Thanksgiving Day

Imagine all the potential pumpkin pies! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As we near the end of November, we turn our attention to that laudable holiday: Thanksgiving. In the spirit of breaking bread, or Parker House Rolls, we sit down at the table laden with roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, creamed corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, or pecan pie, or apple pie, or my homemade coconut cream pie. We toast with wine to get the family and friend meal underway. The eating then commences amid the clatter of plates and the cheerful chatter of goodwill.

Small wonder we reach for an anti-acid after pushing away our chairs from the table.

I have read several articles in the past week or so about how to avoid conflict over the Thanksgiving meal. This has to do with inquisitive relatives hitting upon flashpoints of personal matters such as Why aren’t you pregnant? You’ve been married nearly two years! Don’t you want to take off that extra weight? You’d look so much prettier! What made you retire at 64? You could go until 70 or at least 67! Why did you go back to work? You retired! You must have been bored! Don’t you want to get married again? You could have companionship and even sex [wink, wink]! Have you found a boyfriend yet? Childbearing years have an expiration, you know. Finally, there is the dreaded political and sexual harassment and/or rape discussion. I am not even going to dignify this blog post with the degenerative and outrageous behavior that is bringing this year to a close, God help us.

I have told myself that all those who make whatever inquiries mean well, that they are attempting conversation, and that they are trying to find some sort of common ground in which to engage in dialogue. In the end, I cannot fault them for their efforts.

Instead of Making Turkey, They Make Reservations, Pete Wells of the New York Times explores why families often opt to dine out on Thanksgiving Day. The reasons run the gamut from not having yet made friends in a new town, to avoiding explosive dinner conversation with families, to wanting to simplify Thanksgiving and letting chefs create the dinner and leave the staff to do the cleanup. My family once dined out on Thanksgiving. We had a delicious meal at a cozy corner table in a fine restaurant where my then-toddler daughter could play with her non-noisy toys without getting in the way of the servers or other patrons. While we pronounced it a success, we lamented the lack of leftovers. The following Thanksgiving saw us at home collaboratively preparing the feast, setting the table with one of my Italian linen tablecloths made by my aunts in Italy, using the “good china”, and wine glasses from the cabinet. All felt and tasted right again with the world.

My darling parents have since passed away, and close family member have either relocated to the coast, or share holidays with in-laws. We now dine with dear friends who honor their Italian and French heritages, as we do our Italian lineage. We have a common bond in that we are also rampant foodies, literary aficionados, and we relish conversation encompassing wit, humor, and insight. Thanksgiving is the holiday where we friends can come together. While we wish we could meet more often, our lives are filled with work, visiting our children in other cities, and attending to elderly family members. We are close friends who function like family, and we cherish this bond. My dear family extend heartfelt invitations for us to join them for Thanksgiving, and I am most grateful, while I hold dear sitting down with them in the past.

I take heart in the mirth and joy of Thanksgiving, whether we partake of the meal with family or with friends. Let us advocate to give thanks for family and friends, and let us raise our glasses to honor the blessings derived from delicious food and the company of those we love.

Ciao for now.

 

 

August 1983

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This is what the entrance to the River Oaks area of Houston looked like in mid-March 2017 when we visited my friend Juliet and her family. I hazard to guess some of those pretty palm trees were snapped in tow and that those flowers have been battered due to Hurricane Harvey. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Hurricane Alicia. Its name is emblazoned in my memory.

Never have I been more terrified, more at the mercy of Mother Nature than I was when Hurricane Alicia roared across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into Galveston first, and then onto Houston. A child of the Midwest, I was accustomed to tornado season. I knew to retreat to the basement of my home with flashlights, canned goods, gallons of water, cat food, and the cat. However, tornados are one thing; hurricanes are something altogether different.

Houston is below sea-level, which means homes do not have basements.

