When we were kids, my youngest sister Barb would sidle up next to me and say my name. It didn’t always come out as “Jadi”. Instead, Barb sometimes got a wicked, mischievous gleam in her eyes, leaned in close, and quietly whispered, JJ.
The way she said it made my name sound French. JJ sounded slippery, oozing sexiness, funny and veryembarassing, all at the same time.
We might be walking down a road, and when I heard this slithery “Hey, JJ”, I knew my sister was calling me. (More than once I crossed the street because I was so mortified someone would hear her.)
Each and every time I think about it now, I grin. This story is (as I realize many years later), one of those between-siblings episodes that are funny and much, much more embarassing when you are young.
To honor Barb and her evil sense of humor, when I wrote my first novel I was determined to get that name in there somewhere….
JJ’s Bistro is where the events take place in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. The food, of course, is delicious – and French-inspired!
In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.
Click here for my author page to learn more and buy my books.
Today – the middle of the month of April – not one but two Christmas cards I mailed off (both on the 17th of December) came back to me.
They carry yellow stickers. Return to Sender. Not Deliverable as Addressed. Unable to Forward.
One is a card for a friend I worked with in San Francisco in the early 1980s. We were secretaries in the Marketing Department of what at that time was a national-wide not-for-profit insurance company. Those were heady days, of alcoholic lunches when the bosses took you out at noon and you returned to the office several hours and many rounds later. After work, life meant meeting friends for drinks or beers at the neighborhood bars, and more restaurants and cultural events than you could count. I was in my twenties and living in ‘the big city’ for the first time.
San Francisco was a candy store, and I was a wide-eyed child with a big appetite.
The second returned Christmas card is addressed to the retired librarian from the University of Washington Health Services. I worked at UW in the late 1980s. I was going to massage school in my spare time, and my friend was keenly interested in what I was doing, as she was in anything to do with the world of healing. Traditional or alternative medicine: she always wanted to know more. She suggested we do a trade. I gave her massages right there in her office at lunch time.  She did document searches for me, tracking down peer-reviewed medical journal articles about massage in the days when massage was still a dicey career choice. (I was asked more times than I care to count what the name of the massage parlor was where I planned to ‘work’.) (Hah. Hah. Hah.)
My friend the librarian ran a working farm. We also traded those massage sessions in her office for packages amounting to half a lamb each spring. Once she snuck in a package of goat meat. “But how do I cook goat meat?” I protested.
“Really? Congratulations, Jadi. This is what people eat in a lot of places in the world. Figure it out!” I passed THAT package along to friends when I went to visit them. The husband is one of the best cooks I know, and Jim would have a solution. 
So here I am, firmly settled in Germany with my Swabian husband. I send out yearly Christmas cards along with a letter and a current photo taken by Uwe . It’s my annual production, each letter hand stamped with glittery snowflakes. Because my mom made the most wonderful Christmas cards in the world. She had a husband and three very active little girls, and her cards were magic.
My own, less clever Christmas cards are a way to remain connected to my mom’s tradition. And the cards are my way to remain connected, if I can, even if just one day out of the year, with the people who were in my life in various places at various times. Each of them helped me with their friendships more than they’ll ever know. Each year a few cards come back, and another friend has dropped from my life.
I still miss and love them all. 
NOTES:  I clearly evolved from those boozy San Francisco lunches. But man, I miss them!
 Jim braised the goat meat and made stew. It was yummy.
 Every single year, shortly before December, you will hear me mutter this: “God damn it, Uwe! I ask you on every vacation to ‘Take a photo that will be perfect for my Christmas letter!’ Just once I’d like to have a photograph from one of our trips picked out and ready to go for Christmas! Just once!”
 Now I know what to tell people in next year’s cards.
And it’s the last post in this blog thread for Bobbo! I present the Grande Finale: Installment # 42! describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.
Well-hidden knot member. Back trails, Cranberry Lake, Adirondacks
This herd wasn’t on a leash.
The obstinate gang ganged up on the humans.
