The Romance of the Road: Route 66

Sculpture at the entrance of the Joliet Route 66 Welcome Center -

Sculpture at the entrance of the Joliet Route 66 Welcome Center –

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.

Summer Getaway


Getting our kicks on Route 66 -

Getting our kicks on Route 66 –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

When I was a child, I vaguely recall a television program called “Route 66” that first aired in 1960. Since I was limited to one television program, the show did not totally capture my attention like “Lassie” and “The Wonderful World of Disney” did, but the characters, named Buz, who was later replaced by a character named Linc] and Tod, drove on the now Historic Route 66 in a Corvette convertible. I imagined that this sports car was red, but since we the program was in black and white in those years, I could not be sure [According to Wikipedia, the Stingray was light blue throughout the first season]. Maybe the romantic notion of freedom I associated with a red Corvette, which is why in my mind’s color version of the program, the car was red.

It was the “Route 66 Theme” song that caught my ear when my parents started watching the program. It was composed by a man named Nelson Riddle, whom I thought in my child’s mind, had a funny name. It was a catchy, jazzy sort of song, and I liked it. Years later, I realized those old “Route 66” episodes reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road. The notion of freedom, searching for one’s self and meaning were as apparent in Kerouac’s work as in “Route 66” story lines. We know now that the 1960’s were a tumultuous decade in U.S. history. “Route 66” foreshadowed that restlessness in its lead male characters and the seductive draw of the open road.

For several years I have wanted to travel on Route 66, for I too love road trips, and eschew airplane travel whenever possible. Tomorrow morning we leave for Chicago to commence getting our kicks on Route 66. While we have time this summer only to travel as far as St. Louis, maybe eventually we can drive Route 66 all the way to L.A. As Buz and Tod learned, endless possibilities exist within the small communities and people who inhabit them.

Ciao for now.

  My Star-Spangled Girl

Every birthday is a star-spangled one for my 4th of July

Every birthday is a star-spangled one for my 4th of July

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

July 2nd dawned as sultry as could be.  At 3:30 p.m., the obstetrician informed me, “She hasn’t dropped yet.” I was nine months pregnant, as uncomfortable as could be, and the baby was kicking non-stop like a soccer player at the World Cup. My husband and I had already separated [he had moved back to Greece before we knew I was with child]. The July heat and humidity bore down relentlessly and I felt like a wet mop.

Resigned to another sleepless night, I placed the ingredients for pesto in the Cuisinart, and waited for the linguine to boil. I decided to make the best of it and watch a movie as I poured myself an herbal iced tea.  I longed for a glass of crisp Pinot Grigio, but once I learned I was expecting, I eliminated coffee and my evening glass of vino from my menu.

At 10:30 p.m. on that July 2nd, I decided to give sleep a chance.  It was not to be, for I was rushed to the hospital shortly thereafter. Anjelica decided to “enter the light” as the Italians say, at 6:30 a.m. on the 4th of July. All the pre-natal vitamins I had taken daily, all the cream of wheat and oatmeal I had ingested paid off:  Anjelica was pink and perfect with a mass of black hair.  She was a beauty from the start and still is, if I may say.

That night, from the large picture window in our maternity ward room, we watched the 4th of July fireworks on the river.  At least I enjoyed the pyrotechnic display; Princess Anjelica snoozed away atop my chest, indifferent to her first 4th of July fireworks. We celebrated a lot of her birthdays with star-spangled cakes and red, white, and blue clothing themes.  At one point she announced she had tired of patriotic-themed birthdays.  Thus, ushered in the era of pink and lavender 4th of July feted birthdays.  The tradition that remained was our family staking a claim on prime river space to watch the 4th of July fireworks.  This endured until the city’s fireworks benefactor died.

This year Anjelica is again coming home for her birthday weekend.  We are having a small gathering with friends, but will host the family later this summer. The menu this year is roasted lemon chicken, risotto cakes, eggplant gratin, salad, and almond-scented raspberry and white cake.  Two weeks ago Anjelica told me she would like to have a 4th of July theme.  I’ve begun decorating inside and out already. While neither of us knows exactly where she will wind up two years from now, post-law school, I take heart in the fact that we are still able to celebrate her birthday together for now.

Buon cumpleanno, carissima star-spangled figlia mia!

Ciao for now.

