Category Archives: St. Urho’s Day

St. Urho, St. Patrick, St. Joseph, and Tax Season

I’ve been working on taxes for the better part of several weekends now––my own, and my mom’s, and my sister’s. It has fallen upon me to do this––me, the most disorganized, least mathematical person in the family. But I find there is a certain satisfaction that comes each year with accomplishing this task; it appeals to the part of me that likes to cross things off lists. As in, check. Done. And though I do strive for accuracy, there comes a point each spring where I just decide that it is ok if the federal government receives a little more from me than it is entitled to. A bit of a well being tax, if you will. If it means I can stop thinking about numbers and depreciation and amortization, I feel it is money well spent.

And so it has come to pass that this afternoon, even in the midst of all the files and receipts and checkbooks spread upon the kitchen table, I have just finished playing the Kibble Game with the cat (I toss kibble, she chases it and hunts it down) and I have poured myself a tea bowl full of water, one of Seth’s fine pottery creations, spiked with lemonade, and I’ve put the oven on to reheat some leftover lasagna that my mother made. Seth is outside, working on a garden project. Not a bad Sunday afternoon, after all, despite taxes, and all that’s going on in the world.

It’s a strange time, isn’t it? We are celebrating this week’s saints’ days––days we would normally celebrate as extended family––apart, for the sake of preserving good health. Last night’s early St. Patrick’s Day dinner was canceled, but I did pick up from my mom and sister––while maintaining 6 feet of distance and touching no surfaces in the house––some of the corned beef and cabbage they made, and Marietta’s famous Irish Soda Bread. Not a drop of Irish blood in her, and yet my sister makes the best soda bread I’ve ever had. Each year, it just gets better and better. Seth and I had it with dinner last night and with breakfast this morning, warmed and buttered, and someday, when there is a Real Book version of the Convivio Book of Days, her recipe will be in it. Oh, maybe I’ll just give it to you today, so you can make it this week. We need things to celebrate, no? Even if we can’t these days gather together as much as we’d like, still it is important to appreciate the importance of that gathering. If we can’t do it together, perhaps we can do it virtually. We see these days so many reasons why the Internet and social media are unhealthy for us: the wholesale spread of rumors and bad information, the politicizing of tragedy, the fanning of flames of panic. I try my best to step away from all that, to not participate, and to focus on what is inherently good about contemporary modes of communication: we can, for instance, Skype with our loved ones while we have our own smaller, in-home celebrations. My mother and her sister are on Skype with each other most every night: a beautiful connexion from Florida to Illinois, the two DeLuca girls from East New York Avenue, in their 90s and still chatting with each other before bed. I love this. Sometimes they’re up way into the darkest hours of the night, my cousins and my Aunt Anne and my mom and my sister taking turns watching each other as they doze off on couches thousands of miles apart from each other. They don’t even have to talk. They just keep each other company. How wonderful that we can do this now, just be there for each other, even while apart.

And so what do we have this week to celebrate? To begin with, St. Urho’s Day on the 16th. Urho is the fictional saint of Finland, the Finns’ tongue in cheek answer to the infinitely more famous St. Patrick, whose day follows. St. Urho is said to have driven all the grasshoppers from Finland, saving the vineyards from certain destruction. It’s a holiday and a story you won’t know unless you live amongst Finns, as I do. To be honest, I don’t think you’ll find many vineyards in Finland, but St. Urho’s Day has become a day to celebrate the wine that comes from the fruit of vineyards, so go on, enjoy responsibly.

The next day, of course, brings St. Patrick’s Day. The celebrations this year will be considerably quieter than they typically are. A fine day to appreciate all things Irish. And then on the 19th, it’s St. Joseph’s Day. Father’s Day in Italy, a day when Italian bakers will be serving up zeppole and sfinci, the traditional pastries for San Giuseppe. This year for St. Joseph’s Day, it will be very quiet in Italy. If you do venture out here in the States, stop at an Italian bakery and get some pastry for the day. The bakers will appreciate it, and so will you. Just please, wash your hands after handling the bakery box. Take the advice of the Italian grandma on YouTube (and yes, even my mother has had to give up the Kleenex she keeps in her sleeve).

