The Christmas Chronicles, Part 2

Saint Monica Church in our hometown on Christmas morning - tangledpasta.net

Saint Monica Church in our hometown on Christmas morning – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

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 - tangledpasta.net

Saint Monica Church Nativity on Christmas Morning – tangledpasta.net

 

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 - tangledpasta.net

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

Frank and Kelley's 2013 live Christmas tree = tangledpasta.net

Frank and Kelley’s 2013 live Christmas tree = tangledpasta.net

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 - tangledpasta.net

Mama’s homemade ravioli, deliciously made by Kelley – tangledpasta.net

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!

 

A Weekend at Home

Shelton Rae relaxed at home in the windowsill over the weekend - tangledpasta.net

Shelton Rae relaxed at home in the windowsill over the weekend – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last Thursday night Anjelica rang me up.

“Would it be okay if I came home tomorrow night?  I’m stressed, tired, and I need my Mama!”

“You know you can always come home, anytime, Sweetheart,” I assured her.

“Should I bring Shelton Rae for just one night?”  Shelton Rae is her big orange cat.

“Shelton should probably come with you since he’s never been alone overnight.  Fellini and Coco Chanel will be fine with him.”  [It turned out to be a bit touch and go, but that’s another story.]

Since she was leaving after her Friday afternoon class, I calculated she would arrive here around 6:00 p.m.  After work I scampered over to Whole Foods, one of my favorite places for grocery shopping.  I purchased a couple of New York strip steaks, roasted Yukon gold potatoes, and cooked some Swiss chard, or Swiss-a charge, as my father used to say.  Anjelica and Shelton Rae arrived at 6:50 p.m.  We chatted, cooked, sat down to dinner, and then she studied.  It was a most tranquil Friday night.

Early Saturday morning we headed to our hair salon for Anjelica’s appointment.  With a new graduate program, new city, and new domicile, she felt primed to change-up her hair style, which she did.  We arrived home.  I heated up the cheese and spinach Mystic Pizza [now sold at Whole Foods].  Over salad and Mystic Pizza, we reminisced about a memorable summer several years ago when we traveled to the charming seaport town of Mystic, Connecticut.  These fond memories propelled us to agree to watch the movie, Mystic Pizza that very night.  Scheduling a movie night meant Anjelica had to hunker down and hit the books before and after Saturday evening Mass.

I made risotto with mushrooms, herbs, and white wine for dinner, and we watched Mystic Pizza.  Viewing the movie again reminded us of the fabulous seafood we ate that summer:  Quahogs, lobster, clams, crab proved most tantalizing to our Heartland taste buds.  If it sported fins or housed itself in a shell, we ate it that summer.  Crustaceans aside, Mystic Pizza took our minds off of the mundane for a few hours.

Sunday morning dawned.  While she slept in, I put together a potato-basil frittata, and lightly fried thinly sliced pork chops in olive oil and a dab of butter.  After sorting through in-between season clothes to take back to school, it was time to bid one another adieu.  Anjelica had to return to her new life as a law student.  Over the weekend she had rested,  accomplished her homework goals, and unwound from law school stresses for a weekend. We bid one another adieu, and while I am aware that I will see her soon, I prefer to tell her hello.

Ciao for now.

Remembering Sparkle, Part IV

Sparkle resting on a fuzzy blanket – tangledpasta.net

My daughter came home for Thanksgiving and we honored the holiday with family and friends.  Since my birthday follows Thanksgiving, we usually celebrate after we have recovered from the sumptuous Thanksgiving repast.  That particular birthday, Anjelica gifted me with a tall, tantalizingly scented candle with three wicks.  The next morning I arose early and made a spinach quiche.  To cheer up the overcast November morning, Anjelica lit the new candle.  As we sat down to dine, Sparkle suddenly leapt up on the dining room table.  I shouted for her to get off the table, but not before sweeping her gold and white ringed tail over the three burning wicks.  With a grand leap, Sparkle vanished into the other rooms.

“Mama!  Sparkle’s on fire!  Her tail is burning”, cried Anjelica.

“Quick!  She ran into the sun room! Catch her!  I’ll get a towel!”

I raced to pour cold water over a towel, quickly wrung it out, and dashed into the sun room.

“Her tail isn’t burning now,” Anjelica said as she tried to calm Sparkle and herself.

Gingerly I wrapped the wet towel around Sparkle’s smoldering tail.  Fellini, our other cat, wrinkled his nose as he sniffed the air.  Sparkle’s tail emitted a odiferous scent of burning fur.  She did not balk at the hand towel I held in place around her tail.

