Root for the Home Team!

Little League Summers -

Little League Summers –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

“There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed…”

– John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Late yesterday afternoon a knock on the front door proved to be my brother.  Frankie had come to town unexpectedly, and he swung by to visit. Since I had been holed up the entire day trying to work out a plot line in a novel I’m writing, and let me just say that inspiration appeared to be moving at a glacial pace, I was more than delighted to sit down and converse with him.

In the course of our conversation he expressed bewilderment over the absence of the Northside Little League park.  I quickly shuffled through my memory and explained that the NLL park had been leveled several years ago.  But what had happened to the NLL?, he wondered. Rewinding my brain box, I informed him that I thought it had merged with another of our hometown’s Little League teams.

Which one?, was his next question.  Southside? Eastside? I honestly could not remember what I read about it. Frank was visibly shaken by the revelation that the Northside Little League baseball diamond, its bleachers, and its eponymous concession stand were now gone with the wind.

We both recalled how many a summer was spent at that ballpark, with Frank as the erstwhile Northside Little Leaguer and me with our mother cheering him on from the stands.  In fact, after Frank left for his long drive home yesterday, I thought about in the heat of all those summers, he sweated it out for baseball practice with some fine coaches and with some who should have been banned from reproducing at all.  In spite of lousy coaches, and in step with inspirational coaches, my brother toughed it out because he loved the game.  Baseball cards inside big sticks of bubblegum he kept neatly organized in his room.  Pennants from baseball teams like the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs were dear to him too.  Signed bats and baseballs were reverentially displayed in Frank’s room. It was like a mini-baseball Hall of Fame.  Like the character of Crash Davis in the film “Bull Durham”, my brother loved and cherished the game, played at the Cathedral of Baseball in Tiger Stadium and at the old Wrigley Field.

I looked at Frank the man yesterday, and when he waxed fondly of the Northside Little League, what I saw was Frank the boy, my little brother, who lived for baseball.  Suddenly neither of us seemed to have changed as he lamented the passing of his old Little League stomping ground.  I remarked that it is sometimes difficult to come home again and try to absorb the changes that have occurred. I sensed that the demise of the Northside Little League was not a change that would sit well easily with him.

In the greater scheme of city landscapes, we both know that even our hometown must be acclimated itself to the needs and demands of the times.  This sort of concept is easier, however, to acquiesce to when it does not involve the dissolution of our childhood places, those locales we simply assume will always be there where we want them to remain.  At least baseball season starts up soon, happily for my brother. But not at the Northside Little League park.

Ciao for now.

Internet, Where Art Thou?

Without the Internet, I envisioned myself somewhere warm, like Australia -

Without the Internet, I envisioned myself somewhere warm, like Australia –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last week I experienced a nightmare:  Our Internet disappeared. No, it was not due to an unpaid bill.  Rather, it turned out to be the sad demise of our modem.  The modem’s age at the time of death was approximately five to six years of age.

Before I learned the modem was the root of no Internet, I rebooted continually over a period of a day and a half to no avail.  Finally, I contacted AT&T.  Thank goodness my iPhone 5 still functioned!  After nearly 45 minutes on the phone with AT&T tech support, the young man concluded the modem was the root of the lack of Internet pulse.  The modem’s last gasps caused the lights to flash red-green-red-green-red ad nauseam, and then the modem lit up no more.

While I waited three days for the delivery of the new modem, I began to morph into a sniveling heap of psychic decay.  I was in Internet withdrawal.  Not that I surf the web continually. No, I use the Internet for, for checking particular subject points in my writing, for the news on, for e-mail correspondence, and, naturally, for Facebook.  Minus the Internet, I felt isolated, like Napoleon experienced while exiled to the Island of Elba.  Thank God for two Netflix DVDs I had ordered before I could not anymore without the Internet.  I watched those films about three times each.  I turned to magazines that had stacked up on the coffee table, unread, now read voraciously.  I tried writing each night, but without my go-to Internet resources I felt bereft of the friendly web sites.  Sadly, I was forced to admit that I was in the throes of Internet addiction withdrawal.

