And now tonight brings Hallowe’en. I’ve written a Convivio Dispatch for Hallowe’en and I’d love to share it with you. The Convivio Dispatch is a sister publication to the Convivio Book of Days… one that deals more with story and one that is not published as a blog but rather as a simple email, which arrives in your inbox without much fanfare. Subscribers to the Book of Days Blog do not necessarily receive the Dispatch (in fact, most do not––subscription rates for the Dispatch are much higher than they are for the Book of Days). All to say: If you’d like to be sure of receiving this year’s Convivio Dispatch for Hallowe’en, please do subscribe by clicking here. It’s free, and it’s my absolute pleasure to write these stories for you.

Happy Hallowe’en!

P.S. Your Convivio Book of Days calendar for November will be late! Here are important dates to keep in mind whilst you’re waiting for the next calendar page:
November 1: All Saints Day (All Hallows)
November 2: All Souls Day (Day of the Dead, Dia de Los Muertos)
November 11: Martinmas (St. Martin’s Day)… the conclusion of this time of remembrance known as Hallowtide (which begins tonight, with All Hallow’s Eve: Hallowe’en).


Snap-Apple Night, or Your October Book of Days

Now it is October and I am writing from one of my favorite places: Maine. It’s a lovely foggy morning and the leaves are still green but many are red and orange and golden, too; the swamp maples in particular are shimmering red and the aspens are quaking in the breeze. Seth is reading in a window seat next to the piano that our niece is playing (Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor) and me, I am here with you, in long sleeves and a cardigan, letting you know, finally, that your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for October awaits you. It is, as usual, a printable PDF that you may print and pin to your bulletin board or bookmark digitally for reference throughout this autumnal month. It is a perfect companion to this blog.

I have not written much lately, I know. To be honest, Seth and I have not yet figured out how to escape our sadness over Haden’s passing, and I’ve just not had it in me to write. But I am writing to you now, and the setting––the people, the music, the weather––is ideal. We have just a few days here before the hustle and hubbub of Oktoberfest Miami begins, but while we’re here, we’ll visit with family, visit with friends, maybe visit the Fryeburg Fair. We will pick apples at Thompson Orchard (I think that’s later today) and we will go to Sunday Meeting at Chosen Land, the Shaker Community in neighboring New Gloucester, to sing and pray and visit with our old friends there: Brother Arnold and Sister June and all the friends they welcome in each Sunday.

The change of scenery, we figure, will do us a world of good. Your Book of Days Calendar for this month focuses on the last night of October, which brings one of my very favorite nights of the year: Hallowe’en. My idea of an excellent Hallowe’en celebration is a bit vintage and perhaps archaic. I do not go in for all this blood and gore and chainsaw horror stuff that is a more recent addition to Hallowe’en lore. No, I have always been more interested in jack o’ lanterns and All Hallow’s Eve barn dances and games involving apples and gently ghostly stories and divination and our October cover star is a painting that depicts my kind of Hallowe’en festivity: it’s a painting called “Snap-Apple Night.” The Irish painter Daniel Maclise painted the scene in 1833, and said it was inspired by a Hallowe’en party he had attended in Blarney, Ireland, the year prior. Here’s the caption he included in the exhibition catalog, the first time the painting was exhibited:

There Peggy was dancing with Dan
While Maureen the lead was melting,
To prove how their fortunes ran
With the Cards could Nancy dealt in;
There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,
In nuts their true-love burning,
And poor Norah, though smiling still
She’d missed the snap-apple turning.

The scene covers many of the All Hallow’s Eve customs of the day: romantic divination based upon pouring molten lead into water and tossing nuts into the fire, bobbing for apples and other apple games, and, most certainly, the telling of ghost stories. It looks to me like a grand old time. If you, like me, ever feel like you’d have done well living in the early 1800s, this may be your kind of party, too. In case you missed it earlier, CLICK HERE for the calendar. And do enjoy.


Our busy season begins pretty much as soon as we get back home to Lake Worth, and we hope you’ll come see us at our pop-up shops at these upcoming events in South Florida.

We’re celebrating Oktoberfest this year with our friends at the German American Social Club in Miami’s horse country for two long weekends this month: Friday October 13 through Sunday October 15 and again the following weekend, Friday October 20 through Sunday October 22. You must purchase tickets in advance: CLICK HERE for full details and tickets. It is Florida’s original and longest-running Oktoberfest celebration. You’ll find our Convivio Bookworks shop inside the clubhouse (air conditioned comfort!) and we’ll have a huge shop there with all our German handicrafts and specialty foods: handmade nutcrackers, incense smokers, pyramids, and ornaments, plus vintage Hallowe’en German papier mache pieces, and some of our German springtime collection, too (since we rarely get to show the German bunnies and eggs in person). Specialty foods include candies and cookies that have just arrived from Germany, plus more new arrivals from Sweden and my sister, while we were traveling yesterday, was busy pricing all the new Shaker culinary herbs and herbal teas that arrived just before we left for Maine, so all our herbs and teas are as fresh as they can be. My mom’s Millie’s Tea Towels will be there, too. Oktoberfest Miami will be a wonderful time and gosh, we’d love to see you there!

