Blue skies and sunshine equate with life is good!
Blue skies and sunshine equate with life is good!

This morning I awakened not only to a time change, but also to a rousing temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by sunshine.  Halleluiah!  While this may not be significant to those basking in the sunshine of the balmy South, to those of us living with UV-ray deprivation in the northern Midwest, it was like The Awakening. Yesterday afternoon, for the first time since early January, I could walk across our patio and actually see the red bricks, sans snow and ice. I tempted the Winter God by having my SUV bathed at Drive and Shine so that her body shone with its voluptuous lipstick red color like a siren beckoning Ulysseus to abandon his nautical route. Empowered by the sunshine, we postponed necessary grocery shopping until much later while we engaged in sorely needed retail therapy.

Perusing the new spring stock at Backyards, we purchased several items that screamed, “Spring hath sprung!” We then drove to Talbots, ostensibly so pay on a bill, but really to peruse the 25% off everything sale. Happily, we exited the store with a new pair of earrings each, two long-sleeved tops [one in white and one in bright blue], and socks, all of which were needed, except possibly the earrings, but who could resist the sparkle of them? Next, we stopped by Pier 1. Since my plan is to clean out our cup inventory and donate the castoffs, I was curious about freshening up my morning tea depository. Home we came with four cheery, yellow patterned mugs!

Ultimately, we bit the bullet and ventured into a grocery for the weekly trek up and down the aisles. I tore the grocery list in half, giving the other half to my daughter, who is home for part of her Spring Break. We zipped through the store in no time, and then sped off to Whole Foods for a seafood dinner. Earlier in the day we had made a lemon cake as an Ode to the Sun. Last night I tried a new recipe from my Martha Stewart One Pot cookbook. I mixed couscous, peas, olive oil, golden raisons, sliced almonds, and topped it cod, over which I placed a mixture of cumin, paprika, and coriander. Lemon was added after baking. It tasted delicious. We then dined on lemon cake as we watched the 1937 comedy, “Double Wedding”, with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Having shopped admirably, eaten well, laughed over a movie, we then slept comfortably.

Ciao for now.

Back Story

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

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

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 -
The topper of Lauren and Justin’s Christmas tree –

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

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

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!

Let There Be Light

Coco Chanel likes small white lights too -
Coco Chanel likes small white lights too –

In our family we traditionally maintained our live Christmas tree until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, my brother’s birthday.  Although we knew other Italian families who took down their tree either the day after Christmas, or on New Year’s Day, or the day after New Year’s, we tended our tree with loving care to prolong its indoor life through January 6.  While this tradition has been eased by the use of artificial Christmas trees, the pang of dismantling the tree remains.

The past several years we have tried to be more liturgically correct:  We do not tamper with the Christmas tree and the surrounding decorations until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  This takes us almost to mid-January.  Usually I try to gradually take down the decorations, removing those that are readily at hand to pluck up and store in a plastic bins.  Yesterday we carefully put away the outdoor lights.  However, I insisted that the outdoor wreaths remain intact; they are festooned with big red bows that brighten the dreary gray landscape of northern Indiana.  This is why I loathe unwinding the lighted garlands that cheer the dark winter nights.  Gradually we will put the indoor garlands to bed for the winter.  By next weekend I will have become reconciled, or nearly reconciled to actually storing the Christmas ornaments and full-like-so real Christmas tree.

Probably the last decoration to be put to slumber for some months will be the banister garland and lights.   The white lights and faux cypress garland lift my spirits, as do the Christmas tree and crèche.  While I know the days are gradually getting longer and the nights a bit shorter, the dreariness of seemingly endless gray skies saddens me.  Like a moth drawn to the flame, so am I drawn to small white lights that lace their way through garlands.

Lately I have been contemplating purchasing pink lights to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Not because retail shops and Hallmark dictates it is time to turn attention to February 14, but because I have concluded that it is perfectly fine to have tiny lights that greet me throughout the Midwest winter.

Ciao for now.

Closet Hubris

One of the inexplicable things in life is the abyss of the bedroom closet.  On par with the perennial missing sock in the dryer, the bowels of a clothing closet rank with Pandora’s box for sheer mystification of clothing that is MIA.

My college daughter’s closet –

At college, my daughter’s closet literally is bursting at the seams with hangers bearing skirts, dresses, blouses, and jeans.  Stacked clear plastic bins store the overflow of hoodies, sweatshirts, sweaters, leggings, lingerie, pajamas, assorted tee-shirts – long and short-sleeved, socks, and various accessories.  Over the closet door hangs a shoe organizer filled so that there is waiting room only for the boots [tall, short, leather, and suede] that are lined up underneath the shoe holder.  At least the two exotic guppies in their pristine clean fish tank have much to look at as they gaze into the closet and at its opened door.

Collegiate guppies

Comparing my child’s closet to my own when I was in college, I remind myself that cheap imported clothes were not the norm in the 1970’s.  Furthermore, I recall that I while I purchased jeans, I made most of my skirts, dresses, and tops.  Sewing, I surmised, has become a lost art among the youth of today.  By the time one shops for a pattern, selects the fabric, purchases the requisite thread, buttons and/or zipper, J Crew or Gap has a comparable top on sale for what I would now pay to sew my open clothing.   Meanwhile, we amass piles of clothing we likely do not actually need, yet purchase because of inexpensive imported clothing.  I do a double take when I seize upon a garment that has a Made I the U.S. A.label;  it is akin to viewing an exotic animal.