Yet three days later, the new modem appeared on the doorstep.  Fate intervened once again because the Broadband refused to stabilize.  45 more minutes on the phone with AT&T tech support resulted in a technician riding up like the cavalry to save the day!  After several hours of reconfiguring wiring from the ancient modem to the new, I was back!  It proved a triumphant return to the Internet. Thus, kind readers, is my tale of modem woes turned to happiness once more now that the Internet is back in my life.  The tension is gone, and even the avalanche of snow and frigid temperatures in the Heartland cannot dampen my Internet joy.

Ciao for now.

Compositions in Winter

I love reading books and I love writing them. -

I love reading books and I love writing them. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

A kind friend made reference the other day to my lack of blog postings lately. When I shared the reason with her, she understood, but gently chided me about the need to post on my blog site. Taking her well-meant comment to heart, I will now share the reason for the paucity of blog postings lately:  Since early December I have been at work on writing a second novel.

What happened to the first novel? You may ask and I will tell you:  I’m still re-tooling that one.  In mid-November I was talking with my daughter and with a friend about a true episode in my life.  They were howling with laughter over it, well our friend was; my daughter was rather jarred by the story. Nonetheless, for days after our weekend talk fest, I could not shake the episode from my mind. Around the first of December, I sat down at my Mac and began by penning the outline of what would become a novel.  While I have deviated from aspects of the original outline, the basic story structure has remained essentially the same.

I work full-time.  After work I usually come home, feed Fellini and Coco Chanel, change into comfy clothes, and write.  On the weekends, I wedge myself out of the house to replenish groceries from Whole Foods [a most relaxing, uplifting environment with terrific samples of yummies], return home and write.  I am unable to shake this novel from my head.  It stays with me night and day.  While at work, I am focused on work, on my teaching, on making sure I do right by my students, of course, but in-between times, my book never stops swirling in my mind. It was the same as I wrote and re-wrote the first novel yet to be published.

What I have learned from my hundreds and hundreds of pages of written narrative is that when the writing muse beckons, I answer.  Those four snow days we had in January when the university shut down, I embraced them.  It was nothing short of luxurious to have that uninterrupted time to write and grapple with dialogue, characters, plot, and all the marvelous dimensions of writing that one does primarily for oneself because no book is a sure bet. Another writing opportunity arose in regard to Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, which I found too good to pass up.  I penned an essay, re-worked it, submitted it, and just finished the edits on it for the editor. That too was a labor of love, for I adore Shakespeare and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my essay.

This has, in short, been the winter not of discontent, although this Midwest winter could certainly qualify as such, rather it has been the winter of inspiration and golden writing opportunities that I am compelled to seize and act upon, and I do so happily.

And so I charge you readers to stay warm, be of good health, and know that I shall post regularly henceforth.

Ciao for now.

How to Keep Occupied During a Snowstorm

Winter's beauty diminishes not, even in a snowstorm

Winter’s beauty diminishes not, even in a snowstorm

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As a hearty Italian American in the Heartland, I have learned how to brave winter.  When winter visits a snowstorm upon us, we Midwesterners prepare and hunker down to ride out the iciness of it all. As we anticipate the worst snowstorm and subzero temperatures in twenty years, I offer engaging activities to occupy one’s self.

1.  Grocery Shopping, Preferably before the Snowstorm - I stocked up on eggs [poached, scrambled, or in a fritatta or quiche], tuna [I love tuna salad when snowbound], soup [in case I am too lazy to make my own], cannellini beans [in case I do rouse myself to make soup], bread [okay, I forgot to buy the bread, even though it was on my grocery list], P.F. Chang’s frozen shrimp dumplings, ricotta [a must for Italians], low-fat vanilla yogurt [my ice cream substitute, sort of], garbanzo beans [because they are so delicious roasted stove top in olive oil], and honey [in a teddy bear bottle, of course].

