A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

The Upside of 2016

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2016 held some stellar moments for this writer. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As the winter sun sets on 2016, I would like to acknowledge that not everything went awry; stellar experiences surfaced, too. Casting an eye over the landscape brings noteworthy events to the forefront with the dawning of a New Year.

The publication of my second book in the Spirited Constellations trilogy: Spirited Constellations: Travels highlighted the year for me. The second edition of my first book, Spirited Constellations, was also published. The third book in the trilogy is also well underway, and could possibly be published near the end of 2017, if not sooner.

2016 also saw me completing the first book in a new series I’m writing. This book will be published in early 2017. Vastly different from the Spirited Constellations book, the series ignited my imagination further, for I like these characters as much as I do those in the Spirited Constellations trio.

At the Indiana University Bloomington 2016 Writers’ Conference in June, I embarked on a-here-to-with unknown kind of writing: the prose poem. Had anyone told me I would one day be writing poetry, I would have laughed uproariously! Yet I did it! Under the amazing prose poet Amelia Martens, I plucked up my courage and began work on my first ever prose poem! I even went out on a limb and did a public reading of the poem in Bloomington for the conference participants. Stretching my writing wings into the province of prose poetry proved an exhilarating experience.

Not wanting to stay too long at the fair, I finally decided to retire after 25+ years from my place of employment. I did this in order to enter the next phase of my professional life, one that includes much more writing. In talking with others who have retired or resigned from their positions, the common thread was, “I knew when it was time.” Time isn’t something readily available on anyone’s side, no matter what the Rolling Stones sang. My 2016 November birthday awakened in me a turning point. With little fanfare, without drama, with my two-week’s notice, with a heart full of anticipation ready to turn the page, and with a smile on my face, I walked away.

It was time. It was my time. It still is.

Ciao for now.

November-December Transitions

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By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now.

Decades

Envelope containing a birthday card to me from my darling daughter  - tangledpasta.net
Envelope containing a birthday card to me from my darling daughter – tangledpasta.net

For almost two months I grappled with the fact that I was facing another one of “those” birthdays.  I mean the kind of birthday that kicks off a new decade in one’s life, in this case, in my life.

When I turned eighteen, I was wild to turn twenty.  Nineteen felt like a mere holding pattern until I reached the magical age of twenty, thus jump starting my so-called life.  Or so I thought.  The twenties were filled with advanced degree pursuits and travel abroad, mostly to Italy and to Greece.  Actually, that decade was quite grand in its own way.

My decade spent in my thirties consisted of still living in Houston, marriage, relocating to the Midwest, motherhood, adjustment, and separation [in the marriage].  It was a decade of incredible highs [motherhood] and crashing lows [the demise of a marriage].

The decade of my forties saw me focused on rebuilding my life professionally, while simultaneously creating a secure, joyful life for my child.  There was the renewal of love with a former flame, and happiness loomed large on the horizon.  As the decade drew to a close, I became edgy about commencing a new decade in my life.  I still saw myself as the starry-eyed twenty-four-year-old with unending Italian spirit, alive with endless possibilities and vigor.  Everything came to a screeching halt when my beloved Mama suffered a massive stroke and died five months before my birthday.

I ceased worrying about “What if” and began asking “Why not?” when it came to each birthday.   As my dear Mama was fond of observing, “Consider the alternative.” I choose life.

Ciao for now.