Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights -
Friday Night Lights –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

One of the few television programs I watched was Friday Night Lights.  Now I am able to relive the excitement of the show through Netflix.  In as much as I relish Friday Night Lights, it tugs at my heartstrings.  This has much to do with hearkening back to those Friday night football games of my small Catholic high school and the rush of adrenaline in cheering on a winning football team.

And win we did.  As the Vietnam War raged on, filling the newspapers and nightly news programs with gory scenes of war in a far off country, high school football permitted our minds to drift elsewhere, at least on Friday nights.  While race riots and urban terrorist networks burned our major cities, wreaking death and havoc nationwide, we screamed and yelled for our high school football team.  It made the chaos beyond our turf’s realm disappear, at least on Friday nights.

Years later, we reside near the local public high school that my daughter attended.  Daylight grows shorter, and dusk casts its shadows earlier than I like, yet the roar of the crowd in the high school stadium, the queues of cars up and down our residential streets, the jubilant shouts of spectators, the blasting echo of the sports announcers combine to remind me of the joy of watching a football team’s win on the field.  My high school alma mater’s team went downstate for championship games throughout my four years at the school.  To this day, photographs of those championship seasons line the walls of the school.

I played in the band for those football games of yore.  We had to have been the smallest of the area’s high school bands, but we had a young, dynamic bandleader, and our hearts were strong because we got to play our school’s fight song repeatedly throughout those four years.  Kyle Chandler, who plays Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights, has that same square-jawed look of determination that my high school’s Head Coach had.  The Assistant Coaches on Friday Night Lights remind me of the handsome ones at my alma mater during those four championship seasons.  The electric charge that runs through the Texas-based football show’s student body, boosters, team, and coaching staff, never fails to rekindle the passion of my adolescent self in the bleachers of those Friday Night Lights of yore.

Ciao for now.

Wedding Weekend, Part 2: The Rehearsal


Wedding preparations -
Wedding preparations –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

We awakened last Friday morning, checked our lightly bronzed selves, showered carefully, preened, and drove northwest from Indianapolis to Zionsville for the bridal luncheon.  Partaking of a delectable salad accompanied by intriguing and tasty appetizers, we dashed off to a salon for a manicure.  We had our pedicure at our salon back home.  I am still uncertain why I bothered with a pedicure since I was wearing close-toed shoes for The Nuptials.

Beating a hasty retreat to Indianapolis, we donned our new Talbots dresses [my daughter’s a black lace confection, and mine, a vivid white and turquoise floral] and new pumps [nude] for the rehearsal at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church downtown.  The church is a large Roman Gothic structure replete with elegant stained glass windows, inlaid terrazza marble floor, vaulted ceilings, and a breathtaking Sacristy.  In short, Saint Mary’s was the perfect place for the Big Event.  Anxiety was evident among the bridal party as they practiced walking up the aisle.  Some moved at a breakneck pace, while others strolled regally.  As one of two readers, I practiced the long walk from a carved wooden pew, and up the highly polished steps to the lectern.  After familiarizing myself with the mocha satin ribbon marking my reading passage, I realized I would have to adjust the microphone on The Day since the first reader was quite a bit taller than I.

We then piled into cars and sped off to Lorenzo’s Ristorante, where the groom’s parents were hosting the rehearsal dinner for the bridal party.  It was a memorable repast with family and friends, not to mention mouth-watering Calamari Fritti, Bruschetta, Chicken Marsala, and bottomless glasses of vino.  Justin the Groom-to-Be made touching speeches about each of his groomsmen, giving each of them gifts [tasteful barware and coffee table books].  Lauren followed with heartfelt sketches of what each of her bridesmaids meant to her.  She then distributed gifts of elegant Kate Spade jewelry to each.  The groom’s father created a poignant slideshow of Lauren and Justin’s babyhood to adulthood.  Seeing my late parents smiling and laughing with Lauren, and later with her brother and my daughter, brought a tear to my eye.

It was a night of joy and laughter that boded well for tomorrow’s Main Event.

Ciao for now.


