Holiday Spontaneity

The formal dining room at Copshaholm at Christmas -
The formal dining room at Copshaholm at Christmas –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

After ruminating whether or not to attend the annual symphonic holiday concert, and I must confess we had been talking about it off and on for the past week, my daughter and I finally admitted we longed to do something different for the weekend before Christmas, but what? After surfing the local entertainment web pages, finally that “something different” manifested itself: Christmas at Copshaholm, a special event at the Joseph D. Oliver mansion. The Scottish Oliver family made a fortune with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. Joseph D. Oliver’s 38-room mansion was built between 1895 and 1896, and remained in the family until 1988 when the family bequeathed it to the local historical society. Today’s Christmas event offered small groups the opportunity to see actors convey some history of the mansion and of the Oliver family during the years of World War I. Nearly all 38 rooms held actors as they enacted scenes of Copshaholm life during the Great War.

One of the 14 fireplaces in Copshaholm, this one located on the first floor entryway. -
One of the 14 fireplaces in Copshaholm, this one located on the first floor entryway. –

In addition to the period attire worn by the thespians, the mansion itself proved the best of all stages, for its rooms and halls were decked for Christmas. Having toured Copshaholm in the past, neither I, nor my daughter had ever witnessed the beauty of the Romanesque mansion trimmed for the holidays. That alone was worth the price of the admission.   Each of the mansion’s three-stories, replete with the original Oliver family furnishings, reminded us that we have a treasure on the National Register of Historic Places, located just across the river from our hometown.

A tantalizing presentation offered us of Spider and Dragon sushi rolls at Woochie'
A tantalizing presentation offered us of Spider and Dragon sushi rolls at Woochie’

After our two-hour Christmas at Copshaholm visit, we were hungry, for we had not eaten anything after breakfast. Since we were downtown, we decided to try Woochie, a Japanese restaurant that friends had told us served excellent sushi. As lovers of Japanese cuisine, thus began our second spontaneous adventure of the day. The décor was that of a  sleek, urban vibe with a black lacquer bar in one large room, and black tables and chairs in a dining room divided into two by modern, narrow, rectangular fish tanks providing privacy for diners. Discreet neon colors played off the shiny blackness of the furnishings. The food itself, was a testament to why we repeatedly seek out Japanese cuisine. In our hometown alone we have four Japanese restaurants that I know of, three of which we have patronized, and now this addition across the river. We ordered delicious scallion pancakes that were divided into eight large triangles, bowls of miso soup, ginger salad, and sushi rolls named Dragon and Spider. We washed it all down with a pots of Japanese Sencha tea To top off our dinner, we shared Mochi, Japanese ice cream. We selected one of mango and another of green tea. Sated and happy, we drove around awhile to view the holiday lights burning brightly in the city streets.

It was a most satisfying and rewarding day.

Ciao for now.

How to Keep Occupied During a Snowstorm

Winter's beauty diminishes not, even in a snowstorm
Winter’s beauty diminishes not, even in a snowstorm

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As a hearty Italian American in the Heartland, I have learned how to brave winter.  When winter visits a snowstorm upon us, we Midwesterners prepare and hunker down to ride out the iciness of it all. As we anticipate the worst snowstorm and subzero temperatures in twenty years, I offer engaging activities to occupy one’s self.

1.  Grocery Shopping, Preferably before the Snowstorm – I stocked up on eggs [poached, scrambled, or in a fritatta or quiche], tuna [I love tuna salad when snowbound], soup [in case I am too lazy to make my own], cannellini beans [in case I do rouse myself to make soup], bread [okay, I forgot to buy the bread, even though it was on my grocery list], P.F. Chang’s frozen shrimp dumplings, ricotta [a must for Italians], low-fat vanilla yogurt [my ice cream substitute, sort of], garbanzo beans [because they are so delicious roasted stove top in olive oil], and honey [in a teddy bear bottle, of course].

2.  Dining Out Hours Before the Snowstorm – After I did the Readings at 5:30 p.m. Mass last evening, it had not yet begun to snow.  A friend phoned me.  Did I want to dine out before the estimated 8:00 p.m. snowfall?  It was 6:43 pm., I noted, but sure, why not?  A nearby Japanese restaurant was packed with like-minded individuals.  However, we instead nabbed a booth at my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant.  A salad and baked rigatoni sated me; in fact, I took half of it home, anticipating it would make a fine Sunday lunch, had hunger pangs not attacked at 10:00 p.m., I would have eaten the baked rigatoni for lunch.  As I wound my way up the hilly winding drive to my friend’s abode in what was now heavy snowfall, I looked forward to nestling inside my warm home.

3.  Putting Away Christmas Decorations – While my daughter and I had taken down the Christmas tree, the boughs that decorated the archways and windows, there were still plenty of Christmas decorations left for me to store. This morning a stray CD of Christmas tunes manifested itself under a bough tossed on the desk. A Santa Claus statue and a large musical Santa snow globe still grace an end table. The Christmas stockings, while taken down, are draped over a dining room chair.  In the bathroom a Christmas tree with bright ornaments and a wreath hung on the wall beckon to be put away for winter slumber. A pair of Christmas socks my daughter forgot to retrieve from the clean laundry basket surfaced today too.

    4.  Updating the Nativity – Yesterday before she left a day ahead of schedule for law school due to the severe winter storm warnings, my daughter remarked that we had not brought out the Three Kings [We Three Kings of Orient Are…remember]. Consequently, this morning, I hauled out the Three Kings and their three dromedaries [camels], and I boxed up the shepherds, their sheep, their cats, and their dog.  Tomorrow, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany [and my brother’s birthday].  The Three Kings should be present in The Nativity, and besides, they are beautifully attired.

   5.  Cleaning Up the Ranch, so to Speak – After the mayhem of packing to return to school, settling Shelton Rae, her cat, in his plush travel carrier, transferring Poseidon, her red Beta fish, from his tank to his large pitcher travel container, and my packing up the cooler with Italian beef, homemade macaroni and cheese, yogurt, eggs, bread [I remembered to buy her a loaf], I awoke to the reality of gritty floors.  On this frosty Sunday morn as the snow flies nonstop, I vacuumed the house and rugs.  At least I’m not hearing crunch, crunch, crunch, under my feet as I move from room to room.

6.  Re-imagining Wall Décor – In taking down pictures in late November to hang Christmas art on the walls, I realized that I was ready for a change of scenery.  Throwing on a CD of Adele, I sang and danced as I repositioned artwork. I even moved pictures to others rooms where they offer a new perspective for a New Year.

7.  Brewing Tea – Nothing says, “Drink me” like freshly brewed tea. Inveterate coffee drinkers with substitute “Brewing Tea” for “Brewing Coffee”, which is perfectly fine for java aficionados. After cleaning the house, putting away Christmas decorations, and brewing tea or coffee, it is time to settle into an easy chair, and sip the hot beverage.

8.  Watching the Snow Fall – When winter keeps me housebound, I marvel at the beauty of the winter wonderland outside my windows.  The trees and shrubs glisten in winter white garb, the rooftops in the neighborhood glow with their white cover. Throughout my life I have relished the hush a snowstorm provides; its quiet is relaxing. Imbibing my tea, I feel content as I view the bounteous winter landscape stretched out before me as our cats, Fellini and Coco Chanel, nap.

9.  Reading – In my bungalow snow palace, I sit and read, uninterrupted since I cannot venture out.  It is a blessing to have hours to re-read a Jane Austen treasured book, and even begin reading a signed book my brother bought me for my birthday:  The Stonecutter’s Aria by Carol Faenzi.

10.  Writing – Writing offers a fine creative outlet during a snowstorm. Instead of thinking about writing a short story, novel, poem, or a blog, or penning those gift thank-you’s.  A snowstorm offers the gift of time for one to begin these artistic endeavors. Of course, this assumes one has neither power, nor heat.

Ciao for now.