So much has changed in our lives in such a short time. Socially, economically. For about a year now, Seth and I have been searching for a just-right public space for Convivio Bookworks, as it was feeling like time to move this small business out of our small house and into the broader world. We had been looking high and low through Lake Worth and West Palm Beach. If you had checked with us even just a month ago, we were giving serious consideration to a location on Lake Avenue, a sort of marriage of an existing bookish business with our own, creating a new spin on both, perhaps. We’ve put all these plans on hold, I suppose indefinitely. Making a business move like this is an expensive step, and we don’t have much to work with. Whenever we do make that leap, rest assured it will be a highly calculated move (there are those numbers, again).

And so we continue to do what we do. When you get right down to it, it’s kind of exciting to live in a tiny house and run a business out of it. Open up a closet and you’ll find bed linens and Dia de Muertos ofrenda figures. In the cupboard in the living room, there’s the china and the cutlery… oh and all the handpainted pysanky eggs from Ukraine. It can get dicey at times when someone orders something and I forget where it is. The only guarantee is that when I stored it away, I put it in a very logical place. It’s the logic that is fleeting and ephemeral, for me, anyway.

We are supposed to be at the Social House Spring Night Market here in Lake Worth on Saturday March 21… but to be honest, I am thinking of canceling our spot. I am at heart a homebody, and these days are giving me an excuse to be just that. If you’re local and are curious if we’ll be there, keep apprised on our social media pages (Instagram and Facebook @conviviobookworks). There, another good thing about social media. If you’re sitting home and you’re looking to support small companies like ours, we have some wonderful things available for the spring season (including all those handpainted pysanky eggs we just bought from Ukraine). Your Convivio by Mail orders support real people (Seth and me and the cat and the artisans who make the things we sell). And just think about all the space in our little house you’ll help us attain once we ship your order out! Spend $50 and you’ll earn free shipping on your domestic order. And we almost always throw little bonuses in your orders, too. I think we provide a shopping experience you can feel really good about… and this is a really good time to do it, for the benefit of all the artisans and crafts people we work with.

Please stay well, act wisely, mind your way in this world. And wash your hands. Much love to you all. Now go. Bake some soda bread.

MARIETTA’S IRISH SODA BREAD

5 cups flour (plus up to an additional cup, depending on stickiness of dough)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons butter or shortening
1 cup raisins
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
2 eggs, beaten (reserve 1 tablespoon for later)
1 ½ cups milk (or buttermilk, if you have it)

If you’re using a stand mixer, place all ingredients in the mixing bowl (except for reserved tablespoon of egg) and mix. Start with 5 cups of flour, adding up to an additional cup, if necessary, if dough is sticky. Next, using dough hook, knead in bowl for a minute or so.

If, like me, you have to mix things by hand, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in butter or shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Add beaten eggs (be sure to reserve 1 tablespoon of beaten egg for later), and then add the milk or buttermilk. Mix well. If the dough is very sticky, add up to 1 additional cup of flour, a little at a time.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F and butter a 2-quart round casserole; set aside. Flour a board and turn out dough onto it; knead for about a minute. Shape into a ball. Place the dough in the casserole, and in the center of the dough, with a sharp knife, cut a cross about 4” long and ½” deep. Brush dough with reserved egg.

Bake about 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out dry. Cool in casserole on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the casserole and cool further on rack.

 

Image: Haden the Convivio Shopcat, snoozing atop some of the boxes of Convivio Bookworks inventory we keep in the house. It’s certainly an interesting place to live if you’re a cat.

