pilgrims about the possibility so as to avoid getting hopes up.  I entrusted the intention to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes!

God – and St. Jude – were certainly smiling on our pilgrimage.  Not only were we in the basilica when the Pope arrived, we were in the front row along the temporary barricade that had been set up.  The Nashville pilgrims were less than 20 feet away when Pope Francis quietly came to the basilica to lay flowers at the altar and silently pray at the icon.  We joined him in singing the Salve Regina, and then as he left, he gave a small wave to us.  To see the surprise and happiness on the faces of our Nashville group, a group that had thought their chance to see the Pope had been taken away months ago, was well-worth keeping the secret under wraps for so long!

To top it off, the Papal Mass that had been cancelled was rescheduled, and so our group joined a small gathering of mostly Italians for Mass in a Roman cemetery outside the city of Rome.  There were only about 1,500 in attendance, and our group was a mere 60 yards away from the makeshift altar that had been set up amongst the mausoleums and graves. I have been to dozens of Papal Masses, but this one certainly took the prize for most unusual!

Besides our times with the Holy Father, the trip was marked with beautiful liturgies celebrated by our own Father Bulso and Father Hammond, prayer in front of the tombs of saints like St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Paul, and the traditional climbing of the Holy Stairs on our knees.  We saw the Sistine Chapel, relics of the Passion, the wood of the crib of Our Lord, and the table of the Last Supper.  We were able to go under St. Peter’s Basilica and see the very bones of our first Pope. We walked through the Holy Doors of all four major Roman basilicas, making our Jubilee pilgrimage complete.

New friendships were forged as people from various parishes journeyed together.  Gelato and pasta were consumed, memories were made, and prayer intentions were lifted up.  Most of all, a group from Nashville, TN, touched the heart of the Church in the footsteps of saints, and brought you with us.

 

 

Rome-bound

Hey, guess what?  I’m actually posting something here!  It’s really only to say that I’m headed to Rome (surprise, surprise. God is good!) and perhaps there will be fun updates when I return.  Not that I ever made good on the promise from the 2014 trip. But I did get the flu after that, so I have an excuse…

Prayers for a little miracle, please… A miracle in the form of some glimpse of Pope Francis, who has canceled his Wednesday audience for the week. Thanks!

A Parish that Cries

“A parish that doesn’t cry has no future.”

I told this to my mom a few Sundays ago, apparently when I was in a more charitable mood than I was this morning.

This morning I couldn’t pray. There were thousands of wailing children at Mass this morning. Or at least it sounded that way. And they were seemingly all being tortured somehow. (For some reason, “crying it out” is a naughty phrase for young parents when it comes to bedtime or nap time. But it seems that isn’t the case at Mass.)

I came to blog about it. I know I’m not supposed to have an opinion about any of it, because I have no idea what it’s like to raise children. I have no idea what it’s like to have your child wailing uncontrollably in church. I have no idea about any of it. I’m a single girl that should never open her mouth (or her keyboard?) about something she knows nothing about.

And neither does Father. So he can’t say anything either, of course. Despite the fact that we couldn’t hear parts of his homily because of wailing children or the words of consecration were eclipsed by a scream or two, he can’t offer words of advice. (Such as, “I put a close-circuit television downstairs so you don’t have to miss Mass if your children are getting a little antsy…”) Someone will call the chancery and tell the Bishop that Father told them they weren’t welcome at his parish. Better yet, someone will accuse him of hating babies or being pro-choice.

But I decided I was tired of feeling like a second-class citizen just because I don’t have children. So I came to blog and vent.

But then I opened my computer up to this quote from John Paul I.  I’m using it in a talk I’m giving this week.

“Love in little things. Often this is the only kind possible. I never had the chance to jump into a river to save a drowning man; I have been very often asked to lend something, to write letters, to give simple and easy instructions. I have never met a mad dog; instead I have met some irritating flies and mosquitoes. I have never had persecutors beat me but many people disturb me with noises in the street, with the volume of the television turned up too high or unfortunately with making noise in drinking soup. To help, however, one can not take it amiss, to be understanding; to remain calm and smiling (as much as possible) in such occasions is to love one’s neighbour without rhetoric in a practical way” John Paul I

And then I realized I had failed. I had the opportunity this morning to remain smiling, despite the screams and the wails and the fact I couldn’t hear half of the Eucharistic prayer. But I let it distract me. I let it get under my skin.

I still have a lot of work to do in the holiness department. And it’s not about heroic bloody martyrdom. The heroism is a lot smaller… and a lot harder.

well, hello, ordinarytime

I was listening to a podcast about beginning a blog (or sustaining one), and they mentioned consistency.  Does one post a month count?  Probably not. Much less one post every two or three months.

Sorry, ordinarytime. You’ve suffered because of the consistency I’ve had to give to Integrated Catholic Life.  And after all, those posts are more important.  They’re a different animal (as is joanmwatson.com) and I need to dedicate more time to giving pearls of well-written wisdom rather than just posting pictures of food.

But I won’t abandon you forever. I promise.