2.  Dining Out Hours Before the Snowstorm - After I did the Readings at 5:30 p.m. Mass last evening, it had not yet begun to snow.  A friend phoned me.  Did I want to dine out before the estimated 8:00 p.m. snowfall?  It was 6:43 pm., I noted, but sure, why not?  A nearby Japanese restaurant was packed with like-minded individuals.  However, we instead nabbed a booth at my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant.  A salad and baked rigatoni sated me; in fact, I took half of it home, anticipating it would make a fine Sunday lunch, had hunger pangs not attacked at 10:00 p.m., I would have eaten the baked rigatoni for lunch.  As I wound my way up the hilly winding drive to my friend’s abode in what was now heavy snowfall, I looked forward to nestling inside my warm home.

3.  Putting Away Christmas Decorations - While my daughter and I had taken down the Christmas tree, the boughs that decorated the archways and windows, there were still plenty of Christmas decorations left for me to store. This morning a stray CD of Christmas tunes manifested itself under a bough tossed on the desk. A Santa Claus statue and a large musical Santa snow globe still grace an end table. The Christmas stockings, while taken down, are draped over a dining room chair.  In the bathroom a Christmas tree with bright ornaments and a wreath hung on the wall beckon to be put away for winter slumber. A pair of Christmas socks my daughter forgot to retrieve from the clean laundry basket surfaced today too.

    4.  Updating the Nativity - Yesterday before she left a day ahead of schedule for law school due to the severe winter storm warnings, my daughter remarked that we had not brought out the Three Kings [We Three Kings of Orient Are…remember]. Consequently, this morning, I hauled out the Three Kings and their three dromedaries [camels], and I boxed up the shepherds, their sheep, their cats, and their dog.  Tomorrow, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany [and my brother’s birthday].  The Three Kings should be present in The Nativity, and besides, they are beautifully attired.

   5.  Cleaning Up the Ranch, so to Speak - After the mayhem of packing to return to school, settling Shelton Rae, her cat, in his plush travel carrier, transferring Poseidon, her red Beta fish, from his tank to his large pitcher travel container, and my packing up the cooler with Italian beef, homemade macaroni and cheese, yogurt, eggs, bread [I remembered to buy her a loaf], I awoke to the reality of gritty floors.  On this frosty Sunday morn as the snow flies nonstop, I vacuumed the house and rugs.  At least I’m not hearing crunch, crunch, crunch, under my feet as I move from room to room.

6.  Re-imagining Wall Décor - In taking down pictures in late November to hang Christmas art on the walls, I realized that I was ready for a change of scenery.  Throwing on a CD of Adele, I sang and danced as I repositioned artwork. I even moved pictures to others rooms where they offer a new perspective for a New Year.

7.  Brewing Tea - Nothing says, “Drink me” like freshly brewed tea. Inveterate coffee drinkers with substitute “Brewing Tea” for “Brewing Coffee”, which is perfectly fine for java aficionados. After cleaning the house, putting away Christmas decorations, and brewing tea or coffee, it is time to settle into an easy chair, and sip the hot beverage.

8.  Watching the Snow Fall - When winter keeps me housebound, I marvel at the beauty of the winter wonderland outside my windows.  The trees and shrubs glisten in winter white garb, the rooftops in the neighborhood glow with their white cover. Throughout my life I have relished the hush a snowstorm provides; its quiet is relaxing. Imbibing my tea, I feel content as I view the bounteous winter landscape stretched out before me as our cats, Fellini and Coco Chanel, nap.

9.  Reading - In my bungalow snow palace, I sit and read, uninterrupted since I cannot venture out.  It is a blessing to have hours to re-read a Jane Austen treasured book, and even begin reading a signed book my brother bought me for my birthday:  The Stonecutter’s Aria by Carol Faenzi.