On Saturday October 28, from 3 to 9 PM, we’ll be at Lake Worth’s annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration with a pop-up shop of traditional artesanías méxicanas: handicrafts from Mexico. This free community celebration begins at City Hall on Dixie Highway between Lake Avenue and Lucerne Avenue with face painting and music and then there is a procession to the community arts center, Hatch 1121, which is where you’ll find our pop-up shop outdoors in the courtyard. Jose Mendez, the organizer of this wonderful community event, let us build an ofrenda in honor of Haden before we left. Please visit all the ofrendas that are in the gallery at Hatch, enjoy the mariachi and marimba bands, and be sure to say hola to us. Hatch 1121 is at 1121 Lucerne Avenue in Lake Worth Beach.

Lake Worth’s celebration is on Saturday October 28 but the big Florida Day of the Dead celebration in Fort Lauderdale comes one week later, on Saturday November 4. We’re not quite sure where things begin this year. Usually they begin at Huizenga Plaza, 32 East Las Olas Boulevard, but we’ve heard things may begin this year at Esplanade Park, which is nearby at 400 SW 2nd Street. Both are nearby each other, and it should be pretty obvious that day where the festivities are. Wherever it begins, you’ll find the Convivio Bookworks tent filled with traditional artesanías méxicanas: handicrafts from Mexico, from 3 to 7 PM. We’ll be there until after the Skeleton Procession departs and heads to the second half of the celebration, which continues into the night.

Sorry to report we will not be at the Oktoberfest celebration at the American German Club in Lake Worth this year… but we will be there with our biggest pop-up shop ever for Krampusnacht on Friday evening, December 8, followed by their lovely Christkindlmarkt that weekend, December 9 & 10. We’ll have other Christmas markets to tell you about, too, in Miami and in Boca Raton and in Delray Beach.

Until Oktoberfest, we wish you all good things from Maine.
John & Seth


Image: “Snap-Apple Night, or On the Festival of Hallow Eve” by Daniel Maclise. Oil on canvas, 1833. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


Count Your Blessings

This chapter of the Convivio Book of Days comes with a soundtrack. So, before you even begin reading the essay, I’d suggest you click on the following link and then click play. What you’ll hear is the music of Marin Marais: a collection recorded by Hille Perl & Lee Santana in 2004, called Pour la Violle et le Théorbe. The music is important. So go on: click, then click play, and then come back to the essay.

Good? Ok, then. Here we go:

And so it is autumn. The sunlight is again streaming through the glass front door, and this, for 18 years, has been a favorite thing of Haden’s, our ginger tabby affectionately known to so many of you as “Haden the Convivio Shop Cat.” Dappled sunlight began to stream in through the glass window since the month began, a hint of things to come, and there she’d be each day: paws pressed up against the glass, in as much of the sunlight as she could squeeze herself into. That streaming sunlight gets stronger with each passing day each autumn with the best of it coming always in November, and by then, she’d sometimes get positively drunk on the stuff, on her back, paws akimbo, or on her side, sunning one flank or the other, her orange striped coat glowing in that sunlight with such radiance. And her utter and complete joy in that warmth would make us glow with warmth, too: to see such complete enjoyment: such a thing of wonder.

It is a little more than a week now that Seth and I are without her. 18 years old, going on 19, and she was doing wonderfully but was having a tougher time of it since Labor Day, which is when we celebrated 18 years together, the day she chose to adopt us. Seth and I, Labor Day Weekend 2005: We drove to Safe Harbor Shelter in Jupiter with the idea that we’d seek out an old lazy male cat to maybe bring home with us. A cat set in his ways, mellow, a bit tired. Instead, this feisty young tomboy cat with orange stripes decided we should all be together. And she was absolutely right. She was resting in a hammock made from a bandana strung up in a cage, where she was bunking with a few other cats, and when the attendant fetched her and put her in Seth’s arms, she set about climbing up his chest. She was about 6 months old and they called her Cheyenne, which didn’t seem at all a proper name for her. We took her home and didn’t quite know what to call her, but soon decided to name her after the mango tree in our backyard. Orange mangoes, orange cat: the choice felt right. We called her Haden from then on, though we probably called her Kitty even more than we called her Haden, especially in these later years.

Here’s another item on the list of things Haden loved: the music of French composer Marin Marais, which you are listening to right now. Seth’s twin sister had been living with us for a little while when we brought Haden home. Sarah had moved here from California in August, and we brought Haden home with us on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, and then on Sunday, Sarah’s husband arrived, along with their two dogs: an Australian Shepherd called Buddy and Buddy’s pal Zoey, who always reminded me of George Rodrigue’s blue dog paintings. The timing wasn’t so great for temporary canine guests, but we decided to put Haden in the print shop and close up the glass door that led to it from the kitchen pantry. She knew there were dogs about, and she spent a lot of time that day sleeping in the space between two stacked wooden type cabinets.

To help put her at ease, I thought some gentle music would be a good idea. And so I put a fairly new CD from my collection on continuous repeat for the entire day: the very same music you are listening to now. From then on, this was Haden’s music. I don’t know if cats generally have favorite pieces of music, but I do think Haden did, and I feel like she knew this music was hers.

Eventually that Sunday, the two dogs and the cat regarded each other through the closed glass door. Kitty paws would eventually swipe under the door from one room to the other. By nightfall, we opened the door. Haden was extremely territorial and never liked seeing other cats around her home, but dogs she seemed to like. Buddy and Zoey became her pals, though Zoey never liked to look at Haden directly; she usually gave Haden a sideways glance and always seemed a bit intimidated by that cat.

Oh but she was the sweetest kitty. She had a bit of a reputation at the vet’s office, and she was not one you’d call “cuddly.” Haden was feisty all her years, independent, wanting to be near you but not smothered by your attention. She had the best personality. We’d go to bed each night and that’s when she’d begin hunting her little stuffed animals, her favorite (again, another favorite thing) being one we call “Cat in the Hat.” She’d pick him up in her mouth and carry him around the house, making loud kitty hunting noises, announcing her triumph. Overnight guests always needed to be warned that there would be kitty hunting going on as they slept: don’t be alarmed. When our home was broken into several years ago, we installed cameras throughout the property, including two inside the house, and thank God for the break-in: thanks to those cameras we have hours of entertaining footage of Haden hunting Cat in the Hat, making those wild kitty hunting noises. What we didn’t know until the cameras were installed: She did this not just when we went to bed, but each and every time we’d leave the house. Sometimes even when just one of us would leave: one of us would drive off, the hunting noises would begin, getting louder and louder, and then she’d walk into the room where you were and see you there and abruptly end the noise, spitting Cat in the Hat out of her mouth, onto the floor, before walking away nonchalantly.

Towards the end, I thought we’d have a couple of weeks to ponder how things would go, but in the overnight hours of the 15th of September, she suddenly seemed to have had enough of this world. She was very tired, her breathing labored. Friday morning, she spent a little time where the sunlight would be at the front door, then on her side on the wood floor, and then she made her way up to a perch she had claimed as her own: a chair, temporarily on its side. The chair was meant to be given away but she loved it there on its side. There was a blanket on the chair that was also meant to be given away. She burrowed into the blanket. The hospice vet came at 11, and the three of us were there with her, petting her as she slept calmly. Just being with her. The vet, who was so very kind, explained what would happen, and Seth & I, we allowed it to happen. Haden’s passage was so peaceful, so beautiful, and so very sad. She was at home, another thing she loved, and we were with her, and Cat in the Hat was with her, and the music of Marin Marais was in the air to ease her. She had, I think, all the things she loved around her: her home, her cat, her music, her family. And so she gently left this world.

Nothing is the same since she is gone. We miss her terribly and we always will. We have her music, and we have each other. But gosh, I do miss snuzzling into her orange stripes. She smelled so good, and I miss that. And I miss how wonderfully fuzzy she was, and her lovely personality. There was no better cat for us.

One week later, last Friday, we received word from her vet that Haden’s ashes had been delivered, and so we went. Haden’s ashes are in a lovely wooden box, engraved with her name and with her paw print. We cried some more, with the staff, and we played with their two office cats, Sebastian and Richard, as we cried, and with the new puppy that Chris, who cared for Haden since the beginning, had just gotten. After a long while, Seth and I collected ourselves and the little wooden box and left. I started the car and looked at the clock: 11:40. The same exact time she had died a week prior. All the things that had transpired over the course of her passage: I’ve come to feel like she directed it all. From the place on the perch where she chose to be, to us all being together, to the delivery of the ashes. Her way of saying, It’s ok. All is well. I think of that sweet ginger kitty and I count my blessings.

This Saturday, Seth & I will be installing an ofrenda, dedicated to Haden, at Hatch 1121, our local community arts center where Lake Worth’s Dia de Los Muertos festival will take place on Saturday, October 28. If you come to the festival, be sure to come see us in the courtyard, and be sure to view our kitty’s ofrenda inside the gallery. And always count your blessings. Be kind and thankful for all the ones you love: the time we have together is never long enough, is it?