Holiday Spontaneity

The formal dining room at Copshaholm at Christmas - tangledpasta.net

The formal dining room at Copshaholm at Christmas – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

After ruminating whether or not to attend the annual symphonic holiday concert, and I must confess we had been talking about it off and on for the past week, my daughter and I finally admitted we longed to do something different for the weekend before Christmas, but what? After surfing the local entertainment web pages, finally that “something different” manifested itself: Christmas at Copshaholm, a special event at the Joseph D. Oliver mansion. The Scottish Oliver family made a fortune with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. Joseph D. Oliver’s 38-room mansion was built between 1895 and 1896, and remained in the family until 1988 when the family bequeathed it to the local historical society. Today’s Christmas event offered small groups the opportunity to see actors convey some history of the mansion and of the Oliver family during the years of World War I. Nearly all 38 rooms held actors as they enacted scenes of Copshaholm life during the Great War.

One of the 14 fireplaces in Copshaholm, this one located on the first floor entryway. - tangledpasta.net

One of the 14 fireplaces in Copshaholm, this one located on the first floor entryway. – tangledpasta.net

In addition to the period attire worn by the thespians, the mansion itself proved the best of all stages, for its rooms and halls were decked for Christmas. Having toured Copshaholm in the past, neither I, nor my daughter had ever witnessed the beauty of the Romanesque mansion trimmed for the holidays. That alone was worth the price of the admission.   Each of the mansion’s three-stories, replete with the original Oliver family furnishings, reminded us that we have a treasure on the National Register of Historic Places, located just across the river from our hometown.

A tantalizing presentation offered us of Spider and Dragon sushi rolls at Woochie's.-tangledpasta.net

A tantalizing presentation offered us of Spider and Dragon sushi rolls at Woochie’s.-tangledpasta.net

After our two-hour Christmas at Copshaholm visit, we were hungry, for we had not eaten anything after breakfast. Since we were downtown, we decided to try Woochie, a Japanese restaurant that friends had told us served excellent sushi. As lovers of Japanese cuisine, thus began our second spontaneous adventure of the day. The décor was that of a  sleek, urban vibe with a black lacquer bar in one large room, and black tables and chairs in a dining room divided into two by modern, narrow, rectangular fish tanks providing privacy for diners. Discreet neon colors played off the shiny blackness of the furnishings. The food itself, was a testament to why we repeatedly seek out Japanese cuisine. In our hometown alone we have four Japanese restaurants that I know of, three of which we have patronized, and now this addition across the river. We ordered delicious scallion pancakes that were divided into eight large triangles, bowls of miso soup, ginger salad, and sushi rolls named Dragon and Spider. We washed it all down with a pots of Japanese Sencha tea To top off our dinner, we shared Mochi, Japanese ice cream. We selected one of mango and another of green tea. Sated and happy, we drove around awhile to view the holiday lights burning brightly in the city streets.

It was a most satisfying and rewarding day.

Ciao for now.

Ouch!

Even though I was unable to eat and drink these treats for a few days, a gingerbread cookie and a cup of cocoa made me feel better.

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Well, it has been quite a week thus far, and this is only Thursday.

Monday evening we did errands after I finished work.  A tooth felt a bit sensitive over the weekend, but I had a dental cleaning appointment scheduled for Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. so I wasn’t worried.  However, as we shopped Monday evening, my jaw and ear began aching and the right side of my face felt unusually warm.  When we got home and I looked in the mirror, I about passed out:  the lower right side of my face was swollen and raging red, and  painful.  I took two Alieve, went to bed, and attempted to sleep to no avail. Finally, around 5:00 a.m., I placed a bag of frozen pearl onions in a ziplock back and fell asleep with them between my swollen face and pillow.  I dreamt of boeuf bourguignon.

On Tuesday morning I called my dentist, but she was booked, so I had to wait until 2:00 p.m. for my appointment.  I went to work, but I was a mess.  Anjelica came to the campus and drove me to the dentist, for she was scared about the grotesque swelling [at this point, I resembled a gargoyle]. An x-ray showed that the tooth under a crown had fractured and become abscessed.  At least this explained the mind-boggling pain. Immediately, the dentist put me on an antibiotic for the swelling and infection, and a prescription painkiller to lessen the throbbing.

