Radio Daze

Retro styled image of an old car radio
Old cars, old radios, new ideas, and great humor equal Tom and Ray. –

 Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Early this morning when I deemed it far to soon to abandon my bed, I found myself listening to homage on NPR’s Fresh Air. This particular one featured vignettes from a 2001 interview Terry Gross did with Tom and Ray Magliozzi from their NPR radio show, Car Talk. Although I had previously heard this tribute to Tom Magliozzi, I enjoyed hearing it all again. Tom Magliozzi died in November 2014 of “complications from Alzheimer’s”, according to the broadcast, but I can hear him once a week, and I am not talking about via paranormal experience.

On the weekends, I continue to tune in to Car Talk on NPR. Rechristened The Best of Car Talk, my education persists regarding cars and all sorts of non-car related subjects, courtesy of the Magliozzi Brothers. Those two MIT graduates were inspired and inspiring. According to those who knew Tom and know Ray, the Italian brothers really were the “real deal”, which is most refreshing. Ray still broadcasts commercials prior to the weekend shows, which makes me feel close to him, not in a creepy way, but in a friend kind of manner. Even though he resides in the environs of Cambridge, Massachusetts, or maybe still in their “fair city” of Cambridge, he’s close to my ear because of the radio.

Oh, and I absolutely love their accents! Those Cambridge intonations, vernacular, and language rhythms resonate with me. Not that I could emulate their sound, no, that is their unique mode of expression. I merely kick back and drink in their brash sound, made all the more vivid because of Tom’s cackle one-of-a-kind laugher.

In addition to learning about cars, I always feel better just listening to Tom and Ray. They are creative, funny, insightful, caring, and are good brothers to one another. Over the years, they have impressed me with their sense of family and their loyalty to friends. My impression is that their radio broadcast team and their long-time producer, Doug Berman, functioned like the Magliozzi’s surrogate radio family. One memorable broadcast included a hilarious segment on how the Magliozzi brothers planned a winter getaway trip to sunny Florida for their radio entourage. Ray became so ill before the trip, his doctor forbade him to go. He asked his brother Tommy to think of him on the trip, and did “Tommy” ever!

Maybe it is their breadth of knowledge, their means of extracting humor from seemingly impossible situations, and their ability to chase away the blues that draws me to Car Talk and to Ray’s continued presence. The world makes sense again to me every weekend with Car Talk.

Ciao for now.

The Upside of 2016

2016 held some stellar moments for this writer. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As the winter sun sets on 2016, I would like to acknowledge that not everything went awry; stellar experiences surfaced, too. Casting an eye over the landscape brings noteworthy events to the forefront with the dawning of a New Year.

The publication of my second book in the Spirited Constellations trilogy: Spirited Constellations: Travels highlighted the year for me. The second edition of my first book, Spirited Constellations, was also published. The third book in the trilogy is also well underway, and could possibly be published near the end of 2017, if not sooner.

2016 also saw me completing the first book in a new series I’m writing. This book will be published in early 2017. Vastly different from the Spirited Constellations book, the series ignited my imagination further, for I like these characters as much as I do those in the Spirited Constellations trio.

At the Indiana University Bloomington 2016 Writers’ Conference in June, I embarked on a-here-to-with unknown kind of writing: the prose poem. Had anyone told me I would one day be writing poetry, I would have laughed uproariously! Yet I did it! Under the amazing prose poet Amelia Martens, I plucked up my courage and began work on my first ever prose poem! I even went out on a limb and did a public reading of the poem in Bloomington for the conference participants. Stretching my writing wings into the province of prose poetry proved an exhilarating experience.

Not wanting to stay too long at the fair, I finally decided to retire after 25+ years from my place of employment. I did this in order to enter the next phase of my professional life, one that includes much more writing. In talking with others who have retired or resigned from their positions, the common thread was, “I knew when it was time.” Time isn’t something readily available on anyone’s side, no matter what the Rolling Stones sang. My 2016 November birthday awakened in me a turning point. With little fanfare, without drama, with my two-week’s notice, with a heart full of anticipation ready to turn the page, and with a smile on my face, I walked away.

It was time. It was my time. It still is.

Ciao for now.

The Snow Hath Cometh


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

 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.







Tainted Love

Even the beautiful money plant couldn’t assuage my tainted love. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

  This is Day Three of my coping with food poisoning.

Thus far in 2016, I have had the flu three times, each one a different variety, and now food poisoning. While I was ill on Valentine’s Day, and even on St. Patrick’s Day–alas, no Reuben sandwich with a Black and Tan, at least I enjoyed good health for New Year’s and Groundhog’s Day. I’m counting on being up to par for Easter.

When I was in my first year as an undergraduate at IU Bloomington, I lived in one of the dormitories. Eating food in a dorm was a new experience for me because I grew up with an Italian father who used nearly an acre of our property for a vegetable garden. We also had a fruit orchard. This meant we dined year round on freshly harvested garden vegetables, which my mother filled the deep freezer with to sustain us throughout the winter months. She also canned the orchard fruit; peaches were my favorite. Black raspberries, red raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries shared freezer space with the myriad of garden vegetables. My father knew farmers who butchered their cattle, thereby providing meat throughout the winter for our immediate family, and those of his two brothers’ as well.

Early on in the dormitory dining experience, my taste buds went into a tailspin at the blandness and downright weirdness of the food. I usually opted for hardboiled eggs and yogurt in lieu of what was purported to be meat. The only thing that was sort of all right was the Friday night fish. It reminded me of Lenten fish sticks if I squeezed fresh lemon juice on them. Desserts tasted good. This meant we could pack on pounds ingesting lots of sugary brownies, cakes, and pies.

Which brings me back to food poisoning. One evening the cafeteria offered up its tantalizing brownies. I ate one with walnuts. Within hours all hell broke loose in my body, like in “The Exorcist”. It seems quite a few of us who ingested the nutted brownies that evening suffered food poisoning. To this day, I view brownies with nuts suspiciously, that’s how memorable that bout of food poisoning was.

When I was stricken with food poisoning Tuesday night, I knew what the food was – improperly chilled meat that a relative had sent back with me from last week’s travels. Throughout the past nearly 72 hours of this ordeal, I have redecorated the bathroom, and not in an interior designer sense. I haven’t been able to keep down sips of water or clear Gatorade. By the time a friend arrived yesterday late afternoon, I was dehydrated, weak, feverish, and had slept most of the day. I learned I was within a hair’s breath of the ER and an IV. I had been in touch daily with my doctor’s office, but I was told I would have to ride it out, unless I became so dehydrated that I was disoriented. “Eat ice chips and try Popsicles,” was Day Two’s advice from the physician. My body ached from all the retching, like when one has bronchitis and coughs nonstop. The cramping continues, but isn’t nearly what it was the first 48 hours.

In looking over this bleak landscape of my wretched food experience, I have resolved to either return to being a vegan, or at least a vegetarian. Right now I cannot tolerate the sight of solid food.  I love food, but not illness from food.

Ciao for now.

Calzone, A Different Concept In Pizza Dough

Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. -
Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Under the gray skies of winter, when the temperature in the sub-zero range, sometimes I make calzone. I like calzone piping hot, and stuffed full of sausage, cheese, bell peppers, and marinara sauce. It makes me happy to smell the fragrant calzone, and to watch the contents surge forth onto my plate after I have cut into the bread. Oddly enough, I do not crave calzone in the summer, in the warm weather months, only during the frigid winter ones. A glass of vino rosso – red wine, the ubiquitous calzone, even a small salad help sate my cold weather cravings.

Making calzone is relatively easy. Ingredients may be adjusted to one’s taste and liking.  Sometimes I use whatever vegetables I have on hand that I think would meld well with the calzone concept.  My calzone of choice is made with Italian sausage. Here is the recipe:

Take a pound of fresh or frozen bread dough, and roll it into into a circle. Drizzle with olive oil. Next, take around a pound of sausage – no casings, and brown it for about ten minutes or so, drain off the fat. Combine the sausage with one-fourth teaspoon fennel, one to two sautéed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms tossed with red pepper flakes to taste. Add a cup of marinara sauce.  Place one to two cups of shredded mozzarella or provolone on top of the dough. Be sure to leave at least a half of an inch border of dough visible. Top the dough and cheese with the sausage and sauce mixture. Scatter several tablespoons of cornmeal over a baking sheet. Place the calzone round on the baking sheet. Fold the dough over the filling, and then press the edges with one’s fingers or with a fork to seal completely. Bake the calzone for about twenty minutes or until nicely browned and puffed. Be sure to have extra heated marinara sauce on hand to add to the calzone. Grated Parmesan cheese may be sprinkled on top the warm calzone.

Pour that glass of vino rosso, and start feasting on the calzone!

Ciao for now.

Internet, Where Art Thou?

Without the Internet, I envisioned myself somewhere warm, like Australia -
Without the Internet, I envisioned myself somewhere warm, like Australia –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last week I experienced a nightmare:  Our Internet disappeared. No, it was not due to an unpaid bill.  Rather, it turned out to be the sad demise of our modem.  The modem’s age at the time of death was approximately five to six years of age.

Before I learned the modem was the root of no Internet, I rebooted continually over a period of a day and a half to no avail.  Finally, I contacted AT&T.  Thank goodness my iPhone 5 still functioned!  After nearly 45 minutes on the phone with AT&T tech support, the young man concluded the modem was the root of the lack of Internet pulse.  The modem’s last gasps caused the lights to flash red-green-red-green-red ad nauseam, and then the modem lit up no more.

While I waited three days for the delivery of the new modem, I began to morph into a sniveling heap of psychic decay.  I was in Internet withdrawal.  Not that I surf the web continually. No, I use the Internet for, for checking particular subject points in my writing, for the news on, for e-mail correspondence, and, naturally, for Facebook.  Minus the Internet, I felt isolated, like Napoleon experienced while exiled to the Island of Elba.  Thank God for two Netflix DVDs I had ordered before I could not anymore without the Internet.  I watched those films about three times each.  I turned to magazines that had stacked up on the coffee table, unread, now read voraciously.  I tried writing each night, but without my go-to Internet resources I felt bereft of the friendly web sites.  Sadly, I was forced to admit that I was in the throes of Internet addiction withdrawal.

Yet three days later, the new modem appeared on the doorstep.  Fate intervened once again because the Broadband refused to stabilize.  45 more minutes on the phone with AT&T tech support resulted in a technician riding up like the cavalry to save the day!  After several hours of reconfiguring wiring from the ancient modem to the new, I was back!  It proved a triumphant return to the Internet. Thus, kind readers, is my tale of modem woes turned to happiness once more now that the Internet is back in my life.  The tension is gone, and even the avalanche of snow and frigid temperatures in the Heartland cannot dampen my Internet joy.

Ciao for now.

Compositions in Winter

I love reading books and I love writing them. -
I love reading books and I love writing them. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

A kind friend made reference the other day to my lack of blog postings lately. When I shared the reason with her, she understood, but gently chided me about the need to post on my blog site. Taking her well-meant comment to heart, I will now share the reason for the paucity of blog postings lately:  Since early December I have been at work on writing a second novel.

What happened to the first novel? You may ask and I will tell you:  I’m still re-tooling that one.  In mid-November I was talking with my daughter and with a friend about a true episode in my life.  They were howling with laughter over it, well our friend was; my daughter was rather jarred by the story. Nonetheless, for days after our weekend talk fest, I could not shake the episode from my mind. Around the first of December, I sat down at my Mac and began by penning the outline of what would become a novel.  While I have deviated from aspects of the original outline, the basic story structure has remained essentially the same.

I work full-time.  After work I usually come home, feed Fellini and Coco Chanel, change into comfy clothes, and write.  On the weekends, I wedge myself out of the house to replenish groceries from Whole Foods [a most relaxing, uplifting environment with terrific samples of yummies], return home and write.  I am unable to shake this novel from my head.  It stays with me night and day.  While at work, I am focused on work, on my teaching, on making sure I do right by my students, of course, but in-between times, my book never stops swirling in my mind. It was the same as I wrote and re-wrote the first novel yet to be published.

What I have learned from my hundreds and hundreds of pages of written narrative is that when the writing muse beckons, I answer.  Those four snow days we had in January when the university shut down, I embraced them.  It was nothing short of luxurious to have that uninterrupted time to write and grapple with dialogue, characters, plot, and all the marvelous dimensions of writing that one does primarily for oneself because no book is a sure bet. Another writing opportunity arose in regard to Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, which I found too good to pass up.  I penned an essay, re-worked it, submitted it, and just finished the edits on it for the editor. That too was a labor of love, for I adore Shakespeare and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my essay.

This has, in short, been the winter not of discontent, although this Midwest winter could certainly qualify as such, rather it has been the winter of inspiration and golden writing opportunities that I am compelled to seize and act upon, and I do so happily.

And so I charge you readers to stay warm, be of good health, and know that I shall post regularly henceforth.

Ciao for now.