Boots a go-go

In the meantime, my daughter happily rifles through her myriad of clothing in her tiny, but well-ordered closet.  With an air of je né sais quoi, she emerges from her room, robed in clothing that mirrors her attitude with a touch of panache.  She is blithely ready to take on the world, for it truly is her oyster.

Ciao for now.

October Nostalgia

Lake Michigan, not so far from our smaller lake –

Around this time in October, my aunts, uncles, and cousins from Detroit and Dayton would meet my family at our summer house on the lake, not to swim, but to “put it to bed for the winter”, as Mama was fond of saying.  We all had assigned tasks:  The men folk dismantled the pier, storing the large squares under the house where the parts remained hidden behind white wooden crisscrossed fencing.  They heaved and ho’d to remove the rowboat and paddle boat out of the water.  The rowboat was placed over wooden horses and then covered with thick heavy canvas tied around it for protection from the winter snow soon to come.

Pasta supremo – tangledpasta

Aunt Adelaide supervised us in raking the leaves that fluttered down from the large oak trees in the backyard.  The crisp October air prevented any thought of swimming, much to my cousins’ and my chagrin.  Instead we contented ourselves with romping through the leaves, re-raking them repeatedly in order to leap into them savoring the crunch they made.  Back then we raked a huge pile of these leaves in order to burn them under my aunt’s watchful eye after satisfying our leaf-leaping joy.

Inside the cottage, Mama and Aunt Agnes cleaned the house from stem to stern.  They wiped all the windows clean, dusted and polished every stick of furniture, swept and mopped all the floors.  After a Saturday marathon of “putting the cottage to bed for the winter”, Aunt Adelaide made her killer Manhattans for the grown-ups and homemade hot chocolate for the non-adults.  Munching on crudités of carrot and celery sticks and bell peppers, we kicked back.  Television was verboten in the cottage; we played board games and lived without the “idiot box”, as Mama called the TV.  We then sat down at Grandfather’s old mahogany dining room table for a dinner of cabbage rolls, potato and fennel casserole, Italian prosciutto, salami, provolone, crusty bread, and Daddy’s homemade red wine, “made with-a Napa grapes”.

After attending Sunday morning Mass, we again convened at the table for a satisfying pasta and salad dinner, courtesy of Mama and Daddy.  Before parting ways on Sunday afternoon, the beds upstairs and down were stripped – the linens to be taken to our houses and washed, the blankets stored in cedar-lined chests, the porch rocking chairs moved to the great room, the refrigerator cleaned out, and the large brick fireplace –the cottage’s only heat source – swept and cleaned.  We hugged and kissed one another, and talked about the looming Christmas holidays when we would be together again.  As my family’s car lumbered up the driveway’s knoll, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my beloved cottage.  I took comfort from knowing she would joyfully greet us in May, welcoming us back another summer.

Ciao for now.

Smelling Fresh


Geraniums on the front porch, The Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island –


Over the weekend I ventured into a Super Target store.  In addition to a few groceries, I also needed to buy deodorant.  My deodorant stick at home kept falling out of its holder, which indicated it was time to replenish product.  Over the years, I had purchased Dove’s Sensitive Care for Sensitive Skin deodorant.  On this shopping expedition I intended to buy my favorite sensitive skin deodorant.


Upon glancing up and down at the rows and racks of Dove deodorants, I did not see any labeled sensitive skin.  What I saw instead were deodorants in the company’s new Go Fresh line [Who wants to Go Unfresh?].  Variants were titled: Go Fresh Rebalance Sleeveless [Who are the Go Fresh Unbalanced? What about those who want to Go [with] Sleeves?], Go Sleeveless Beauty Finish [Is the implication Go Sleeveless Beauty or Non-Beauty Unfinished?}, and Go Sleeveless Nourished Beauty [How does this affect a Malnourished Beauty or Non-Beauty? Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder, according to my grandmother?].  Interspersed with these deodorant choices were Dove’s Go Fresh Rebalance Body Mist [Does this serve unbalanced consumers only?], Go Fresh Revive Body Mist [If someone is clinically dead, will this bring the person back to life?], and Go Fresh Burst Body Mist [Does anyone else find this reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alienmovies?].


Cover of "Alien (The Director's Cut)"
Cover of Alien (The Director’s Cut)


I felt myself glazing over from squinting while looking at the deodorant sea of pastel colored tops, and from reading the small print on the front of the deodorant  [I admit to being too lazy to rifle through my handbag for my reading glasses]. I finally settled on the Go Fresh Cool Essentials cucumber & green tea scent, a reasonable choice since I like cucumbers and I drink green tea daily.  Suddenly waves of deodorant nostalgia swept over me:  I found myself longing for the days when deodorant choices were limited to the clear roll-on or the powder one.


Though I failed to locate the Dove Sensitive Skin stick of choice, I am pleased with the fragrant scent of cucumbers and green tea.  One could smell worse, but I do not admit that I have.


Ciao for now.