Leaving my dentist, who is in a nearby town, we went to CVS in our hometown to pick up my prescriptions.  The medications would not be ready for another 10 minutes, we were told.  At this point I was ready to pass out from pain. Upon returning to the pharmacy, I was informed that the painkiller could not be filled because my dentist has phoned in the prescription.  A new law, at least in this wayward state, had recently gone into effect that demanded a handwritten prescription be submitted.  Back to the dentist, who apologized profusely for having forgotten this recently implemented law. Upon our return to the pharmacy, where I produced the handwritten prescription from my dentist, I was told that the pharmacy was out of that particular narcotic until Friday.  The woman sharing this information apologized as I glared at her.  Nearing the end of my tether, my dentist urged me to try another CVS pharmacy. We drove to a nearby affluent town where I felt certain that pharmacy would have the medication.  It did. I slept better that night, but again Julia Child’s classic boeuf bourguignon permeated my nocturnal castles in the air.

While some swelling still remains, it should be calmed enough so that I do not look distorted in next week’s family Christmas photos.  While I must return to the dentist after Christmas, where I am sure more tooth and crown fun and games await me, at least I am no longer delirious from searing pain. One crowned tooth and so much agony is beyond me, yet soon will be behind me as I continue to brush and floss regularly, albeit carefully around the afflicated area.

Ciao for now.

November-December Transitions

IMG_0859

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Another Thanksgiving has passed, and so has another November 30th birthday. From Thanksgiving on, it seems like I am riding a psychotic horse [which I actually have unknowingly done], through New Year’s.

In mid-November, I pull out the Spode Christmas china. This includes the following set of eight each: dinner, salad, bread and butter, followed by soup bowl, smaller bowls, mugs, cups, saucers, and assorted serving pieces. Looking at the Spode Christmas tree puts me in a festive mood. In addition, various other seasonal mugs join the china fray. Naturally, this means all the other dinner plates, et. al., must be stored where the Spode resides ten-months out of the year…Alright, I admit that sometimes, nay often, the Christmas china remains in use until February.

Ever since I took a stand and invested in a non-live Christmas tree, the tree is now assembled and trimmed by Thanksgiving. Pine-scented Glade plug-in provides the illusion of our Frasier fir trees of yore. Neither sweeping up pine needles twelve months out of the year, nor having Fellini and Coco Chanel lap up tree water, and later purging it, are events I miss. Decking our story-and-a-half 1926 bungalow halls merits much work with a comfort food dinner with hot chocolate and handcrafted marshmallows, not by my hand, but by Whole Foods’. The next day usually entails tackling the outdoor lighting for the front porch. We lean toward white lights and big bows on the railings. Snowflake lights dance from above the railing offering cheer to those passing by.

After a rollicking Thanksgiving with friends whose children also came home from college, like mine did, we continued the food fest with my out of town brother’s family. Spirits were buoyant as we dined and then feasted on a delicious and beautifully decorated birthday cake. I blew out candles, opened gifts, and we just had a fun-filled time of it on my birthday weekend. Anjelica had to turn her attention to studying for law finals. With this in mind, on Sunday morning I made us a frittata, served up sliced mango, tea, and yes, we had a bite of birthday cake.

This Christmas time, we are celebrating with dear friends for a Saturday night gathering at our house. It takes me several weeks to finalize the menu, which I did today, thereby breathing easier. Now, the grocery shopping commences! I love preparing appetizers, food, desserts, and drinks for friends. My darling daughter is a fine baker and cook in her own right. After her law finals this week, she will be home to spin her Yuletide baking, musical mixing, and final decorating talents for our celebration. In between, I am finishing final reading and grading for my students, and shopping for family gifts. All I can say is, thank goodness for online shopping!

Ciao for now.

Back Story

When I am feeling better, I think I'll return to yoga - Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington - tangledpasta.net

When I am feeling better, I’ll return to yoga. Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Finally, I am getting back in the saddle. Those readers who have suffered from ignoble back disc maladies know of what I write. On the maternal side of my family, the disc troubles are genetic. My mother was from a family of nine and I have 42 first cousins alone on that side of the family. Wretched disc ailments abound among us. Fortunately, one of those 42 cousins is an orthopedic physician of prodigious talents. I think if Mike wanted, he could center his entire orthopedic practice on our family alone.

The ironic thing is that my disc had not flared up for some years. Likely because of that, I compromised my vigilance. By this I mean that I hauled too many bags of heavy groceries, especially canned goods like garbanzo beans and bottled ones such as wine, instead of carrying these items in smaller bags of lighter weight. I also tote books and because I teach, I’m always carting books into most of my classes. Even paperback books feel weighty if one carries enough of them at one time. Luggage is a whole other realm in itself. While I abhor flying, I adore driving; thus, drive vacations are my preference. Packing light has never been my forte, except when I travel overseas. However, air travel is not nearly as nice as it was in years past, thus I tend to avoid it altogether these days. Driving brings out the worst in packing in me. Far too many clothes, books, shoes, and toiletries crowd my bags and weigh them down. Even with wheeled luggage, it still has to be hoisted into the boot of the car and removed from said trunk at the destination.

Now, as Christmas looms large, so do the decorations. I love to deck our halls, inside and out. Our 1926 abode lends itself to coziness and cheer this time of year, and it is fun to decorate. However, as my back heals, I still feel my wings have been clipped. I must acquiesce to the limitations of “not overdoing it” as my friends remind me. At the height of my back pain, I felt like spun glass; now, not so much. As I pour over recipes, both family favorites and new, I think in terms of how much to purchase at the store in one trip. Ever since Costco opened a few weeks ago in our town, I’ve had to rein myself in since those large quantities can be heavy. I shall pace myself accordingly so that I may celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas with those I cherish.

While my father’s side of the family is riddled with arthritis, and my mother’s with back ailments, I am not complaining too much. After all, if I do not start bench-pressing, and carry 30-pound objects, I believe I will be fine. Yet, I thank God for my Cousin, Dr. Mike, who has thus far helped me to avoid the S-word [surgery]!

Ciao for now.

Early Autumn Yearnings

Coco Chanel welcomes autumn weather by lying on the piano=-tangledpasta.net

Coco Chanel welcomes autumn weather by lying on the piano=-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Today has been my kind of Midwest October day: sunny, cool, and breezy. If I had to choose among the four seasons we enjoy in the Midwest, my favorites would be spring and autumn. After awakening from a winter sleep, spring days greet me with leaves unfurling, blossoms on the pink crabapple tree, and with crocus and grape hyacinths rousing their purple heads. It is the Earth’s renewal as the days grow longer, and cheery sunshine abounds. Yet as the dog days of summer exact their toll, I begin to notice the maple trees that line my street take on colors other than that of green. In this early October, now the trees are brimming with leaves of fiery red, yellow, and orange hues. The Burning Bush has taken on a decidedly deep red tone. Even the Red Twig Dogwood is showing a sign that its thin branches will turn bright red and remain so throughout the winter months, brightening the snowy white landscape. Sunset now is earlier than it was even a month ago. It is akin to suddenly a nightshade being pulled down to darken a room for sleep.

My thoughts turn on these crisp air-laced days to cooking thick soups, casseroles, and even to coffee, which I rarely drink, inveterate green tea drinker that I am. In fact, one of my beloved dense Italian soups with white beans, pearl barley, and assorted vegetables is simmering away in the slow-cooker as I write. Yesterday morning I arose with a spring in my step and a hankering for baked oatmeal. Putting on the kettle for tea, I turned to my favorite recipe – a modification of one my dear sister-in-law Kelley gave me some years ago. Sadly, as I pawed through the pantry and then through the refrigerator shelves, I realized there was no applesauce to be had, nor could I locate the drum of Quaker Oats. The morning suddenly seemed skewed. Outside the skies were overcast, and by the time I left the house to meet a friend for an overpriced drink at Starbucks, it was raining. An hour or so later, after bidding my chum goodbye, I made the supreme effort to go do a bit of grocery shopping, a task I rank only slightly above laundry, dusting, and vacuuming. In other words, I detest it. Even with an umbrella in hand, by the time I loaded the groceries into the car, and then unloaded them from the trunk upon arrival home, I was drenched. The pouring rain, the heavy winds, and looming darkness combined for good reasons to hunker settle in at home, don comfy clothes, and spend the weekend writing and cooking.

