The weather we have waited for is here

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The summer weather in Ohio’s Amish country has been superb so far. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If you’re like me, you’ve been enjoying this wonderful summer weather. It’s the weather we longed for last winter when the wind howled, snow slanted sideways, and the temperatures were ridiculous.

After the long winter came a cool, wet spring, and torrential rains in June. I’m glad the weather has changed for the better. We are grateful for the abundant rain. By the looks of it, so are the crops.

Most corn was well beyond “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Its deep green, leafy stalks are soaring in most places. A soft breeze enhances that vibrant corn aroma after a summer shower.

Where water from June’s heavy rains pooled in depressions, crops are struggling, or non-existent. Weather can be cruel after all. Weather can be magnanimous, too, like recent days.

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Rainbow following flash flooding. © Craig Stambaugh 2014.

After horrible lightning and flash flooding, the loveliest of rainbows appears just at sunset. Nature always has her way with us. Fortunately, she has been kind to us here. Historically, the hottest days of summer are already behind us.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be unusually warm again. But the chances for a long heat wave or extended dry period are pretty slim. It would be nice if the same could be said for the parched western states.

We rejoice here for the many white, puffy cloud days we have enjoyed with perfect temperatures day and night. After the persistent rains of spring and early summer, contractors, excavators, farmers, and any other outdoor workers dependent on fair weather have had their prayers answered.

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A typical summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Fields of oats turned from lime to gray-green to golden right on cue. Now squadrons of shocks stand guard for the showy corn against any unwanted predators. In other fields, combined oat stubble serves as a russet reminder of where the wind recently played with amber waves of grain.

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Rainbows appear in flowerbeds, too. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Summer’s hues, natural and human-induced, have been simply amazing. Besides the ripening crops, the flowerbeds seem to have invented new color combinations. Splashed against a blue, blue sky, they seem brighter still.

Foggy mornings wet the grass that has grown inches again overnight. The weather has been so nice that lawn care people can hardly keep up. Lush doesn’t even properly define our blessed verdant conditions.

The heirloom tomatoes flourished to the point of having to be trimmed back, least they topple their cages. The pleasant weather encourages them to counter attack by growing even bushier.

Evenings have been extraordinary. Friends ring campfires to rest, relax and celebrate nothing more than the fine company they are with. Families and friends picnic. Children and adults play ball, or just rock away the time on the front porch. That’s the way summer evenings should be shared.

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Another blazing summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I can think of only one word to describe recent sunsets, spectacular. One evening’s fiery show outdoes the next. And when I think the rich, warm colors will cool, they blush all the more.

Whenever I venture outside on these blissful days, my mind wanders back when the neighborhood kids spent the entire day outside, save returning to home base for sustenance.

After supper, we were back at it. If we didn’t have a ball game, we’d play hide and seek or rode our bicycles until dark. Then we’d lie on our backs in the cool grass and watch the stars.

It’s glorious not to have to rely on dreamy memories this summer. The weather we have longed for is here. Let’s enjoy it to the max.

summercropsbybrucestambaugh

Tan oats contrast nicely against a rich, green field of corn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Red barn

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Red barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I had just finished photographing some early evening scenes along the Lake Erie shore in Lakeside, Ohio, when I came upon this brilliant red barn right next to the Historic Lakeside Hotel. Its beauty stunned me. How the sun highlighted the barn’s red color and white trim also grabbed my attention. I loved how the green leaves of the tree limb intersected and nicely contrasted with the bright red. More than that, my wife and I have vacationed every summer at Lakeside Chautauqua since 1987, and I couldn’t recall ever seeing this barn.

I have thousands of photos from this beautiful gem of a town. The surprise of finding this barn, once seemingly hidden, but revealed by the combination of fresh paint and good timing made it my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Enjoying summer’s homegrown bounty

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Black raspberries. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Is there a healthier, more palatable compound word in the English language than homegrown? Not when it comes to fruits and vegetables there isn’t.

For someone whose daily diet requires at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, summer’s bounty is heaven on a plate. When most of what you eat is homegrown, it tastes even better.

That’s probably due in part to the freshness. There’s also great gratification in keeping a vegetable garden. Gardening takes patience and faith, along with the joy of hard work and the hope of happy harvests. A little gardening wisdom doesn’t hurt either.

Since the 1988 drought, we gave up general gardening, and have specialized in growing heirloom tomatoes. Once they begin to ripen, I relish the chance of picking a plump, juicy tomato from the sinewy vines. I can eat it right there or enjoy a plate of fresh slices drizzled in olive oil, and sprinkled with basil and a little salt and pepper.

Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy the many seasonal options available to us from local produce markets selling fresh-picked offerings. We’ve already marched through the strawberry fields together, enjoying the succulent berries. They seemed extra sweet this year.

Early sweet corn is already beginning to show up. I’ll wait for August’s Incredible cobs myself. It’s a culinary delight to hold a steaming, tender ear of cooked or grilled sweet corn, melted butter dripping onto the plate. I savor that first corn taste of the season, lightly salted of course.

Summer has many other garden gifts to give. Plump, sweet-tart black raspberries add rich color, pleasing texture, and tangy taste whether plopped on cereal, eaten with milk or enjoyed right off the bush.

Crisp green beans and glossy ivory onions beg to be adored and ready to accent any main dinner course. Huge heads of lettuce, spinach, cabbage and leafy Swiss chard boldly display different shades of green.

Red beets, radishes with bity white centers, prickly pickles, yellowy summer squash, and purple plums enhance the fruitful paint pallet. Redskin potatoes, luscious watermelons, yummy cantaloupe, peppers that run the complete color chart can’t be forgotten either.

I guess I gained this vegetarian affection for all things homegrown early in life. My folks kept a large garden a couple of miles from our suburban home. We children helped till, hoe, plant and pick the wide variety of veggies Mom and Dad chose to grow.

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Colorful cauliflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I enjoy the rainbow of colors of the fruits and vegetables as much as their wondrous tastes, whether eaten raw, grilled, cooked, steamed or baked. It’s all good, as long as the onions and peaches don’t co-mingle on the grill.

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide healthy and nutritional meals, along with a natural dose of flavorful fiber. Those old enough to appreciate a 1957 Chevy will understand what I mean by that.

Fruit and veggie colors, aromas, and flavors brighten up our lives right through October or the first frost here in Ohio. Of course, Ohioans aren’t the only folks invigorated by produce.

People all around the world, rural, suburban and urban alike, appreciate the many benefits of homegrown food. I’ve seen productive gardens on the mountainsides of Honduras, and in the front yards of brownstones in Brooklyn, New York.

Whether you grow or buy homegrown, the multi-sensory rewards are the same. I’m grateful the fruit and vegetable harvests have begun in earnest.

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My wife works hard to keep her flower gardens vibrant and beautiful. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Two beauties

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Two beauties. © Bruce Stambaugh

I felt fortunate to capture this moment between our daughter-in-law and our granddaughter. They were reviewing “spy pictures,” as the four-year-old referred to them, of Uncle Nathan, our son. Apparently, Maren convinced her aunt to use her cell phone to photograph our son and her two brothers building a Lego toy. The focused concentration on the polka dotted iPhone, coupled with their relaxed poses, really made this photo pop. The backlit blond hair didn’t hurt either.

“Two beauties” is the Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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A generation of giants and rock stars

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Betty Findley and her two sons, Bill and Dave, at Betty’s 100th birthday party. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood in the background with my camera capturing the unfolding, tender moments. I did so out of appreciation and gratitude for this gracious, gregarious family.

I had known Betty Findley and her late husband, Bud, for a long time. We lived just blocks away from one another when we were all much younger. Now here we were celebrating her 100th birthday in a different place and century.

Her son, Dave, shared a timeline of his mother’s life with the assembled friends and family. It was ironic that her birth came as World War I, the war to end all wars, began.

If ever there was a peaceable woman, it was Betty. She loved her family, community and church, and expressed that love in faithful graciousness. Betty was and is equally loved and respected in return.

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Maren, left, and her two brothers came 350 miles to celebrate with Betty. Quinn and Elise, two of Betty’s great grandchildren, joined in the fun. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

When our granddaughter heard that our friend was turning 100-years old, Maren asked my wife if Betty was a giant. Her four-year-old logic reckoned that the older you get, the bigger you become physically.

There is a kernel of metaphoric truth in that innocent comparison. If you hit your 100th birthday, you most certainly are a giant. Not too many people live that long and get to see the world change the way Betty has.

In reality, age has a way of humbling you physically. Notwithstanding, Betty may not be a Goliath in stature, but she sure has been by nature. Her son tearfully ticked off her fruitful lifelong achievements.

Betty canned and baked and sewed, and was a favorite room mother in my elementary school days. She made the best heart-shaped sugar cookies a kid could conjure.

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Surrounded by family, Betty readied to blow out the birthday candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Betty does exhibit one minor flaw, however. She has always been a faithful follower of the Cleveland Indians, and still watches them on television.

The morning of Betty’s birthday bash, I heard another shocking descriptor. The speaker at church called Paul Roth, another senior citizen friend, a rock star. Everyone in attendance chuckled, but nodded their heads in agreement. I think modest Paul enjoyed the flattering hyperbole, too.

