And Now a Word About Fathers…

My brother and sister-in-law, the best of people-tangledpasta.net

My brother and sister-in-law, the best of people-tangledpasta.net

 

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.

 

 

A Mother’s Day

A Happy Mother's Day! - tangledpasta.net

A Happy Mother’s Day! – tangledpasta.net

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.

Wakes in the Age of Social Media

 

May the candles burn as brightly as did his presence in his family's lives - tangledpasta.net

May the candles burn as brightly as did his presence in his family’s lives – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I am at that stage in my life when I now meet with quite a few of my 50 first cousins at funerals.  We seem to be burying our parents, aunts, and uncles at an alarming rate.  Today I found myself at yet another wake, this time for my first cousin Tony’s wife Mary Kay’s father’s funeral.  If one marries into our family, one is then considered a part of all of our families [It’s an Italian thing]. The past years, I would run into Tony’s in-laws at my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, Rulli’s. Pasquale Rulli makes a mean baked rigatoni, nearly as good as mine, but that’s me getting tangential].  Mary Kay’s father was best chums with one of my late uncles to boot.  Her family has always been friendly and lovely, and I am saddened to know that her funny, feisty father is no longer with us on Planet Earth.  I have no doubt, though, that her father and my late uncle are playing game after game of Celestial Poker, and deservedly so.

Aside from the changing landscape of we “the kids” now mourning our departed parents and other loved ones, is how we notify, or do not notify one another of death.  It used to be that my darling father was like the Twilight Bark of Death Notice among the Italian community, and my dear mother was not far behind him.  I never had to read the local obituaries to learn of who died, where and when because my parents kept me apprised of who had departed us for an inner planetary better life.  However, no my parents are here no more.  On my mother’s side of the family, the Twilight Bark of Death Notice is pretty much alive and well [no pun intended]. Yet today when I complained to my cousins that no one had called me about this sudden death in the family, several of my cousins looked at me blandly and replied, “It was on FaceBook”.  Please.  I admit that I do not read FB regularly, nor do I read the local rag because I’m working on a novel while still working full-time.  Why could no one pick a cell phone and ring me up?  Blank stares again; they are avid FB users who didn’t realize I am a sporadic FB individual.  I love my cousins, but had I not been alerted yesterday to the serious illness of a cousin on my maternal side of the family to read a private message on FB, I never would have seen the blurb about Mary Kay’s father’s death on my FB news feed.

It seems to me what is lacking in this whirl of social media is the human touch, the human contact. The reason I don’t read FB regularly is because I have to wade through so much drivel that I feel my brain cells evaporating as I read yet another bad joke or view another photo of a mob in which I may recognize one individual, or worse yet, see another post about someone’s child having achieved toilet training [good God].  That said, I do agree that social media is helpful; otherwise, how would you, gentle reader, be viewing my blog posts?  All I am lobbying for is a return to human contact, voice to voice if face-to-face is not possible.  After I learned of my maternal cousin’s dreadful illness, and of Tony and Mary Kay’s loss, I sent out the Twilight Bark Death Notice to my maternal cousins and aunts, whom I asked to spread the word. While they were saddened to hear this news, we all agreed it was good to talk and play catch up.

I admit that I had lively conversation with my cousins today at the wake.  It is too bad we are not Irish, for we could have raised a glass to the departed as we cheered him on to The Big House.  Minus the vino and beer, we still managed to have humorous talks.  I rarely see Tony and Mary Kay since they moved to the Lone Star State years ago.  Even when I lived for years in Houston, we did not see one another, for at that time we were all working like mad dogs.  The difference now is that my cousins are retired or are retiring this June, and I’m still working like a deranged loon [my child is in law school of two more years, which means retirement is not on my immediate horizon for another couple of years]. My cousins and I laughed, related stories, and even ran into familiar faces we hadn’t seen in some years.  I think Mary Kay’s father would have approved.  He was a jovial, good-natured fellow who loved his family and friends.  They came out in droves to bid him a fond adieu today.  I was fortunate to be a part of his send off, and for that I am grateful.

Ciao for now.

Compositions in Winter

I love reading books and I love writing them. - tangledpasta.net

I love reading books and I love writing them. – tangledpasta.net

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.

The Christmas Chronicles, Part 1

By Mary Anna Violi |  @Mary Anna Violi

Cousin Chrissy's Christmas mantle decor - tangledpasta.net

Cousin Chrissy’s Christmas mantle decor – tangledpasta.net

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  = tangledpasta.net

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

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 - tangledpasta.net

Cousins Marianne and Steve’s Christmas tree – tangledpasta.net

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!

 

Good Neighbor Jim

The sort of meal Jim liked, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island tangledpasta.net

The sort of lamb meal Jim liked, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I met Jim and Angie 23 years ago when I moved into our 1928 bungalow the week before Christmas, newly separated from my husband and two months pregnant.  My father had introduced me to Jim and Angie.  Within a short time, I loved them too.