Yes, life in the Midwest is good in early autumn.

Ciao for now.

 

The Last of The Summer Festivals

I admit to being a popcorn purist - tangledpasta.net

I admit to being a popcorn purist – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

According to the 2014 Old Farmer’s Almanac, on September 22, 2014, at 10:29 p.m. EDT, the Autumnal Equinox begins. In other words, we have until 10:28 p.m., EDT to enjoy the last moments of summer. While there are those who believe summer ends when children return to those hallowed halls of education, how wrong they are, given that a number of school systems nationwide now begin in even early August. No, we cherish summer until that date and time in September the aforementioned Almanac tells us.

Yesterday I traveled to the fair land of early Orville Redenbacher for Valparaiso’s annual Popcorn Festival. In 1951 Redenbacher and his partner purchased a seed plant near Valparaiso; thus, a legendary popcorn star was born. In 2012, the City of Valparaiso even unveiled a statue of Orville Redenbacher at its Annual Popcorn Festival. With that bit of history under our belts, we set off to enjoy the festival. The weather was on our side: August thunderstorms had finally cooled the dog days of summer. It was a sunny, breezy popcorn kind of day. The local police had closed off Valparaiso’s charming downtown streets to accommodate the pedestrian throngs. White tents sprouted up and down both sides of the narrow streets. Live music blasted as popcorn revelers jockeyed for space while noshing on oven baked pizza, Bratwurst, elephant ears, pulled pork sandwiches, and ears of roasted corn, and the ubiquitous popcorn.

I sampled Pickle Popcorn, which tasted like a tangy dill pickle. Popcorn appeared in various guises: Chili Pepper and Lime, Raspberry, Bacon, and Pineapple, to name a few. Finally, I purchased a 50-cent bag of traditional popcorn from the Boy Scouts’ booth. It was the kind of popcorn that I liked best: Salty, buttery, and flavorful. After several hours of blaring music and huge crowds, we began wending our way back to my daughter’s SUV, drinking our bottled waters en route. On a quieter side street, we stopped at the outdoor booth of one of our favorite eateries: Café Meditrina, a small, corner place that serves up delicious Mediterranean food of the Middle Eastern variety. We purchased to-go meals of Lambwiches and Tahini Coleslaw, which were a taste sensation from Café Meditrina’s inventive chef.

Driving away from Valparaiso’s Annual Popcorn Festival, we reviewed how it stacked up against the three Michigan summer festivals we attended in August: Northville’s Made in Michigan; South Haven’s Blueberry [which also offered Blueberry Popcorn]; and New Buffalo’s Ship and Shore. We agreed that Valparaiso’s was a fine festival, but we still preferred blueberries to popcorn. We also lamented that the abysmal popcorn parking, unlike the Michigan festivals we attended. In the end, I remain a no-frills popcorn purist, gourmet popcorn be damned. Relaxing at Valparaiso’s bistros beckons in the months to come, minus the cacophony of a festival. Valparaiso really did put on a good Popcorn Festival.

Pass the salt, please, and the hot butter.

Ciao for now.

95 Strong

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Aunt Adelaide loves roses - tangledpasta.net

Aunt Adelaide loves roses – tangledpasta.net

Several weeks ago my daughter and I drove to one of the heavily tree-lined towns outside of Detroit. Throughout the summer my anthem had been, “Visit Aunt Adelaide!” My mother, Kitty, had two younger sisters, Adelaide and Agnes. Mama had six brothers too, but this focus is on Aunt Adelaide, the middle sister, who turned 95 in August. After coordinating schedules with my cousin Mimi, with Anjelica’s schedule, and with mine, we managed to arrive at an August weekend that worked for all, including Aunt Adelaide.