10.  Writing - Writing offers a fine creative outlet during a snowstorm. Instead of thinking about writing a short story, novel, poem, or a blog, or penning those gift thank-you’s.  A snowstorm offers the gift of time for one to begin these artistic endeavors. Of course, this assumes one has neither power, nor heat.

Ciao for now.





The Christmas Chronicles, Part 3

The topper of Lauren and Justin's Christmas tree -

The topper of Lauren and Justin’s Christmas tree –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The day after Christmas seems surreal.  After the flurry of choosing gifts, wrapping presents, baking biscotti, making fudge, and savory dinners, the day after The Big Day, is a bit of a letdown.  Yet imbibing a cup of hot tea with the family as we tried to look refreshed at the breakfast table was laid back and cheerful.  Although my thought had been to ramble around the charming brick street village of my brother’s town, taking a peek in the boutiques, and flipping through books at the new little bookstore, it was not to be. While my dear sister-in-law Kelley and I figured we were invited to my niece Lauren’s new in-laws for dinner that evening, it turned out that dinner would be at 2:30 p.m.

“No matter,” I told myself, “It means I will have to return for browsing in the village at a later date.”

We ducked over to Lauren and Justin’s to meet their cat Oliver.  I chuckle over their naming their black cat Oliver, for I had a white cat named Oliver for ten years. Oliver is quite a character, like most cats I know, but he is affectionate, playful and an all round darling furry fellow.

My daughter and my niece with Oliver the Christmas Cat -

My daughter and my niece with Oliver the Christmas Cat –

My niece’s husband Justin has the nicest family. They are of French Canadian extraction, and up until two years ago, they lived in Vermont. His father is a computer wizard and his mother taught French for years in a Vermont secondary school. Each time we have dined with them, the food Ann cooks is a marvel of French Canadian with a twist of Vermont cuisine. December 26th’s fare proved fine too. We have learned that Vermont folks use a preponderance of their tasty maple syrup in dishes such as simmered beans, baked ham, and, I think it might have also been in one of the savory meat pies. As an Italian American in the Heartland, I grew up thinking maple syrup poured over a stack of pancakes was how one ate maple syrup, mighty good it was. However, Anna, Jim, their son Justin and daughter Sabreena have happily broadened my maple syrup horizons.

Ann and Jim laid a beautiful table for our day after Christmas dinner -

Ann and Jim laid a beautiful table for our day after Christmas dinner –

We all exchanged gifts, and talked, and laughed as we marveled at the sunshine offsetting the chilly weather.  After coffee and Buche de Noel, we piled into the car and headed back to Frank and Kelley’s.  In looking over the landscape of Christmas Eve with Uncle Sam’s family, Christmas Day with my brother Frank’s family, and the day after Christmas with Justin’s family, I realized once more how grand this Christmas of 2013 was because we spent it with those we love best.

Buon Natale!

The Christmas Chronicles, Part 2

Saint Monica Church in our hometown on Christmas morning -

Saint Monica Church in our hometown on Christmas morning –




By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Christmas Day 2013 dawned brightly with snow.  We tossed clothing into our bags, fastened them shut, and downed a quick breakfast before we headed to Saint Monica Church for Christmas Morning Mass. The church was breathtaking in its Christmas glory:  The large Nativity surrounded by trees graced the Blessed Mary Alter.  Red and white Poinsettia abounded in the Sacristy, on the Saint Joseph Alter, and in the alcove of the Pietà.  Our Christmas spirits uplifted, we returned home to hastily load the car with Christmas presents for my brother and his family.  We patted Fellini, Coco Chanel, and Shelton Rae, our cats, goodbye after their hearty Christmas breakfast.  They then settled down on their favorite blankets for long Christmas naps.