It’s not easy to find this knot.
The cluster clustered on blossoms.
I’m troubled by the trouble brought on by a troubling.
A mute is anything but!
A gargle really has necks to gargle.
After reading this wonderful blog thread I hope you all now worship the worship!
Herd of deer 
Herd, gang AND obstinacy of water buffalo 
Knot of toads
Cluster of dragonflies 
Troubling of goldfish
Mute of hound dogs
Gargle of swans
Worship of writers 
NOTES:  Also known as a leash of deer  Herd, gang and obstinacy of water buffalo National Geographic  Cluster, swarm or flight of dragonflies  Australian Geographic and An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.
NOTES on NOTES: I almost never put myself in my posts. For this final hurrah a photo and the final, special definition are called for. Thanks and much love to all my readers for sticking with this thread and sharing your feedback. — Jadi
And it’s the first half of the last post in this blog thread for Bobbo! I present the Grande Finale: Installment # 41! describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page. Happy Easter, everyone. May the world be reborn.
The host hosted a seed hunt.
The storytelling is storytelling.
The colony colonized the waters with colonies.
She feverishly watched the fever.
The road teemed with teams.
No way to hide from this hive’s hive!
The scoop scoops with scoops.
Host of sparrows
Storytelling of crows
Colony of beavers
Fever of sting rays
Team of oxen
Hive of bees 
Scoop of pelicans 
NOTES:  A hive is the physical location. Bee status: Endangered  Remember the squadron of pelicans from Installment #3?
NOTES on NOTES: I almost never put myself in my posts. For this final hurrah a photo and a final, special definition are called for. Thanks and much love to all my readers for sticking with this thread and sharing your feedback. — Jadi
My husband used to work in northern Sweden every winter. (Go to It Was a Bitterly Cold -22 Degrees) I flew up for a long weekend. On Friday he had to drive on a frozen lake, writing code for the braking system that would become ESP, a safety feature now installed in cars everywhere.
I went exploring in downtown Arjeplog. The only tourists were people like me, family members visiting the car engineers.
It was March, a grand -6 degrees at the warmest part of the day, so I went to the Silvermuseet. I like museums anyway, and Arjeplog’s museum is a fun mix of artifacts from early settlers, a history of the now-closed silver mines, and the earliest presence of humans. I was the only visitor in the museum.
A tall glass case contained a runebomme, an old Saami drum.  When I moved closer for a look, lights clicked on and a recording of drumming began to play. I was surprisingly moved, and totally intrigued by the images etched on the drum hide. Animals, people, and boats were depicted.
The Saami Shaman Drum Kobdas (drum) is a sacred map. It contains drawings of people and the spirit gods and goddesses of Nature often centered around a symbol of the sun. They are used by the shaman (male and female alike) to awaken other levels of reality to guide families in their daily life, find the right path during migrations, locate things which are missing, heal diseases and help the community in times of crisis. They can also foresee the future and give guidance. 
The museum gift shop sold gifts made by local artists. I bought myself a necklace. It’s made with reindeer horn scrimshaw, embedded in arctic curly birch. I don’t wear it often, but when I do it always feels special.
Many years later I wrote a character named Gabe Burgess, who is given a similar necklace by his Norwegian lover as a remembrance before they part ways in Greece. I liked the idea of a burly man tucking the amulet into his shirt when he went traveling.
I thought my necklace was the image of a snowflake. Today, as I did some research to make sure this post’s information on the museum and the drums is accurate, I discovered this:
The image is really an early compass.
My world explorer Gabe has always worn a depiction of the points of the compass, guiding him safely home.
He liked the romance of travel, in every sense of the word. His destinations veered wildly from year to year. In the beginning, Gabe’s journeys were random. As a youth Gabe traveled with a heavy, framed backpack and headed often for the beaches. He spent a blissful month camping on the southern coast of Crete with a busty blonde from Norway named Berit. At the end of the four weeks he returned to New York City with Berit’s address and telephone number tucked inside his passport, and a talisman around his neck. On their last night together she had turned her head away from him and reached for the necklace tucked under her long hair.