My Houston native friend, Juliet, instructed me a week before Hurricane Alicia arrived, what preparations to make. Juliet came over to my apartment in Southwest Houston, in an area called Meyerland, to help me tape the windows. Armed with wide rolls of tape, we placed X’s from corner to corner in each window. We went to the grocery store and loaded up on gallons of water, loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter, bags of nuts and dried fruit. We made sure my hand held can opener operated easily, for I would be eating lots of canned tuna once the city shutdown for the hurricane. New batteries filled several flashlights. In a few days I would shower again, clean out my bathtub, and then fill it to the brim with water. Bruno the cat had ample food and would have access to water from the gallon containers. We would ride out the hurricane together.

When Alicia made landfall on August 18, I thought Bruno and I were goners. The sheer terror of the screaming sound of the hurricane made me dive under my bed covers with Bruno. My cat could not stop pacing around the perimeter of the bed. His paws were moist, always a bad sign with a cat. We had food and water in my bedroom, but I was too frozen with fear to get out of bed. Other sounds howled for hours. Among those sounds I later learned was the metal roofs over the carports in my apartment complex being torn off from the maniacal winds. Trees uprooted like sticks were hurled every which way, including across power lines. Nob Hill, my apartment complex consisted of a series of two-story brick buildings. It had looked sturdy to me the past months I had lived there. Now I prayed to God that my building on a knoll held together.

Around 7:30 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang; there were no cell phones in 1983! It was my mother telling me that on the Today Show or on Good Morning America, I do not recall which one, the weather announcer said the eye of Hurricane Alicia had settled over Houston. Yes, I said, I know. It’s the first time it’s been quiet in hours. I actually slept for two hours. My parents were scared to death for me. I assured my mother I was fine sleep deprived, but otherwise fine. The air-conditioning hasn’t stopped working, I said. This is important since the heat and humidity have intensified, thanks to the hurricane. Thanks to the knoll upon which my building was located, even my car survived the wrath of Alicia because the queue of carports for my building was also on a knoll. However, many other people lost not only power in their buildings, but also their cars from water damage.

    I had been teaching summer classes. Finals had been scheduled a few days after the hurricane. In the end, I simply calculated final grades, minus the final exam. Damage to homes and business in Houston was so extensive that it would have been inhumane to require students to try to get to the university for an exam. The health and well-being of my students was of tantamount importance in the aftermath of the hurricane. Besides, there was no running water, nor was there electricity in the building where the final exam was to have been.

Hurricane Alicia was a Category 3 hurricane. Hurricane Harvey that struck the Texas Gulf coast is a Category 4, even more powerful. My friend Juliet texted me at 5:38 a.m. this morning that she and her family have retreated to the second floor of their home in Clear Lake, near NASA. The first floor of their home was flooding. She is trying to conserve cell phone energy. Perhaps they have been rescued. All I can do is keep praying that they are.

Ciao for now.

 

Houston, Part 1

 

 

Bouquet of fresh flowers for the wedding ceremony.

The bride’s colors were purple and light pink. Her dress had long lace sleeves, a v-neck, and layers of sheer white, and a cathedral length veil that flowed like a poem. The bridesmaids wore long gowns with purple sequins on the top, and layers of sheer lavender organza on the bottom. The groom looked dashing in a charcoal gray tux and vest with a pink bow tie. His groomsmen were decked out in purple ties with matching vests under their gray tuxes.

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We spent a memorable week in Houston with dear friends Juliet and Mark. We celebrated their daughter Ann’s wedding with their family. I rejoiced in returning to a city and friends who are like family to me. The rehearsal dinner proved lively and tasty with chicken and shrimp as the main events. The next day, the bride was stunning and the groom handsome, the service sweet, and the reception rollicking, in the best of Texas traditions! The weather smiled upon the bridal party and the rest of us, with blue skies, sunshine, and 80-degree weather. We had shaken off the cold, dreary, grey northern Indiana skies the minute we landed in Houston. We readily embraced all that Texas sunshine!

We spent an afternoon several days prior to the wedding, placing white linens on the reception’s 28 tables in the Clear Lake Methodist Church’s Hall. We then arranged the silky purple and pink runners over each round table. The soon-to-be bride and groom spend copious amounts of their free time playing games with their friends. Board games, card games, bingo, word games, you name it, the couple and their friends play it. Therefore, in lieu of traditional floral arrangements, games were the name of the centerpieces! We arranged large and small die that Juliet had hand-painted and decorated, and assorted games on the center of each table. Sheets of Wedding Bingo and word games were handed out after the Wedding Luncheon.

Saturday morning arrived and wedding verve permeated the air. At 11:30 a.m., classically trained musicians began a 30-minute concert of sumptuous music. Thereafter, Miss Patsy, the grandmother of the bride, Juliet, the mother of the bride, and the mother of the groom were escorted and seated. The groom and his groomsmen assumed their positions, the bridesmaids, and matron of honor Janelle processed into the church. The flower girl and ring bearer played their parts without a wrinkle. The music then swelled, as Mark proudly walked his daughter Ann down the aisle. The minister has known Ann for years; he gave a fine sermon about marriage and commitment. When he pronounced them man and wife, and said to Karl, “You may kiss the bride,” Karl gave Ann a Hollywood kiss! I was proud of them, for I had suggested such a kiss several nights before the wedding as they were practicing the kiss at Ann’s family home. Whether he remembered my suggestion, or they Googled “wedding kisses”, the kiss sealed the deal.

The pork loin tasted moist and delicious, as did the side dishes at the luncheon. In high spirits we participated in the games, noshed at the Sweet and Salty snacks table, and danced to contemporary tunes the DJ spun. I conversed with old friends and met knew people at this joyous wedding reception. Later, we lined up outside and blew little bubbles with pink wands and cheered as Karl carried Ann to his big, shiny, white truck. Their faces wreathed in smiles, the newlyweds set off on a two-week honeymoon amid heartfelt wishes for a long, happy life together.

Ciao for now.

A Clean Start

 

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The shores of Lake Michigan in winter, in Long Beach, IN stretch before me with endless possibilities ahead. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

While many made New Year’s resolutions to get their living space in tidy order, I labored to clear out my office. The one I vacated provided ample space and multiple bookshelves to hold my linguistic, literature, composition, and Montessori books. A large window overlooked a limestone building of little architectural interest, and took up most of the scenery. However, to the right, if I stood up, a partial view of trees could be seen. In business, the corner office is usually the coveted one, and that is the office I had up until last Friday. Lest one thinks I’m nostalgic for that space, rest assured, I am not, for at home I have several cozy areas where I write. I have had nice visits with colleagues ever since I gave notice of my leaving, and I enjoyed each and every one of them. Last Friday I sat down with a colleague whom I met 25+ years ago. We share a sense of history of the campus that few others do. Yet there are others I will remain in relatively close contact because of friendship.

I turned over the last of the keys to the office door, left the filing cabinet key and drawer keys in place. My friend and I hugged again, and then I left the building. Bidding adieu to her and others proved melancholy, even as I kept my eyes riveted on the future. The routine of these many years had embedded itself with a sort of comfort level during the best and the worst of times, which is a part of the landscape of a job. I’ve spoken about leaving a long time job for months with those who have either retired or resigned. Most informed me, “When it’s time to go, you’ll know.” Indeed, their sage counsel reverberated in my ears. My decision involved no drama. Instead, retiring simply felt right so that I could embark upon the next phase of my life.

As the New Year beckons me, I now lack excuses for not ridding my closets and drawers of clothing, papers, and miscellaneous pieces of the past. The time de-clutter my living space is now. The moment to reinvent my life invigorates me. My eyes are focused on the present. The possibilities of the future with writing seem boundless.

Ciao for now.

A Memorable Thanksgiving

Pumpkin orange candle surrounded by various Autumn items

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On this cloudy, chilly Thanksgiving, the weather fails to dampen my spirits. Not even a backed-up double kitchen sink that flooded last evening, nor the non-stop deluge of rain yesterday, nor the three-hour wait to retrieve my daughter’s car that malfunctioned in a city an hour away, nor my damp jeans that the umbrella failed to keep dry could deter my Thanksgiving happiness. These unexpected events prevented us from traveling out of town for Thanksgiving, but that did not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Unfortunately, the seals on the garbage disposal were kaput, rendering the running water and the dishwasher, which is filled to the limit, off limits until Monday. My daughter’s #4 cylinder and valve have been replaced, the cylinder head completely cleaned, as was some other under-the-hood stuff. My car even got a new pair of windshield wipers, which gave me a clearer visibility driving in the rain: I could see! Upon arrival home, I changed out of my rain-soaked jeans and into comfy, flannel lounge pants, and then drank herbal tea.

After the erstwhile plumber attempted to detour the kitchen sink’s water, and then realized the under-the-sink flooding situation once the cabinet doors were opened, it was several rolls of paper towels to the rescue. I kept saying, “It’s only water!” as if repeating this would make the water go away. On the upbeat side, we cleaned out everything under the sink. I will now have room to store appliances that clutter the countertop!

Although I could not make neither my family-famous coconut cream pie, nor my Silver Palate crackling cornbread, we struck out again in the rain last night and drove to Whole Foods. Our contribution to Thanksgiving dinner is an apple pie and a bottle of Prosecco, the Italian champagne. We are sharing Thanksgiving with our good friends, my plumber with the M.B.A. and his family.

This morning I received happy news: My dear friend sent me a photo of his newborn niece. She was born last night, in Washington, D.C., shortly before midnight. Now that is a blessed, special Thanksgiving gift.

Ciao for now.

 

Writing Spirited Constellations

Ponte Vecchio Bridge
Ponte Vecchio bridge across Arno River in the evening Florence Italy – One of my favorite places in la bella firenze! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Several individuals have asked me how I manage to write, given that I work full-time. The answer I usually give is that I have no social life! This is only partially true, for I am neither hermit, nor social misfit by any means!

I derive great satisfaction out of writing. It provides a creative outlet of endless possibilities for me. After work, I may dine out with a friend about once every other week. Generally on the weekends, I may get together with friends for an evening. Somehow I manage to write around these gatherings. This weekend, for example, is devoted exclusively to writing. Friday after work, I filled up the gas tank at Costco, and then I stepped into the store itself ostensibly for one item, yet managed to emerge with fresh mozzarella, spicy avocado hummus, blueberries, mixed fresh fruit [mango, strawberries, melon], celery [to be stuffed with the hummus], pierogies –something I rarely eat [filled with kale, potato, and lemon], and cheese pizza. Noshing my way through Costco after work on Friday relaxes me, as did the glass of Pinot Grigio with a slice of pizza at home, which relaxed me further.

To write a novel demands uninterrupted time. I cannot focus with a barrage of e-mail, texts, phone calls, or the neighbor’s country music distracting my attention. I respond when I take a writing break. Figuring out characters, plots, dialogue, and the narrative itself require my full attention. When I know, or when I am able to spontaneously get together with friends, I plan my writing time around these events. This holds true for holidays, celebrations, and vacations [something I have not had in nearly two years].

The first book in the Spirited Constellations series came together fairly quickly – in about three months. A steady dose of winter blizzards helped enormously in this regard. I holed up at home and wrote and wrote and wrote over snow days from work, and on blessed weekends. Now I find myself longing for winters filled with inclement weather to keep me steady with writing. If I resided in Montana, I am sure I could write more than a book or two during those kinds of winters!

While I am writing the third book in the Spirited Constellations series, I have been developing another series quite different from my paranormal one. The first book in that series is completed, and the second one is nearly so. Another series is swirling around in my head, yet I have not put pen to paper. But I will soon enough. And then there is that memoir I in the works, too.

Throughout my life I have been comfortable working solo; I don’t require an entourage around me. I do not need to map out my week with social appointments. When I get together with friends, it means more because those moments are rare. Writing is a solitary activity, one that I embrace.

Ciao for now.