Category Archives: Birthdays & Anniversaries

On Being Well

Our friends in Germany and most other parts of Europe have a four-day holiday weekend that begins today, for today is Ascension Day, which is always forty days past Easter, so it is always a Thursday, and a holiday on a Thursday always makes for a good excuse for a four-day weekend, no? There is little point of returning to work just for Friday. It is yet another holiday of which we here in the still-to-this-day-Puritan-influenced US are deprived. “Work! Work! Work!” That’s what the Puritans decided was best centuries ago, before setting sail, west across the Atlantic, and still we do what they thought best.

The Ascension of the Lord is a moveable feast each spring based on the date of Easter. It marks the day of the bodily ascension of the risen Christ into heaven. It always strikes me how quickly the Forty Days of Easter go by, as compared to the Forty Days of Lent, which seem to drag on, no? It may be all that self-sacrifice in the dead of winter that we associate with Lent, but it may also be that the Sundays of Lent are not counted as part of Lent’s forty days, so Lent actually does go on for more like 46 days.

Be that as it may, here we are: advancing through spring and early summer and, officially, forty days past Easter. It is the day that water wells are traditionally decorated in England, and especially in Tissington. And by dressing we mean fancy dressing, dressing to the nines, as they say. At various times over the course of the summer, wells throughout England are decked out in flowers, moss, and other plant life in beautiful scenes… but at Tissington, it is always at Ascension Day. Clay is used to set flower petals and other items from nature into beautiful scenes. Traditionally they were biblical scenes, but nowadays the wells are decked out in all manner of interesting imagery.

The well dressings must be seen to be appreciated. I got an even better appreciation for them by reading how they are actually made… so hopefully the village of Tissington won’t mind if I share these three paragraphs with you from their website:

The Art of Well Dressing
Clay is dug locally and is mixed with salt and trod (like grapes!) to the right consistency. The design is prepared weeks before the event. For some days before the process of dressing begins, the boards on which the pictures are mounted are soaked in the village pond. After this they are plastered in clay.

Flowers are picked locally. The picture is traced onto the boards, using a pointer or a toothed wheel, and marked out with cones from the alder trees or with coffee beans. Then comes the delicate and laborious task of infilling with flower petals and other natural materials. No artificial or synthetic materials are ever used at Tissington. Each petal has to be put in separately and they overlap like tiles on a roof so that the rain will flow off the picture. This process takes many hours and occupies all of the three days preceding Ascension Day.

The dressings are erected on the eve of Ascension Day. This is the first time that those who have worked on the pictures see what the effect is really like, as the pictures appear distorted when they are horizontal. They are then ready for the ceremony of Blessing following the service in Church at 11am on the Thursday. The Clergy progress round the village and bless each well in turn. The dressings remain in place until the following Wednesday evening, during which time very many thousands of people will have visited the village to see the spectacle.

Aside from being the Feast of the Ascension this year, the 18th of May also happens to be my dad’s birthday. It will be our seventh without him here with us; he would have been 97 this year. Oftentimes we mark these celebrations in our family by gathering, for instance tonight, for Dad’s favorite meal, but Dad really had no favorite meal. He’d eat anything put in front of him, even if it wasn’t that great, which was rare but hey, not every meal can be stellar. He’d often say he wished he had a nice Porterhouse steak, and every now and then he’d get one… but then he’d usually say, “I think a plate of spaghetti would have been better.” Dad didn’t think very much about what made him happy. What made him happy, though, was the simple things: his home, his family. He liked to keep the lawn looking sharp; he liked to polish the stainless steel gutters so they gleamed. We still miss him terribly, but now when I think of Dad mostly it is a warm feeling I have. Less a sense of loss and more a feeling of warmth and understanding.

On the occasion of Dad’s birthday today, my sister Marietta will be having surgery to remove a stubborn kidney stone. She’s had the stone for years and years, and it’s only in recent months become problematic. Many of you know her; if you add your good wishes in the comments below, I will see to it that she gets them, and may she again be well, and may we all be well, on this Ascension Day with all its well-dressed wells and each day that follows.

We’ll be showing some of our summery wares at Johan’s Jöe in Downtown West Palm Beach on Saturday June 10 from 7 AM to 3 PM. It’s the Convivio Bookworks Midsommar Market at Johan’s Jöe! 401 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33401

At our online catalog, save $10 off your purchase of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping, too, when you use discount code BLOSSOM at checkout. It’s our May Sale, good on everything in the shop all month long. CLICK HERE to shop! And don’t forget to use discount code BLOSSOM at checkout if your order is $85 or more.

Image: One of the wells at Tissington, dressed in a biblical scene in 2019. Click on the photo to make it larger, then just look at the detail of all those flower petals and all that greenery! It’s amazing. The photograph is also from the village’s website.


Momma’s Turning 95!

That’s my mom, Millie, and on Saturday, it’s her 95th birthday. A few months ago she picked up her embroidery hoop for the first time in years and made a few hand embroidered flour sack tea towels. She enjoyed it so much, she bought more towels. And more again. And early this summer, at 94, Mom began a new venture: Millie’s Tea Towels. We sell them for her on the Convivio Bookworks website and give her the full amount of each sale. It’s the biggest thrill for her when she sells one. For her 95th birthday, my goal is to give her a really big thrill… hence a special Convivio Bookworks sale this week (and one where you get the gift!):

Save $9.50 when you buy any four Millie’s Tea Towels (or one 7-day set), and get free domestic shipping, too! Use discount code HAPPYBIRTHDAY at the check out. Easy as pie! There are nearly a hundred different designs to choose from, and each big thirsty flour sack towel is embroidered by hand by Millie herself. It takes her about a day to embroider each one––a process she just loves. Click here to shop… you’ll find Millie’s Tea Towels in the new Linens & Textiles part of our online catalog (along with some other fine new items).

Happy Birthday, Mom!


To the Sea, or Your Convivio Book of Days for July

It’s certainly been a hot summer for folks across North America. Here in Lake Worth, this is something to which we are accustomed, and it’s rare we have extremes… it’s just always a high in the low 90s this time of year, unless it’s been raining a lot, which it has. It’s constant and steady all summer long, and even well into fall. What does us in is the humidity. I remember a story that Bailey White wrote in which she and her mother decided to try their hands at making sun-dried tomatoes from some of their South Georgia garden bounty. South Georgia is not all that different from South Florida this time of year: hot, humid, languid. The recipe for drying the tomatoes ended with these words: Store in a cool, dry place. Bailey and Mama looked at each other. “What do they mean?” they wondered aloud.

Anyway, here it is now, July, and here is your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month. The Dog Days of Summer, ruled by Sirius, the Dog Star, officially begin on the 3rd, as Sirius begins its annual period of rising and setting with the sun. The Ancient Greeks, watchers of the sky, observed this and deduced that Sirius, shining as brightly as it does, was amplifying and contributing to the heat of the sun, making these days the hottest of the year. In reality, it is our planet’s thermal lag; it’s a massive place, the Earth, and the Northern Hemisphere has been gradually storing heat all through the year as the days have increased in length, and though we’ve passed the solstice of Midsummer nearly two weeks ago now and days already are shorter, it takes a longer time for the planet’s temperature to balance out. And so our hottest days go on for many more weeks, despite diminishing sunlight, while in Antartica, days are growing longer, but the penguins are still huddled together, trying their best to keep warm.

What with all this heat, it seems to me a perfect time to escape to the sea. If I get up on my roof and look east, I can see the Lake Worth Lagoon, and beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean, and yet I still can’t seem to manage to get to the sea. But I’d like to, perhaps today, or tomorrow. Hence this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar… it’s a printable PDF document, and our cover star for July is a 1932 painting by Clarice Beckett called Beach Scene. My hope is it will cool you off some just to look at it.

My mom, Millie, was keeping it cool when she was captured in a photograph fishing off a rowboat, circa 1950 or so. She’s another cover star of ours this summer, in this case for our Summer High Five Sale, in which you can use the discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your order of $35 or more. Take it to $50 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too. (Click on the photo to make it larger; I love her smart sunglasses and the fact that she brought her pocketbook with her.)

Mom, God bless her, has begun a new cottage industry at home this past spring. Each day she hand embroiders a flour sack towel. Now, you can call this towel what you wish: dish towel, tea towel… but Grandma, she would have called it a mappina… and not pronounced that ending A. And still to this day, in the English we speak, peppered as it is with Italian dialect words, we speak of the “mop-peen”: an essential element of any good cook’s kitchen. I tend to go through two or three mappini (the plural of mappina) each night as I cook supper: a mappina hanging on the oven door handle to handle hot pots, a mappina on the counter to wipe up spills, a mappina slung over my shoulder to dry my hands.

And so today I’m writing to let you know about our Convivio Book of Days calendar for July, but also to let you know that these mappini that my mom Millie has been embroidering by hand, stitch by stitch, since Easter: they are now on our website, available for purchase. They’re adorable. I’m so proud of her efforts. They are part of a brand new part of our online catalog we’re calling “Linens & Textiles.” Millie’s hand embroidered tea towels focus on three different themes: there are a whole bunch that deal with coffee (“Java Jive”) and more that deal with baked goods (“Baking Day”), and then another whole bunch that offer bits of wisdom of a culinary nature (“Kitchen Wisdom”).

I think you’ll be as impressed as I am with Mom’s handiwork. Her tea towels make wonderful gifts for yourself or someone else and Millie’s getting every penny we sell them for. I figure I owe her at least that for all the effort she put into raising me. You’ll find other lovely hand embroidered textiles there, too, from the extended family in Chiapas who make the protective face masks we’ve been selling since last summer. Prices on those masks, by the way, are reduced to $10. We got our last shipment of masks from them a few weeks ago, and now, I’m happy to report, they are focusing again on their traditional wares. (Hurrah for science and vaccinations!)

Everything in the catalog is part of the Summer Sale, so go, have some fun there: Click here to shop. If you can shop while you’re drifting on a pool float, I’d recommend that.

Calendar image: “Beach Scene” by Clarice Beckett. Oil on canvas, 1932 [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons. It’s my birthday today. Here’s a memory I have in my store of such things: My guess is it’s 1970. It is the night of the 30th of June, and it is approaching midnight, and Mom & Dad have let me stay up to bring in my birthday. The Twilight Zone is playing on the TV, black & white. I’m sitting on the couch, on top of the back cushion, where clearly I should not be sitting, but they let me anyway. I’m incredibly excited that my birthday is arriving. That’s it, that’s the memory. I don’t get that excited about birthdays anymore, but maybe I should. Perhaps we all should. It might do us good.