For the Birds

While not as showy as a Cardinal, she is spunky -

While not as showy as a Cardinal, she is spunky –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

One of my favorite Sunday indulgences is to sit with my large gingham printed cup of green tea on the wicker sofa with the plush blue and green print cushion, reading the Sunday New York Times.  Having been out-of-town over the course of the past several weekends, I have not been able to satisfy my Sunday morning ritual.  However, on this leisurely morning, I thought I was back on track.

Our front porch, which wraps around part of the front of a 1928 story-and-a-half bungalow house, is in the shape of a square.  White PVC railing surrounds it and the front steps. Coordinating caramel colored faux wicker furniture consisting of said sofa, two chairs with slightly rolled arms, and a side table that actually sits between the chairs and the sofa complete the look.  The wicker table sits atop a small blue and cream outdoor rug; between the chairs stands a round flamingo tiled table with black wrought iron legs. Hanging ferns surround the porch adding an airy 1920’s vibe.  Since the porch faces east, morning is the best time to enjoy the porch.

With green gingham mug in hand, and bowl of Greek yogurt because probiotics are good for us, and fresh strawberries and honey, I collected the New York Times, watered the printed pot of pink Gerbera daisies on the side table, and prepared to park myself on the porch.  Glancing at the ferns, I realized I had best hydrate them immediately.  I gingerly poured water into the side of the large fern above the wicker chairs.  Suddenly, four small birds came flying out of the fern, chirping frantically and flapping their wings as if our two indoor cats had been let loose.

Weeks ago little brown mama’s eggs had hatched.  It had been at least two weeks since she had raised a ruckus as I crossed the porch to retrieve the mail. I assumed the birds had vacated the center of that particular fern.  How wrong I was!  For some years a verdigris rectangular planter was hung with three small pots of flowers off the back door steps.  Each spring a bird would set up housekeeping in that planter with her little blue eggs.  Every time we opened the back door, the bird could come flying in our face.  After taking it up with committee, I decreed no longer would we hang small flowerpots in that planter in the interest of preserving ourselves from bodily harm.  Consequently, I had moved the verdigris planter to the front porch.  Again, the birds nested there.  Stepping out on the porch one day, I saw what we refer to as the Baby Bird Massacre:  A villainous Blue Jay had pecked the young birds to death. This year I hung an artsy three-dimensional star instead, in honor of my daughter’s Fourth of July birthday, and to encourage the birds to seek another domicile.  Clever little birds that they are, they nested in the center of the large front porch fern.  Blue Jays had not nested in the neighborhood this spring.  However, a rabbit has set up residence in our backyard.  It is nice to be greeted by Cottontail each evening when I return from work.  At least the rabbit does not fly into my face.

Ciao for now.

And Now a Word About Fathers…

My brother and sister-in-law, the best of

My brother and sister-in-law, the best of


By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

First, I would like to extend a major shout out to all the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and surrogates out there who are loving, kind, and have fun with their offspring.  Next, I would like to extend a major boo, hiss, and toss of rotten tomatoes to those fathers who have shirked their responsibility to their children.  All I can say to those is, “You have lost big, with a capital B.”  Maybe your children will want to look you up some day, but more often than not, they won’t.  Why should they bother about you, when you were too busy attending to your narcissistic self throughout their childhood and adolescence?

However, back to the fathers who do and did take note of their children by doing the fatherly thing.  I recall a conversation my brother had with one of our cousins. They were discussing their fathers. Our father was from Italy, and our cousin’s from Lebanon [well, he practically was since he was born shortly after his parents emigrated]. Both our father and our uncle had an incredibly strong work ethic.  Their sense of family equaled that too.  Yet neither our father, nor our uncle ever pitched baseball to their sons; they rarely sat through one of their sons’ Little League games.  What they did do, though, was talk with their sons, listen to them, help them, paid for their college degrees, laughed with them, and instilled in them both an unshakable belief in the power of family.

It occurred to me probably our father didn’t pitch ball to my brother because he didn’t know how.  In Italy he was apprenticed as a shoemaker at the age of ten.  He didn’t really have the idyllic childhood Americans like to fabricate for their children.  The only time I remember our father talking about any kind of play time was when he mentioned how he and his friends in their remote village used to take sticks and push around whatever they could find. My brother played with his children and with my daughter throughout their early years and during their teen years. In their undergraduate years, he rallied them for tailgating, took them for dinner at his favorite pizzeria, listened to them about their travails and their successes; no one looked prouder than he did at their graduations. I think my brother had a fine role model in our father because my brother Frank has an ironclad work ethic and an implacable sense of family.  My brother shines as an exemplary father model to follow.  So did our father.

