Wash day

Amish, laundry line, wash line, wash day, Holmes County Ohio

Wash day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014

No matter the season or the weather, Monday is laundry day in Ohio’s Amish country. That’s a given, since the Amish take seriously the scriptural admonition to do no work on the Sabbath. Other than necessary farm chores, the Amish do not “work” on Sunday. Consequently, it’s normal to see freshly washed clothes flapping on a laundry line every Monday. Given the size of their families, averaging about five children, laundry is done other days as well. But you can always count on seeing laundry lines on Monday all around Amish country.

As is evident in this photo, the Amish have become quite adept at stringing the wash so that it does not interfere with children, animals and implements can move freely around the yard. In this case, a sturdy line was affixed to a pulley high on the barn siding. The line connects to a similar pulley on the wall of the outbuilding. This makes it very convenient to hang the laundry without having to endure the wintry elements of a typical northeast Ohio winter. The pulley moves so that clothes are hung one garment at a time.

The pastel pieces of laundry really stand out against the solid red background of the barn. “Wash day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Tis the season to remember the poor

snow scene, barn in snow

Christmas landscape. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to read to children.

As an elementary student, I feared being called on to read. I was in my glory when the instructions were to read silently. I had my immature reasons, most of which were cemented in fear of reading aloud, mispronouncing words and the ensuing public chastisement.

I got over it, but I still don’t like to read out loud in front of groups. There was an exception, however. When I became an elementary teacher, I enjoyed reading to my own students because they respectfully listened.

Often times I read right after the noon recess. Intermediate school children played hard. I wanted them to be ready for the afternoon lessons. I found reading timely, age-appropriate stories perfect for getting the students calmed and cooled down.

All they had to do was listen, even with their heads on their desks. Reading allowed me to refocus, too.

reading to children, reading

Reading to my granddaughter.

This time of year, I always read Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” I still read it to myself every year. It’s one of my Yuletide traditions.

The book is a classic with a timeless story of a changed heart and helping the poor. Set in 19th century London, Dickens beautifully played out the true meaning of Christmas through the tension he created between Ebenezer Scrooge and the other main characters in the book, mainly his nephew, Fred, and Scrooge’s desk clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I marveled at how well the students paid attention. After I finished reading for 10 or 15 minutes, the students always begged me to read on. Most wanted to hear what happened next. Some, of course, just wanted a further delay in doing the afternoon lessons.

I read and continue to read “A Christmas Carol” because it is incredible literature, very well written, and a commentary on the societal situations at the time. I also enjoy the spirit that the book imbibes. It clearly reflects the true meaning of Christmas.

reading, reading to grandkids

Reading to grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the opening scene, the stage is set. Two men enter Dickens’ accounting office to ask for a monetary donation to help the poor. Scrooge asks them if the poor houses and the workhouses have disappeared, knowing they have not.

Scrooge shoos the men out, and in the process lets in his happy-go-lucky nephew, Fred. He promptly invites Scrooge to a Christmas party, to which Scrooge imparts his legendary “Bah Humbug” retort. Fred leaves, disappointed but not discouraged.

Dickens’ classic still rings true today. As technologically advanced as we are today, as quickly as we can communicate with others, as good as we have it in our North American society, the poor are still among us.

I am thankful for all of the organizations, churches, businesses and individuals that give freely of their time and money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the less fortunate at Christmastime.

These kind and generous acts exemplify the Christmas spirit in action, much the way Dickens’ fabled tale does. Because I have read the story so many times, I know what’s coming. But because the story is so well written, still apropos, I keep reading “A Christmas Carol.” Its message to help the poor is intended to reach far beyond the holiday season.

If you haven’t ever read “A Christmas Carol,” I won’t spoil it for you. Read it. Your Christmas will be brighter for it, and maybe, just maybe, someone else’s life will be richer because you did.

food delivery, helping the poor

Helping the poor anytime of year any way possible is always appreciated. © Bruce Stambau gh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Country chapel

Chapel at Judy Gap, country church, chapel

Country chapel. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife and I drove for four hours in a steady to light rain from our home in Ohio on our way to Virginia’s Shenandoah’s Valley. We never saw the sun. We passed through Judy Gap, West Virginia, a low spot in the razorback ridge of the nearly vertical Tuscarora quartzite outcropping, and started up yet another mountain pass. As we rounded a curve, this country chapel stood, basking in the bright sunshine that had broken through the heavy cloud cover.

The contrast between the little church’s illuminated white paint, silver roof, and the dark clouds in the background made this week’s Photo of the Week selection easy. “Country chapel” is it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime

family, Christmas, family holiday gathering

The night before Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime.

Some people, however, just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m not talking about the giddy children anxiously anticipating what might lie beneath the festooned tree on Christmas morning.

Holiday commercials, promotions, and displays showered themselves upon us well before Halloween. Decorations and pre-holiday sale items sprouted in retail stores before autumn leaves had reached their peak.

Every year, the onslaught of Black Friday opens the floodgate to the Christmas shopping season. Besides profit, I wondered what the rush was all about. If there is a war on Christmas, surely this is it. The commercialization of a blessed, annual holiday demeans the true meaning of the season.

For me, Christmas is about waiting, not rushing. Life passes by in a flash the way it is. Why accelerate it all the more, especially at such a celebrative occasion? Let’s treasure this special time of year.

Christmas tree, Bruce Stambaugh

Christmas tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Christmas is about expectation. My childhood memories are filled with fondness for the days leading up to Christmas. Whether real or imagined, a certain inexplicable stir was in the air filling us with excited glee.

At school, crayon-colored paper ornaments, stars, wreaths, and candy canes replaced the finger painted turkeys on the classroom windows. We drew names for the gift exchange, one-dollar limit.

Children began combing through Sears catalogs to assist them in making their Christmas lists. Santa got them in plenty of time.

Those days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to just linger. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, it was as if time ticked in slow motion.

The excitement and anticipation of the holidays built with each passing day. Christmas was the mountaintop, and we started climbing the slope one step at a time only after Thanksgiving.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope

Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Our father enjoyed the holiday season as much or more than his five offspring. On a frigid night, Dad loaded us up in the family sedan to welcome Santa’s arrival at the end of the annual Christmas parade in the downtown blue-collar Ohio city where we lived.

We visited city centers in Akron, Canton and Cleveland more to window shop than Christmas shop. Customer friendly department stores with familiar names like Higbee’s, Polsky’s, and Kobacker’s all decorated their display windows with exquisite Christmas scenes.

Those stores are no more. A lot has changed since then.

Amid all of today’s commercials, online ads, daily deluges of discounts on everything from candles to Cadillac’s, it’s easy to get caught up in the race to Christmas. Doesn’t all of that actually run counter to the Advent season itself?

Historically, Christmas was all about hope, waiting, and watching. When the actual event occurred, only a few people recognized what had happened. Even then, most didn’t seem to fully comprehend.

Shepherds and kings from afar were struck with glorious awe at the event we now call Christmas. Others never even noticed

advent candles, Christmas decorations

Advent candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

because of their preconceived notions. As that story has been retold year after year, generation after generation, the characters involved in that first Christmas became the icons of how we now celebrate the season, Santa not included of course.

Christmas is a couple of weeks away. Will we rush our way to it, or will we wait and watch, and anticipate all the precious joys the day and the season have to offer?

Maybe it’s just my age. But I’m going to do my best to savor this season one day at a time. How about you?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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The eyes have it

smiling, happy, joy, eyes

The eyes have it. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I was fortunate to tag along with Penny Diggs and her daughter, Sandy Strouse, both of Seaford, VA, recently as they toured Ohio’s Amish country. Penny had won the Lehman’s Sweepstakes earlier in the year and chose to visit over Thanksgiving. Her prize included tours of the five businesses of the Best of Ohio’s Amish Country marketing coop group. Company owners led most of the tours. I took this photo in Kidron, OH at the conclusion of the tour of Lehman’s, led by founder, Jay Lehman, and Glenda Lehman Ervin, Vice President of Marketing for Lehman’s.

Penny didn’t leave her southern hospitality at home either. She was so excited and appreciative about winning that she brought gifts for some of Lehman’s staff.