My aunt is not only my mother’s sister; she is also my Godmother. Although my aunt and her family moved to Detroit early in my childhood because of my Uncle Dick’s work [he designed the 1949 Ford: The Car that Saved an Empire – basically, the car that saved Henry Ford’s derriere as documented in automotive history books], throughout my life Aunt Adelaide has been a major presence. We frequently visited our family in the Motor City, and likewise, my aunt and uncle often brought my three cousins to visit us. How I loved eating the Lebanese food Aunt Adelaide prepared whenever we were in town! Uncle Dick was Lebanese and his mother, Sito, who lived with them, and whose English was virtually nonexistent, spoke in Arabic. Between the food and the Arabic, I was enthralled by the exoticness of it all. Mama and her sisters brought their families for summers on Eagle Lake at our family’s lakefront cottage. It was Aunt Adelaide who even taught me how to swim. She was an R.N. who tended our bee stings, sunburn, and cuts from rocks. In short, Aunt Adelaide has always been like a second mother to me, and Aunt Agnes too.

Aunt Adelaide has a great sense of humor. We have always laughed over rollicking stories about zany family and friends, current events, books, movies, and anything and everything. To this day, I telephone Aunt Adelaide and she regales me with anecdotes of yore. In her heyday, she was also a talented seamstress and clothing designer. Between my uncle’s design engineering and overall artistic talent and my aunt’s creative clothing and home furnishing confections, it is small wonder that my three cousins are artists in their own right.

In short, it seemed fitting to celebrate Aunt Adelaide’s 95th birthday with her. She may move more slowly and deliberately, and sometimes she has to pause to remember a particular word, but not enough to dampen conversation. We brought her a petite, feathery bouquet of pink roses, a book, and a DVD about the history of her hometown high school alma mater. We knew she would enjoy everything, and she did. Although her sons were out-of-town, and my dear uncle had passed away months after my father [I like to think of them swapping Italian and Arabic stories and laughing no end], we merrily celebrated. As we drove away that evening, I was filled with nothing but love for my darling Aunt Adelaide. After she blew out the candles on her cake, I told her what we Italians say: Cent’anni! A Hundred Years! It could happen.

Ciao for now.

Summer Festivals

A blueberry clock, perhaps? - tangledpasta.net

A blueberry clock, perhaps? – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

There is nothing more quintessentially American than ubiquitous summer festivals. Quite of few of these annual festivals center around fruit, although there are those that focus on vegetables, corn is a dominant August vegetable.

Here in the Heartland in early August, we celebrate the blueberry. There is, however, one county not far from ours that has the audacity to hold its blueberry festival over Labor Day weekend, when there is not a fresh blueberry to be had. However, I am pleased to report that in the Michigan [a mere twenty minutes to the State Line from our abode, genuine August Blueberry Festivals abound. My daughter and I hopped into our roadster and headed for the South Haven Blueberry Festival.

This beach community is on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Five Great Lakes. South Haven itself clocks in at less than one-and-a-half hour’s drive from our home. Although we have spent summers on Lake Michigan, we had never visited South Haven. Downtown was jumping, with pedestrians everywhere. We wound up in a picturesque park with a large clock overlooking the shady walkways. Since it was a blazingly hot and humid day, we welcomed the shade. We meandering and following our noses, we detected the scent of Italian beef in the air. On the other side of the park was a tent-covered area with a vendor selling Italian Beef Sandwiches slathered with roasted bell peppers and onions. Resisting this temptation, we moved on to booths of blueberries every which way: In quarts, 4-pound and 10-pound lots, pies, muffins, jams, mustard [actually quite good], syrup, salsa, and ketchup, of all things.

We purchased 4 pounds of blueberries, a 16-ounce jar of blueberry jam, and headed back to the “blueberry strip” downtown. Upon entering The Blueberry Shop, I tasted the blueberry coffee [mighty fine, even to this non-coffee drinker, although I am aware of the irony of that remark], while Anjelica taste-tested blueberry-covered pretzels [a winner, she decreed].