My Alma Mater, Part 2

IU Auditorium on the Indiana University campus -
IU Auditorium on the Indiana University campus –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi 

On Friday evening, we dined with my nephew Daniel.  Like my daughter, his cousin, he too will graduate next month from Indiana University Bloomington, my alma mater.  The focus of the Mom’s Weekend at my daughter’s sorority was mothers and daughters, but Daniel is dear to my heart.  It would have been unfathomable to not break bread with him while I was on the campus!  After all, we are Italians, and alla famiglia is our motto.

It was, therefore, incumbent upon us to dine at Puccini’s, our favorite Italian restaurant on 4th Street [Giacomo Puccini happens to be my favorite Italian opera composer].  This particular street is home to various culinary offerings from around the world:  Thai, Italian, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese, to name a few. At Puccini’s the three of us feasted on bruchetta, calamari, three different pasta entrees, washed it all down with vino rosso, and then shared tiramisu over coffee.

And then we went to the opera.  Earlier that Friday morning, I had purchased tickets for us. Since it was the first Friday of the month performance, we could claim any seat in the house we wanted.  Daniel was wild to sit in a box seat.  Consequently, we arrived as soon as the doors opened so that he and his cousin could scramble up the flights of stairs to the box seating. As a former voice major, I still get thrills every time I set foot in the Musical Arts Center, the MAC as it is affectionately known.  Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Falstaff was premiering that night.  The IU School of Music is renowned around the world.  Its operas promise the audience extraordinary singers, enchanting sets, lighting, and costumes, and brilliant orchestras.  This first Friday performance of Falstaff did not disappoint.  Though not on my top five list of favorite operas [remember that I mentioned I am a Puccini opera aficionado?], the humor and witty staging of this performance held my attention throughout the nearly four-hour performance.  It captivated Anjelica and Daniel too.

In the cool of the night we strolled back to the car, weary, but full of conversation about the magical operatic event.  We did not wish to relinquish the opera, for we three were aware that next year would be different:  my daughter in graduate school in another city; my nephew starting his new job in yet another state.  For the past four years, I have had the inexpressible joy of sharing my alma mater with my daughter and with my nephew.  Our iPhone photos may document particular moments for us, but how I shall miss their undergraduate years.

Ciao for now.

The Fish of Lent

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

fish & chips
fish & chips (Photo credit: David Ascher)


Friday night dinners in our household consisted primarily of fish.  Good practicing Roman Catholics my parents were, Fridays throughout Lent were peppered with hearty portions of dried cod, a’la` Calabria, with a generous portion of olive oil, onions, fresh lemons, a handful of fresh parsley, a hearty portion of potatoes, all covered with water.  Mama used to explain that to cook baccala, the aforementioned cod dish, “First, you soak the cod for a week, and then you cook the cod for a week, and then you throw it out!”

She had a point.  Dried cod smelled like a dead fish that had been floating on its side for an undetermined length of time.  I incurred Daddy’s icy stare whenever I held my nose to take a bite of this Southern Italian “delicacy”.  Baccala was, however, a most economical Lenten repast, for in those years, cod was cheap [before upper-middle-class folks decided fish was “hot” and meat was “not”]. Years later, I concocted a way of making baccala with fresh cod that tasted delicious and lacked the appalling bouquet of dried cod.  My parents were proud of my culinary baccala achievement.

We also feasted upon filleted blue gills, courtesy of relatives who liked ice fishing; tuna fish and noodles; tuna casserole; shrimp cocktail; and my brother’s favorite:  Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks.  If we were lucky enough to be served fish sticks on a Lenten Friday, that also meant made homemade French fries and another relative’s coleslaw recipe, which I could have dispensed with.  I enjoyed simply noshing on lemon-saturated fish sticks while chasing ketchup around my plate with chunky French fries.

I thought about those Lenten dinners of yore last Friday night as I prepared linguine with shrimp scampi for dinner.  Admittedly, I abstain from meat on most Fridays beyond Lent.  Fish and Fridays just go hand in hand in my Italian world.

Ciao for now.