She made him close his eyes as she placed a chain over his neck. “Go look in the mirror,” she requested, and obediently Gabe walked to the little oval mirror in their beach hostel. In it he found his own image (now much darker and even properly black after a month spent in the island sunshine), his neck encircled with an image on wood. He pulled the chain back over his head to examine it more closely.
Berit put her arms around his waist and stared over his shoulder at him in the mirror. “It’s Saami.” She explained, “It’s a snowflake with eight points to it, carved on reindeer horn. The wooden back is birch. It is to bring you luck, dear friend,” she added solemnly, and kissed the side of his temple. 
As promised, here is an excerpt from my story The Trail Back Out. This tale was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. The entire collection The Trail Back Out was named an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Awards Finalist in the category Fiction: Anthologies.
Each evening, while twilight shadows lengthened, Ken sat and stared into the fire. What a shame it had taken what felt like the end of the world for him to return to the Adirondacks.
Ken had been working on the oil fracking fields and living in a container. The evenings consisted of lengthy monologues from men alternately bored, or angry, or scared, arguing over every subject with a captive audience.
Why aren’t there any solitary quarters, he’d thought more than once. When a new wave of the mutated virus arrived, the corporation went into lockdown. All workers would quarantine with them or leave.
Ken looked around and couldn’t imagine sharing a room with any of the men for an extended period. He stopped at the head office to quit and collected his back pay. Ken gathered his things (simultaneously relieved and strangely distressed that they made a small bundle) and drove away.
He traveled cross country, always heading east, not yet quite sure where he was going. In some places he took temporary work; no matter where he stayed, in his free hours Ken helped register people to vote. Outside Kansas City he bought camping gear and stocked the trunk of his car with canned goods and nonperishables.
His internal compass pointed its needle at his personal true north. When he pulled into Cranberry Lake township in upstate New York months later, Ken’s eyes burned. He passed signs that stated simply, Forever wild. Ken had arrived in one of the loneliest places that an already solitary human being could go in an increasingly lonely world. He was glad; it beat being in a ghost town.
Wet winds gusted, but he was sheltered. He scratched his face and watched the flames. “Scritchy,” Grace used to tease. She’d rub her cheeks hard against his bristles. He was the picture of the backwoods loner: a misanthrope in layers of clothes that all smelled like campfire smoke and dried sweat, his tee shirt faded, the wool jacket stiff with dry mud and the smell of damp lanolin.
The perfect cliché. Shaggy hair, overweight, six feet two inches tall when he bothered to stand erect and wasn’t slouching so as not to intimidate other people.
No one to intimidate here. Ken had seen fewer and fewer people as the summer ended. In the last week he’d passed a total of two single hikers, a family, and a couple. Everyone had raised their hands in greeting and headed down the trail to the next pond or on their way back out.
On the day before, he had shared the wet trail for a few minutes with a female park ranger. He imagined how he’d looked: muddy boots, soaked hiking pants, brushing the rain out of his eyes.
He could picture himself, and suddenly Ken did. Across the fire a man stood in the shadows, with rain streaming off a poncho and dripping around his feet.
“Sorry to break into your privacy like this,” the stranger said. “You were lost in thought. According to my map this was the nearest lean-to. I’ll keep going; it’s not dark yet.”
Two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed.
Click here for my author page to learn more and buy my books.
The Trail Back Out was named an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Awards Finalist in the category Fiction: Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed.
Click here for my author page to learn more and buy my books.
In The Trail Back Out two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed. The Trail Back Out was named an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Awards Finalist in the category Fiction: Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and buy my books.
Hear my writers’ group read live, tonight at 8 PM Central European time! We will appear on YouTube at the following link: Dark Monday. Come on over and hear original stories, poems, essays and real-life vignettes. The Writers in Stuttgart have read as NEAT’s January Dark Monday show for the last five years. It is our honor, and our pleasure.
Our reading can be watched on YouTube until January 18th.