Return to Sender

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. [1] 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. [2]

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 [3]. 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.

Mom would recruit us to help her color in the cards. I don’t know if this hand-painted card smeared then or later
I won’t even bother mentioning the decade that this card was made in. If you have to ask, you weren’t there…. Of course, it goes without saying that Mom sewed the dresses we’re wearing

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. [4]

NOTES: [1] I clearly evolved from those boozy San Francisco lunches. But man, I miss them!

[2] Jim braised the goat meat and made stew. It was yummy.

[3] 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!”

[4] Now I know what to tell people in next year’s cards.

© Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos and images © and property of Jadi Campbell. To see Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

 

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

The Animal Kingdom: Grande Finale 2

The place that inspired The Trail Back Out

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

  1. This herd wasn’t on a leash.
  2. The obstinate gang ganged up on the humans.
  3. It’s not easy to find this knot.
  4. The cluster clustered on blossoms.
  5. I’m troubled by the trouble brought on by a troubling.
  6. A mute is anything but!
  7. A gargle really has necks to gargle.
  8. After reading this wonderful blog thread I hope you all now worship the worship!

Answers:

Herd member, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India
  1. Herd of deer [1]
  2. Herd, gang AND obstinacy of water buffalo [2]
  3. Knot of toads
  4. Cluster of dragonflies [3]
  5. Troubling of goldfish
  6. Mute of hound dogs
  7. Gargle of swans
  8. Worship of writers [4]
Herd, aka Leash, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India
Cluster member, Cranberry Lake, Adirondacks
Gang, Inle Lake, Myanmar
Herd, Inle Lake, Myanmar

NOTES: [1] Also known as a leash of deer [2] Herd, gang and obstinacy of water buffalo National Geographic [3] Cluster, swarm or flight of dragonflies [4] Australian Geographic  and An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.

Worshipper of words….

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

© Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Hive, Thai temple … the hive mind that is the Internet …

The Trail Back Out – Excerpt

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.

The Trail Back Out © Jadi Campbell 2020

I: Prelude: Rain and Fire

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.”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2021.

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.

Interview with Alex Pearl

Follow this link for my interview with the witty EastEnder Alex Pearl! Among other things, we talk about stunt men, building teepees, and poisonous mushrooms….

Books by Alex Pearl

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2021. Interview © Alex Pearl.

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.

2020 Is Almost Over!

Are you holding your breaths? Are you all waiting for 2020 to end? Are you even remotely interested in revisiting the Year from Hell? I almost skipped the annual looking back review but couldn’t resist. And then I discovered I had to do a review, because basically I can’t remember a damned thing from the last 10 months except that the days went really fast despite being in a lockdown, my waistline expanded, and it is a miracle I got anything done at all.

The brown throated sloth 2020 ANIMAL OF THE YEAR

I started off my 2020 blog talking about travel, from my impressions of the unrest in Hong Kong at this time last year: Ho, Ho, Ho, Hong Kong, Hong Kong 1, Hong Kong 2 , and the coolness that is Costa Rica: What the Heck is a Quetzal? and Hummingbirds.

I’m working on a new thread, called (rather creepily, I know) My Imaginary Friends. The first installment (even more creepily) is  Strangers on a Train.

Things got weird fast as COVID-19 trampled all our illusions of being in control. Me and La Corona, or Things Are Different Now, an especially intense period I call My Schizoid Loop, Notes from the LockdownMore Things are Different Now (aka: The Sloth), How I Spent my Summer Lockdown. Then, because a year of a global pandemic isn’t enough, the world added the insanity of the US election. I had to call a halt in Brideshead Revisited Revisited.

On those days when it all felt like too much (i.e., pretty much every f*cking day) I scheduled the soothing words and photos from my never-ending blog thread about groups of animals. The Animal Kingdom:  33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38.

But – I did the one thing the lockdown demanded when it took away everything else I can do out in the world: I wrote. And, wow! I was named for two book awards, for Tsunami Cowboys 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award longlist, and my new short story collection The Trail Back Out I’m in Good Company!

Book bloggers are something very special in the blogging galaxy. They give a voice to those of us who might otherwise go unheard. I did a batch of interviews with these wonderful book bloggers: Shaz’s Book Blog, Curled Up With a Good Book, Five Things Friday from Willow Croft, JQM Literary Spotlight Presents Tsunami Cowboys, JQM Literary Chat Part 2.

I met virtually with my writing group and we did our first on-line virtual reading. You can catch me reading a short story from my new book here: Live Reading of The Green Under the Snow. I read at about the one-hour mark.

And somehow life went on, and I kept reminding myself that this is just life and death on steroids. I wrote A Cast of Thousands: Day 1, Day 2, in which I went to a two day wedding in India, and the funeral service for a friend Led Zeppelin and the Funeral.

Of course, no year is complete without a posts about food. I gave you Let Them Eat – Elk? and a post about leftover cold pizza as the breakfast food of the gods Cold Pizza! YUM!

Stay safe, stay healthy, and get ready for the collective global sigh of relief when 2020 is finally done! We made it, you guys!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. Fun animal names from en.wiktionary.orgwww.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

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.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and buy my books.

