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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas letter 2013

Recipe for a simple, country life
1 teaching position 300 metres from the house with 

20 wacky pubescent students

1 retired partner who keeps the house and yard running smoothly

1 bushel of daily exercise (walks, bike rides, swims, kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing, gardening)

1 very plump cat named Souris (Mouse)

1 old house which we have finally finished renovating from top to bottom

A collection of musical instruments and books

Lots of time to spend reading, writing, making music, cooking, dreaming or laughing with friends and family

All is well in Montebello. I’m into slow living, from slow food to slow travel. I prepare all of my own vegetarian food. I’ll still eat meat when dining in someone’s home or when entertaining carnivores but I prefer to get my protein in other ways. 

Books by John Robbins such as “Healthy at 100” and “Diet for a New America” and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, “You can be happy (and it’s cheap)” by Tammy Strobel and blogs such as “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta influenced me to make definite changes in my eating and spending habits, most of which had been slowly coming for years now. (Jacques has not joined me on this journey but, hey, as long as we are both healthy and happy that’s all that counts, right?)

A few other books which influenced my mindset this year were Michael A. Singer’s “Untethered Soul”, Bren√© Brown’s “Daring Greatly” and “The Gifts of Imperfection”. I’m striving to have a mindful approach to life and also one of gratitude. 

For years now, I’ve woken up at least an hour early to read and write. I start off by writing at least 3 pages of whatever comes to mind and also about things for which I am grateful. The TV only gets turned on when Jacques gets up. 

I love my quiet time and it helps ground me to be the kind of teacher that I strive to be: one who smiles a lot and who is more inclined to laugh and help clean up mishaps than to scold.

I also lean towards slow schooling. I give my students time to read and write in class for pure pleasure and time to be curious, to wonder and to search for their own answers. 

I don’t overload them with homework. We take time to learn how to raise and care for miracles as small as monarch butterflies and time to walk in the woods and identify trees and plants. And the latest test of my patience? Letting them build and program their own robots with thousands of pieces of Lego all over the classroom floor this past week. They loved it! 

Despite my computer savyness, I hadn’t a clue about what they were doing and resorted to acting like a kindly grandmother who could only nod and encourage their efforts.

Last year, I read over 50 books. I kept a list of all of the books I read this year, but I refrained from counting lest it be addictive. I developed a tendency towards O.C.D. in recent years and I’m battling my way through it.   

I recently stopped counting laps in the pool. I dive into the pool, swim or flop around for awhile and climb out when my mind feels settled. 

For years, I listened to monks singing Gregorian chants in order to lull myself to sleep then I switched to listening to CBC podcasts, and later on to counting down from 100 in English and occasionally in a foreign language which did nothing to slow down my mind. Lately, I’ve decided to just breathe, be thankful and drift off.

A while back, I had visions of writing and seeing my work published some day. I even took courses and workshops and wrote some stuff which I felt good about: short stories, poems and a couple of unfinished novels. I think that I wrote myself into a corner with my middle grade novel. 

I wanted to write a meaningful book like Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Unfortunately, I am not ruthless enough to be a good novel writer. I love my main characters too much to even put them near danger or to have anything remotely awful happen to them. Consequently, after a promising start, my middle sagged and nothing much was happening in the way of plot. I’ve put the story on a shelf for now. 

I wrote an unfinished adult novel a couple of years ago. In that one, I managed to have the awful thing happen right in the first line of the book. Being poor at decision making in real life, the variety of options in an imaginary world are much too overwhelming for me. I don’t think that I have the stamina to write something as ambitious as a novel. Having the attention of a fruit fly doesn’t help either. I much rather be playing outside. 

I am most suited to writing poems and songs because they are quick and focused like a lens zooming in on a specific situation, emotion, place or time. My best work usually gushes out of me with little need for prodding or tweaking. So much for slow writing.

Thanks to my best friend, Susy, I discovered the joys of tent camping this past July on the shores of my beloved St-Lawrence River. We had grand ideas of driving to P.E.I. by the way of Fundy and back within a week before changing plans on day 2 due to a bit of an anxiety episode in the parking lot at a Tim Horton’s near the New Brunswick border. My buddy is the best sport ever and we turned the car around and drove aimlessly along the 132 and the St-Lawrence. No reservations. No schedule. I really enjoyed what turned into a nowhere trip. We slept meters away from the shore and enjoyed spectacular sunsets.

Ugh! I just re-read myself. A lot like me, me, me, my, my, my. 

I’ll tell you about Jacques. He is well. His routine changes even less than mine, but it works for him. He hums and haws about what he might eat for supper as soon as he gets up. He refuses to eat any of my rabbit food. So, he’s at the grocery store as soon as it opens and grabs something to cook for his supper. 

He goes to the gym and lift weights for an hour. Then, it’s on to the local bar where he sips a diet coke from 9 to 10 am and then again from 3 to 4 pm and gathers the local gossip. (A couple of summers ago, two girlfriends and I went away to Kamouraska to enjoy the good cycling in that region. We stayed at a tiny motel attached to the local watering hole. The same old guys were at the bar or on the patio at specific times throughout the day. It could have been Jacques and his lot.) 

He also walks or rides his bike religiously after lunch and supper. When he is not taking care of the house, the cars, the yard, me, or Souris, he is watching home renovation channels, golf, American football, car races or all day broadcasts of the Charbonneau Commission. (Quebec being renown for its political scandals, commissions of inquiry have become our equivalent of getting into TV series such as Lost or Downton Abbey).

I started off this letter with a recipe and I’ll end it with one too. If you are reading this Christmas letter, you are most likely too far away for me to deliver my Holiday TV snacks package. Mom used to make this recipe and I’ve kept up the tradition.

Oven set at 225 F
On stove top, melt ½ cup of butter, 
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire, 
1 teaspoon of Tobasco sauce, 
2 tablespoons of garlic powder, 
1 tablespoon of onion powder, 
and 1 ½ teaspoons of celery seeds. 

Combine in roasting pan with 1 box of Cheerios, 
1 box of Shreddies, 
500 grams of salted peanuts 
and a medium size bags of pretzels. 

Roast for 90 minutes. 
Stir occasionaly, try not to eat the whole batch before you can share with friends.
Wishing you and your loved ones hope, health, love, friendship, family, courage, peace of mind and peace on earth,

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