Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Staying Warm when Staying Inside is not an Option

                                                                                                
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 175-S00-00326, Flüchtlinge aus Ostpreußen auf Pferdewagen.jpg
Because I’m in the depths of novel revision, my thoughts are stuck in the winter of 1945, East Prussia. The severe winter weather here in Winnipeg reminds me of how difficult it must have been for the German civilians fleeing their homes in horse-pulled wagons and on foot, during the Soviet offensive. Temperatures of -25C froze old and young as they tried to reach the ships at Pillau harbor on the Baltic.   
Photo Attribution: Bundesarchiv, B 285 Bild-S00-00326 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0

I consider myself a bit of a keeping-warm expert after having spent many years working outside in Winnipeg. So here’s some advice. Forget about how you look…this is all about how you feel. Dress in layers. Something windproof is essential. Keep moving. Cover your face with a neck warmer or scarf.  Don’t drink too much liquid, because then you have to peel off all those layers…and usually in a hurry. Don’t get wet. 

Moisture chills to the bone. East Prussia, on the Baltic, would not have had the benefit of the 'dry cold' we here on the prairies are known for.  I can honestly say that when dressed properly, a sunny, windless day of minus thirty will feel balmy…assuming you keep moving. My mother cried bitter tears when she knew I worked outside in January weather. She'd say, I didn't survive Siberia and East Prussia so that my daughter would be cold here in Canada.  I'd have to remind her that I was dressed properly, that I was healthy and that I'd had a proper warm breakfast. My favourite is porridge. 

On a positive note, extreme temperatures keep the snow hard like concrete and make it for good walking…again with an assumption. Someone needs to shovel the darn stuff and make a path. Back in East Prussia in January of ’45, there were millions, like my mother and her sisters, fleeing. Most of the time they couldn’t use the main roads because those were reserved for army vehicles. So they'd  get stuck on the snowy forest trails.  I grew up imagining the faces of doll-like infants, hurriedly buried in snowbanks and left behind as their frightened families looked to the sea for help. Above them…not sundogs…but enemy bombers.

Other horrible, sad refugee stories are in the news nowadays. Different faces, different wars, different technologies, same human suffering.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Happy 2017

While the consensus appears to be that 2016 was not the best of years, my personal take on the year is more favorable. Nobody in my family died, we didn’t move (in spite of a good deal of deliberation), I didn’t lose a job (have none to lose), no divorce, and not even a pet died. (The laptop doesn’t count.) It was a good year. In fact, it was a very good year, one of my personal best. I read, I wrote, I walked, I gardened. Maybe even in that order. Of course, it’s deep winter now and gardening is limited to remembering to water the houseplants…something that I’m working on. Still, it was a good year—serene.

Reading
After LightI find Goodreads a useful way to track books, reviews and wish lists. However, I do find it annoying to count books read. Numbers are quite irrelevant. I have a few hours a day set aside for reading and some books are longer, more difficult, or in German. So I don’t judge my reading by number, I judge my reading by personal impact. My favorite book in 2016 was Catherine Hunter’s After Light. I’m disappointed that it wasn’t a Governor General Award finalist.

On to 2017. Here’s a glimpse of my to-read pile—a scattered bunch of books gleaned throughout last year.  I’d like to get through that and who knows what discoveries 2017 will bring. Reading. What power in mere ink on a page.

Writing
Forever JuliaThe writing is going. I’m working on an early draft of the fourth book in my Katya’s Stones series. I think I live in the perfect environment to appreciate what my characters must endure—not that I can come even close to imaging the horror of the winter in 1945 East Prussia. I was pleased to see that Broken Stone received a ‘highly recommended' review on CM Review and shortlisted for the Manitoba Book Awards for Young People back in the spring. The award went to my friend, JodiCarmichael, and I was and still am thrilled for her. Forever Julia is an energetic and empowering book for teenagers.

Walking
And I continue to walk, swim and cycle. I love the rhythm of these activities, prefer doing them alone—although I’d never say no to some company. Most any conversation improves with a walk. Most any problem improves with a walk. My night walks with the canine are crunchy on the crisp snow and I’m proud of how this winter city ploughs through snowfall after snowfall to give us driveable streets and walkable sidewalks.

Gardening
Green stuff is on hiatus until spring. I sure appreciated the inspiration I found in other's gardens last year.  Can't wait to dig in the dirt. In the meantime, I revel in the white stuff. We have a lot this year. It’s different now that I’m not working in it. I get to admire winter's austere beauty in a more relaxed manner.

So for 2017, I want more of the same. More reading, more writing, more walking, and more gardening.  These are my habits. I’m not much of a resolution-maker. Maybe if I had to have one, it would be Keep It Simple. Happy 2017 to you.