Penny was describing all that she had experienced to an interviewer when I captured this moment. The expression in her eyes, plus the joy sparkling from her adoring daughter, was an easy pick for my Photo of the Week. “The eyes have it” indeed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Birthdays are too important not to celebrate

cake and ice cream, birthday party

Cake and ice cream are the traditional birthday party favorites. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Some people cringe when their birthday rolls around. They look at the annual demarcation as making them one year older. Indeed, it does. Conversely, I prefer to think of birthdays as the beginning of another new year of opportunities and wonder.

birthday candles, birthday cakes, cream sticks

Sometimes birthday cakes are not always “cakes.” © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

That approach may have come naturally. Ever since I can remember, birthdays have always been important in our family. My brothers, sisters and I joyfully anticipated our special day.

Our poor, already overworked mother would bake the cake we wanted. Even though chocolate was my favorite, I always asked for pineapple upside down cake. I had my reasons.

I loved pineapple. I also loved maraschino cherries. The citrus and syrupy sweet flavors melted into an irresistible caramelized topping that made the yellow cake extra moist and pleasing.

I have to confess that I also had a secret reason for requesting that cake. My other brothers and sisters didn’t like it as well as I did. You know what that meant? I downed more than my fair share of my cake all by myself.

Though our family was never rich, that didn’t mean we didn’t celebrate. It took love, not money, to make birthdays special. Every once in a while, each of us five kids was allowed to have a real birthday party. That meant a bunch of rapscallions whooping it up until the cake and ice cream were served.

birthday presents, celebration, Bruce Stambaugh

Birthday presents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Usually, though the parties were confined to the immediate family. The cake naturally served as dessert for the evening meal. After dinner, came the present.

What should have been an exciting time didn’t always turn out that way. For my 16th birthday, my folks got me a car, a toy car. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

That may have been the consequence of having a birthday sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always suspected that my parents bought what they could afford and thought I needed, needing to save for Christmas.

On the other hand, having been born in December made the birthday tradition at my elementary school pretty easy. Students were expected to bring a treat on their special day. I often handed out store bought Christmas sugar cookies, stars, wreathes, and candy canes sprinkled with red and green sugar, to the joy of my classmates.

Birthdays were equally greeted with cake and occasional parties in the home in which my wife was raised. One year a neighbor made her a cake so pretty the family froze it instead of eating it.

We tried to make our own children’s birthdays special, too. Neva pulled out all the stops to make or buy special cakes, often in the shapes of baby dolls or baseballs or whatever our son and daughter fancied. Of course, they had parties with friends, neighbors and relatives some years, too.

first birthday, birthday party

There is only one first birthday. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

This year I get to celebrate my birthday, never mind which one, with my three grandchildren. They live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a place that is lovely any season of the year.

I’m really looking forward to the time with the grandkids since my wife and I don’t get to see them regularly. Our home is west of the Appalachians, and theirs is set on the mountains’ eastern foothills.

I’m sure they will enjoy watching me blow out all those candles. I just have two birthday wishes though.

I hope my array of burning birthday candles doesn’t set off their fire alarm. And I hope they don’t like pineapple upside down cake.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Pair of Pileateds

Pileated Woodpeckers, Bruce Stambaugh, birding,

Pair of Pileateds. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

When I hear that distinctive, penetrating squawk outside, I usually grab my camera and head to a window at the rear of our home in Ohio’s Amish country. A Pileated Woodpecker, or maybe two, is brashly announcing its arrival. As a birder, I have been fortunate to have Ohio’s largest woodpeckers coming to the feeder regularly year-round. They especially frequent the feeder in the summer when the parents bring a juvenile to the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs from the backyard sugar maple tree.

I have had all three birds near the feeder at the same time, but never on the feeder simultaneously. As you can see, I can no longer say that.

When I glanced out a window recently after hearing that call, I was pleasantly surprised to see both the male and the female on the feeder opposite one another. Even as an average birder, I knew this was a very rare event. Most birders long to even see a Pileated Woodpecker, much less have them as a yard bird. Pileateds are normally shy birds that keep to the deep woods. Why this pair feels safe in visiting my backyard, I don’t know. I’m just glad they do. I know I was extremely fortunate to have both the male and the female together in the same photo.

“Pair of Pileateds” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Filed under Amish, birding, Ohio, Photo of the Week, photography