Autumn

Sun in autumn forest
The autumn blaze of color invigorates the soul. – tangledpasta.net   

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

The days are growing shorter. Darkness descends by 7:00 p.m. A decided chill punctuates the morning air. After 5:00 p.m. I am caught off guard by the coolness in the air. Dusk begins to permeate the skies earlier than I would have it. The maple and oak trees that proliferate my town brighten the landscape with hues of crimson, yellow, and orange. Autumn casts her spell over all, giving us splashes of color evident only at this time of year.

Mugs of warmed cider and plain donuts beckon for a snack. From childhood throughout adulthood, cider and donuts take the edge off autumn’s cool temperatures. Even now the scent of apples doffs the crispness in the air. A sense of melancholy pervades my feelings these days. Autumn has that effect on me. Another year begins to descend into history soon; Thanksgiving is a month away, followed by my birthday at the end of November. Christmas follows close on the heels of my birthday month. I still question why we celebrate Thanksgiving near the end of November. It seems to me October would be a better Thanksgiving month, further removed from the Christmas festivities of December.

Perhaps it is these endings, the close of the current year, the dawn of a New Year in January, with the whole cycle revving up again, the hope of a better year, a more fulfilling one. I yearn for endings this December; I crave the anticipation of a new beginning in January in a fresh land with friendly faces around me. This is what propels me through the closing months of this year. This is what keeps the sense of autumn melancholy at bay these days. Am I only dreaming of a better New Year? If so, may the dream never end.

Golden Years

My aunt's proclivity to violets and purple came to mind with this painting in our room at The Grand Hotel, a place she cherishes.-www.tangledpasta.com
My aunt’s proclivity to violets and lilacs came to mind with this painting in our room at The Grand Hotel, a place she cherishes.-www.tangledpasta.com

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Over Labor Day weekend we visited my darling Aunt Adelaide. She is now 97 years of age, yet she still sparkles with vivacity. Her blue eyes twinkle with laughter, and her hugs continue to melt my heart. While her health waxes and wanes, my cousins take constant care of her, diligently overseeing her medical care with love.

Aunt Adelaide holds a special place in my heart as my Godmother. As my mother’s middle sister, she shared adventures with Mama. My mother, Catherine “Kitty” loved to travel, and travel she did, inviting her younger sister along. Long after both sisters had married and bore children, they took along their offspring on trips. We traveled annually to Edge Grove, Pennsylvania, near McSherrystown, kind of near, but not terribly close to Gettysburg. My maternal grandfather’s three blissfully eccentric unmarried sisters lived in a two-story house with an outhouse wreathed in perennial flowers in Edge Grove. Those flowers attracted an endless stream of bees. One didn’t dawdle in that privy. While my grandfather offered them indoor plumbing time and again, his sister refused. The sisters, Rose, Anastasia “Anna”, and Mary “Molly” were close to their nieces Kitty, Adelaide, and younger sister Agnes. Driving from our hometown with my mother, younger brother, and grandfather to Detroit to pick up Aunt Adelaide and her two younger children, off we all went in our big blue Chevy on a lively road trip. Once with my great-aunts in Pennsylvania, we cousins roamed relatively freely in the hamlet perched on the mountainside, among extended family and friends. Mama and Aunt Adelaide’s laughter rings in my ears from those carefree visits. Reminiscing over bygone days of my great-aunts and their four brothers over copious bowls of corn chowder on warm summer nights lulled me into believing these idyllic times would last forever. Naturally, they didn’t, for the Grim Reaper ultimately demanded the last word.

One memorable road journey entailed chauffeuring Mama and Aunt Adelaide to Virginia. We had so much fun on that vacation! I had completed my undergraduate degree at Indiana University Bloomington in August. Off we drove in late September amid the early autumn color. I did all the driving, for I love the open road. We toured historic Jamestown and delighted in its pottery and artists. Williamsburg fascinated, but for me, the pièce de résistance of the trip was Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home set in the majesty of the Southwest Mountains adjacent the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Charlottesville. Jefferson’s inventions, Palladian design of his home, and the flower, fruit, and vegetable plantings were all the work of a man ahead of his time. We also travelled down the mountain to the plantation next door: Ash Lawn-Highland, the estate of James and Elizabeth Monroe. We also visited Orange, Virginia’s plantation home of James and Dolley Madison, Montpelier. Three U.S. Presidents who lived in Virginia intrigued me, as did the peacocks roaming Ash Lawn-Highland!

Although Aunt Adelaide is spry no longer, in spirit she is. Remembering our annual summer respite together at our family cottage on Eagle Lake with my mother’s sisters and their families, our annual Christmas and Easter gatherings, and the humor, creativity, and love of my mother and her two sisters reverberate with me still. Visiting with Aunt Adelaide last weekend only heightened the joy we shared. Her golden years continue to beam gold over all within her orb.

Ciao for now.

 

November-December Transitions

IMG_0859

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.

