Sunshine through raindrops

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.

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Snow day Home Repair

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.

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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.

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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!)

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

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Much easier than the inside of a toilet.

Mission accomplished.

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

 

Thanks for the memories.

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!”

Silence.

“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.

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comfort food to comfort

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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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The (passing?) trend of celebrity chefs

For those of you who live in Nashville, there’s an enjoyable article on the front page of the Tennessean today about celebrity chefs.  Those of you who have been reading this  blog know that I love my food, and I’m usually drawn in by the usual foodie lures: “farm-to-table,” “sustainable ingredients,” and celebrities.  Well, at least if that celebrity is named Alton Brown or Bobby Flay.

So after reading the article, I felt I had to comment here.

Yes, on one hand it thrills me that Bobby Flay has been spotted around town.  At the same time, would I really want a Bobby Flay restaurant in Nashville?  We have a lot of good restaurants already, and I can’t help but wonder when we’re past our saturation point.  At least two of our “older” restaurants have closed in the last year, and I can only imagine several of the ones that have just opened will follow suit in the next year or two.  A city can’t really sustain 20+ new restaurants opening every year, can it?  I hate to see our classics suffering from the new flashy (and ultimately unproven) places.

Would a Bobby Flay restaurant in Nashville put us on the map? I think we’re already there, and I’d rather be Nashville than the next “it” city. Although it’s probably too late for that.  Go home, people. You don’t want to live here.  It’s terrible here.

And let’s be honest.  Like he mentions in the article, how many of these celebrity chefs are willing to really make their home in Nashville?  I don’t want to go to a restaurant that just serves food like Bobby Flay makes.  I have his cookbook at home, thanks.  I want to go to a restaurant where the chefs have learned under him.  Don’t just put your name on something and walk away.

My favorite parts of the article, that help you see just what makes Nashville Nashville:

On “celebrity”:

“Country music has long made Nashville a destination. It’s an industry built on performers’ and songwriters’ ability to connect with common folk. Our stars will sit behind a folding table and sign autographs until the last fan is gone.

What that means is celebrity is special to us in its ordinariness. We don’t treat stars as something apart from ourselves, and we respect them with privacy, grace and distance. Paparazzi are anathema to Nashville.

I say this because I don’t want you to get your feelings hurt. Celebrity doesn’t move us like it might in other cities, and your television-earned status might not carry the same cachet.”

On our restaurant scene:

“We have already elevated Southern food to the point of altitude sickness. We have shown we can take rustic Italian and inject new hybrid identity, and farm-to-fork is no longer a novelty but an expectation.”

Don’t come in here and try to show-off:

“This community will help you source ingredients, share line cooks and drink whiskey with you into the wee hours, but it won’t abide one-upmanship. Hospitality is not an industry here, it’s a way of life.”

Whole article here.

Of course, let’s be honest. If Bobby Flay does open a restaurant here, I’ll be blogging about it before too long.  But if he’s just in Nashville hanging out, that’s great too… it’s a fun place to hang out.

 

One Night in the Life of Our Book Club

Twenty-five years ago, young newly-wed Molly Sullivan was at a dinner party with her in-laws.  Now, dinner parties hosted by your in-laws could go several different ways.  But if your father-in-law is author and literary critic Walter Sullivan, well, dinner parties just might include William Faulkner, Wendell Berry, and Walker Percy.

So I exaggerate.  Walker Percy probably wasn’t there.  And Faulkner was dead.

But I don’t exaggerate that much. Berry might have been there…if he had a phone to get the invite. But I digress.

At the dinner party, the topic of conversation was naturally Southern fiction. That’s what you get when your father-in-law is a founding member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  As Molly wandered from conversation to conversation, looking for something to peak her interest, she joined a conversation between Walter and Jill McCorkle.  They were discussing the first line of Anna Karenina.

And thus an obsession was born.  Forget the melancholy of Southern literature.  This Alabama belle needed more exotic melancholy.  Let’s read Tolstoy. And Dostoevsky. And Chekhov. Why not some Solzhenitsyn?

Fast forward 25 years.  Last night, that Southern belle hosted her own dinner party, where we discussed Russian literature.  More precisely, we discussed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich with Solzhenitsyn’s biographer.  Discussing a pivotal figure of the 20th century with someone who knew him personally?  Not bad for a Tuesday evening.

I think Walter Sullivan was smiling down on his son and daughter-in-law.

And next time Joseph Pearce comes to book club, I’ll read the book.

 russianchocolateThere were even party favors!
Everyone had a Russian chocolate bar at their place,
and to find out where we were sitting, we drew a Russian saint from a hat
and found them by our plate. Kudos to Molly!

Earthen Vessels

I had a humbling and terrifying experience the other day. Someone gave me a great compliment on one of the talks I’ve given. I can’t remember if she actually said my talk changed her life, but it was along those lines.

It was humbling for obvious reasons.  But it was terrifying for less obvious ones.

The talk to which she was referring was a talk I was proud of, in the best sense.  But it wasn’t my talk.  That is, after all, why I can be proud of it.  It wasn’t the talk I thought I was going to write. I was definitely being used by the Holy Spirit.

The topic I had been given was fairly broad, but I had an idea of the direction I would take with it.  A few months before the conference, I started reading and reading.  And the more I read, the more ideas I had about the talk.  And the more helpless I began feeling.  So many possible directions… What was really the purpose of this talk?  I continued reading, still pretty committed to my original thoughts and ideas.

Then one day I was sitting in the chapel before daily Mass.  And the answer was given to me.  Something in a certain paragraph or something I had been praying about, I can’t remember which, jumped out at me.  And I felt like Jesus had handed my talk to me.  Forget what you had orginally thought, what you had wanted, what you thought was best. Go in this direction with it instead.

Now, I still had to craft the talk, of course – it hadn’t been dictated or anything – and so the talk isn’t perfect by any means.  But I remember coming out of the chapel after Mass and wanting to tell the whole world my exciting news. I knew what I was going to talk about!  Granted, this was only a few days before the conference, so everyone probably thought I was a little nuts. (And perhaps I am).  But I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  Now I just needed to write the thing.  And give it.

Fast forward seven months, and here someone was telling me that my talk had impacted their prayer life and healing process.  I am still sort of reeling.  It wasn’t me.  It was the Holy Spirit.  That day in the chapel could have been entirely for her.  That talk might have been entirely for her. He knew that, even if I had no clue.

What if I had said no?

Sure, He is not limited by our weakness or incompetence.  But it’s still rather terrifying.  God, help me to always listen.  To always be open.

Anything I do well… is Him.  Anything I mess up… is all me.