Sparkle and Fellini indulging in bird watching – tangledpasta.net

“She flew off the table so fast, the air managed to put out the flames,” I commented, checking over Sparkle to make sure she hadn’t been injured elsewhere.       For her part, Sparkle purred contentedly in Anjelica’s lap the rest of the day.

“Now you have to call her “Sparkler”, observed our friend Sister Marie as she howled with laughter as we related the story of Sparkle’s flaming tail.

“Let’s send up some prayers to St. Francis of Assisi since that’s your order,” I said to Sister Marie.

Save for the black patches on her singed tail, Sparkle appeared none the worse for wear.  Suffice to say that for Christmas we kept candles far away from Sparkle.

We did not know these were to be Sparkle’s last Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sparkle celebrating Christmas – tangledpasta.net

In May, I noticed a hard lump on Sparkle’s backbone near her left shoulder.  Given Sparkle’s age, fourteen in human years, I attributed the hard growth to a cyst or arthritic condition.  When Anjelica arrived home from college, she blanched at the site of Sparkle.  After examining Sparkle, our vet informed us Sparkle was suffering from a fast growing tumor, the ‘tentacles’ of which had invaded her muscles.  Due to the rapid spread of this type of feline tumor, surgery would only delay the inevitable for a few more months.

“Take her home, keep her comfortable.  You will know when to bring her back.  She only has another two or three months.”

Anjelica was crushed.  Sparkle had helped ease her transition from Montessori school to parochial school and from middle school to high school.  Sparkle never left her side as Anjelica mourned the sudden and unexpected of her beloved grandmother.  Sparkle was on deck for Anjelica during the remaining four years of her grandfather’s life as we cared for him.  When Anjelica cried over the loss of those dear to her, it was Sparkle who snuggled close to her throughout the night, purring loudly to ward off sadness.

I convinced Anjelica that we would not let Sparkle suffer and cling to life because of our emotions.

“The kindest thing you can do for Sparkle is to let her go.”

“But how can I?  How can I say goodbye?”

“By remembering all of the good things you shared with Sparkle.  By doing just what you have been doing for fourteen years:  by loving her.”

Sparkle protesting travel, ours and hers – tangledpasta.net

On the Fourth of July, Sparkle celebrated Anjelica’s birthday with us.  Although remained loving, purring loudly, she gradually backed away when Anjelica tried to pick her up.  Sparkle ate less, slept more, and refused to be near Fellini.

“It’s time to take Sparkle to her doctor,” I said, putting my arms around my darling daughter.

The veterinarian said Sparkle was masking her suffering for us to hide her pain.   Sparkle had reached the end of her long and winding road.  We decided to have her buried in a peaceful cat cemetery near a weeping willow tree overlooking a pond.

Alone in the examination room, we bade Sparkle goodbye for one last time.  Anjelica could not let her go.  This time Sparkle did not resist.

Sparkle, sweet and loving – tangledpasta.net

We cried all the way home.

It has been over a year now since we lost Sparkle.  Throughout our lives we have had quite a few pets, but sometimes one touches the heart in a unique way.  For Anjelica, that cat was Sparkle.

Adieu, bonne chat Sparkle.   ^..^

Remembering Sparkle, Part III

Few things upset Sparkle.  She had no quarrel whenever the mailman placed the mail in the box.   Sparkle remained staunchly in place whenever the doorbell rang; retreat was not part of her vernacular.  Calico Cat down the block would stroll up the steps to our front porch and wait for a reaction. The minute Sparkle caught a whiff of Calico Cat, Sparkle would hurl herself headfirst through the mini-blinds.   Snarling, hissing, back arched, nose hot pink with fury, Sparkle vented her wrath toward Calico Cat for daring to venture into Sparkle Territory.  Never mind that Sparkle lived the life of Club Med Cat as an indoor cat; her territory extended to the porch and yard as well.  Sparkle was adamant that we not interfere in feline territorial disputes.  Frankly, we were too terrified of her to intervene.  The irony was that Sparkle was the sweetest, gentlest cat imaginable ninety-nine percent of the time.

Sparkle presiding over her domicile – tangledpasta.net

A bona fide homebody, Sparkle despised her annual trip to the veterinarian.  Even though our veterinarian took only feline patients, Sparkle wanted no part of her. Anjelica always took care to place a clean fluffy towel in the bottom of Sparkle’s cat carrier.  They rode together in the back seat of our car to soothe Sparkle’s anxiety.

“Mama, please play classical music on the radio.  Sparkle likes Chopin.”

No matter how gently Anjelica attempted to placate her, it was to no avail. Once we arrived at the veterinarian’s, the situation deteriorated rapidly.  Once Sparkle nipped the doctor.  While lashing out at the vet another time, Sparkle bit her own tongue and bled profusely.  Another vet visit resulted in Sparkle urinating all over an assistant who was trying to weigh her.

After a particularly ill-fated visit the previous spring, the veterinarian placed a note in Sparkle’s file:  Henceforth Sparkle would be sedated.  Whenever I called to schedule an appointment, I felt certain the office staff drew lots to see whose fate it was to handle Sparkle.   Gingerly an assistant carried a spitting, snarling Sparkle back to the examination room.  By this time, we had grown accustomed to hearing cat screeching on the car ride to and from the vet’s and throughout the exam.  However, this time Sparkle was positively operatic in her high-pitched yowling.  Finally, the bedraggled assistant appeared:  Sparkle was wrapped in a bath towels [not ours] from which ominous growling was emanating.   Handing me a wild-eyed Sparkle, the exhausted woman said:

“Sparkle is very angry.  She broke loose from my grasp and jumped from the examination table on to the sink table.  Unfortunately, the sink was half-full of water.  You might want to keep the bath towel around her.  Just bring it back when you get a chance.”

And with that, the vet assistant turned on her heel and fled behind closed doors.

We peered down at Sparkle.  The pupils of her eyes were black. Rage caused her to breathe heavily and rapidly.  Her wet fur looked like mousse had been applied.

Somehow we managed to get Sparkle home.  She would have nothing to do with me until bedtime, but she happily snuggled up with Anjelica for bedtime stories.  Clearly she held me responsible for the entire disastrous experience.  She did sleep hard that night.

Sparkle on the bathroom vanity waiting for a drink from the faucet

Sparkle was the most vocal cat I had ever had, yet her vocal timbre was less than sonorous; it was downright shrill.  Each morning as soon as I set foot in the bathroom, Sparkle would charge down the stairs and leap up on the vanity.  As I was taking care of my personal needs, Sparkle would look me squarely in the eye in my compromised state and utter,

“Aaaaeeeeiiiioooouuuu!  Aaaaeeeeiiiioooouuuu!” at an ear shattering pitch.  Translation:  Get my Fancy Feast breakfast on the double!

To divert her attention momentarily, I would turn on the cold water at a slow stream.  Sparkle’s penchant for water from this tap only was then indulged.  She had us all well-trained.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Sparkle, Part II

 

Sparkle the Charming Cat – tangledpasta.net

Transferring from a bona fide nurturing Montessori classroom into a traditional Catholic first grade proved a traumatic experience for Anjelica.  I was going through a divorce and could no longer afford the suddenly doubling of the Montessori school’s tuition.    Her cat Sparkle represented a safe haven from the trials and daily grind of traditional schooling.  Each day when we opened the backdoor, Sparkle stood ready to greet Anjelica with a hearty “awaaaao”.  Anjelica would scoop up Sparkle in her arms and off they went to Anjelica’s room, returning for an after-school snack and glass of milk.  Sparkle slept with Anjelica nightly and shared her other pillow. “Bitty Kitty” as Anjelica nicknamed her, had an affinity for walking around the rim of the bathtub as Anjelica splashed in a bubble bath.  At dinnertime, Sparkle graced the chair next to Anjelica.  These two were inseparable.

Sparkle the Christmas Cat – tangledpasta.net

Sparkle participated in family birthdays and holidays.  One memorable Thanksgiving, I  set the pumpkin pie on the table, but had to retrieve a utensil from the kitchen.   I returned to the dining room just in time to witness Sparkle leaving one perfect paw print in the center of the pumpkin pie!  Christmas wrapping never failed to piqué Sparkle’s interest.  Diving into the bow box was practically an Olympic sport for her.  That cats were present at the birth of the Baby Jesus, Sparkle doubted it not.

Sparkle the Nativity Cat – tangledpasta.net

Sparkle followed movement closely on the television computer screens.  For her viewing pleasure, a nip of salty potato chip satisfied Sparkle’s human food cravings, along with bits of seafood, chicken, cheese tortellini, and Italian meatballs.  Anjelica’s sweet-natured cat was nothing if not eclectic in her gourmet food choices.  Sparkle was quite the gourmand gatta.

Ciao for now.