Ciao for now.



Back Home, Again

Fellini [a Maine Coon] and Coco Chanel [a study in black and white] -

Fellini [a Maine Coon cat] and Coco Chanel [a study in black and white] –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Yesterday afternoon I arrived home after nearly a week away, for I was participating in the Indiana University Writers’ Conference.  The Conference ended on Friday, and early Saturday morning found me in Zionsville, where my sister-in-law Kelley and I headed out early to the village’s Outdoor Market. “Swiss-a Charge”, as my father used to call it in his best broken English, or Swiss Charge to non-Italians, proved irresistible with thick, colorful stems and huge frilly dark green leaves.  Delicate, thin asparagus lobbied too for my attention, as did the mixed Spring lettuces, and overstuffed quarts of freshly picked chunky strawberries.  All made their way into my market bag.  I bought two large twists of fresh basil linguine and two equally huge twists of tomato fettucine from the lady who makes the homemade pasta. Three gigantic basil plants I purchased will be planted Sunday afternoon when I am home. An outdoor luncheon under the expansive shade of an eclectic bistro along the brick Main Street of the Village of Zionsville with my darling niece Lauren and dear Kelley capped off a most pleasant morning. After an intense week of work at the Writers’ Conference, dining al fresco and sipping crisp white wine with my brother Frank and with Kelley late Friday night on their deck was just the relaxing segue to my journey home I needed.  Frankie even took us to the Dairy Queen drive-thru where we ordered small S’mores Blizzards, and then happily ate them at a pretty tree-lined spot overlooking the new hiking/biking trail in the village.

Driving home under blue skies and sunshine, I conversed a bit with a friend taking care of our two indoor cats, and then with my daughter, Anjelica.  In between times, I played my favorite Luciano Pavarotti arias on CDs.  The two-and-a-half hours+ drive sped along. Before I knew it, I was back home.  I had invited our family friend, caretaker of the cats, the mail, and the profusion of potted flowers to dine with me last evening.  I cooked the bountiful Swiss Chard, roasted garbanzo beans in olive oil and crushed red pepper, and boiled  cavatelli pasta, and mixed it all together with a basil marinara sauce.  On such a perfect Spring evening, it seemed right to eat the meal on the dark red brick patio in the backyard.  The black wrought iron furniture with the swivel chairs and comfy green cushions were made for such an evening and lend themselves to the house’s 1928 bungalow architecture.  Mindful of our Franciscan nun friend, Sister Marie’s hectic schedule, for she is both the Music Director at the national headquarters here in town of the Sisters of Saint Frances, and the Chair of Religious Studies at my alma mater, Marian High School, I am pleased to have her company whenever she is able to come over and share a meal. She kindly brought a strawberry pie, and we ate the pasta with vegetables, drank Pinot Grigio, had a slice of pie, and talked the evening away, for we are both great talkers.

This morning dawned, but I managed to sleep in and get caught up on my sleep.  Fellini and Coco Chanel, the cats, were not pleased that their Fancy Feast breakfast was tardy on my first morning back.  I toasted naan bread, drizzled it with olive oil, prepared some of the fresh strawberries, brewed a combination of Teavana teas that I like, a chai and an oolong, with names far too long to remember, and I set up my breakfast camp on our front porch.  I could rhapsodize for some time about the small square front porch and our backyard brick patio.  The hanging ferns on the front porch, the wicker sofa and chairs with the blue and green swirly plush cushions, and the coffee table with its pot of Gerbera Daisies atop the blue and cream outdoor rug, and me armed with the Sunday New York Times, make me feel like a fortunate, relaxed woman on this sunny/partly cloudy morning.  With Fellini and Coco Chanel dozing in the opened windows overlooking the porch, I slid back into my home life, albeit a richer one with the new friends and the writing insight I gleaned from the IU Writers’ Conference.

Ciao for now.


Memorial Remembrance

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Memorial Day Remembrance -

Memorial Day Remembrance –


Today is a time of remembrance of those who served our country.  Each Memorial Day, a flag is placed at my father’s monument to honor his service to our country.  Having already served in the Italian army, my father was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, after he had become a U.S. citizen.  He was proud to serve his new country; he never regretted having been obliged to serve in the Italian Army and then in the U.S. Army.  It was an honor, he told my brother and me.  He genuinely believed it was what one did as a citizen.

