Leadership models are still needed today

bald eagle

Our iconic national symbol.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As a child, I liked February for very practical reasons. The shortest month of the year offered three celebrations, Valentines Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and Washington’s Birthday all in the space of 10 days.

Feb. 12, 14, and 22 were all important dates for us elementary scholars 60 years ago. Madison Avenue marketing gurus had yet to invent, and politicians endorse Presidents Day. Valentines Day was the favorite of the students of course.

George Washington

George Washington.

With their imposing portraits hanging in each classroom, the first president and the 16th clearly carried more importance. As primary school children, we were taught to admire and imitate the values those two distinguished leaders modeled so magnanimously.

Of course, much of what we learned then was more lore than fact. The stories weren’t even alternative facts. The young lives of these two critical leaders had become romanticized over time.

Washington and Lincoln both revered honesty. Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story lingers like a fairy tale. Lincoln prided himself on honesty, too. His presidential campaign slogan was simply “Honest Abe.”

Washington was and is admired for his stalwart, steady, stable leadership in tumultuous, tenuous times of our young country. Lincoln, of course, perilously held the country together during its darkest hours, the Civil War.

In the late 1960s, the federal holidays were legislated to fall on Mondays creating long weekends for employees and mega marketing sales campaigns for retailers of every kind. Consequently, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in Feb. That means his Feb. 22 birthdate can never be celebrated on the actual birthday.

Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln.

The dynamic leadership of Washington and Lincoln both formed and saved our country. Each man cast aside personal time and gains for the country’s common good. They were humble, honest leaders who enabled our nation to reach far beyond anything they could have imagined.

Clearly, there was much more to George Washington than repenting from chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth. He was a resolute military and civilian leader whose personal stability laid the foundation for the United States of America. He rightly earned “The Father of Our Country” mantra.

Lincoln was perhaps a more complex figure, and viewed differently, depending on which part of the country you lived in and what individuals believed at the time and believe now. Some states still don’t honor Lincoln’s birthday.

Nevertheless, it was Lincoln’s absolute resolve and courage that saw our divided nation bend but not break. In the end, his steadfast pronouncements cost him his life. Though he was known to ponder and doubt, he never wavered from the way the united country should go.

Though he would have rather been back on the farm at Mt. Vernon, Washington fulfilled his leadership calling. But he was not arrogant in thinking he could lead alone. Washington valued the opinion of others and collaborated with Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson to name a few, men whose viewpoints often differed with his.

Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address perfectly summed up his attitude and approach to the vision of how the country should and must operate to survive. His famous words are emblazoned on our national soul: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Both presidents modeled righteousness and humility through their values, principles, and character. Those are still valid, desired characteristics for all citizenry, and especially for today’s leaders.

wheat shocks, grain fields

Amber fields of grain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under history, holidays, human interest, news, writing

Wispy Clouds

cirrus clouds, beach

Wispy sky.

These wispy cirrus clouds caught my attention as I walked along Main Beach on Amelia Island, FL.

“Wispy Clouds” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, weather

Be kind to yourself

Shenandoah National Park, mountain view

Be kind to yourself. Enjoy each view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I can be my own worst enemy. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that admission.

I hate to be wrong. Even if I make the simplest mistake, I can be extra hard on myself. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.

I went birding, and the bird I had heard but not seen suddenly popped out of the brush and began preening in the warm morning sun. It was the perfect opportunity for the photo I had been seeking. Only in stalking the bird, the dangling straps of my camera and my binoculars became intertwined. By the time I untangled them, the bird had disappeared.

eastern phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

I drove into town to buy three items, but I left the short grocery list on the counter at home thinking I could easily remember what to get. I relied on my sharp memory and growling stomach and purchased 10 items. When I returned home, I discovered I forgot to buy milk, the most important item on the list.

Another time I pulled into a fast food restaurant’s drive-through, placed my order, drove to the pickup window, paid for my food, and drove away with a satisfied smile on my face. Halfway home I realized I hadn’t waited for the server to hand me my food.

Before visiting my trio of grandchildren in Virginia last fall, I thought I would surprise them for Halloween. I bought three perfectly plump pumpkins that would make great Jack-O-Lanterns. I set the bright orange pumpkins on the counter in the garage while I finished packing my vehicle for the trip.

