Author, Italian American Author, Women's Fiction Author

Christmas as an Italian American

It’s time to say Buon Natale, or Merry Christmas, again. I’ve been thinking about all the wonderful traditions I had as child in an Italian American family and I want to share them with you. Every family has their traditions for the holidays, but mine when I was a child were all Italian style, so I’m curious to hear how they are similar or different to yours.

My grandpa was an immigrant from Italy and my grandma was a first generation American, so their traditions were pretty darn authentic to the experience one may have if they celebrated Christmas in Italy, with maybe a dash of American flair to make it a true Italian American experience. I feel lucky to this day that they taught me the beautiful aspects of an Italian Christmas. 

What did the traditions include? Well, I’m glad you asked (um, I mean that you are still reading this post). I am breaking the traditions into food, food, and more food. Just kidding, but really there was a lot of food. Okay, let’s say the memories include time at home, food, music, and religion.

Christmas Eve was just as large and important as Christmas Day in my house. It was always celebrated at my grandparents’ house and Christmas Day was celebrated at my house (that’s just a D’Angelo thing and not specifically an Italian thing, to clarify). My grandparents had the standard pepperoni and provolone cheese appetizer, with plenty of crackers. Sometimes figs from grandpa’s tree were also set out. Always a variety of nuts as well. A random but delicious and light mix for apps. 

The music played softly but just loud enough to draw attention to it, from the room next to the kitchen. Crooners like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were only a few of the many voices I heard as a child. I also loved when the children’s Christmas songs came on the radio, like Dominick the Donkey (google it and it won’t get out of your head the rest of the day; it’s the best!). 

Before I get to the dinner, let me tell you about the wine. Everyone had a small glass of red wine, even me as a kid (gasp!). It’s normal in an Italian household to allow older kids and young teens to have a small glass of wine. This way, it is savored and you learn to appreciate it, not to abuse it or seek it secretly.

The dinner we ate was huge, especially for a kid. Grandma’s special soup was always on the stove the entire time we were there and finally we were able to eat it as a first course. The soup had rib meat, celery, carrots, garlic, onion, and pasta of course. I have the recipe but could never make it like her. Another part of the first course was the fish baccala, which only my grandpa liked. Traditionally, Italians do the feast of the seven fishes, but we didn’t have that kind of money! The final first course was prepping for the main course by the adults eating hot peppers. These spicy to the max peppers were ones my grandpa grew in his yard. I’ll always remember all of the adults crying while they ate them, saying through their tears, “uh, these are good;” sniff, blow nose, eat more. It was strange to me, but now I get it.

The main course was always aioli. This simple but flavorful linguini dish had garlic and olive oil with a sprinkle parsley and plenty of grated parmesan cheese (aglio= garlic, e =and, and olio = oil, hence, aglio e olio or aioli). Don’t forget the homemade bread. While grandma’s soup simmered, grandpa made loaves of bread. His crusty white bread couldn’t be beat. The other part of the main course was salad, eaten after the meal. The European way is to eat it after so I did that nightly, and still do. The dressing was only one; grandma’s mix of olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. 

Dessert was always a mix of homemade Italian cookies, including pignolis and pizzelles. If you haven’t had these, you have to try to find them this holiday. Pignolis are pine nut cookies and pizzelles are snowflake looking, thin almond flavored, traditional Italian Christmas cookies that have confectionary sugar on top. Is your mouth watering by now? Mine is.

So, after all of this, we didn’t lay on the couch; we went to midnight mass! As a kid, I slept until 11 PM, stay awake until we got to church, slept more, and then was awoken at midnight by loud singing and church bells signifying Christmas Day was upon us. It was a groggy time, but also exciting because, my gosh, Santa was coming!

Waking up on Christmas Day was pretty standard. We opened gifts and blah blah blah. But later, grandpa and grandma came and the real celebration began. 

The appetizers were set out to munch on, including a few of the same from the night before, but also one special one came with dinner. As we sat at the table, my mom would sometimes have shrimp cocktail ready for us at our setting. Then, the soup of Christmas, pasta fazool (okay, it’s really called pasta e fagioli; pasta and beans). My mom was taught by my grandma to make it our special way, which isn’t the way you would see it in restaurants. Ours had long spaghetti broken up instead of small pasta. The beans were usually northern cannellini in type. The tomato sauce base was pretty standard though. 

The main course was usually stuffed shells or lasagna. The sauce (not gravy! This is an Italian American battle of names) was homemade to perfection. Meatballs also, of course. The homemade bread was there again also. Salad came last once again. 

Dessert was again pizzelles but also could be something special like cannolis or cheesecake. Now I’m even more hungry!

So, on to music. My dad played accordion and keyboard so the radio wasn’t on after dinner, my dad was “on.” He belted our Italian classics and all of us watched and sang with him. Music is a large part of the Italian culture. There is always music being played on the radio/records/tapes/CDs, being played live, singing with the music was normal, and breaking out in dance was almost a certainty. My grandma danced around with me, while we tried to get grandpa to dance. He was more of a watcher. But the holiday ended on this high note, pun intended.

It was so much fun to re-live these memories through sharing them with you. Please tell me about your experiences. Most of all, enjoy the moments as you partake in the traditions you engage in today. These are the special times we will hold into the future.

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Italian American Author, Women's Fiction Author

Creative Connections

Over the last month, something spectacular occurred regarding my continued work as an author. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I wonder what does the phrase “creative process” mean to you? Pause and think for a second… Have you ever thought about it relating to anything that you do in your life? If you engage in any type of art, you may have thought about it, but even if you don’t, I’m sure some of you have reflected on what led you to an outcome at one time in your life. Maybe it was a dinner you had to make for your first major holiday celebration, and you had no idea how to pull off multiple dishes needing to be ready at the same time. Maybe it was succeeding in a work project that ended up to be the complete opposite of where you thought it would conclude. No matter what the situation was, your creativity led to an accomplishment of some sort and you can still feel proud of it to this day.

Well, I’ve been thinking about my own creative process more lately for two reasons; because this blog is about the behind the scenes of me as an author so the creativity behind my work is emphasized for me at this moment and how as I get older I become more at ease with actually identifying outwardly as an artist (more on that in a future post I’m sure). Now, if you have read my last post (and I hope you did!), you’d see that I talked about my blogging process. This post is not all about process per se, but yes, I am including the word “process” once again because it’s the overall category for my topic of today. It’s that important, I guess. Or, maybe it’s just my new favorite word.

So, let me tell you how wild it is to me that without me purposely trying to think of an idea for my second novel, the characters and storyline started to come to me in a procession of glorious little tidbits (much like my first book, which completely surprised me because I was not an author at that point, but felt that I had to write it; more on that back story in the future). The details just kept and still keep on unfolding almost daily in the last two months. The way this keeps happening fascinates me because when I work on a visual art project, I have the outcome in my head and then I work toward that end picture or result. Does anyone else relate to that? But with both books now, the ideas come to me in fragments first and then I put them together to make the finished product. The puzzle easily goes together for me but why is it a puzzle in the first place? It’s completely the opposite of the way I’ve created anything in my entire life! Something about the writing artist in me works differently than the other artist selves within me.

The second book idea started to come to me when I was speaking to one of my best friends on the phone about an idea she had for a business. Out of nowhere I started to literally see pieces of a story I wanted to create. As my friend spoke, her passion about her business must have sparked a creative fire in me (and we do have a 30-year connection so that makes sense). I saw images from this new story as if they were familiar already. It continued to happen so much during that inspired phone call that I wrote down ideas I thought of immediately upon hanging up the phone, after divulging what just happened to her of course. Over the next few days, I had details about my main character, where she lived, and what she did as a career written on various scraps of paper in an accumulating pile. My main character’s personality and the actual plot have uncovered themselves to me as recent as last week. It happens when I least expect the thoughts to come, which I love. It’s all coming together in an organic way. I wouldn’t want it to be forced, after all. That’s not how I roll.

You may have seen my post this past weekend on social media where I revealed the location of this second book. Get excited because it’s happening in good old New Orleans, LA (NOLA)! Okay, I have to take a side note here. Being an Italian American author, you may be thinking that it is a strange choice to choose that city because there doesn’t seem to be any Italian heritage there. Well, that isn’t the case. When I had researched my own family history, I saw that there were immigrants from Italy that settled in NOLA (I never knew!). It’s a place with a rich history in general, plus it’s where I saw my main character living in my mind’s eye right after that notorious phone call. NOLA is a perfect next location for me for many other reasons as well; it’s a place I love to visit, there’s an emotional tie to another best friend, there is a French influence so it pays honor to another ethnicity of mine, and the Italian history there isn’t as well-known as say, the history of immigration to the northeast so that brings more of a unique aspect to it, which I thrive on. It’s screaming to me to write about it. I guess I’ll have to take another trip there in the future, you know, for research purposes.

Getting back to my creative connections now, remember also in my last post I talked about art forms informing other art forms? Well, my friend’s creative idea for her business ignited this story idea in me, so her art influencing my art occurred. Then soon after that conversation, I was listening to an audiobook about a completely different topic than my story and wouldn’t you know it, more ideas came to me almost every time I got in my car and listened to that book. I often had to use voice to text to make notes to myself for my concepts because I didn’t want to forget before I got to my destination. Somehow there was some feeling from the book that fed my NOLA story in my mind. How in the world does that makes sense? It doesn’t. It’s just how art goes. Apparently, it’s my creative process for writing.

What have I learned from this chain of events? I never know where my inspiration will come from. I never know how I will get my story ideas; be it through music, stories other artists have told, or other stimulating people who want to see their passion come alive. What I do know is that I’ll take it! I want to continue to allow the art to fill me up and lead me to what it wants me to say. I have to listen to the art that wants to be expressed because it gives me purpose. I also hope the stories I tell give other people insight into themselves, or maybe even lead them to find their purpose. I enjoy this alternate artistic experience that comes as an author. It’s unexpected, but thrilling.

I welcome you to tell me any of your stories in the comments below. I love to hear about your creative processes. You never know, it may inspire me or another reader.

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Italian American Author, Uncategorized, Women's Fiction Author

The Behind the Scenes of the Behind the Scenes

Okay, remember how I said part of the reason I am doing this blog is to open up my behind the scenes aspects, AKA my life, to you as the reader/audience/follower? Well, hold on to your seat because it’s going to get very meta on you for today’s post. I know you can handle it, so let’s go.

After starting to write the last post, something strange happened to me. As soon as I started to write, the content seemed to take on a life of its own. Somehow, I started the post as a different topic than it became, but the words just kept going in that new direction. It’s boggling my mind that I could write the last two posts so easily. How could that be? I’m not a blogger (or am I?), so this doesn’t make sense. I write novels; novels that have a predetermined purpose and timeline of details. Then, blogs should be the same in my mind, logically speaking. And, just letting my hands take it away without my brain having confirmed their message ahead of time is completely un-C. D’Angelo-like. That is not my style at all when writing for the public…right?

All of this makes me think about a little word called process. As a mental health therapist in my day job, ‘process’ is an extremely familiar word to me. It’s therapist jargon for sure and is thrown around almost daily as an essential part of the therapy process. See, there I go again. Process, process, process.

So, let’s break it down. The word process, when used as a verb in the therapy world, means to explore, to dissect, to search through the topic (in my words, not a famous dictionary version). In therapy notes, I sometimes write “Client and therapist processed [fill in the issue].” Processing is an actual intervention involving action. But it is also a thing (remember the whole person, place, or thing = noun?); a process. The word’s versatility is what makes it interesting to me at this moment because I am currently processing my process of writing blogs. Like, right now. Right as you read this paragraph. That’s process. And, that’s very C. D’Angelo-like. I’ll analyze anything to death, so let me keep going.

You may be wondering why it’s important for me to write about this blogging process though, or rather my blogging process. I think it is because I am still getting my feet wet with this new world. My writing in the past has only been for me, but now I am writing for the public to view as well. That means my inner-most thoughts are laid out for all to see, anytime they want! Forever, online! Oh gosh, I can’t think about that too much or I would never post anything. But, that’s why I thought it would be more difficult to blog than to novel write. I know, writing a page or two vs 400 being more difficult seems counter-intuitive, but that’s how my mind works.

My new identity of a blogger (okay, I’m slowly starting to own it), in addition to a sort-of new identity of being an author is, well, something I am still grasping in my mind. Also, the way I write has been pretty steady for my debut novel, which includes strict planning, including outline, characters, and storyline. My blogs have been less formal, which is freeing in a way. I only come up with a topic and let loose. I feel free when writing my books, but it’s a different kind of free. That’s a free through someone else’s eyes; my character. It’s somehow safer. It’s just me and my characters in the room. These blogs are through my eyes in a more direct manner. It’s me in a direct connection to the world. No publishing process is inserted between the two. Both novel writing and blogging are creative expressions for me, but the novel writing is more designed than these blogs. Both of the past blogs have been main ideas that developed as I wrote, into the finished product. That is thrilling to me. It’s a what-will-happen-next type thing even for me as their writer.

In the therapy world, I use expressive arts therapy as one of the theories I work from with clients. This process reminds me exactly of the main tenant of that theory. The art used by the client can go from music making to painting to dancing, for example, and all contribute to the overall movement and healing of the person. One art form informs the next step; it cannot be planned out. That is what has been happening with my blogs, apparently. They have flowed from the beginning of my writing adventure (the novel) and that art has led to this art form of expression (the blog). It’s almost like I’ve been in another state of mind when writing during the blogs. That happens with the novel writing as well, but again, in a different format; a more structured and formal state of mind. I shall continue to analyze this forever of course!

I guess it just comes down to writing is fun for me in different formats. I also achieve a state of flow for multiple arts in which I engage. Maybe I’ll experiment with another genre someday or a different format, such as short stories. Who knows? I thought blog writing would feel like a task (sorry to say) but it never has felt that way and I intend to keep that up. When my writing comes from a place of a need to create, a need to express, and a need to share, I can’t go wrong. You know the difference when it comes from someone’s heart filled with joy vs a forced place. That’s isn’t how I operate for any of my arts.

I never thought that blog writing would allow me to learn more about myself, but here I am learning even in this post as I…wait for it…process. I wanted to allow people to know me more by blogging, but look at what happened instead. It goes both ways. So, this lack of planning beyond topic may bleed into my next novel. Maybe I will just see what happens from the start with absolutely no planning at all. Um, nah…I’ve already started planning. But maybe I will at least be less of a planner and can see where that takes me. We will see. I’m excited for this new art form to inform the next. That’s what I know now. Thanks for helping me to evaluate myself; what every author therapist loves to do apparently…or at least this one.