My Imaginary Friends: #1. Strangers on a Train

I am ALMOST done with The Animal Kingdom thread – Posts #39 and #40 are on the way! As 2020 comes to an end, I’m starting a new thread on where some of my story characters originated.

As a writer I’m guilty of borrowing (okay: outright stealing) experiences of people I know. Some become vehicles for me to muse about the world. Years ago, my father and his girlfriend came to visit me in Germany. I couldn’t spend every day with them, so one morning I set them on a train to Trier. They spent all of that day with a stranger, an American who was working in Germany. When they finally parted ways, the last words the man said to them were “I love you guys.”

The man was African-American.

I thought about this story over and over after that visit. Dad told me, the train stopped on the tracks as railroad workers cleared away brush from a storm the night before. The train was stuck and the three of them sat for hours, swapping tales as they waited for the train to start moving again.

I loved my father dearly. He would talk to anyone, and he enjoyed meeting people and finding out about their lives. He is the example I hold up, to anyone who cares to listen, about how travel turns us all into better human beings. My dad saw most of the world after my mom died. They spent the last year of her life in Italy, and I like to think that his later travels were an homage to that final, wonderful year. After decades spent traveling, my father Bobbo, a pretty typical older white male, became truly worldly in his outlooks.

But, a black man who tells an old white couple that he loves them? What an extraordinary human being he must be.

As open as my father was, he had all the privileges of time and place and skin color. What fired my wonder and imagination was that a black man in this century would have the greatness of heart to tell white retired folks something so profound. Maybe it was the meeting of like-minded souls. Maybe it was the setting: a temporary encounter on a train in Germany, a country that continues to work hard to overcome prejudices.

Maybe at some point in his life he had made a conscious decision to take people as he found them. I wanted to put myself into his head and heart. I wanted to learn from him.

He is  the kind of human being I aspire to be.

Can you tell that I was captivated and moved by my father’s story of this encounter? A decade later, when I finally (finally!!) became a writer, I discovered myself writing his story. His name is Gabe Burgess. He’s the head bartender at JJ’s Bistro in my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Gabe spends time every year traveling the globe.

He has secrets.

Gabe has a tender heart.

He retains the memory of a terrible experience which has refused to fade.

And in the chapter titled Waiting, one year he meets an old white couple on a train that breaks down on the tracks outside of Trier….

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020.

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.

The following link get you there: Broken In: A Novel in Stories

Click here to learn more about me and buy my books.

 

Hear Me Read Live, this Weekend with the Writers in Stuttgart

The Writers in Stuttgart are giving our first youtube (live streaming) online reading on Friday, October 23rd at 8pm (Friday at 2 pm EST). We normally give readings 3 – 4 times a year in theaters here in Stuttgart. During these strange days we’ve been holding our monthly meetings on Zoom and decided to take a chance on a virtual reading. The upside is that people can view it anywhere in the world. If you can’t make the 8pm time, our show can be viewed for 48 hours after it takes place. A description and the link are below if you and any one you know are interested:

On 23 October, 2020 the Writers in Stuttgart are celebrating the transatlantic relationship between the USA and Germany in honor of the 25th anniversary of the DAZ (the German/American Center) in Stuttgart. In their first live stream reading, the Writers in Stuttgart will explore American, German as well as a variety of other international perspectives on national, international and intercultural identities and the German-American relationship of past, present and future. Join the Writers in Stuttgart on 23 October, 2020 at 8:00pm (2pm ET Friday in U.S.) at

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCml9nOF5jfVJRjw4mIqsgCg

Stay safe & healthy, and I hope to see you this weekend.

Best Wishes,

Jadi

PS: I’ll be reading The Green Under the Snow from my new short stories collection, in the second half of the program.

The Trail Back Out is finished and available for purchase! In my new collection of short stories, 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 about my books and me.

Led Zeppelin and the Funeral

We went to the funeral at the end of the summer. The deceased was an avid climber and hiker, husband, father, and grandfather. He was my husband’s boss and I liked him from the instant he introduced himself to me. He’d immediately asked how I liked living in Germany. I really like his wife, too.

We met on occasional evenings to share slide shows of each other’s travels. I vividly recall a show from their trip to Ladakh and the mountains of northern India. The perspective in his photos were taken at an  impossibly steep angle looking down from the tops of the peaks they climbed. Another image that remains with me is his photograph of a surreal parade of a string of camels, transporting salt across an African plain.

He was retired and they still had lots of plans. But he was diagnosed with ALS, and died a little over half a year later.

***

Over a hundred people came to the funeral. We were all reeling from his swift passing after the news of the diagnosis at Christmas. Due to coronavirus precautions, the family sat in the chapel and the mourners stood outside; a loudspeaker enabled all of us to follow the service. The pastor spoke of his community engagement, his occasionally blunt and acerbic honesty (I had never experienced my friend as anything other than gentle, so this insight surprised me), and his love of the world.