When I arrived at their house on a beautiful sunny afternoon, my heart sank. I couldn’t find the pumpkins anyplace until I returned home several days later. The pumpkins all sat in a row on the counter where I had put them.

Civil War reenactment, living history

Playing the part.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. We sometimes do strange things. Depending on your makeup, some folks just shrug off such silliness, while others can’t forgive themselves for being so inept. I leaned to the latter for most of my life.

I’ll confess that I have spent much too much effort in my lifetime mentally beating myself up over such foolishness. I mumble to myself about my stupidity. I call myself names I wouldn’t dare say out loud.

As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed the goofy mistakes have increased exponentially. I attribute that to the aging process. Several of my peers have verified my suspicions, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

The other seniors have related similar lapses. They, too, show disgust at their ineptness of leaving luggage by the door, losing cell phones, wondering where their glasses are when they are on their head.

I felt great relief in hearing them tell their sadly funny stories and enjoying their hearty laughter at their own forgetfulness. I took my cue from their more appropriate responses.

I realized self-chastisement was a waste of time. Negative self-talk wasn’t helping the situation. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just human nature. I feel much better laughing off my self-induced comedy of errors.

If you’ve been forgetful lately, just know that you are not alone. So be kind to yourself when you do err. Let it go. Laugh a little. Have fun with the miscue, with those you’re with, and with life.

Be kind to yourself. By the way, has anyone seen my car keys?

sunrise, Lakeside OH, Lake Erie

A good way to be kind to yourself.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, holidays, human interest, writing

Illumination

thunderstorm, Atlantic Ocean, rainbow

Illumination.

Under the watchful eye of the waxing February moon, a rogue thunderstorm glided over the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida/Georgia line. The slanting rays of the early evening sun beautifully illuminated the billowing cumulonimbus cloud and created a colorful rainbow in the process. Of course, the moon, too, reflected the sun’s warm light.

“Illumination” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel, weather

Everyone needs an enjoyable day

sunrise, Atlantic Ocean

Sacred moment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In my dreams, this is how I pictured retirement. Only, this particular day wasn’t a dream. It was a blissful reality. From sunup to sundown and beyond, the day had been uplifting in every way.

After considerable effort, the sun finally broke through the usual cloudbank that persists over the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream. I embraced dawn’s golden glow that shimmered in the quiet sea from the horizon to the shore.

I photographed the sunrise, and after a simple breakfast, we said our goodbyes to friends who had been visiting for a few days. They needed to return to their new home in North Carolina to finish settling in.

fairbanks bed and breakfast, Fernandina Beach FL

The Fairbanks House.

Then it was off to tour Amelia Island’s historic lighthouse with friends from Millersburg, Ohio, Carl and Judy. Their daughter was a student in my wife’s very first kindergarten class. The couple had secured a condo one floor above us for a month.

We were more than happy to show them the island. They enjoyed similar perks of the barrier island. The Amelia Island Lighthouse was just one of them.

The guided tour was so full that another van had to be used to shuttle the visitors to the sheltered icon. The all white lighthouse with a black top stands nearly hidden on a bluff in a residential neighborhood three-quarters of a mile west of the ocean beyond the beach, beyond the towering sand dunes, and beyond Egans Creek Greenway.

At night, the nautical light flashes its salient signal above the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, across the dormant, brown reeds of the salt marsh, across the protected dunes at Ft. Clinch State Park, across rooftops of condominiums and beach houses, and finally the beach itself. The lighthouse beacon brings personal surety to seafarers relying on impersonal electronic guidance.

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After the lighthouse history lesson, we gawked up the monument’s spiraling granite steps and snapped a few photos. We headed for an early lunch at a local eatery that boasted offering the best burgers on the island. Their milkshakes are pretty good, too, especially when consumed amid congenial company while sitting outside in the warming winter sun. This was Florida after all.

We strolled the streets of this historic town with our friends, viewing its quaint cottages, stately mansions, and inviting bed and breakfasts. Wherever we walked, people were out working, raking dried leaves and fallen palm frawns, scraping peeling paint, patching roofs. When you live in a tropical climate, property repair is non-stop.