Happy with our blueberry tea, blueberry cocoa, and blueberry salt-and-pepper shakers, we headed off in search of lunch. Although we had hoped to garner a table at The Stray Dog, its two-and-a-half hour wait propelled us to another eatery a few blocks up the street: The Black River Tavern, overlooking the harbor. While the tavern was packed to the gills, a table for two had just opened. On the advice of our hurried, yet chipper waitress, we ordered a specialty of the tavern: Perch sandwiches. The perch had been freshly caught in Lake Michigan that morning, and may I say “Bravo!” to this cold-water fish! Fast food fish sandwiches pale dramatically after chomping down the enormous fresh perch ones at The Black River Tavern.

Sated, we moved on to the Black River Bookstore. This charming bookshop offers used books, along with new ones by Michigan authors. In the children’s section I came across the Camp Fire Girl Guide. As I thumbed through this well-worn copy, I was reminded of my book when I was first a Bluebird, and then moved up to Camp Fire Girl for twelve years, first through twelfth grades with my mother as the Leader of our troop. Carefully I placed in back upon the shelf for a girl to discover. After making a book purchase, we took a drive along the shore, parked the car, got out and watched the sailboats glide by the lighthouse. We may return to South Haven for a week or two stay on the beach next summer, and, of course, for the blueberries.

Ciao for now.

Route 66: Requiem for a President

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Springfield, IL-tangledpasta.net

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Springfield, IL-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Of all the wonders we experienced on our travels through Illinois on Historic Route 66, one that stood out was the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Our Route 66 Visitor’s Guide informed us that Lincoln’s Library and Museum “…is over 50% larger than any other presidential library/museum, and is the most visited.” That I would believe since it was people, people everywhere when we visited on a weekday.

My daughter, the “2L” [second year] law student, was wild to visit the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. It proved an arresting moment to know Lincoln walked from his home to his brick, on-the-corner law office, entered through those very doors, worked at that impressive tall, wide desk with cubby holes, warmed himself at that particular fireplace, and honed his legal skills from 1843 to 1852. Outside the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices is a tree-lined plaza with life-sized sculptures of Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their first-born son Willy. We walked a short distance, strode through the Lincoln Presidential Museum’s doors, purchased tickets, and embarked on a journey through Lincoln’s life, and what a journey it turned out to be.

Abraham Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL-tangledpasta.net

Abraham Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL-tangledpasta.net

We began inside a log cabin, not Lincoln’s, but one from his birth area, explained the guard. How all of his family members lived in that postage stamp-sized log cabin is beyond me, but they did. We moved into the general store where he worked. All replicas of Lincoln and those around him throughout the museum are life-size. He was a tall man for his times, dwarfing those around him. When we reached the room of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debate, I did a double take: Inside a protected case laid William Lincoln’s broken headstone. The boy died at age four in Springfield, the first of many personal tragedies to assail the Lincoln family. Moving through this vast museum to the culmination of the Civil War, and how Lincoln was fraught with decisions, dissent within his Cabinet, the soaring death toll of the war, and the deaths of two of his other sons, begged the question how did the man persevere. Yet he did. Lincoln’s personal and public major events are represented in large rooms. Displays of uniforms of the North and of the South, along with photographs and last letters home from these soldiers, cuts to the quick as one realizes the breadth and scope of the Civil War. Having visited Gettysburg, I felt that same surge of sadness at the human toll exacted on both sides.

The last enormous room was a precise replica of Lincoln lying in state in Springfield. Dimmed lighting, long burgundy velvet drapes, enormous ferns, and the ornate casket itself covered with a huge spray of flowers atop a raised sort of indoor mound drive home the enormity of the Nation’s loss. This, of all the Lincoln rooms, demanded silence. Reverentially we halted as we gazed upon this Lincoln’s final stop of the funeral train’s journey from Washington, D. C. Staggering back into the brightly lit museum pavilion, we decided to forgo the museum’s theatrical play, though we did take a look inside the gift shop. Across the street was the Lincoln Library, which houses his documents. It too is a beautiful building, and knowing what it archives makes it all the more special.

Abraham LIncoln's Monument, Oak Ridge Cemetary, Springfield, IL-tangledpasta.net

Abraham LIncoln’s Monument, Oak Ridge Cemetary, Springfield, IL-tangledpasta.net

We then arrived at Lincoln’s Springfield residence. The entire neighborhood is a national museum/park, replete with forest rangers and manifold security. What makes Springfield unique is that it is where Lincoln’s professional law life and political life began. The entire Historic District exudes Lincoln, the President who saved the Union. Lincoln was laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Also buried there were Mary, his wife, and three of their sons: William, Edward, and Thomas, all of whom died in boyhood. Only Robert lived to adulthood, and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Beneath a majestic obelisk atop a hill and terrace, visitors may walk inside the structure into a rotunda covered with marble and bronze. Lincoln is buried ten-feet underground in a concrete vault. Again, there is a hush among visitors to Lincoln’s tomb. The entire Lincoln experience is an absorbing one, intellectually, historically, and humanistically.

Ciao for now.

 

The Romance of the Road: Route 66

Sculpture at the entrance of the Joliet Route 66 Welcome Center - tangledpasta.net

Sculpture at the entrance of the Joliet Route 66 Welcome Center – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

We set out on a blue-sky morning full of anticipation for our road trip.  Although Route 66 technically starts in Chicago at Buckingham Fountain, we decided to circumvent the Windy City since we were already familiar with Buckingham Fountain.  We opted instead to begin at the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center.  It proved a good place to begin.  We encountered a chatty Welcome person filled with stories of the fabled Route and of the Joliet Jail.  The Welcome Center includes couches made from cars’ tail fins, statues of The Blues Brothers, and a replica of a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette in which one may sit and pretend to drive.  This light and airy starting point also boasts a sculpture at its entrance that pays homage to the storied Route 66. Although laden with information we had culled before our trip, the welcome man pointed us to excellent free maps that highlighted further points of interest.  Hopping in our car, we set off Route 66 in front of the Welcome Center.

The road is well-marked with distinctive tan and white Illinois Historic Route 66 markers.  We soon learned that those markers spring up suddenly with arrows pointing to a sharp, unexpected turn. Traveling on the two-lane highway, my daughter informed me, made her feel really American.  I understood.  As we drove, we talked about how Route 66 was “The Road” to traverse during the latter part of the Roaring Twenties, and how the Route had been the main artery for transporting bootleg liquor between St. Louis and Chicago during Prohibition.  We noted a wonderful absence of semi-truck traffic and of road construction on Route 66, the National Scenic Byway.  We hummed the theme song from the “Route 66” television program, and came to experience the sense of nostalgia the Route itself invokes:  It embodies the concept of the open road.

We let the road lead us to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.  Uniform headstones and colorful floral gardens belie the fact that the cemetery sits on the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. As we were leaving, a funeral cortege was entering. It was a moving moment in this quiet, well-kept space. Our next point of interest on Route 66 was a far cry from the previous one:  the Gemini Giant in front of the Launching Pad Drive-In of Wilmington, Illinois.  The enormous fiberglass Giant pays homage to early Space Travel.  The still operating Drive-In itself opened in 1960, before the blandness of corporate chain drive-ins emerged. We were feeling hungry by the time we hit Braidwood.  We pulled up to the Polk-A-Dot Drive-In, which first opened its doors in 1956. Feeling the pull of those halcyon diner days of yore, we ordered cheeseburgers, chili fries and Green Rivers, very filling.  The 1960’s era jukebox proved so irresistible that I had to feed it coins to play “Jail House Rock”, “Great Balls of Fire”, and “La Bamba”, three tunes for fifty cents.  Outside we posed in front of Betty Boop, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean fiberglass creations. In Godley, reading Burma Shave Signs along the Route made us laugh as we continued to get our kicks on Route 66.

 

Ciao for now.