Jim’s father Vic had started the family plumbing and heating business, and now Jim and three of his five sons ran the business.  They were master heating and plumbing specialists.  They had installed the gas-water heating system in our house.  More years down the road they installed a new compatible gas-water heating air conditioning system.  Getting rid of window air conditioning units proved a welcome relief. Throughout the years, Jim checked on our a/c, our boiler, and offered helpful advice on home maintenance.

Of German extraction, Jim had a dry, wry sense of humor that always brought a smile to my face.  He reflected a “calls ‘em as I sees ‘em” sort of attitude.  Throughout the seasons, Jim could be found hovering over his large gas grill.  He and his family remain the largest group of carnivores I know, and I say this most affectionately.  Nearly every Saturday night his five in-town children and their families would pull up in front of our houses for a family dinner.  This generally consisted of Jim’s grilled chicken, or pork, or sausage, or ribs, corn, Angie’s pasta and meatballs, a daughter-in-law’s salad, another’s homemade pies, and the sons’ drinks.  Invariably, Jim would hand us a plate of grilled meat and corn over the fence. His own recipe for barbecue was finger licking good, and I am not even a barbecue connoisseur.  We became excellent friends with his son Terry and his family.  My daughter and Terry’s daughter have been close pals almost since birth.  We have also shared many a birthday cake with Jim and Angie’s family.

What impressed me most these past years was Jim’s sense of family, which reminded me of my own.  He and Angie became like grandparents to my daughter.  Our families became intertwined throughout the years, and I reveled in having such tremendous neighbors of kindness, joy, and integrity.

In the past years, Jim had become increasingly hard of hearing, though I’m sure he wouldn’t admit it.  He persisted in climbing up a tall ladder to work on his second-story windows.  In fact, last week he had climbed up that ladder to paint cedar shingles white.  Some may have viewed him as irascible at age 82, but my perception was that he’s “got a lot of livin’ to do!”  He was always a man in a hurry, an active citizen, a tireless Catholic Church champion, and an inveterate golfer.

Last Sunday afternoon sirens shattered the Sunday serenity.  EMS and a firefighter truck pulled up.  Men hurriedly entered Jim and Angie’s house with a stretcher.

Jim died Wednesday night from a massive stroke.

We took the baked rigatoni, Chianti, and chocolate chip cookies we made to Angie this afternoon.

Jim’s champagne-colored sedan is still parked in front of the house, but it still feels like the world tilted

Ciao for now.

Spring Among “The Greens”

Swiss chard like my father used to grow in his garden - tangledpasta.net

Swiss chard like my father used to grow in his garden – tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The happy hoopla of early May college graduation has abated.  The pomp and circumstance of that halcyon graduation weekend has been replaced with the internalized terrors of “Oh, my god!  I am starting law school in two-and-a-half months!”  The summer job hunt, once discouraging in early May when promised work failed to materialize, has borne fruit with several promising interviews.

The contour of my work changes as the university’s academic year draws nigh.  Summer transfer students from other colleges around the state return home and provide fresh faces among the student population.  These quieter rhythms are no less demanding while helping shake off the winter doldrums, the routine, the mundane.

I prepare more dinners with “minestre”, “the greens” as they are affectionately called in my family.  The “greens” are made up of whatever tickles my Italian fancy:  A mixture of mustard greens, kale, and Swiss chard one night; a concoction of endive, collard greens, and Swiss chard another evening [I confess to having an affinity for colorful Swiss chard].  “The greens” are simmered slowly with generous portions of olive oil, garlic, onion, potatoes, salt, and pepper.  I slice chunks of cheese, Asiago or Parmesan, set out a small ceramic bowl brimming with black Calamata and green Sicilian olives, accompanied by thick slices of crusty Italian bread.  Once the vino rosso is poured, a sultry evening’s dinner `e pronta  [is ready].

May reminds me of when my father would fire up his rotatiller to churn the garden dirt for planting.  Inevitably the Toro rotatiller broke down and had to be serviced before thorough soil preparation could commence.  Once all systems were a go, we did not see much of my father until early September.  After a full day of work in his shoe shop, he dined with us, and then hastily changed into his garden clothes [“Even the St. Vincent de Paul Society would want those rags,” lamented Mama], burning a trail into the garden.  It was most satisfying both for my father and for us when “the greens” sprouted up and were soon ready to be plucked and prepared to eat.

To this day, I concur with my beloved Papa that “Minestre is-a food fit-a for-a king-a!”

Ciao for now.

 

Buona Pasqua, Ancora

Cugina Chrissy's limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes - tangledpasta.net

Cugina Chrissy’s limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Easter Sunday dawned auspiciously today:  The sky was gray and overcast.  As I was leaving for Church, rain began to puddle on the patio.  Since I had scheduled the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Easter Sunday in memory of my parents, Catherine “Kitty” and Frank, I realized I neglected to negotiate with the meteorologist for sunshine.  Yet halfway through Easter Mass, the sun shone, filtering through the Church’s stained glass windows.  It was a glorious omen for Easter.

