Category Archives: Transitions

Hello to Spring and San Giuzeppole

At ten minutes ’til midnight tonight, the 19th of March, local Lake Worth time (which is currently Eastern Daylight Time), it’s the official arrival of spring. Tonight marks the midpoint between longest night (Midwinter in December) and longest day (Midsummer in June). It’s the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where this moment delivers the start of autumn. But no matter where you are on this earth, what is certain is equilibrium: day and night are in balance, all across the globe. And it’s good to have something that is certain these days, no? A little certainty, perhaps, is what we’re all seeking.

It’s been St. Joseph’s Day today, too: Father’s Day in Italy, where San Giuseppe is held in very high esteem. Both of my grandmothers were devotees: Grandma Cutrone would build an altar in her home each March in honor of San Giuseppe, and Grandma DeLuca, she would light candles in front of the statue of San Giuseppe in our church. He’d stand there, holding his lilies and carpenter’s square, watching as she’d light the candle after Mass, whispering prayers to him in Italian into the incensed air. His day is typically one to enjoy zeppole, the sweet Italian lenten delicacy available only this time of year, but alas, zeppole are not in the cards for Seth and me this year. My mom and sister, sheltering through this virus outbreak at their home, had a couple of zeppole delivered to their house yesterday, but Seth and I are too far from Italian bakeries to even be considered for delivery. Some Scandinavian semlor or pulla? No problem. The Finnish and Swedish bakeries are many in our area. But the Italians seem to gravitate to the northern and southern parts of Palm Beach County, a little too far from us in this unprecedented time of delivery-only options.

Seth, he calls the day San Giuzeppole Day. He’s pretty clever that way. We’re both home these days, working remotely. The cat gives us looks sometimes that seem to say, “You’re still here?” It’s been only five days so far of sheltering at home. We’ve consumed three pies and have reduced our physical activity to an occasional evening walk to the lagoon, which is a sharp reduction from the usual nightly fitness and boxing camps we attend. But they are closed and we wouldn’t go right now even if they were open. And so here I sit, typing this, wearing my I Survived the Ultima Summer Fitness Challenge T-shirt, the irony of which does not escape me. For now, though, it seems I need to eat pie and to avoid perspiration. It’s a reaction to too much uncertainty. Tomorrow is another day: one that will be more balanced. That much is certain. Maybe then I’ll follow suit.

If you’re feeling a bit too uncertain, alone, nervous about things––anything that’s making you anxious about these strange times––feel free to write me. Perhaps we can bring all our uncertainties together and talk about them in the forum of the Book of Days Blog. I’ll keep your identity confidential, promise. And if no one writes, I’ll know you’re all ok and we’ll leave it at that. You can post below in the comments section, or write me directly: mail@conviviobookworks.com. We’re all in this together.

Image: I hear there is a movement underfoot to illuminate the night with Christmas lights again, to brighten everyone’s spirits in these dark times. Maybe it’s auspicious that Seth and I never took the lights off our European fan palms at the front door this year. We liked them so much, they still go on each sunset. To be honest, it does lift my spirits to see them each night.

 

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!)

 

 

Be of Good Cheer

Here it is: Our Copperman’s Day print for 2020. We are both slightly late (Copperman’s Day was a week ago Monday) and it’s also been a while since we last printed one of these annual prints. This time of year can be a little rough on me. My dad had his stroke on MLK, Jr. Day in 2017, and the last Copperman’s Day print I made, which was that year, conveyed the words Wes Hel: an older version of Wassail, the old drinking toast that essentially means Be of Good Health. My small way of helping to insure Dad’s good health. A year later––a year after Dad’s passing––I began setting type for Copperman’s Day, 2018. But I didn’t quite have it in me to print it. Same in 2019. But here we are today, in January 2020. I worked on Copperman’s Day resetting that same type I had begun to set two years ago, finished setting it a day later, and each night after I printed a different color by hand on the Vandercook 4 in our shop. By Friday I was done. I guess you could say this print took three years to make. I like it very much, and I feel like my father approves of it, too, and wants us all to take its advice to heart, and to Be of Good Cheer.

Copperman’s Day falls on the Monday after Epiphany each January. It’s an old Dutch printer’s holiday celebrated mainly by the apprentices, who would have the day off to print whatever they wanted. The resulting prints would be sold for a copper. We sell ours for 300 coppers (3 bucks), but, you know, paper and ink don’t cost what they did centuries ago, and a week’s worth of labor doesn’t cost what it did back then, either. 300 coppers is a real bargain, if you ask me. And we have an additional special running, too: order three or more of any of our letterpress mini prints––all of our Copperman’s Day prints to date, our B Mine Valentines, and our famous Keep Lake Worth Quirky prints––and we’ll take $5 off your domestic order. This, to help balance out our flat rate $8.50 shipping charge, because even though a flat rate shipping charge of $8.50 is pretty damn good, we know it’s not such a bargain if you’re buying just a few small flat paper items. If you’re doing some Valentine shopping, though, or picking up a few other things, we do, as usual, offer free domestic shipping when you spend $50 or more. (Folks in Canada and Mexico and elsewhere on the planet, write us at mail@conviviobookworks.com and we’ll figure something out for you, too.)

Over the course of a week of printing nights, I was accompanied by a sleepy cat always nearby and some pretty wonderful music: Valse de Noël: An Acadian-Cajun Christmas Revels, and Elizabeth Mitchell and friends singing and playing on The Sounding Joy: Christmas Songs In and Out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger Songbook. Copperman’s Day is very much an extension of the Yuletide season for me, tied as it is to Epiphany, and for a couple of guys who just decorated their tree on Christmas night, well… we are subscribing this year to the old tradition of keeping the greenery up until Candlemas. Our tree is still glowing on this cold Lake Worth night, and all here remains calm and bright. The cat is asleep on a wool sweater, and here I am, connecting with all of you. We are, most definitely, of good cheer.