Saint Monica Church Nativity on Christmas Morning -

Saint Monica Church Nativity on Christmas Morning –


The sun shone and we played Christmas music during our two-hour-plus drive.  We sang along with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Rosemary Clooney, and Michael Buble as we traveled over the river and through the snow.  Hugs and kisses abounded as Frank, Kelley, Daniel, newlyweds Lauren and Justin greeted Anjelica and me. We quickly distributed stocking stuffers to respective stockings.  My brother’s food company is now making delicious Lobster Bisque, which we had for lunch.  I certainly ate mine with gusto!

My nephew Daniel and my daughter Anjelica, two of my favorite Christmas elves -

My nephew Daniel and my daughter Anjelica, two of my favorite Christmas elves –

Frank and Kelley's 2013 live Christmas tree =

Frank and Kelley’s 2013 live Christmas tree =

We gathered in front of a cozy fire in the family room with the live Christmas tree. Arranging ourselves around the sectional sofa, the overstuffed side chair and ottoman, Lauren donned the Santa Claus hat, for she would distribute the gifts to each of us one by one.  Kelly, however, had us each draw a word or phrase from a particular Christmas carol.  We had to string the verse together and that determined the order in which the gifts would be given.  We each open the gift Santa handed out one at a time.  Over Christmas mugs of homemade hot cocoa, we oohed and ahhed over the presents.  I was thrilled with a touchscreen digital Crock Pot, which will now force me to plan meals ahead.  Anjelica loved her Vera Bradley brightly colored duffel bag.  Frankie received an IU quarter-zip, pocketed pullover from me.  My gift to Kelley was the Marc Jacobs Daisy Holiday gift set.  Daniel already had plans for his JCrew gift card. Lauren was pleased with her Williams-Sonoma gold touch square baking and loaf pans.  Justin was all smiles when he opened my gift of a very fine bottle of single malt Scotch.

Mama's homemade ravioli, deliciously made by Kelley -

Mama’s homemade ravioli, deliciously made by Kelley –

Later that night, we sat down to a beautifully decorated table to share my mother’s homemade ravioli and recipes.  Although I have made The Ravioli, Kelley now graciously makes 200+ ravioli for us for Christmas Day. Anjelica and I made Mama’s famously moist fudge and our favorite biscotti.  My brother has become something of a wine connoisseur, and we imbibed hearty wines that night.  We talked and laughed and reminisced as we celebrated Christmas.  My family is dear to my heart.  Celebrating Christmas with them I count as one of the greatest of blessings.

Buon Natale!


The Christmas Chronicles, Part 1

By Mary Anna Violi |  @Mary Anna Violi

Cousin Chrissy's Christmas mantle decor -

Cousin Chrissy’s Christmas mantle decor –

We celebrated Christmas Eve differently this year. In the past our family has traveled to my brother’s home, two-and-three-quarter hours south of ours. Once there, we all put the finish gift-wrapping, and then set off for Christmas Eve Mass.  After a music-filled Mass, we return to my brother’s home for dinner.  After we kiss our children a goodnight, we prepare the Christmas stockings. Now that these children are in their ‘20’s, we the older adults sneak around filling all the stockings.

This year I proposed that instead of spending it with my brother’s family, we celebrate with our Uncle Sam’s family. Uncle Sam, my late father’s brother, will turn 95 in January. This year I thought it would be memorable to celebrate with his family.  We used to spend Christmas Eve with Uncle Sam’s family.  This tradition endured for years during my youth. Yet family traditions evolve:  Families add members, they lose members, and members move to other cities. Fortunately, my cousins welcomed celebrating together again.

Cousins: Chrissy and Anjelica at Chrissy's Christmas Eve Brunch  =

Cousins: Chrissy and Anjelica at Chrissy’s Christmas Eve Brunch =

We began at 10:00 a.m. on December 24 at Cousin Chrissy’s, where she hosted brunch. Playful holiday decorations filled each room of her jewel box of a house. The morning proved festive and filled with goodwill.  Brunch began with Mimosas, followed by coffee with shots of Amaretto. Chrissy made several tantalizing baked egg casseroles [one with sausage, one without], a baked cinnamon confection, a tasty fresh fruit salad, and decorated Christmas tree and star cookies.

Cousins Marianne and Steve's Christmas tree -

Cousins Marianne and Steve’s Christmas tree –

Later that evening we traveled across town to Cousin Marianne’s lovely home.  Chrissy is her daughter, and both of them had gone to great lengths to host memorable Christmas Eve celebrations.  At Marianne’s, there were tangy cheesy appetizers, pasta with hot peppers and anchovies [my personal favorite], another spaghetti dish with far less heat in both the red sauce and in the pasta, and meatballs.  We had mixed drinks prior to dinner, wine with dinner, Grasshoppers after dinner, a cream pie, and white cake. Another delicious meal with family rounded out a joyous Christmas Eve.  The best part though, was the conversation, the laughter, and happiness of simply being with my daughter, our Uncle Sam and cousins. In this way, we count our blessings instead of sheep.

Buon Natale!


Have Yourself a Merry Mellow Christmas

We made donuts from a Barefoot Contessa

We made donuts from a Barefoot Contessa

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

We mailed Christmas cards yesterday. Today we made my mother’s famously moist and tasty fudge. This evening I the mixed the biscotti batter, and placed it in the ‘fridge until tomorrow morning when I will then bake the biscotti logs, cool them, and then cut on a diagonal, and finally bake the sliced biscotti again. Perhaps the day after tomorrow we will bake other Christmas cookies. Or not. This is the Christmas of Mellow.

With Thanksgiving having only been a scant three-plus weeks ago, a killer workload, and shopping online and some in the stores, I am ready to kick back and be a washed in the Christmas music of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Holiday movies such as my favorite:  White Christmas [with Bing], Little Women [with Christian Bale], and The Holiday [with Jude Law].  I know I named only the male leads in these films, but Christian and Jude are gorgeous and I focus on them more than the rest of the cast because I’ve seen these movies many, many, many times. Bing has the gorgeous singing voice.  I’ll say no more.

Anjelica returned home several days after completing her last final exam.  With one semester of law school under her belt, she was more than ready to kick back and fall into the Christmas spirit.  We celebrated the end of her first semester by dining out at our favorite Japanese Grille. The sushi rolls and fried rice and salad were delicious, as was the green tea.

We dined on Angry Dragon and Firehouse sushi rolls to celebrate the end of the first semester of law

We dined on Angry Dragon and Firehouse sushi rolls to celebrate the end of the first semester of law

The other reason I’m more than ready for a Mellow Christmas is because for the last two-and-a-half weeks, the writing muse has beckoned.  Although I’m roughly 50 pages, 11,000 words into it, I’ve been revising already what I’ve written as I press on with character, plot, and setting development. This writing project has me energized and has preoccupied most of my after work hours. This explains too why I haven’t blogged much the past weeks, but I’m back on deck with the blog, with novel development in tow, and loving every minute of having my daughter back home again for three weeks.

I didn’t pen a Christmas letter this year, but we did get the Christmas photo on a card, into the mail, and that, in my estimation was a small victory.  We’ve also been having a blast cooking new recipes from the December issue of Southern Living magazine.  It feels a bit like I’m back in the South again.

In fact, it’s time to pour a glass of vino rosso, throw on some strip streaks, while we continue to celebrate a Very Merry Mellow Christmas countdown to the 25th.

Ciao for now.




Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks encourages us to pause with family and friends -

Giving Thanks encourages us to pause with family and friends –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  For the second day in a row I landed in a grocery store.  One would think we were preparing the entire Thanksgiving feast, but no, we are bringing the crudités, cheese ball [rolled in nuts] and a homemade coconut cream pie. My daughter and I are cooking my November 30th birthday dinner, which is why we had a second day of grocery shopping.