We relaxed in the laziness of the afternoon and took in the sunset down by the river in front of the bocce ball court. The pesky no-see-ums, gnat-sized insects that you can’t see but feel their fierce bites, couldn’t deter our enjoyment of the orange and gold, pink and blue living art exhibit.

After a light supper, Neva and I completed the fulfilling day with a quiet evening together watching college basketball on television. She multi-tasks with jigsaw and crossword puzzles while I just enjoy the game.

You don’t have to be retired or be in some exotic locale to have similar experiences. Only look all around you. Examine the place where you are. Listen to the people you are with.

Work or play, engage in the activities at hand. Appreciate, absorb, inhale, touch, and improve your particular environment wherever you may be, whatever your life circumstances.

Why? Because. Every now and then, everyone needs a day like this day.

Amelia River FL, sunset

Nature’s art show.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under friends, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

The Blue Hour

Usina Bridge, St. Augustine FL, night shot

The Blue Hour.

A friend, an expert photographer, led a photo shoot to St. Augustine, FL for the last evening of the Night of Lights. Each year the city adorns itself with white lights for the holiday season through January.

Though the rest of the town was beautiful, I was particularly taken by the lighted Francis and Mary Usina Bridge over the Tolomato River that fronts the historic city. My friend loaned me his tripod, enabling me to shoot this photo. It was my first serious attempt at nighttime photography.

The blue hour is the time after sunset that the sky remains blue before it suddenly turns to all black. Even with a layer of clouds, the blue showed through.

“The Blue Hour” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, travel, weather

Believe it or not, it takes work to retire

breakfast on the beach

Snowbird breakfast.

By Bruce Stambaugh

After all these years of work, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. It takes extra effort to learn to retire.

I officially retired at the turn of the New Year. I intentionally timed that major life event to coincide with the calendar and our annual winter trip to northeastern Florida. It just seemed logical.

After having worked my entire life, I decided to phase out of employment gradually. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what retirement would look and feel like. My hope was that this snowbird time would help me reorient my routines and priorities.

My wife and I are still relatively new at this snowbird business. We are downright raw rookies at retirement. Parking yourself on the ocean’s doorstep has served as an excellent approach to finding our way through this new, uncharted territory.

I knew this particular geographic location well enough from our previous visits. Neva and I have wintered on Amelia Island, Florida’s northeastern most barrier island, for the last few years.

Cutting the ties to my part-time jobs would be the challenge. On our prior trips, I especially kept a close eye on events at home out of necessity. I daily maintained the social network page of the coop-marketing group I facilitated.

Ohio's Amish country, snow, Amish farm

Meanwhile back home.

I had township trustee issues and responsibilities to hash out from time to time. If snow was in the Northeast Ohio forecast, I couldn’t sleep well even though I was 800 miles away from home. I kept wondering how the road crew was doing.

Occasionally, residents would contact me to report a problem. Despite sketchy cell phone service, I’d have to try to communicate with the other trustees or our workers. Sometimes multiple calls were needed just to complete a single conversation.

Now that I was retired, all that was history. Those responsibilities disappeared. I will admit, though, that I have done a lot of the same old wondering this first month off the job. Old habits die hard.

I still checked the weather, both for home and for Florida. I did so more for comparison than anything else. I wanted to see what friends and family back home were enduring.

black skimmer, breaking waves

Magic in motion.

For our part, I focused my attention on the tide charts and when the sun rose and set. That way I could time my morning and evening photo shoots and plan our strolls on the beach. Of course, when you’ve camped yourself where the ocean is your front yard, alluring tactile distractions abound.

It’s much more enjoyable to walk at low tide than high. Shorebirds linger by the tidal pools and sandbars probing and fishing for food. The moist, flatter, firmer sand made for easier walking, too.

I also watched the weather forecasts to plan day trips to nearby state parks for events like outdoor lectures, photography walks, and plain old exercise. Saturday mornings were reserved for attending the fabulous farmers market where we purchased locally grown produce, homemade goodies, and fresh, locally caught shrimp.

I know. It sounds like a tough life.

I hope I don’t come across as rubbing it in. I just wanted to assure you that life on this side of retirement seems to be working out, excuse the pun, perfectly.