My cugina [cousin] Marianne [yes, we Italians like to continuously recycle family names, which is why three-fourths of Italian women have the same first names, as do the men], invited me over for an Easter breakfast with her family.  Her father, my uncle and Godfather, is ninety-four years young, and, as our family patriarch, happily presided over my cousin’s light-as-air Belgian waffles [we Italians in the Heartland are multicultural in culinary spirit as well as ecumenical], crispy center-cut bacon, and her daughter’s delicious once-over-easy eggs.   Her husband Steve poured us shots of Amaretto di Saranno, which I poured into my coffee, thereby punching up my cup of Joe.

I was touched by my cugina’s Easter Breakfast invitation because sitting down with family reminded me of Easter Sunday breakfasts after Mass with my family.  When I was away at college, unable to get home for Easter, my mother made a point of sending me an Easter basket filled with malted milk balls, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, a large chocolate bunny, jelly beans and decorated eggs.  This year, I too filled my daughter’s furry, musical, ear-flapping rabbit Easter basket with treats and mailed it to her.   It is a worthy family tradition; it even received the Easter Bunny Seal of Approval.

My uncle’s family convened again late this afternoon for Easter dinner at his granddaughter Chrissy’s home.  My cousin follows in the family tradition of fine cooks.  She whipped up enough food to feed the Italian army:  Baked ham, potatoes, corn, green beans, and her mother prepared Italian sausage in a tomato-onion sauce for sandwiches replete with crusty Italian bread.  To top it off, dessert was limoncello cake and a chocolate-raspberry-chocolate chip cake confection.  Naturally, we imbibed vino bianco and vino rosso.  My contribution was an Italian Easter bread in the shape of a crucifix, and a bottle of hearty Chianti.

Tomorrow I am fasting. Alleluia!

Ciao for now.

 

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…”

Our friends' blue and silver Christmas tree - tangledpasta.net

Our friends’ blue and silver Christmas tree – tangledpasta.net

 

As we drove south on Christmas Eve, patches of snow dappled the landscape.  In the northern most part of our state, there was snow.  I have driven through plenty of treacherous winters to go “over the river and through the wood” in order to reach family for Christmas.  A reprieve from our snowy, icy Christmases was indeed welcome.

After attending Mass on Christmas Eve, we drank and toasted over a delicious dinner prepared by my niece Lauren’s fiancé’s family.  Justin’s family hails from Vermont, although both parents are of French-Canadian ancestry.  This is critical knowledge because it affected the Christmas Eve dinner in a good way.  The hors’d’oevre were sublime, mostly because I am a seafood aficionado and the sea scallops wrapped in bacon were done to perfection.  The sharp white Vermont cheese was a taste sensation too.  Summer sausage [ironic, I thought, for a December repast], deviled eggs, foie gras, and Brie en croute with mango chutney, fruitcake, and toasted seasoned walnuts rounded out the nibbles.

English: Photograph of a Bûche de Noël, by And...

English: Photograph of a Bûche de Noël, by Andrew Pendleton (http://www.andrewpendleton.net/), released by the photographer under the Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.5 license. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main event then appeared, or rather I should say, main events.  Specially ordered maple-cured ham, two meat pies [one made with pork, light on the potatoes, and heavenly spices; the other with beef, heavy on the potatoes]; mashed potatoes [can there ever be enough potatoes?], sweet potatoes [ditto], white beans with maple syrup and bacon, squash, red beets, salad with feta cheese, and another salad made with shredded cabbage and fruit.  We wined and dined near the blue and silver decorated Christmas tree.  An impressive Buche de Noël the finale of a meal most different from an Italian one on Christmas Eve. However, the good fellowship and a willingness to partake of another family’s traditions made for a memorable dining experience.

Ciao for now.

Who is That Girl? [No, it is not Marlo Thomas]

Aside

Buon giorno!

It occurred to me that the fabulous folks, and so you must be for you are reading my blog, which puts me on iCloud Nine, might be wondering who I am, or perhaps you are not.  Therefore, here are some who, what, when, where, and whys of the magnificence that is tangledpasta [Please excuse me:  tangledpasta’s mischievous alter ego untangledpasta periodically rears its narcissistic pasta fork].

My name is Mary Anna.  It should have been spelled “Marianna”.  Due to a faux pas on my heavily accented English Papa’s part in registering me for a birth certificate, and a linguistic-challenged nurse intent on coping with only one syllable at a time, ergo, the result was Mary Anna; in fact, Mary Anna remains.  Mama christened me with a nickname, not one of those snarky ones, rather one related to my affinity for large plush bears.  No, not “Bear”. Oh, all right:  It is Teddy.  Most family members know me as Teddy.  My Teddy moniker appears on letters, cards, and in my writing.  My surname, however, is pure Italian.

I have been toiling away in academia for many years, and still am quite fond of its quirky world.  My large extended Italian family –50 first cousins, aunts and uncles – is lively, zany, and at times, downright bawdy.  Now, gentle readers, Google or Yahoo away, but please come back to tangled pasta.net!

Time for a pizzelle and café break—

Ciao for now.