Houston, We Have a Problem

“Houston, we have a problem.” [1]

I watched Hurricane Harvey approach along with my fellow Americans and the rest of the world. Harvey’s Category 4 storm winds devastated Houston, Texas, America’s fourth-largest city. Experts estimate the costs to clean up and rebuild the city at a staggering $75 billion. [2]

Photos of destroyed homes, flooded streets and ruined businesses filled the media. When I watched and listened to footage of interviews with the locals, I had a strange déjà vu.

  • “I know it’s not a safe place to be, but … I don’t know where else I can go.”
  • “I was scared. I’ve seen a lot of things but that terrified me.”
  • “I just lost everything I worked for. Everything. The only thing I got are the clothes on my back.”
  • “We just had to go.”
  • “If they don’t restore power and water for three to six weeks, we have no choice but to leave.”
  • “It’s important for individuals, particularly that are in shelters, to let their family know that they’re safe and well and where they’re at.”
  • “If my kids are safe, my husband is safe, the dogs are with us, who cares.”
  • “There’s no way to get our family out.”

I listened as a young man carrying a small child told reporters that both his home and workplace had been destroyed. He needed shelter and a job, and was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to support his two-year-old daughter. [3]

These quotes come from the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. I’ve heard them before, word for word. These are the interviews I watch on the German nightly news with refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq. These are the stories of the two asylum seekers I massaged to treat their trauma.

The hundreds of thousands Texans and, later, Floridians who were forced out by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma aren’t all that different from the families escaping war zones. It is devastating when your home is gone. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says “We used to look at citizens as disaster victims. Now they’re looked at as what we call disaster survivors.”

I’m not sure what conclusions (if any) to draw from the many similarities. Perhaps it’s that we’re all connected. Suffering is not limited to any one region or situation. Regardless of nationality, race, or religion, I hope our compassion is universal. Let’s extend it to families everywhere who lost all they had and now struggle to rebuild their lives.

As a survivor bravely added, “Life still goes on.”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] Phrases.org.uk  [2] “Moody’s Analytics, a New York-based financial analysis company, has pegged the destruction to southeast Texas, which includes the Rockport area where Harvey made landfall, as of mid-morning Aug. 29 at about $75 billion, covering homes, vehicles, businesses, infrastructure and lost economic output. Homes and vehicles alone in the region are expected to suffer about $30 billion to $40 billion in damage, according to an email from a Moody’s representative. Regional businesses could see up to $15 billion in damage.” Bizjournals.com [3] Quotes gathered from The Washington Post, Daily Mail UK, Caller Times, Houston Chronicle and personal interviews.

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

 

The Seeds of Summer

The sun occasionally shines. But the air has a nip today, the wind gusts, and clouds traverse watery blue skies. (In my head the entire cast of A Game of Thrones mutters, “Winter is coming ….”)

Summer’s about to end. I still hear crickets at night outside our windows, but how much longer? When their voices (legs?) go silent, it’s the final signal that autumn is taking over.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year. We went to the Stuttgarter Weindorf last weekend, the annual Wine Village. My meal included sauerkraut (a food I’ve come to love only since living in Germany) and homemade spätzle, the egg noodles that are a specialty of Baden-Württemberg. For dessert I ordered a plum tart, Zwetschgenkuchen. Uwe agreed with me: the Weindorf version tasted like Mama’s. My mother-in-law baked it often, with plums from the fruit trees in their yard. And there it was, a sense of nostalgia.

I’m listening to Radio Paradise as I write this post. They play Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, from his 1974 album Late for the Sky. Lyrics and melody from long ago weave into this afternoon.

Coins harvested from a money plant and 3 sand dollars

One of my last acts before returning to Germany from the USA two weeks ago was to harvest coins from the money plants in a friend’s garden. I love this description of money plants: “Also known as Honesty, of the genus Lunaria, silver dollar plants are named for their fruit, with pods dry to flat silverish discs about the size of — you guessed it! — silver dollars. They hail from Europe and were one of the first flowers grown in the dooryard gardens of the New World for their pods and edible roots.” [1] I’m harvesting fruit from American plants that were originally European flowers. I myself am a strange kind of transplant, with roots in both places now.

The coins of the flowers are tissue-thin, each containing several dark seeds. I’ll plant them in pots for my balcony, come springtime. What will grow? Will their seeds take root? But I like the uncertainty. These are the seeds of summer, and even as summer dies (don’t forget: “Winter is coming!…”) in them is a chance to grow something new. Numerous chances, actually.

As we enjoy summer’s bounty, reaping what was sown, it’s comforting to know they’ll carry over into seasons to come.

May your summer seeds bloom anew.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] www.gardeningknowhow.com

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

Flags

Bildergebnis für declaration of independence

I just made a visit back to the country of my birth. I had wondered what I’d find there, and quickly realized I’d had no idea about the changes. America has a new president and a new mood in the land. The violent protests at Charlottesville, Virginia occurred during my visit. I tried to follow the arguments for keeping the statue. Heritage. History. Cultural good.

I watched the debacle from the other side of the country. I’m no Southerner; what do I know? And then I met an old college buddy for dinner. He suggested a great Mexican place. It’s in Creswell, a little city just 8 miles outside of Eugene, Oregon. We parked in front of the restaurant, and as I stepped out a big pickup truck raced down the center of the street. Confederate flags flew defiantly from either window. The flags were huge, and meant to be noticed.

“Welcome to my country,” my buddy said. I’d like to say I promptly forgot about the sight, but I haven’t. Let’s be very clear here. The Confederate flag has nothing to do with the history of the Northwest. In the rest of the world, the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and white supremacists. The noise of those big flapping flags was a loud slap across the face, a F-You to normal values and behaviors. Donald Trump and others argue that removing flags and statues = removing history.

I climbed on a plane a week later and returned to Germany. Now, if any country lives past, present and future history simultaneously, it is Germany. No busts of Hitler remain. Germans don’t want or need them. Instead, stumbling stones called Stolpersteine mark the last homes of victims murdered in the Holocaust. [1] Outdoor installations like Berlin’s East Side Gallery and the Topography of Terror, or Leipzig’s “Runde Ecke” Memorial Museum and the Stasi Bunker Museum are just a few of the national monuments and exhibits that grapple with the tasks of explaining why Nazi Germany came into being, and dictatorships and fascism in general.

America’s Declaration of Independence states, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…. [2] As I ponder this truth, I exhale. I held my breath in distress during my visit. I’m told, and I read, that this is who we Americans were all along. Truculent. Armed and angry. Shouting. Unwilling to try to understand how people with views different from our own think, or feel. From this side of the Atlantic, history appears to be repeating itself. We’ve experienced this kind of thinking and acting before. It did not end well.

I hope that the opposite version wins out.

NOTES: [1] Go to my earlier posts Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones and Stolpersteine 2: A Stumbling Stone for Luisa Lepman  to read more about Stolpersteine. [2] http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

© Jadi Campbell 2017.

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

Going Home

Right after I first fell in love with the German man I married, my mother died. (No, the shock didn’t kill her.) Something I recognize but don’t dwell on is that my decision to move to Europe is tied to her death. Somehow the most important link to my life in America suddenly vanished. When I left the States I had a full if overly busy life with two jobs, one which gave me health care and retirement benefits, and close friends. But as I’ve written elsewhere [1], the siren call of a European man and European life style (make that Life and Style) won my heart.

I was surprised – and deeply moved – to discover that my friendships and attachment to places I love stayed alive, even with one or two years or even longer between visits. When I was a kid, my family had moved every few years thanks to my dad’s job with the Forest Service. I know how to make new friendships, and how to keep old ones. The international stuff is harder, but it’s do-able.

My annual visit to the US this year is bathed in wistfulness and memories. This is my first flight back without seeing my father Bobbo. For twenty-five years I believed that losing Mom broke the golden thread connecting me to my old life. Turns out, a less obvious thread – but one equally as golden – tied me to Bobbo. He became my main reason to return. With both parents gone now, my sisters have become guardians. They, and I, are the keepers of the memories.

I write down anecdotes, wanting to get the details right. I fret over the little stuff. Did we really never lock our doors living in Cazenovia? What year was the big snowstorm of our childhoods in Connecticut? I remember Mom sent Bobbo out to meet us  (my sisters and I trudging in rubber snowboots through drifts chest deep, on our way home from my friend Doris’s house). But how old were we? Was it all three of us? And what year was it? Mom and Bobbo would have known these details. My sisters and I have to puzzle them out, placing our recollections together in a common picture.

The particulars are fading. They curl like the edges of old family photographs.

But these pictures make up earlier lives. It’s why we treasure old camera footage, precious cassette tapes of voices long silent. When asked what you would take first if your home was about to go up in flames, people almost always say, the family photographs. Because gazing into the eyes of an old photo is really looking back into what we looked like, and what life felt like.

It’s a way of going home.

NOTES: [1] Go to my post J’aime la Vie to learn why I stayed in Europe! © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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

In Your Shoes

I watch the world from my little corner of things. Lately it feels small indeed. Some days, I am very sure I don’t want to leave it for any reason. Some days, I catch myself wondering how to put myself in someone else’s place.

But I’m a writer, which means I need the ability – the imagination – the empathy – to understand how other people think and feel.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression, according the old saying. But the Cherokee suggest, Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. That pithy statement brings back two memories. The first memory goes back decades. It was a time in my life marked by a strange loneliness. I walked around in a world of hurt with that loneliness as my only companion. I’m not kidding: it had a grip on me that just wouldn’t let go.

I went with some friends to a concert. Outside the theater, we ran into a man out of the past of one of my friends. He hugged his old sweetheart with glee and then shook our hands. As he held that hand he looked into each face, made eye contact and held it.

I dropped my gaze almost immediately, too seared inside by my intense depression to be able to maintain eye contact. I was shocked when he pointedly ignored me for the next twenty minutes that we sat and talked with him. He wouldn’t look at me or acknowledge a single thing I said. How in the world had I managed to offend a stranger? What the hell had I done wrong? As I sat there, suddenly I knew what had happened: the man was black, and the held hand and eye contact were his way of checking who was racist inside.

I was horrified to realize someone could think this of me, but too young and too caught up in my misery to say a word. And even more depressed by the idea that a perfect stranger had judged me – and found me wanting.

The second instance is more recent. Last year I met up with a group at a downtown brewery. Someone’s husband showed up later and took the seat next to me. I tried to make conversation, but he answered in short syllables. I couldn’t read him or his body language; he was “off” in some weird way. I chalked it up to the guy being an asshole or socially retarded and immediately forgot about it.

Months later I learned via the grapevine that this man was recovering from a medical condition that almost killed him. He’d been ill for over a year and was still struggling his way back to normal health and normal life. Boy, did that information make me revise my original opinion of him… and feel bad that I’d judged him so fast.

Will these quotes or experiences keep me from judging other people? Not always. But they do remind me to attempt to get all the facts (and to check that my facts are indeed facts).

Like the Cherokee say: You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I enjoy adding .…that way, you’re a mile away from them — and have their shoes.

And finally, this whole debate reminds me to keep my sense of humor. An ability to laugh at people’s absurd conclusions – and at myself and my own – has saved me more times than I can count. ***

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. ***I quite enjoy these quotes, too: A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. — Charles Spurgeon. Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. — Marilyn Monroe. Read more pithy quotes at:

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/shoes.html

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

J’aime la Vie

No, the hotel walls aren’t an optical illusion. They’re the colors of the French flag

I’m a girl who moved to the damp Pacific NW from upstate NY, where it can snow in April. When Uwe and I first fell in love, it was springtime in Europe. Flowers bloomed everywhere, the sun shone, we sat at outdoor tables in cafés holding hands… Mid-April and I’m in a t-shirt drinking wine at lunch with my sweetie ? Now this is the life!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was falling in love with a way of life, too.

It’s twenty-five years later and I’m still here. I remain in love with the way of life. But we joke that if the weather had been different I might not have been so quick to agree to stay. Some years it snows here in April, too. On April 18 & 19, it came down hard and then melted.

Possible snow showers are in this week’s forecast.

Snow flakes and a cloud bank coming our way

But two weeks ago we were in Paris and the temperature hit 22° C (71° F). Everywhere the trees and flower beds were in bloom, and yes, we sat at outdoor cafés…

We made a day trip to Amiens’ magnificent cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in France. I was excited to discover that Amiens contains one of the few labyrinths still in existence. [1]

While I wait for the weather to decide if it really is springtime, I’m enoying the photos from the City of Lights.

Paris remains the most satisfying of cities.

It doesn’t matter if I’m in Paris for the art, the food, the shops, or the French way of life. Paris appeals to all of my senses. Whenever I’m there I fall right back in love with being alive. J’aime la vie!

I lost my head for love. I wonder what his story was

NOTES: We took the direct fast train from Stuttgart. In 3 hours, we were in Paris. [1] Go to my earlier post Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres to read about another labyrinth and the glory that is Chartres. © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see  Uwe’s 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: 6

Yet another addition to my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals! … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. A rookery will hardly rook you.
  2. The cast cast out sand.
  3. The quivering quiver swayed and waited….
  4. Culture doesn’t care about culture.
  5. This lounge member lunged!
  6. The swarm swarmed my sandwich and I couldn’t eat it.

Answers:

Quiver, Snake Farm (Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute), Bangkok Thailand
  1. Rookery of gooney birds [1]
  2. Cast of crabs
  3. Quiver of cobras
  4. Culture of bacteria
  5. Lounge of lizards [2]
  6. Swarm of flies [3]
Lounge member, Khao Lak National Park, Thailand
Cast, Khao Lak, Thailand

NOTES: [1] Ah, the gooney bird… now better known as the albatross. This magnificent bird’s wingspan can reach 11 feet! Status: 19 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. Environmental Watch [2] This particular lizard is a waran. It was bigger than me! [3] Nothing compares to the Hell that is a swarm of flies in Australia’s Outback. Nothing. Go to my earlier posts Warning: Waran!! and The Outback for more on my encounters with these critters.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. 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.