Back Story

When I am feeling better, I think I'll return to yoga - Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington - tangledpasta.net

When I am feeling better, I’ll return to yoga. Showalter Fountain, IU Bloomington – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Finally, I am getting back in the saddle. Those readers who have suffered from ignoble back disc maladies know of what I write. On the maternal side of my family, the disc troubles are genetic. My mother was from a family of nine and I have 42 first cousins alone on that side of the family. Wretched disc ailments abound among us. Fortunately, one of those 42 cousins is an orthopedic physician of prodigious talents. I think if Mike wanted, he could center his entire orthopedic practice on our family alone.

The ironic thing is that my disc had not flared up for some years. Likely because of that, I compromised my vigilance. By this I mean that I hauled too many bags of heavy groceries, especially canned goods like garbanzo beans and bottled ones such as wine, instead of carrying these items in smaller bags of lighter weight. I also tote books and because I teach, I’m always carting books into most of my classes. Even paperback books feel weighty if one carries enough of them at one time. Luggage is a whole other realm in itself. While I abhor flying, I adore driving; thus, drive vacations are my preference. Packing light has never been my forte, except when I travel overseas. However, air travel is not nearly as nice as it was in years past, thus I tend to avoid it altogether these days. Driving brings out the worst in packing in me. Far too many clothes, books, shoes, and toiletries crowd my bags and weigh them down. Even with wheeled luggage, it still has to be hoisted into the boot of the car and removed from said trunk at the destination.

Now, as Christmas looms large, so do the decorations. I love to deck our halls, inside and out. Our 1926 abode lends itself to coziness and cheer this time of year, and it is fun to decorate. However, as my back heals, I still feel my wings have been clipped. I must acquiesce to the limitations of “not overdoing it” as my friends remind me. At the height of my back pain, I felt like spun glass; now, not so much. As I pour over recipes, both family favorites and new, I think in terms of how much to purchase at the store in one trip. Ever since Costco opened a few weeks ago in our town, I’ve had to rein myself in since those large quantities can be heavy. I shall pace myself accordingly so that I may celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas with those I cherish.

While my father’s side of the family is riddled with arthritis, and my mother’s with back ailments, I am not complaining too much. After all, if I do not start bench-pressing, and carry 30-pound objects, I believe I will be fine. Yet, I thank God for my Cousin, Dr. Mike, who has thus far helped me to avoid the S-word [surgery]!

Ciao for now.

The Christmas Chronicles, Part 3

The topper of Lauren and Justin's Christmas tree - tangledpasta.net
The topper of Lauren and Justin’s Christmas tree – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The day after Christmas seems surreal.  After the flurry of choosing gifts, wrapping presents, baking biscotti, making fudge, and savory dinners, the day after The Big Day, is a bit of a letdown.  Yet imbibing a cup of hot tea with the family as we tried to look refreshed at the breakfast table was laid back and cheerful.  Although my thought had been to ramble around the charming brick street village of my brother’s town, taking a peek in the boutiques, and flipping through books at the new little bookstore, it was not to be. While my dear sister-in-law Kelley and I figured we were invited to my niece Lauren’s new in-laws for dinner that evening, it turned out that dinner would be at 2:30 p.m.

“No matter,” I told myself, “It means I will have to return for browsing in the village at a later date.”

We ducked over to Lauren and Justin’s to meet their cat Oliver.  I chuckle over their naming their black cat Oliver, for I had a white cat named Oliver for ten years. Oliver is quite a character, like most cats I know, but he is affectionate, playful and an all round darling furry fellow.

My daughter and my niece with Oliver the Christmas Cat - tangledpasta.net
My daughter and my niece with Oliver the Christmas Cat – tangledpasta.net

My niece’s husband Justin has the nicest family. They are of French Canadian extraction, and up until two years ago, they lived in Vermont. His father is a computer wizard and his mother taught French for years in a Vermont secondary school. Each time we have dined with them, the food Ann cooks is a marvel of French Canadian with a twist of Vermont cuisine. December 26th’s fare proved fine too. We have learned that Vermont folks use a preponderance of their tasty maple syrup in dishes such as simmered beans, baked ham, and, I think it might have also been in one of the savory meat pies. As an Italian American in the Heartland, I grew up thinking maple syrup poured over a stack of pancakes was how one ate maple syrup, mighty good it was. However, Anna, Jim, their son Justin and daughter Sabreena have happily broadened my maple syrup horizons.

Ann and Jim laid a beautiful table for our day after Christmas dinner - tangledpasta.net
Ann and Jim laid a beautiful table for our day after Christmas dinner – tangledpasta.net

We all exchanged gifts, and talked, and laughed as we marveled at the sunshine offsetting the chilly weather.  After coffee and Buche de Noel, we piled into the car and headed back to Frank and Kelley’s.  In looking over the landscape of Christmas Eve with Uncle Sam’s family, Christmas Day with my brother Frank’s family, and the day after Christmas with Justin’s family, I realized once more how grand this Christmas of 2013 was because we spent it with those we love best.

Buon Natale!

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!