Monday, September 7, 2009


We're now in our eighth day of sunny summer weather, with cicadas buzzing by noon, and blue skies interrupted by only the occasional skein of cloud, or sometimes a flotilla of little fluffy ones.  But this is summer's last gasp, as well as its first.  I'm wearing lightweight cottons and luxuriating in soft air after dark, and meanwhile the students are assembling at the university, ready to start classes on Wednesday, moving into residence or wandering around in a daze (the first-years especially of course) or in colour-co-ordinated groups of frosh weekers.

The start of the school year, for those of us from the northern hemisphere, is always connected with September and October, with their crisp days and paling autumn light.  For years and years, twelve years of primary school plus any further education, we get imprinted with the idea of this as the time for transitions and change.  And that brings me to the idea of confidence, and lack of confidence, and how much effort it sometimes takes us to navigate these changes.

Tonight, the evening of Labour Day, is the mximum stress night of the year, I figure, on average.  Think of all those kids entering kindergarten, all those teachers and kids going back to start the school year, all those kids going to a new school...  It all adds up to a lot of stress and anticipation, tummy-tingling, and for some people disablingly anxious-making.

When life is rolling along smoothly, say when teachers and kids are well launched into the new year, it's easy to forget the stress they all felt this evening, or this week.  And it's just as well that we forget, because this level of anxiety can be immobilizing over the long haul.  At the same time, I like to think that I can tap back into anxious moments, or sad moments, just to get reminded of the kinds of troubles other people may be experiencing.  It's too easy to be complacent, or else impatient with others who aren't feeling as on top of things as we think they should.

Sometimes, too, it's a good idea to talk to friends in order to get reminded that we ARE capable and that any stuckness we feel around anxiety is temporary and can be overcome or dodged.  Friends are the great resource.  Of course sometimes, as tonight, many who are anxious about the re-entry into the school year have friends who are in exactly the same position, so there's no outside viewpoint to steady them, no calm reassuring voice.

I remember lying in bed the night before school started in grade six, imagining the pale green and white dress I planned to wear to school for that first day, worrying about how it would feel to walk into a new classroom and meet a teacher I didn't know.  That turned out to be a great year for me, with a wonderful energetic and motivated teacher named Mr Cowten.  How lucky! 

 And perhaps experiences like that make me feel that often these things we dread are much worse in the anticipation than in reality.  Oh, but it's just SO hard to stay calm and free of butterflies in the stomach and that treacherous feeling of nausea!

Tomorrow morning I'll watch all those kids heading to school in their new clothes, with bright smiles hiding fears and excitement, their parents also happy and worried, and I hope to remember to feel grateful that I can participate at a distance, without having to live with the urgent pangs I once felt at this time of year.

Speaking of changes and transitions, last night out at supper with friends, I could look around and see life in many stages: one friend very pregnant, the child due in a month, another with a three-month-old, others with a three year old, and then lovely Dom and Tashi and Ian, great examples of precious children now just-into-adulthood and re-entering university this week.  Wonderful.

The company and the food were each a pleasure, from Dawn's Red Fife and buckwheat flour loaves, to D's silky handmade ravioli (two kinds, one stuffed with chorizo and dandelion and green peas, the other with the greens only, beautiful against the pale dough).  There was perfectly grilled (by Ed) rack of lamb, beef tenderloin, eggplant, and shiitake mushrooms; a gigantic potato salad (my fall-back in late summer and fall: boil good local potatoes until just done, let cool completely, then peel; chop into large bite-size into a large bowl; chop lots of fresh herbs: shiso, basil, mint, chives, etc, and stir into good olive oil, add white wine or rice vinegar, and soy sauce too; pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently; let stand a good half hour and then if you have it, just before serving, add several handfuls of arugula and toss, and sea salt too, to taste); and a large bowl of sambhar (south Indian lentils, tart with tamarind). 

The potato salad leftovers were delish today, topped with a fried egg, when a friend came by for a bite of lunch.  I always seem to be talking about a fried egg topping a starch (leftover rice, these potatoes, etc).  The most beautiful of this kind of combo is if you make the potato salad with purple/blue potatoes, for then the green herbs are a bright contrast, and so is the yolk of the egg.

And that reminds me: I was wrong, wrong about the raccoons stealing the purple potatoes from the back yard.  It's just that apparently ten days ago the tops of the potato plants died back very quickly, there one day and gone a few days later.  I assumed they'd been dug up, but today I went digging to check.  Magically there was a small payload in the ground.  I dug up all the spuds (hard to spot in their rich dark purple-ness, so you have to work by feel only) this afternoon.  Yes!

You can guess what I'll do with them!

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