   Today’s grocery experience took place at Whole Foods, fortuitously because we were hungry, and the day before Thanksgiving, samples were out in full force.  We noshed on organic dates, Clementine oranges, Gruyère cheese, roasted lamb, cranberry walnut bread, and vegan pumpkin pie. The only problem with selecting items one actually needs while shopping on an empty stomach is that one winds up with a cart full of extra items not on the original shopping list.  We exited the store with four spanakopita and two pounds of spinach and Gruyère stuffed mushrooms, both of which were not on the list, and a fresh turkey breast, which was also not on the list, but it is snowing fast and furiously here and what if we cannot travel to my brother’s house two-and-three-quarter-hours away on Thanksgiving morning?  I judged it safer to have the turkey breast on hand, although after we loaded up the SUV I realized that we had been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with some dear friends, and had received an invitation from lively local family members.

       “The turkey breast could be frozen until the Christmas holidays,” I mused.        Rationalization intact, I thought about all the frenzied shoppers I observed today.  Maybe we now place too much pressure on ourselves for Thanksgiving.  All the stress used to be reserved from frenetic Christmas shopping. Yet it seems to me that the quest to make Thanksgiving Dinner Perfect has overtaken some of us.  We tend to be a culture of overachievers who sometimes border on anal perfectionists.  Or maybe that is simply who I am and I am in denial.

   At Thanksgiving we need not worry about bearing gifts, for which I am thankful. After all, Thanksgiving’s allure is sharing a delicious meal with one’s family, although this year the first night of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. Since I am not Jewish, I am off the hook for buying Hanukkah presents.  If gifts were involved, it would mean making sure all gifts looked no less than perfect. That is what I look forward to early next month.  All right, I confess:  I started Christmas shopping over a month ago. However, tomorrow we will sit down with our family and relish a delectable Thanksgiving banquet.

Ciao for now.



A barrel of wine and bottles remind me of my father's wine-making =

A barrel of wine and bottles remind me of my father’s wine-making =

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays fast approach, I am reminded of a tradition in our family, or at least one of my father’s.  The other evening as I poured the last vestiges of a Pinot Noir into my wine glass, I stood the empty bottle upright, looked long and hard at it, and began to smile.  The bottle evoked memories of Christmases past in my mind’s eye.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, family, friends, and vendors would come bearing gifts of alcoholic refreshment to my father.  The liquid offerings consisted of primarily liquors, in particular Anisette, Amaretto di Saranno, Fra Angelico, and the occasional Peach Schnapps.  Others bore bottles of Canadian Club, Royal Crown, Jim Beam, with a brandy thrown in for good measure.  Most evenings, after the table had been cleared, the dishes washed, and the leftovers stored away, my parents would sit in their cozy living room.

My father would inquire of my mother, “Kitty, you wanna shot?”

Invariably she replied, “Yes, Ciccio, that would be nice.”

I would be pressed into service as family bartender to pour them each a shot of their choice – Anisette was a favorite during the Holidays, with Amaretto di Saranno vying with Fra Angelico for a close second.  With great deliberation did I select the shot glasses.  My personal favorites were the etched glass pedestal ones.

My father carefully cleaned and stored the empty liquor and whiskey bottles.  He delighted in giving gifts to family and friends.  Since he was a master wine maker, he tapped into a huge oaken barrel and filled each of the cleaned empty bottled with his hearty dry red wine.  He annually made his wine with only a variety of grapes from the Napa Valley in California.  Family and friends eagerly looked forward to his cheery smile, his broken English greeting of “Hiya!  Merry Christmas!  How you are?”, as he handed them a bottle of wine in one of his bottles.  Though I was unaware of it then, my father was light years ahead of the recycling movement.  While I do not make my wine, I do recycle the empty bottles in the bin provided by my town, and I do give gifts of wine at Christmas.

Dad would be proud.

Ciao for now.