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.

 

 

Type, Inc.

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How I wish I had my mother’s typewriter, like the one in the photograph.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Today would have been my mother’s birthday, if she were still alive. She died suddenly in 2002. It was downright lousy losing my mother in every way. Not only was hers a brilliant mind that sparkled, but her heart was full of love for her children and husband. My mother excelled at Bridge; she was a competitive card player. A voracious reader, she instilled in us a love of books from birth on. The woman was also a culinary goddess. She could make the best food, mostly Italian, but she also appreciated and tried cooking other cuisines.  A woman of eclectic tastes and interests, she dressed classy. She always told me when it came to make up and to jewelry that less was more.

Another area in which my mother excelled was that of typing. A trained bookkeeper, my mother worked for years at Remington Rand. One of her most prized possessions was her typewriter. It was in a large sturdy case all its own. I can still see the dark green typewriter keys in contrast with its gray body. Since my father owned his own business, Mama was the bookkeeper. She helped him compose business letters, send out correspondence of various kinds, and keep the shoe shop’s books. An avid collector of recipes from her sisters, outstanding cooks in their own right, both of them, the three of them mailed typewritten recipes back and forth for years. When I had to give a speech or a presentation in class, which was often because my Catholic parochial school had us stand up often to orate. Mama often typed up my handwritten work, for I had not yet learned how to type. She hovered over me whenever I hauled it out and attempted to type, for fear I might harm her typewriter.

In my first year of Catholic high school, my mother was adamant that I take a typing class.

“No way! I’m in the College Prep track and typing isn’t included. Typing is in the General Education track!” I protested.

“Don’t be such a snob. By learning a practical skill, you will be the one in college typing other students’ papers and charging them for the service. You will be able to type your own papers and never have to rely on anyone to do it for you,” she informed me.

Her order paid off for me, literally. I made money by typing papers for my fellow college students, slogging through their wretched handwriting to make sense of what they attempted to convey.

Whenever I watch the Nora Ephron movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, I think of my mother.  In that movie the character of Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, is a journalist who passionately collects typewriters.  My mother understood that character, although she herself never wanted an electric typewriter.

Over the years, my brother offered to buy Mama a computer. She thanked him kindly, but refused his offer. Her trusty typewriter suited her well enough, she told him. After our father’s death four years later, we had to dismantle our family home. The typewriter stood in the closet where she had left it. I kept staring at it, thinking I should take it. But I was heartbroken over the deaths of my parents. The typewriter stood in mute testament to all I had lost, making me cry all over again.

Now, 14 years down the road, I wish I had that typewriter of hers. I would give it a place of honor in my house, a shrine of sorts to my darling mother, a wise and loving woman who had won a State Typing contest that landed her a job in Washington, D.C. with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That, however, is another story to be told.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Memorial Remembrance

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Memorial Day Remembrance - tangledpasta.net
Memorial Day Remembrance – tangledpasta.net

 

Today is a time of remembrance of those who served our country.  Each Memorial Day, a flag is placed at my father’s monument to honor his service to our country.  Having already served in the Italian army, my father was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, after he had become a U.S. citizen.  He was proud to serve his new country; he never regretted having been obliged to serve in the Italian Army and then in the U.S. Army.  It was an honor, he told my brother and me.  He genuinely believed it was what one did as a citizen.

Today we will visit my parents’ monument and place hanging baskets of pink and red New Guinea Impatiens on the side of the pale pink marble.  Mama and Daddy both loved vibrant colored flowers.  Unwavering in their loyalty to family, we decorated our deceased members’ monuments on what used to be called Decoration Day, but now is referred to as Memorial Day.  As we offer up prayers to my beloved parents and grandparents at the old Catholic cemetery, I shall also be sending up prayers for the University of California – Santa Barbara students who were brutally and ruthlessly cut down by a delusional madman.  I picture these victims with heartfelt sadness, for I have been teaching college students for many years.  Their youth, vigor, and commitment to envisioning a better future spur me on to constantly strive to be a better educator.

In this morning’s New York Times, I viewed a photo gallery of the Santa Barbara and Isla Vista communities in pain and shock.  What struck me too in these images of raw emotion were the flowers laid at the sites of those fallen students.  Memorials created to honor those lives cut short.  The same thoughts drifted to those Veterans of Service in our Armed Forces.  True, not all died in warfare, but they served and served well, like those student victims served their studies, their families, their friends, and their communities.  Unnatural deaths defy our understanding and tug at our moral core, whether it is at the hand of “the other” in warfare, or at the hand of an amoral lunatic wielding weapons. No matter how or when lives were lost, the fallen all deserve memorials of flowers, flags, and prayers on this and all other Memorial Days.

Ciao for now.

Che sara`, sara`

Dining al fresco - tangledpasta.net
Dining al fresco – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a young sprig, my parents were the harbingers our Italian community’s news.  They knew who was ailing, in the hospital, had died, was visiting from of town or country, or was traveling, to name areas that incited Italian interest.  My father, who owned his own shoe business, kept me abreast of these and other Italian news breaking events.   My mother, whose community service and Catholic Church work brought her in touch almost daily with cutting edge events, also kept me informed.   From my earliest years, whether or not I believed myself to have a vested interest in the day-to-day hot-off-the-press-informal-Italian-Gazette news flashes, I as made aware.

And then a funny thing happened:  As I matured, the elders in my family began to die off, like great Roman gods.  With my own mother’s death and my father’s increasing dementia, I became the point person for hot-off-the-wire family updates.  There was a problem with this role suddenly thrust upon me:  Not only was I working full-time, I was divorced and raising my daughter without any help, financial or otherwise, from my ex-husband, in addition to overseeing my father’s care.  On most days I functioned on autopilot.  The immediate needs of my child and my father were in the forefront, as they should have been. Well-intentioned family phoned me constantly in the evenings after I returned from work, and on the weekends.  Finally, I had Caller ID installed to screen calls as a survival mechanism.

As the months and years rolled by, it became more challenging to know what was going on among Italian families, beyond my own, for my friends were also experiencing the deaths of their Italian shamans.  My full-time working friends became increasingly engaged in elder care while attempting to juggle complex lives.  We all coped, not always in exemplary fashion, but always honoring our parents, keeping them at the forefront of our efforts as we also attended to our children.

A dear cousin of my father’s died last Saturday.  His funeral was held on Ash Wednesday, an odd day for a funeral among Roman Catholics.  I did not even know of his death until late Wednesday afternoon.  I grieved alone, for not one of my local relatives called to notify me prior to our cousin’s funeral.  What I used to jokingly refer to as “The Italian Twilight Bark” has perished.  Yet I prefer to contemplate our late cousin dining sumptuously above with my parents on a hearty repast of Italian food.

Ciao for now.

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi