For Maureen

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            I still cannot believe we will never have our two-hour phone conversations, or laugh and enjoy ourselves with her parents, my aunt and uncle, over delicious entrees at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano. It had become our custom to get together days after Christmas, to continue our holiday cheer with our families.

            Maureen and I were first cousins. Her father was the youngest in a family of nine; my mother was the third eldest in that same family. My mother loved all of her brothers and sisters; we visited back and forth with eight of her siblings often, even when Maureen’s family moved to Germany with the Army for some years. Her father was a radiologist, and the military had funded his medical schooling at Indiana University. After his military medical service was up, he moved his family to Fort Wayne, about 75 miles from his hometown. The close proximity meant our families interacted frequently, especially when my grandparents were still alive.

            Some of my fondest recollections are of Maureen and me riding her horse up and down the hills of her family’s subdivision. To say the lovely horse left hoof prints up and down the grassy knolls of neighbors’ well-manicured lawns would be an understatement. While there was hell to pay later, Maureen and I whooped it up riding all over the forest-like area as we encouraged the horse to go faster. We screamed and laughed and felt as carefree as could be. Free from the yolk of adults, we were masters of our hours of freedom with the horse! The horse had too good a nature to throw us off, but I am sure he neighed sighs of relief when we returned him to the barn, brushed him down, fed him, and gave him cool water to drink, and left the stable.

            Aside from our questionable equestrian fun, Maureen and I shared a love of classical music. Her mother sang beautifully, so Maureen’s musical gifts were easy to track. In fact, her brothers and sisters were equally gifted in music, languages, humor, and all round good times. I loved the energy in their family home, the laughter, and the food; especially that Italian torte a patient of my uncle’s gifted them each year!

            I shall miss my conversations with Maureen about films, books, food, and art. She urged me to get back in saddle, so to speak, and finish writing my novels, to pursue my online business plan, and to get back to the Catholic Church. She was aware of my on again, off again relationship with Catholicism. Knowing how much she treasured her own renewed relationship with God and with Catholicism, I’m working my way back to it again. I swear she is still nudging me along, like the cheerleader she always has been for me. I take heart in knowing she loved my cheering her on with her eclectic paintings and writing gifts. 

            Perhaps Maureen isn’t that far away after all. Every time I think of her, I smile and feel better about life in general. We both despaired of the tragedy of the Syrian people, and of those detained at the Mexican border. We cried out for humanity to step up and overcome xenophobia and racism. Maureen and I both prayed hard for justice for the oppressed. We wanted to believe our prayers didn’t fall upon deaf ears.

            I will keep on praying and continue to offer up prayers for Maureen’s peace and that of my aunt, uncle, and cousins’. It’s the least I can do to carry on Maureen’s legacy of goodness and kindness and joy. My love for Maureen and those she left behind is boundless.

            Ciao for now.

            Mary Anna

The New Year Hath Begun

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Light breaks through the winter landscape for January 2018.-www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Knock on wood: five days into the New Year and so far, I have avoided tripping, increased illness, and damage to myself in general. Not only does the temperature remain well below freezing, several mishaps befell me as the previous year drew to a close. Yet I remain confident the weather will warm up to at least above freezing in another week or so, and that I will rebound.

After having spent a wonderful day in Fort Wayne with my aunt, uncle, and cousin visiting from L.A., I drove home in a snow sleet storm. The conversation lively, the food excellent, and the tea and coffee at their home warmed my heart. Their company offered a sweet post-Christmas get together. Later, driving at 40 miles an hour, I didn’t make great time, but I managed to drive us home safely while enduring white out conditions.

As the morning broke, I found myself as sick as could be with a vile virus. Between the terrible cold weather and my overall malaise, I dosed myself with over-the-counter medications in the cabinet. In the wee hours of the morning, I stepped into the bathroom, and promptly tripped over something. I catapulted into the side of the porcelain bathtub on my right shoulder, and then crashed onto the tile floor on my right hip. Failure to turn on the bathroom light, my negligence in not stepping into sturdy slippers, my lack of vision wear, plus items left on the bathroom floor, combined to form a perfect storm of catastrophe. I had taken sinus and congestion medication before retiring for the night, which resulted in fuzzy thought processes, or lack thereof. Or I simply chose not to put away items.

At the risk of sounding like Lazarus, I was in tremendous pain, unable to get off the bathroom floor. EMS guys managed to hoist me up and into a straight back chair. After checking me over and evaluating my walk, they determined nothing had been broken. They suggested taking me for further evaluation at the hospital, but the winter wind whipping around outside held little appeal in my mind to venture out. The EMS personnel and the three firemen offered kind words and compliments about our Christmas decorations and outdoor lights. After they left, I spend the remainder of the night attempting to sleep in a recliner.

Thus, I remained inside during the blustery New Year’s weekend, making use of a heating pad and drinking copious amounts of green tea. It turned out that Coco Chanel, our little black and white cat, had developed a proclivity for the heating pad. Whenever she now sees me plug it in, she races to pounce upon it. We now share it. Last night I had a glass of wine with a slice of Whole Foods pizza. I have imbibed enough tea and water. I am still smarting over not having been able to toast the New Year with a glass of bubbly. Perhaps it is not too late to toast the New Year. Tonight I will fill my glass with the gentle fizz of Prosecco and ring in the New Year. It’s never too late!

Ciao for now.

 

December 2017

Hot chocolate, cutout cookies, marshmallows, and a candy cane make for a cozy December 25. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

December. I cannot fathom what in the name that is good and holy went awry.

The first week of December, a beloved uncle dropped dead, literally. True, he had been in heart failure, and had suffered various ailments, and yes, he had turned 96 on Halloween, but still, his death was unexpected, at least it was to me.

On Saturday, the day after I had the honor of singing at said uncle’s funeral Mass, I awakened to an unwanted bout of a gastro-intestinal virus. Fortunately, it lasted only 24 hours, but still, it seized me for a most unpleasant duration.

Sunday began nicely enough: I attended Mass, later focusing on my last two days of classes for the forthcoming week. The usual flurry of activity surrounding end of the semester college classes hastened to a close. On Monday morning a most wretched pain affected my neck. I could not fathom what had happened during my night of repose; however, I knew I had to make haste to pull myself together for these second to the last classes. I popped a couple of Ibuprofen and figured those would do the trick. Sadly, they did not. I managed to grit my teeth, and not turn my head too much, and somehow crawled through the day. During the night I was either howling or crying from the dreadful pain in my neck. I rifled through the medicine cabinet in hope of finding something to alleviate the pain. While the medicine dulled the pain in my neck, I entered the Twilight Zone. Unable to focus, I stumbled throughout the day at home, nearly falling on several occasions. That night I managed to get about three hours worth of sleep; the remainder of the night passed in my screaming in pain or in tears.

Morning dawned: the last day of classes. Every fiber of my body ached from pain: I was a wreck. I fumbled around my computer in attempts to make arrangements for my students. Since pain and medication had rendered me unfit for the classroom, or for anything else, in anguish I reached out to colleagues for help in collecting my students’ final work.

After multiple nights of virtually no sleep, I lay propped up in a comfortable chair, still in pain, yet not immobilizing pain. My physician also changed the type of muscle relaxant so that my out of body experience lessened. I managed to read my students’ final work, and the next day I completed the final grading. For the first time in over 30 years of teaching, however, I missed my last classes, and could only bid my students adieu over the classroom management system.

The following week I felt better. I then turned my attention to Christmas preparations. Later I decided to make Tuscan Farro Soup. One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is a mandolin that makes slicing vegetables a breeze. On the box, I noticed a picture of sliced carrots. I surmised I didn’t need to use the safety device that holds the vegetable in place. As I merrily sliced away, the carrot buckled, broke, and the mandolin sliced off the top of my middle finger [not the tip, but the flat part below the nail]. Once again I screamed in pain as blood spurted down the drain, for I had turned on the cold faucet water. It took awhile to then stanch the flow of blood. My daughter wanted to take me to the ER, but I said there was nothing to stitch. Washing the wound, then applying triple antibiotic ointment on it, and wrapping it in the large bandage seemed the best course of action.

For the next week I could not stir anything, or cut Christmas wrapping paper, or tie ribbon around gifts. Days before Christmas I managed to make my mother’s classic “Connie’s Fudge” recipe, bake and decorate Italian Ricotta Lemon Cookies, and make a homemade coconut cream pie to take to m brother and his family. The only way I could do this was with my daughter, who formed the balls of cookie dough to bake, and to stir the stovetop portion of the fudge recipe, and to stir the cream part of the coconut cream pie.

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Ciao for now.

 

 

The Snow Hath Cometh

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This morning we used our special snowman mugs filled with David’s 24 Days of Tea for December 11, Hot Chocolate, to celebrate the snowfall.-tangledpasta.net.

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            If you say the title of this blog post fast enough, you nearly bite your tongue[th]. I realize the preceding sentence incorporates homonymy of the word ‘weather’, but ‘climactic conditions’ seemed pretentious for a snowy Sunday morn. This weekend, the meteorologist’s dire warnings proved true: As of last evening, we have had a steady snowfall. The sparkling, clean, white snow brightens up the dreary landscape. On Friday night, I powered through the grocery, and then picked up extra items early Saturday, purchased Christmas stamps at the Post Office, and then returned home to engage in online gift shopping.

I admit to being an avid subscriber of the New York Times Cooking, which appears in my e-mail three times a week. It includes ‘vintage’ recipes of James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, Pierre Franey, and contemporary ones by Amanda Hesser, Julia Moskin, Sam Sifton, and Mark Bittman. I have hit Save on that page for so many recipes, I pray the page doesn’t crash! I also am fiendishly devoted to the Food Network’s Alton Brown’s Macaroni and Cheese recipe. Who knew a bay leaf and paprika could make such a delicious difference? Now, there’s a new kid on my cookbook block: The Barefoot Contessa’s Cooking for Jeffrey. Ina Garten’s Roasted Chicken with Lemons, and her Tuscan Roasted Potatoes offer a bit of heaven in every bite.

Admittedly, I am enamored with cooking. As a long-time foodie, I attribute this to growing up with a mother of Italian descent, who excelled in the culinary arts, along with her two sisters, equally accomplished, and an immigrant Italian father who served up delicious Italian food. Small wonder I honed my culinary skills. With today’s snow and cold, I have turned my attention to making a Julia Moskin recipe for chicken potpie. In lieu of a white sauce, she sauté sliced mushrooms and bacon in butter, adding floured, cut up chicken thighs, thyme, and other delectable ingredients, including chicken stock and Marsala wine. Carrots and minted peas are served on the side.

Thus, I embrace the frosty weather as I hunker down this December day, writing, and later cooking. This is my favorite way of spending a chilly, snowy day, a glass of vino included, with the dinner, naturally.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.