 

UPDATE MARCH 16: Convivio Bookworks will be opting out of the Spring Night Market at Social House. We’ll see you at pop-up markets later this year. (Later Update: Social House has canceled the Spring Night Market. This is good!)

 

 

St. Urho’s Day or, The Value of Bridges

I have a distant cousin out on the distant Great Plains whose company I enjoy but who I’m sure would not be surprised to read, should he read this Book of Days, that I don’t see eye to eye with on many matters. He likes walls where I do not, he sees good leadership where I am appalled daily, and he can be quite vocal about these things on Facebook––which is a large part of what has pushed me away from what, years ago, was a fun way to pass some time each day, keeping in touch with family and old friends. I view Facebook as more a business obligation these days, not an enjoyment. And so I don’t spend much time there. But occasionally I do see his posts, like the one just the other day about immigrants to this country needing to conform their ways to our ways (whatever our ways are). Again, we have different views here. If his grandparents (all immigrants from Italy, like mine) had followed their grandson’s rules, we wouldn’t be celebrating the Feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day) on the 19th of this month. Even our celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th would be doubtful. And certainly no one would be celebrating St. Urho’s Day today on the 16th of March.

I love our cultural differences and I love learning from people of other cultures and I love celebrating with them. I think of Rose, who cares for my pal Mike like he was her own family. She makes pumpkin soup for New Year’s, a tradition she brought from her Haitian homeland; now Mike eats pumpkin soup on New Year’s too. She just got her green card last week; she’s so happy about it. And I think of Tari, from Pakistan, who has a small restaurant downtown, open only for breakfast and lunch. In some of my lowest days, I’d go there for breakfast, and Tari would lift me up with her kindness and send me home with dinner, too. And today, on the 16th, I will be celebrating St. Urho’s Day with all the folks around these parts who emigrated here from Finland. Between Lake Worth and our neighboring city of Lantana, we have more Finns than anywhere save Finland, and it is from one of those Finns that I learnt the story of St. Urho, whose day is celebrated every March 16 with the wearing of the purple and the green. St. Urho, known no where else but amongst Finns, is celebrated for saving the vineyards of Finland by driving the grasshoppers from them. His simple incantation in Finnish, Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell”), is what drove those grasshoppers out of Finland and what saved the grape harvest and thus the wine (which also happens to be a big part of the day).

What’s that? You’re not familiar with the wines of Finland? Or with Finland’s historic grasshopper problems? Or with St. Urho himself? This is understandable; the fact is it’s all a fictional legend. And truth be told, it may have something to do with a healthy competition with the saint we’ll remember the next day who drove the snakes from Ireland and who we celebrate with the wearing of the green… but this is what the Finns brought us: St. Urho. And a fascinating language that is like no other, and Jean Sibelius, and korvapuusti––the delicious spiral buns flavored with cinnamon and cardamom that we buy at our local Finnish bakery, where the tall old Finns gather each morning to drink coffee and converse in their strange tongue. Some of them will remember today and maybe listen to recordings of the music of Viola Turpeinen Syralia, the legendary Finnish American accordionist who lived here in Lake Worth in the 1950s. She called her house “the Home that Polka Built,” and if you watch the video below, you’ll see eventually a photo of Viola outside her Lake Worth home while you listen to one of her ethereal accordion songs.

Were the old timers of Lake Worth nervous about all the Finns moving into their neighborhoods back then? Who knows. All I know is I love stories and I am not so fond of the isolation that walls create. Me, I’m more inclined toward bridges, knowing it is these bridges between cultures that allow me to love Viola’s music today for St. Urho’s Day and to enjoy Irish soda bread tomorrow for St. Patrick’s Day and on Tuesday, for St. Joseph’s Day, I’ll hope you’ll find some zeppole with which to celebrate… for that is one of my Italian heritage’s contributions to our great American culture, one of the bridges that bring us all together.