The speaker said her two sons referred to him that way out of admiration and reverence. After all, he was the doctor who brought them into the world and treated them for childhood illnesses and bumps and bruises. It was most appropriate that this kind, humble country doctor be elevated to Mick Jagger status.

I concurred with that assessment. Dr. Roth, as he was most commonly addressed, had brought our daughter and son into the world as well. He treated patients of all ages kindly and compassionately, even making house calls. He usually charged less than he should have, too.

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Paul Roth shared with a friend at his church. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

He was the consummate small town doctor. In his many years of service to the community, Paul, too, was and is a gentle giant.

Our granddaughter’s literal pronouncement spoke volumes. Persons born early in the 20th Century have experienced major transformations in their lifetime, the wars, the Great Depression, the herculean jumps in communications and transportation, the advances in medicine, and so much more.

To honor these two titans is to also celebrate all other productive individuals of what Tom Brokaw has labeled “The Greatest Generation.” Their work ethic, devotion to family, friends, community and country set the solid foundation for society to advance, as it never had before.

I bet you know genuine giants and rock stars, too. Let’s celebrate their magnanimous contributions to the world while we can.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Summer sunset

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Summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My eight-year-old grandson summed it up pretty well when he saw the sunset before I did.

“Wow!” Davis said. “That sunset is beautiful!” I had to agree, and scurried for my camera. Of course, I took several shots, but finally settled on this one. The gray-green coloration of the oats in the foreground provides a nice visual balance to the fiery show in the summer evening sky above our Amish neighbor’s farmstead.

“Summer sunset” is the photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Food and photographs create great conversations

latesummerbybrucestambaugh

A typical late summer scene in eastern Holmes County, Ohio. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recently, I had the privilege of sharing with two different senior groups. They had asked to see a few of the many photographs I had taken.

Most of the shots I shared were captured within 10 miles of our home. I wanted to show that, though travel to exotic locales is nice, we don’t have to go far to see the real beauty in any season. That may be true no matter where you live.

I think I was preaching to the choir. Most in attendance were seasoned citizens of the kingdom, people who had lived through hard times, much more difficult than whatever the Great Recession has thrown our way.

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A Baltimore Oriole and a Red-headed Woodpecker shared opposite sides of the same backyard feeder. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

You could see the joy in their eyes, hear the love of life in their queries and comments, and sense their genial concern and caring for all creation. These were good folks for sure.

Colorful landscapes dotted with farm animals and farmhouses predominated the slideshow. I threw in some family photos and shots of birds that frequent my backyard feeders for a change of pace.

I have to confess that I did it for effect, too. The close-ups of Eastern Bluebirds sipping at the partially frozen waterfalls of my garden pond, and the shocking size of the Pileated Woodpeckers that frequent the suet feeders created a few muffled sidebars.

The presentations were dominated by slides of our lovely rural geography. Some of the same scenes were shown during different seasons. An Amish farmstead was featured in winter and summer from the same vantage point.

The photograph that meant the most to me wasn’t a beautiful bird or a lovely landscape. It was the shot of my late parents at their 65th wedding celebration. It perfectly summed up my parents in one click of the camera shutter.

Dad wore a suit and tie, his usual attire for any formal social gathering, be it a family Christmas dinner or an anniversary remembrance like this occasion. An outdoorsman through and through, his pheasant patterned tie reflected his life’s priorities.

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Mom was elegantly natural in her pose, too. Her eyes beamed what she longed to say but could not due to her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. She had long before expressed her appreciation for being in the world through her lovely landscapes and her abundant patience and compassion as a mother, wife, and artist.

I was sure to credit my folks for my passion to see things creatively and appreciatively. Dad gave me the love of nature, and Mom the ability to see it through an artistic perspective.

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Female Pileated Woodpecker. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I never could paint the way Mom did, though she tried to teach me once. After several attempts, Mom kindly suggested I stick with writing and photography. And so I have.

I recognize that there are far better writers and photographers than me. Still, I am passionate about both, enjoying the attentiveness and inquisitiveness of people like these marvelous seniors.

My guess is their values and perspectives closely matched those of my folks. Familiar with several people in both audiences, I know they have and continue to share their gifts in their family, church and community.

These gathered folks formed their lives around the old adage, “It’s better to give than receive.” They gave me an opportunity to share, and graciously tolerated my lame attempts at humor during my presentation.

In both settings, these generous folks extended their warm hospitality around food. Food and friendship generate the best conversations.

That was genuine sharing, no camera needed.

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The view in fall from our backyard. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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