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the simple pleasures of the last day of summer

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06 September 2005

the simple pleasures of the last day of summer

blackberry jam, II, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The day bloomed unexpectedly, beautifully. Broken-hearted by the lack of humanity in the Bayou, buoyed up by the humanity in people who help each other. Singing, dancing, laughing with people I love. Crying at scenes on the television I wish I had never seen, glad I forced myself to see them. Time dragging and speeding by, waving goodbye to summer on a draft of cooler air that moved the hair from in front of my eyes. Breathing, seeing, and trying to making the world a bit lighter, as I can. I'll close my eyes to sleep, but I don't want to walk through the world with closed eyes again. Grateful to be here. Warmed by the sun. Aware that today is the last day of summer.

Tomorrow is my first full day of school meetings. Starting tomorrow morning, I have a much different schedule than the drifting, sun-warmed life I have been leading these past three months. This has been the best summer of my life: full health, dozens of new people entering my life and enriching it deeply, biking with the sun on my face and the wind at my back. And cooking every day. With the exception of Clotilde's fresh herb muffins and the broiled peaches with basil, I have not made the same recipe twice in three months. I've never eaten better in my life than I have since I received my celiac diagnosis. Eating gluten-free has brought me wonderful freedom.

And I have enjoyed these long, fluid days, when I could wake up when my body wanted. When I could spend the morning reading The New York Times as I sat by the window in the green rocking chair, soaking in the news of the world and sipping my coffee slowly. When I could sit with cookbooks and pen in hand, deciphering recipes and deciding, in extravagant moments, what food to make that day. When I could sit in this little nook off my living room for hours at a time, looking out at Ken's Market and the life going by my street, check my email a dozen times in an hour if I felt like it, and write and write and write. Certainly, without a doubt, I have been productive this summer. But it's a different kind of productive than I have to be when I'm teaching school.

Starting tomorrow, I'll have to sit through meetings and let someone else determine what is important for me to do. Starting tomorrow, I'll have to be good and do activities other than cooking, eating, taking photographs, and writing about food. Starting tomorrow, I'll have to make my life into a smaller peg and fit into a pre-determined hole.

I'll have to wake up at 6 am.

But I'm not going to complain. One, because I love to work. I love to be of service. In fact, this is the only way I want to live:

"All difficulties come from not thinking of others. Whatever you are doing, check whether your motive is for yourself or for others."
---Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Tibetan Buddhist monk)

And I'm not going to complain, because I love teaching. I adore the bantering, the connection, the unexpected moments of discovery. I love my students and their thousand, ineffable idiosyncracies. I love meeting the new ones and knowing that, in a few months, they will be indelibly implanted on my mind, and I won't be able to imagine my life without them. I love teaching vocabulary words, reminding them of strong verbs, and gently guiding them into trusting their own minds. Every day of teaching is a constant revelation, a hysterical story, a hairpin turn around a road I thought I knew well already. I'm never, ever bored when I'm teaching.

It's just meetings I don't like.

So I welcome the life that starts to unfold tomorrow, because it is my life. I don't understand the impulse to complain, constantly, because it grows boring, quickly.

Besides, I am so blessed, so undeniably blessed with life. I don't mean by some higher power, or that I was specially chosen. I mean that I am alive, with a big kitchen in which to make flourless chocolate torte (tomorrow's post), with a job I love that pays me decently, and with fingers to type these words right now. I am alive.

That is enough.

Today, I turned on the Oprah show and wept for an hour. I'll admit it—I'm not afraid to look foolish. Watching the news, almost nonstop, this past week, has taught me more than I thought I could learn. And I've been filled with righteous indignation. But this woman, on mainstream American television, shoved the truth in the faces of the American people. Say what you want about her, but Oprah has her heart in the right place. And it's an inflamed heart, pulsing with righteous indignation. As is mine. And it felt good to weep.

And it made me appreciate everything I have, even more. The long moments this morning in the kitchen, making another ten jars of blackberry jam before I turned on the news. The long, meandering trip around Seattle, looking for cured, dried ham for a recipe, and ending up at Pike Place Market on a weekday. Shopping at DeLaurenti's, and feeling lucky that I had the little spending money I have, and knowing I won't be splurging on capers and prosciutto again for awhile. Buying a roasting pan at Sur La Table, and deciding that this will be my last major purchase this month, and perhaps longer. Smelling flowers, and taking photos of stargazer lilies, and feeling happier at being awake to the sight of them than I would have been if I had just bought them and put them in a vase. Cooking for friends and watching their faces relax into happiness when they tasted the torte. Once again, and wider this time, knowing that no recipe can daunt me anymore. It's just a joy to cook.

And knowing, utterly knowing, that being told I can no longer eat gluten was not a punishment. It was a door opening. Without it, I wouldn't have written all the images I have captured in this blog. I wouldn't be walking around with a camera, really looking at my food. I wouldn't be watching light linger on the countertops and dragging food out of the refrigerator to take photographs of it, making the mundane beautiful. I wouldn't have met all of you who have written to me, in the comments section here and in email. I can't imagine my life without you, without this blog.

I'm so grateful to have this.

So it's the last day of summer. Welcome, Autumn.


I decided this today. Other than food, the standard bills, and the gas required to move me from home to school and friends' houses, I'm not spending any money this month. No new movies in the theatre. No jewelry from the enticing store down the street. No new cds or downloads from iTunes. No new books. And even, no new kitchen implements.

Instead, I'm going to enjoy what I have, and feel blessed. And every bit of money I save, what I could have spent on myself and my friends, I'm going to send to Habitat for Humanity. I have a feeling this is going to be an extraordinary month.

I encourage you to do the same.


At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! What an amazing post! I was first drawn in by the fantastic and mouth watering picture of the jam. I had just tried jam for the first time so I find myself reading all I can on it. Then I read, and read, and couldn't tear myself away. Beautiful beautiful post...I just wanted to say that you made my day a little brighter and reminded me of all I had to be thankful for, and of all the beauty in this world that is right before our eyes, and how wonderful life can be :-)

Hope you have a good day and can't wait for the chocolate torte post!

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

It certainly is a fabulous post - tender and heartfelt and, like Joey, I was captivated to the end.

I particularly love the way you share the joy of every part of every day.

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna, what a lovely post. You're lucky to have these long summers during which to relax and a job to return to that you love! I can empathize about your joy at eating gluten-free - for me it was the same thing to finally know how to keep myself healthy and I couldn't understand why everyone else wanted to pity me when all I felt myself was relief! Good luck on your first day back at work.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Mags said...

First of all, that picture of the jam almost made me squeal with delight. Out loud. In my cube.

Second of all, my wonderings of "where the hell does she find the time to cook?!?" have been answered.

Third of all, you seem like such a wonderful, compassionate human being. I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog!

Good luck with the coming school year!

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Thank you, everyone. It really means a lot to me, what you said. And I'm so glad that you're all here.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Randi said...

i read somewhere all the millions of blackberries around seattle. Did you pick them or buy them? I wish I had some here. I made a lot of jam, some weird flavors that probably no one will like. Im going to make a pear, ginger, chocolate jam soon.

I cried my eyes out at that oprah too.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


I'd happily eat some of that pear, ginger, chocolate jam. Could you post the recipe and let us know if it works?

Luckily, in July and August, blacberries grow EVERYWHERE in Seattle. Sadly, now the season has passed. I did buy a flat at the farmers' market to make that jam. I just couldn't resist.


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