Neva and I will enjoy this life of bliss while we can. Once we return home, this version of retirement will come to an abrupt end.

So far it’s been hard work learning to retire. But I think we’ll survive.

shoreline fishing, Atlantic Ocean

Mauve morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, photography, weather

Backlit Great Egret

great egret, Egans Creek Greenway FL

Backlit Great Egret.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Backlit Great Egret” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, birds, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography

Sharing life stories created a watershed moment

snowbirds, ocean view

Our ocean view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were four snowbird couples, all in our 60s and 70s, gathered for dessert and discussion. We all vacationed in the same Florida condominium building. We had a lot of tales to tell, and plenty of time and opportunity to relate them.

I wasn’t quite sure how the evening would go, given that not all of the couples knew one another. I need not have worried. The ubiquitous congeniality and spontaneity to share kept the conversation moving smoothly, freely, flawlessly. Amtrak never ran so well.

These had been lives well lived, not arrogantly or haughtily, but for family, community, with purpose and genuine, earthy pleasure. Farming does that to you. Most had some rooted connection, directly or indirectly, to the land in their upbringing.

Holmes Co. OH farm

Farming roots.

The group was geographically diverse, too. Bermuda, England, Ontario, North Carolina, and Ohio were each well represented.

After dessert, the stories just flowed. We all sat around a plain rectangular table. The chatter rolled as naturally as the crashing waves on the beach that served as our winter front yard.

Despite our various backgrounds, we had a lot in common. We were all grandparents, each with two children. Surprisingly, the conversation centered on subjects other than the grandchildren and their parents.

Rather, reminiscing of careers, successes, failures, misadventures, heroics, and pure silliness filled the evening. I marveled at the wisdom that surrounded me. Not once did the current global politics enter the confab. That was an unspoken blessing.

morel mushroom

Morel mushroom.

Instead, true stories of hidden treasures, broken dreams, personal confrontations, changing priorities, and even morel mushrooms dominated the banter. Of course, smartphones did fact checking.

The comfort level with one another was sublime, not altogether surprising given the characters in the room. Years of experience from office managers, teachers, cooks, explorers, antique enthusiasts, carpenters, and community volunteers were present and accounted for.

Unfettered wisdom oozed from each participant. Despite some of the type A personalities in attendance, no braggadocios emerged. It was an equal-opportunity session, and all took advantage of the necessary give and take of listening and responding. I felt honored to be a member of this temporary social club.

We had originated from backgrounds that spanned rural, tropical, transient, suburban. That only enriched our camaraderie and the conversation. One refreshing tale led to another.

colorful parasail

An uplifting and colorful conversation.

Though no clergy was among us, it was pretty clear we were in the midst of a sacred moment that lasted more than three hours. There was no agenda, no order of service, no liturgy, no sermon, only immediate trust, mutual respect, adamant admiration, and unending inquisitiveness. The gathering was church defined.

Amid all the world’s problems, I found peace and hope in these kind folks and their faithfulness despite humanity’s all too frequent calamitous interactions. Our friends’ faith rang loud and clear, always, always in humble, gentle, kind voices.

Some of these individuals had just met, and yet here they were affirming and absorbing and encouraging one another without bias or inquisition. I was grateful to be counted among them. I felt safe, secure, sure, loved, appreciated, and appreciative.

In truth, the beachfront location was the magnet that drew us all together in this pleasant place. The genuine fellowship was the glue that cemented our budding friendships.

Humanity too often measures historical events in earth-shattering happenings. For me, this evening of pure, pleasurable fellowship instead modeled the way we all should go. It was a moving watershed moment that pulled me into this new, transformative year.

dawn, colorful sunrise

The dawning of a new day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under friends, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, writing

Where sunrise meets low tide

low tide, sunrise, dawn, Fernandina Beach FL

Where sunrise meets low tide.

Timing and perspective can combine to create an attractive setting to photograph. Such was the case when the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean at low tide on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL. The interworking of dawns colors and the patterns and textures sculpted by the retreating tide produced this fascinating picture.

Framing the scene at a downward angle to the beach placed the colorful sunrise at the very top of the photo. Even the usually unwelcome contrail reflected in tidal pool pointed to the rising sun. “Where sunrise meets low tide” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel