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!

 

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!

 

Have Yourself a Merry Mellow Christmas

We made tangledpasta.net donuts from a Barefoot Contessa recipe-tangledpasta.net

We made tangledpasta.net donuts from a Barefoot Contessa recipe-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

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

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

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

We dined on Angry Dragon and Firehouse sushi rolls to celebrate the end of the first semester of law school=tangledpasta.net

We dined on Angry Dragon and Firehouse sushi rolls to celebrate the end of the first semester of law school=tangledpasta.net

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

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

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

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Let There Be Light

Coco Chanel likes small white lights too - tangledpasta.net

Coco Chanel likes small white lights too – tangledpasta.net

In our family we traditionally maintained our live Christmas tree until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, my brother’s birthday.  Although we knew other Italian families who took down their tree either the day after Christmas, or on New Year’s Day, or the day after New Year’s, we tended our tree with loving care to prolong its indoor life through January 6.  While this tradition has been eased by the use of artificial Christmas trees, the pang of dismantling the tree remains.

The past several years we have tried to be more liturgically correct:  We do not tamper with the Christmas tree and the surrounding decorations until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  This takes us almost to mid-January.  Usually I try to gradually take down the decorations, removing those that are readily at hand to pluck up and store in a plastic bins.  Yesterday we carefully put away the outdoor lights.  However, I insisted that the outdoor wreaths remain intact; they are festooned with big red bows that brighten the dreary gray landscape of northern Indiana.  This is why I loathe unwinding the lighted garlands that cheer the dark winter nights.  Gradually we will put the indoor garlands to bed for the winter.  By next weekend I will have become reconciled, or nearly reconciled to actually storing the Christmas ornaments and full-like-so real Christmas tree.

Probably the last decoration to be put to slumber for some months will be the banister garland and lights.   The white lights and faux cypress garland lift my spirits, as do the Christmas tree and crèche.  While I know the days are gradually getting longer and the nights a bit shorter, the dreariness of seemingly endless gray skies saddens me.  Like a moth drawn to the flame, so am I drawn to small white lights that lace their way through garlands.

Lately I have been contemplating purchasing pink lights to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Not because retail shops and Hallmark dictates it is time to turn attention to February 14, but because I have concluded that it is perfectly fine to have tiny lights that greet me throughout the Midwest winter.

Ciao for now.

After New Year’s

Christmas cake for us - tangledpasta.net

Christmas cake for us – tangledpasta.net

The day after New Year’s my daughter packed up her SUV, kissed me, bid me adieu, and drove back to her college campus.   I had texted a friend as a safety net in hopes of warding off the emptiness I inevitably feel after Anjelica’s departure, especially when the joy of Christmas and the champagne of New Year’s begin to ebb away.

My friend inquired if we could go to Super Target.  She needed to buy a small coffee pot with a timer for her classroom breaks.  “Fine,” I said.  Anything was welcome to circumvent the first afternoon and evening devoid of my daughter’s lively company.  One would think after four years, I would cope better, would have my own diversions in place.  Well, I do.  My life is full of writing, a full-time job, family and friends.  But here’s the rub:  I love my daughter’s company.  She is a great raconteur, a beautiful, sweet, witty, compassionate young person brimming with life, ambition, hopes and dreams.  Why would I not miss her?

Later that same day, my friend and I dined at a favorite restaurant that offers healthy, fresh fare, particularly welcome after the over-indulgence of Christmas and New Year’s.  We drove to my house, the house still cozy with Christmas decorations and white lights.  I whipped up lattes and poured the coffee from the shiny red French Press Anjelica had given me for Christmas.  As I settled into a chair next to the Christmas tree, I glanced at the book on writing subjects she also gifted to me.  The dark periwinkle-purple scarf she placed around my neck still graced my ensemble.  I sipped the pecan praline latte and smiled at the thought that we would be together again soon enough.  Happiness.

Ciao for now.

The Ubiquitous Christmas Letter

Deck the halls, or at least our front porch - tangledpasta.net

Deck the halls, or at least our front porch – tangledpasta.net

After my mother’s sudden death, the following Christmas I found myself, for the first time, penning a Christmas letter to insert with Christmas cards to family and friends.  We are a large family with a wide circle of friends and because so many constantly inquired about my father, who was 92 at the time, I felt a Christmas letter might be a most expeditious way of conveying news of him and our family.

Yet writing a letter of this sort was one of the last things I envisioned myself doing.  In the avalanche of Christmas cards my parents annually received, I chortled over badly written letters, those that droned on endlessly about trivia, and those that bragged shamelessly about their so-called brilliant offspring.  Mostly I howled over the wretched writing.  Far be it from me to set myself up for such critiques, I thought, as a young teen.  One can afford to be cavalier when one is still a young student who knows little of how the world really works, let alone what drives people to crank out the annual Christmas letter.

Thus, with a full heart at the prospect of the first Christmas without Mama to brighten the landscape of our sorrow, I managed to concoct a one-page letter full of news of my father and of my daughter.  Of myself, I felt I would only bring down the house with tears were I to reveal the extent of my sadness.  Therefore, in lieu of news of me, I inserted updates on our cats, Sparkle [now deceased] and Fellini [then a kitten].  At least I could mask my true feelings while doting on those about whom I happily had full care.

The twist was that after I had edited, re-edited, and edited my letter again, I began to fill better.  My daughter and I plunged into making Mama’s soft, moist fudge.  We experimented with pizzelles, using the pizzelle griddle Mama had bequeathed me.  We tried to emulate her classic Christmas cut out sugar cookie recipe, but she had written over it and crossed-out ingredients, tweaking it as she made the cookies year after year.  Finally, we turned to Aunt Adelaide’s Pillsbury sugar cookie recipe instead.  They were tasty, but missing Mama’s lightness of half-butter, half-shortening.

Within me, Christmas joy was gradually unleashed.  I took delight in baking with my daughter, in making pasta e fagiole for my father, and listening to Christmas carols. Now, for the past ten years, I too craft a Christmas letter.  Perhaps those reading it smirk and guffaw, but I suspect they press on to the end of the page as I used to do as a young sprig.  No matter the reason why, concocting the Christmas letter brings a smile to my face and keeps Christmas in my heart.

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.   ^..^