This week seems like my unofficial start of summer break. Last week I still had teacher work days and meetings so even though I wasn’t teaching, it still felt like work. However, the week ended on a fun note.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, I thought it would be fun to read a novel with my fellow teachers that didn’t have anything to do with teaching, and then gather together to discuss the novel at the end of the school year. The book was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and I highly recommend it. Several of my reliable sources for good book recommendations mentioned this book so it seemed like a worthy choice. Some of the themes that pop up in the book relate to family, tragedy, betrayal, and forgiveness. The novel is set mainly in Ethiopia, and I enjoyed the physical descriptions of the countryside along with the historical references very much.
As the time drew closer to discussing the book, plans started to take shape. One teacher thought we should go to an Ethiopian restaurant to discuss the book. This caught my attention immediately as I love a good ethnic meal. Fortunately, there are several Ethiopian restaurants in Austin so it was decided that on our last teacher workday, a group of us would head to Austin for dinner and to discuss the book. Since we were already in Austin for dinner, some others of us thought we should just stay the night and spend the next day shopping along South Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. Sounded like a good idea to me! South Congress is an eclectic assortment of shops and eateries that feel both urban and a bit bohemian. During our time in Texas, I have some favorites that I love to visit whenever we are in Austin.
The restaurant we chose was Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant. It isn’t much to look at from the outside, and the ambiance on the inside wasn’t that much better, but somehow it felt like the perfect place to eat in light of the book. Whenever food is mentioned in the book, it isn’t described in terms of the setting or surroundings. The food takes center stage, and the details are spent in describing the various foods. Food is served family style at Aster’s and since we were all a pretty adventurous group, we wanted to try a little of everything. Our waiter was accommodating, and soon large platters of food arrived. Each of us had our own piece of injera, which is a type of bread (think of a crepe) which we used to pick up the various meats and vegetable sides. A true Ethiopian would never use a utensil, and his or her fingers would never get messy. In one of the references to eating in the book, the author mentions how a native would never get his or her fingernails stained by the food because he or she knows how to use the injera to pick up food without touching it. Eventually, we all asked for forks as it made it easier to try the various dishes.
As I ate and enjoyed the various foods, I was struck by several thoughts. First, I am really going to miss my community at Live Oak. Each person at dinner that night has impacted my life in some way. Some more so than others, but I love the care and concern this group has for one another. Secondly, I love celebration moments like our dinner and overnight stay. We can’t go to Austin every weekend so taking the time to eat dinner or stay overnight is made all the more special on these occasions.
After dinner, we drove to a coffee/dessert shop not far from the restaurant. It was a happening place as people were gathered to listen to live music, dance, and enjoy their drinks and desserts. We squeezed around a couple of tables and enjoyed gelato and coffee, and laughed some more. Those who weren’t staying the night returned to Waco, and the rest of us checked into our hotel before heading out for one more stop at an Irish pub in downtown Austin. We laughed as we left the hotel reflecting that for many of us, 10 pm was our bedtime and here we were heading out to a “bar!”
I am grateful for times like these with friends and co-workers because they force all of us to break from our normal routines of life. The memories of our time together will most likely linger longer for that very reason. I imagine that our trip to Austin will be one of those experiences that surfaces in future conversation, and we will say, “remember when we….”