Bible passages were read. Tears from Heaven from Eric Clapton played during the service, and a song from a German band. Eventually it was time to follow the family members through the chapel to the gravesite. Uwe and I waited as people filed in a socially-distanced manner into the chapel.

A final song began. “There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold….” Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was playing. I arrived at the altar’s flowers and flickering candles. The song’s soaring music peaked as I passed the big portrait of our friend, bearded, wind-blown hair, – and a crazed genius grin on his face. I know I was both elated and teary-eyed.

if you don't know what this is...i don't know you. | Zeppelin art, Led zeppelin iv, Led zeppelin
Led Zeppelin (The Hermit) by Derek Velasquez

I had never, ever expected to hear Led Zeppelin at a funeral. That song was an absolutely glorious and fitting way to bid farewell and offer closure.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020. My German friends tell me that they’ve all been to funerals where Stairway to Heaven played. This was my first, and I’m still moved as I try to write about it.

The Trail Back Out is finished and available for purchase! In my new collection of short stories, 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 about my books and me.

The Trail Back Out is Available for Preorder!

It’s finally done: my first book in 4 years!

From tales of Eddie, high on LSD and trapped by “What Died in the Fridge” or a compulsive gambler hiding during a Category Five storm in “Better Weather”, to the luminous title story of two strangers meeting by chance in the backwoods during a pandemic, I wanted to describe the pain and humor of being alive. Included in this collection are “Rules to Live By”, a funny and deeply thoughtful story about what we choose to teach our children. I wonder about our responsibility to others as a hunter is shot and left for dead in “The Green Under the Snow”. In “Do Dreams Float?” a wife considers a hit-man’s offer of revenge. And the eternal search for happiness is carried out by a gloomy little girl nicknamed ‘Princess Rain Clouds’.

I finished these tales during the coronavirus lockdown. These are descriptions of everyday life in strange times. Whether during the upheaval of the last century or the present COVID-19 crisis, The Trail Back Out will guide you through a labyrinth of questions about how to live and love.

The Trail Back Out will be published as paperback and eBook for Kindle on August 23, 2020. The version for Kindle is available now for preorder. Click on one of these links to order a copy:

The Trail Back Out: USA

The Trail Back Out: Germany

Information on all my books is available here:

Jadi’s Books Amazon Page: USA

Jadi’s Books Amazon Page: Germany

I wish you all a safe and healthy autumn.

Happy reading,

Jadi

A Cast of Thousands: Day Two

I remain in serious escapist mode, and in today’s post I continue to take us as far away as I can. I’m describing the magnificent Indian wedding  I attended in Mumbai just a few months ago.

The following night, the newlyweds held an evening reception for 500 guests at the same venue. A magician circulated around the room. The saris were a cross between Cinderella and the Arabian Nights. I saw really, really serious bling. It was a dazzling evening full of gorgeous, kind, friendly people. In the interest of privacy I am posting mostly photos that show the backs of gowns. These were taken with my old cell phone, so the quality’s not great. But these give an idea of how spectacular this celebration was!

The women who had taken my breath away the day of the wedding now wore evening saris. There are no words adequate to describing how gorgeous everyone appeared.

Once the event began the full bar stayed busy. I was served the largest gin and tonic I’ve ever had to drink: it was as big as my head. The drink was also one of the strongest I’ve ever tasted. I drank it and afterwards I immediately switched to white wine. Another g&t and I would have landed under a table.

I chatted with a large chocolatier-pastry chef who had worked in Switzerland. The woman who designed the bride’s clothes and the man who designed her jewelry. A professional jazz singer who had given her voice lessons.

The waiters worked both days and must have been exhausted. They circulated the room with appetizers served on trays of stone. The appetizers were wonderful: smoked salmon-asparagus-horseradish rolls. Lamb bites in tiny crusts. Spicy paneer. Corn fritters with salsa. Tikka chicken bites.

A full diner buffet included both vegetarian and meat dishes.  The buffet included a station carving up one leg of lamb after another, chopped into small strips and served au jus. There were various rice dishes, and breads freshly made on-the-spot (both days). Dhals. Another food station served chat: layers of potato patty with chutneys, chickpeas, cilantro. Another station served a variety of Mexican dishes. Other stations included vats of sautéed veggies. I didn’t even glance at the station with teriyaki dishes; the Indian food was just too good. A separate table held lots of desserts. I tried the chocolate mousse cups and the waffles with Nutella and fresh fruit: kiwi, mango, strawberries.

A waterfall is behind the beaded curtain. The sashes on the chairs were an elegant gray for the evening reception

My sister and I drank Sula, a surprisingly yummy Indian white wine. We were both delirious with how magical the evening felt, all those  beautiful people. When we left shortly before midnight the room had been converted into a dance floor….

… each outfit was even more beautiful …
…really stunning gowns

I will forever be grateful I was invited to attend an Indian wedding. The hosts (busy with the other 499 guests) were incredibly generous and gracious. My thanks to my dear friends in Mumbai and their family for allowing two visiting girls to share their joy.

NOTES: Text © Jadi Campbell 2020. Photos © Jadi Campbell and Pam Campbell.

To see Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.