Today we will visit my parents’ monument and place hanging baskets of pink and red New Guinea Impatiens on the side of the pale pink marble.  Mama and Daddy both loved vibrant colored flowers.  Unwavering in their loyalty to family, we decorated our deceased members’ monuments on what used to be called Decoration Day, but now is referred to as Memorial Day.  As we offer up prayers to my beloved parents and grandparents at the old Catholic cemetery, I shall also be sending up prayers for the University of California – Santa Barbara students who were brutally and ruthlessly cut down by a delusional madman.  I picture these victims with heartfelt sadness, for I have been teaching college students for many years.  Their youth, vigor, and commitment to envisioning a better future spur me on to constantly strive to be a better educator.

In this morning’s New York Times, I viewed a photo gallery of the Santa Barbara and Isla Vista communities in pain and shock.  What struck me too in these images of raw emotion were the flowers laid at the sites of those fallen students.  Memorials created to honor those lives cut short.  The same thoughts drifted to those Veterans of Service in our Armed Forces.  True, not all died in warfare, but they served and served well, like those student victims served their studies, their families, their friends, and their communities.  Unnatural deaths defy our understanding and tug at our moral core, whether it is at the hand of “the other” in warfare, or at the hand of an amoral lunatic wielding weapons. No matter how or when lives were lost, the fallen all deserve memorials of flowers, flags, and prayers on this and all other Memorial Days.

Ciao for now.


Shakespeare's Hamlet resonates today -

Shakespeare’s Hamlet resonates today –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

For years I have brewed Teavana tea and sipped samples of it in our local Teavana store.  I have also sipped Tazo tea happily at Starbucks, and imbibed Tazo Zen at home.  Yes, my tea life was good.  When Starbucks bought Teavana tea and gradually began to hawk it in Starbucks’ stores, I was fine too.  After all, I could always purchase Tazo teas at our Whole Foods and Super Target stores. As an inveterate tea drinker these past fifteen years, I find tea relaxing, calming because the green tea has helped lessen not only my allergies, but also has been known to periodically tame the arthritis in my lower back.

However, I take umbrage at the inane Oprah quotes that now encircle the sleeve of my hot tea purchases at Starbucks.  Accustomed to the usual Starbucks green logo emblazoned on the kind of cardboard colored sleeve, I did a double-take when a bright green-yellow pilfered from the Crayola crayon box appeared wrapped around my hot tea. Now the Teavana Buddha logo appears next to the trite message of “Steep your soul”, which is, apparently endorsed by Oprah.  Now, I am not personally acquainted with Ms. Winfrey, and I am aware that she and her successful yadda-yadda-yadda show occupied the television airwaves for years, and that she built herself a mighty fine mega-bucks empire, but now she has encroached on my Teavana tea time, and that offends me.

Spewing such drivel as “Be more splendid.  Be more extraordinary. Use every moment to fill yourself up.”  What does that mean?  Eat more kale?  Adhered to  another Starbucks tea order, the sleeve advised, “You are not here to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more of who you really are.” Who is going to remember such an awkward quote as that?  In Hamlet, Shakespeare’s character Hamlet pondered, “To be or not to be, that is the question”, which is far more existential and memorable. Recall that in As You Like It, when the Bard’s character Jaques articulated “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players”, he gave us pause to reflect personally, politically, and philosophically.  If Starbucks wishes to broaden the thought processes and “steep” the “souls” of its patrons, it could do no better than to turn to great literary figures’ “sound bites” to plaster on beverage sleeves. If Starbucks wants to have a memorable quote from a female, then it should turn to Abigail Adams who, in 1776, admonished her husband John Adams and his Continental Congress colleagues “[To] remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Teavana could place on another cup sleeve, Abigail Adam’ continued quoted of “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.  Remember all Men would be Tyrants if they could.”

Ciao for now.

 All Bets Are Off This Mother’s Day

Dreaming of Mother's Day -

Dreaming of Mother’s Day –


By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

First, I would like to go on record as stating that I am not bitter. It is important that I share that tidbit of information.  As I sit here alone pushing leftover fried rice from dinner last week at my favorite Japanese grille, I am trying to focus on how Tuesday my daughter and I are celebrating two events:  Her finishing her first year of law school, and a belated Mother’s Day.

Why, one may ask, am I spending Mother’s Day alone for the first time in 22 years?  The answer is two-fold.  It begins with some calendar-challenged individual at her law school scheduling the last of the final exams for first-year students the day after Mother’s Day, at 8:00 a.m., no less.  Never mind that the second and third year students finished their final exams last week.  I guess I had grown accustomed to celebrating the end of her undergraduate school years on Mother’s Day since those final exams occurred earlier in May each year.  She wanted to come home for Mother’s Day, if even for only a quick meal together.  However, that “quick meal” would likely go on for some hours, resulting in her returning to her law town infinitely later than she originally planned.  I urged her to stay put, remain in the final exam study mode, and come home on Tuesday.

Sometimes I loathe being noble for my child, all the while knowing it is the right and decent thing to do.

The second-fold reason I am flying solo this Mother’s Day is because on Thursday I had out patient surgery at my dermatologist’s.  No, it was not a chemical peel, a Botox injection, or any of the other beautifying techniques that clever doctor knows how to do.  Alas, it was something far more mundane, yet vital to my health and well-being:  The removal of pre-cancerous formations on my face.  Thank God for my talented hair stylist, for I have been able for sometime to hide these manifestations with my vogue haircut and makeup.  However, I began to grow fearful, and I also wanted to pull my hair back from my face in the warmer weather.  What I did not count on were the two black eyes and scary-looking dark red and brown-blistered aftermath on my face of the heat and freezer techniques used, although today I must admit that I resemble more of a psychedelic raccoon with purple rings around my eyes, instead of black ones.  I fancy The Beatles could have used me on the cover of their Sgt. Pepper’s album. At least the raging swollen redness on my face of Thursday and part of Friday has abated.  The pain has subsided too, thanks to Motrin and heaps of ointment I was instructed to apply on the wounds. Had I known I would resemble something from a fright night movie, I would have scheduled the surgery for well-after Mother’s Day.

Frankly, I was not keen on my daughter or any member of my brother’s family seeing me in my present condition [no makeup either until I am completely healed in six more days or so].  Consequently, my incredibly quiet Mother’s Day is somewhat self-induced.  I have little cause to complain:  My daughter called me, as did my brother and his family, which all buoyed my spirits considerably.  Taking care of my health and well being is also something to cheer me up too, though I would prefer to be celebrating this day with my family face to face [no pun intended].

I think I have a bag of P.F. Chang’s frozen Orange Chicken in the freezer for dinner tonight…

Ciao for now.



A Mother’s Day

A Happy Mother's Day! -

A Happy Mother’s Day! –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Salve! Salve! Today is Mother’s Day, the meaning of which still perplexes me.  Should we not honor our mother 365 days of the year, instead of on only one day?  The common custom has become to take dear Mummy out for brunch, or lunch, or dinner on Mother’s Day.  This in itself requires a bit of quick-footed planning in the art of making the reservation itself weeks ahead of the Day of Dear Old Mum.  Flowers abound, children in their Sunday best, delays in seating at said restaurant, and we will not discuss the perils of parking the motorized chariot in which Mother rode with family members.

Whilst me thinks it a lovely gesture to set aside one day in May for we of Club Mother, I would like to give pause to contemplate these grandiose overtures on one Sunday each year.  If we honor our Mothers on this day with a lovely meal at home not prepared by our Mamas, and we lavish glorious flowers upon her, for our forbearers told us never to plant anything prior to Mother’s Day, and we surround our dear Mamas with love and affection, then I would like to ask, What are we doing for her the rest of the year?  If she has taught us well, then we should demonstrate acts of kindness to her throughout the year. Random acts of kindness to she who bore us that remind her of our devotion.  As Mother myself, I can attest that there is nothing more I cherish than spontaneous hugs from my daughter, her sweet kisses when she walks through the door, and her thoughtfulness at even making my bed or doing the laundry [tasks I loathe, yet are necessary evils, at least the laundry is].

My idea of a perfect Mother’s Day on the government designated day in May is simply to have nothing planned, beyond setting out and arranging the porch and patio furniture, and later sitting down that night to watch a movie with my daughter after enjoying a meal that she herself has prepared for us.  If Mother’s Day also includes celebrating the day with my out-of-town brother and his family, then that is always joyful too. I miss my Mother every day these past 12 Mother’s Days.  We should keep our Mothers in our hearts, and if flowers are included for her, all the better. I take solace in the fact that I did for my own Mama, flowers were always included.

Ciao for now.