Ash Wednesday Denial

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Stained glass angel church window -
Stained glass angel church window –










Ash Wednesday is the kick-off to the Lenten season in the Roman Catholic Church.  This year Ash Wednesday fell on February 13.  On Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, I tried to muster up enthusiasm for a New York strip steak, or at least a cheeseburger, preferably from Five Guys.  However, on Mardi Gras, meat did little to entice my taste buds.  Ergo, I feasted instead on roasted garbanzo beans, couscous, and broccoli.

At the 12:05 p.m. Mass on Ash Wednesday, I was the Reader for the two Epistles [one from the Prophet Joel; the other from Book 2 of the Corinthians, for those reading this blog with an inquiring mind].  As I finished reading from the Corinthians, suddenly, a Five Guys juicy cheeseburger with sautéed onions and mushrooms blazed across my mind.  I tried to focus on Monsignor’s sermon about Lent not being necessarily about forsaking candy for 40 days, but about doing good deeds, a’ la` random acts of kindness.

While the advice was sound, I envisioned that charbroiled cheeseburger burning brightly before me on the marble altar railing.  “Sacriligious!”  I silently chastised myself to no avail.  “Focus! Focus!” I mutely yelled to myself.

Fasting in-between meals on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays during Lent has not been historically troublesome for me.  In fact, fasting, instead of indulging in my daily grazing in-between meals, should decrease my waistline [which it usually does not].

My Lenten albatross remains abstinence from meat throughout the remaining Fridays of Lent.  It is ironic because I rarely think about or crave meat; salmon and bay scallops, yes, pasta with seafood, yes, but meat in and of itself, no.  I fear each Lenten Friday I will fixate on either a cheeseburger or a strip steak, which I do not crave on any other day during Lent, except for Ash Wednesday.

Sigh.  It is going to be a long 40 day-road to Easter Sunday.

Ciao for now.

The Loss of Innocence

Our Italian creche
Our Italian crèche

Last week I had planned on writing about preparations for Christmas.  However, my focus abruptly changed as I listened to NPR about the savage killings in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14.   It seemed surreal:  How could a sick twisted individual gun down six and seven-year old first grade students, teachers, and administrators?  Why in the name of all that is good and holy would the mother of her deranged son hand him firepower, and take him to a shooting range for target practice. To kill even one child is to extinguish one of the lights of our future, one of our hopes for our world.

As a parent, my first instinct was to embrace my daughter and not let her go when she arrived home from college late in the afternoon of December 14.  The anguish of the Sandy Hook Elementary School parents, the grieving families of the teachers and staff has resonated throughout our nation ever since the harrowing news was transmitted.  We are appalled. We are heartbroken.  Twenty children brimming with wide-eyed wonder at the fascinating world around them, drinking it in with boundless enthusiasm were savagely taken for no apparent reason other than the fury of a lunatic.  We grope for answers; we attempt to find reason in the unfathomable.

Yet we take heart in knowing these children will be remembered as always loving, perennially smiling, sweetly affectionate, and robust in the happiness they shared with their family, friends, and community.  Somehow since last Friday, I cannot spontaneously hug my child enough, cannot tell her often enough how much I love her, cannot bear the thought that harm could come to her.  Every time I have seen a child since last Friday, I smile more broadly than usual [and I am a pretty smiley individual] at both the child and the parent.

I read that a woman traveled from Iowa to Newtown with little idea other than to help.  She somehow connected with others who had decided to bake pies for the good people of Newtown.  This story resonated with me because I always make baked rigatoni or soup for those who are coping with a sick family member or with a death in the family.  One thing we Italians know how to do well is to provide nourishment.

It is the small moments, I intone to myself; it is the rituals of family and tradition that we share that add up to life, as my family knows it.

I read that some folks in Newtown are conflicted about putting up a Christmas tree.  Maybe other families felt the menorah candles had lost their meaning.   As I gaze at our Christmas tree on these overcast days, I take heart in white lights, the Italian angel atop the tree, the crèche and Advent wreath radiate hope.  The Holy Family fled King Herod’s murderous soldiers, as Mary was about to give birth.  Mary and Joseph found the strength to protect their child. We too will find the courage to keep Christmas in our hearts. While innocence seems lost for now, hope is not.

Merry Christmas, Blessed Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and all in-between to all.