 

“Ellin Polka” by Lake Worth resident Viola Turpeinen Syralia. The photo at the opening is of Viola, early in her career, 1928. She was the first famous female accordionist in the States, and is considered the first to record her music. Another of my favorites of Viola’s songs is the beautiful Unelma Valssi, the Dream Waltz. I listen to it and it carries me far beyond Lake Worth, to Lapland and a cold and dreamy landscape.

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St. Urho’s Day (Dream Waltz)

We’re in the final stretch of Lent, and in the midst of it each year come three celebrations to take a bit of the edge off of all that spareness. They begin today with St. Urho’s Day, when we are all perhaps a little bit Finnish. I wrote this piece for St. Urho’s Day a couple of years ago. Since then, Finlandia Days has returned to Bryant Park here in Lake Worth, though it has a new name: Midnight Sun Festival. Fair enough. I love the photo of Viola Turpeinin, whose large septa toothed coral, the one she found on Lake Worth Beach, is on display at the Museum of the City of Lake Worth, right downtown between Lake and Lucerne Avenues. And I love her “Dream Waltz”–– Unelma Valssi. I’d like you to love her, too, which is why I’ve chosen to reprint her story today for St. Urho’s Day. And so here we go.

 

Viola Turpeinen

Here we are in the midst of one of the most interesting weeks of the year, at least in terms of quirky holidays. We have not one, not two, but three saints’ days to celebrate, and while saints’ days are not all that unusual, each one of these is important to a particular ethnic group, which makes for some very big celebrating, especially welcome in these more somber days of Lent.

There is of course the granddaddy of saints’ days: St. Patrick’s Day, on the 17th. Everyone, it it said, is at least a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Two days later brings St. Joseph’s Day: not as widely celebrated, but immensely important to Italy and the Italian American community, and we’ll be eating zeppole, pastries made especially for the day. But ahead of St. Joseph’s Day and ahead of St. Patrick’s Day both comes today’s celebration: St. Urho’s Day. And today, perhaps, everyone is at least a little bit Finnish.

St. Patrick may have driven all the snakes from Ireland, but it was St. Urho who drove all the grasshoppers from Finland, saving the vineyards and the the grape harvest and thus the wine. This he accomplished by proclaiming Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen, or in English, “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”

Perhaps you are thinking, “I’m not familiar with this story.” This is because you do not live near Finns. I first heard about St. Urho many years ago here at the local Finlandia Days celebration, which back then was held at Bryant Park on the lagoon here in Lake Worth. In that same park there is a memorial to Finnish war heroes. Up the road on Lake Avenue in the Allstate Insurance Office is the Finnish Consulate. Across the town line in Lantana is the Finnish American Rest Home and Suomi Talo (or Finland House, the Finnish social club) and Palm Beach Bakery, one of a couple of Finnish bakeries in the area. Between Lake Worth and Lantana, we have more Finns here than anywhere else save Finland. And so in this land, where it is so easy to come across folks speaking Spanish and Creole and Portuguese most any day of the week, it is just as easy to hear some Finnish, too. And Finnish tales, like the legend of St. Urho.

And so at Finlandia Days celebration years ago, somewhere in between the Wife Carrying Contest and a performance by the Finnish Accordion Orchestra, I heard the story of the saint who drove the grasshoppers from Finland. He is honored the day before a certain more famous saint who drove the snakes from Ireland. The Irish may wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but on St. Urho’s Day the Finns wear green and purple, too. Chances are good they’ll be listening today to the music of Viola Turpeinen, the legendary Finnish American accordionist who lived here in Lake Worth in the 1950s. She called her house “the home that polka built.” Unelma Valssi is a favorite Viola Turpeinen recording: “Dream Waltz.” So fitting for a spring day in Lake Worth or in Lapland or in Michigan, where she was born in 1909. It’s the kind of music that floats out onto the air through the open windows in this gentle season and lulls us all to springtime dreaming.

Image: Viola Turpeinen and her accordion.