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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Holidays heighten reality of moving

sunrise, Amish farm

Dawn shown brightly as the holidays began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The holidays brought it all into perspective. We were celebrating a lot of “lasts” in Ohio. On the outside, I may have been smiling and laughing my way through the gayeties. Internally, my spirit struggled to stay afloat in a torrent of tears.

My wife Neva and I have spent our entire lives as residents of Ohio. I like to tell people that I was born and raised in Canton but that I grew up in Holmes Co. I think my wife feels the same way. We cherished our experiences in this peaceful, rural community. Nevertheless, we joyously anticipate the transplant to Virginia.

The topsy-turvy ride on the emotional roller coaster began last fall. I’m a big picture person, and I knew the May moving date would roll around sooner rather than later. Closure needed to come to my various community commitments. I also knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

As the year wound down, several last events were rapidly approaching. I thought about what I would be facing. The list of “lasts” was long and involved both personal and community commitments.

Reality soon hit hard. Long-held traditions were coming to an end.

chip and seal, Saltcreek Twp. Holmes Co. OH

Road improvement.

After nearly 20 years, I would attend my last township trustee meeting. I loved that aspect of community service. Along with that, I’d end my term on the East Holmes Fire and EMS board of directors, too. I enjoyed working with others to help people solve problems, and making the community even safer than it already was.

Serving in those two worlds brought me great satisfaction. But I knew they successfully could go on without me.

I feared the gatherings of family and those of friends who felt like family members would be the most difficult to face. On the one hand, I lovingly anticipated our get-togethers. On the other, it saddened me to know that this would be the last of its kind. I savored each moment and each situation.

The passing of parents on both sides had taught me that traditions of family gatherings could indeed change and still uplift. Grandchildren were now adults establishing their own lives and traditions. Adjustments had been happening for years already.

gag gifts

Another goofy gift.

The separate gatherings with my siblings and with my wife’s sister and her family were always special. But their lives were changing, too. It is simply the way life is.

Probably the most challenging tradition to end was with our dear lifetime friends Dave and Kate. Dave and I went to elementary, junior high, high school, and college together. He was my best man at our wedding.

Their children and ours were close in age and played together growing up. Many moons ago we started to meet for Christmas Eve breakfast. At first, we met at local restaurants. Then we began to meet in our homes, alternating years hosting the event.

We shared food, fellowship, goofy gifts, and the strongest love of life anyone could imagine. As time passed, the children became adults, began careers, established homes, and some had children of their own. However, this breakfast was so sacred even those who lived far away made it a priority to attend.

In his contemplative prayer before the meal, Dave’s voice broke with emotion in recognition of this poignant finality. The moment acknowledged our mutual appreciation for our revered personal and family friendships.

Dave’s heartfelt words comforted my crying soul. His grateful thanks had blessed much more than the morning’s food. Lifetime friends are like that.

true friends, Christmas Eve

Dave, Kate, Neva, and I posed at our last Christmas Eve breakfast.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, holidays, human interest, Ohio, photography, writing

Guiding Lights

Amelia River, harbor light, full moon

Guiding lights.

The setting full moon and a harbor light guided sailors on the Amelia River in Florida in the dimness of a misty dawn this January day.

“Guiding Lights” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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What’s retirement? I guess I’ll find out

Amish boys, harvesting corn

Working in the township that I love.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I started out the New Year the best way possible. I retired.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved working. I love working. Given that we are moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley next spring, it’s time for me to shift into a lower gear.

The transition from work to non-work has been a gradual one to be sure, much like how I transitioned my way into the wonderful world of work. Altogether, I’ve been working for more than 60 years.

cooper's hawk

I’m a hawk about work.

I started out at age eight selling seed packets door-to-door. I’ve been working ever since.

I delivered newspapers for two different urban publishers. Profits from those ventures were invested at the new McDonald’s built at the end of my route. A quarter bought me a cheeseburger and a Coke.

In high school, I pumped gas at Carl’s Garage in Canton, Ohio. Gasoline was 27 cents a gallon when I started, 31 cents when I graduated.

I was a Fuller Brush salesperson. That experience convinced me to go to college.

I attended night school for my first two years at university studying to be a journalist. During the day, I worked at a huge corporation where my father and grandfather spent most of their employment years. I learned from that experience not to work at a huge corporation unless I absolutely had to do so. I’m glad I never did.

I wove being a stringer for The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, in between my high school years and my college days. A stringer is a person who writes stories freelance. Ambitious stringers like me wrote for pennies on the word.

That connection, fortunately, led to an internship at The Plain Dealer. Remember what I said about working for a large corporation? I learned the same was true for a major metropolitan newspaper.

That’s how I ended up in Holmes Co., Ohio. First, I taught for nine years at Killbuck Elementary School. That saved my life, or maybe better stated, made my life. Folks welcomed me with open arms. I felt right at home.

I married, and my wife became a teacher, too. When our children arrived, Neva put her career on hold to do her very best at being both mom and wife. She got an A+ in both categories.

Winesburg Elementary School, Holmes Co. OH

Where I served as principal for 21 years.

After earning my Master’s degree, I became an elementary principal in the East Holmes Local School District. I also coordinated the district’s substantial federal programs. I learned to multi-task or else. Those were 21 marvelous years.

At age 51, I made yet another transition. I retired as an educator and served as a marketing and public relations guru for a few local businesses. Another job tied my education and marketing careers together.

I served as a Saltcreek Twp. Trustee for nearly 20 years, and with the impending move that community responsibility, too, has come to an end.

dog, granddaughter

Chasing the grandkids and the grand dogs will become my main job.

Now my work priorities have changed. The time has come to refocus my lagging energy and flagging memory to the top priorities in my life: my family and my writing. Retirement was necessary for that to occur. This blog will continue to feature my writing and photography, but will likely change name and format.

My wife and I will settle into our new setting near our grandkids in Virginia in May. I can let grandkids completely wear me out playing baseball, listening to concerts, and however else they choose to spend their time and parents’ money. We’ll be there cheering them on.

I’m looking forward to all the unknown adventures ahead. Just don’t wake me before 8 a.m.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, human interest, news, Ohio, photography, rural life, writing

Sharing the Sun

gulf fritillary, butterfly

Sharing the sun.

I was fortunate to catch this Gulf Fritillary as it landed on a flower in a nature preserve in northeastern Florida. The late afternoon sun brilliantly backlit the beautiful butterfly’s stunning orange and black pattern. Without being too poetic, the butterfly seemed to be sharing the sun with its absolute radiance.

I thought this photo served as a warm welcome into a New Year for everyone. “Sharing the Sun” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Read all the news that wasn’t in 2016

foggy sunrise

A foggy start to a foggy year.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This was another year filled with daily doings of drama, dopiness, and downright dismay. Likely due to all the year’s politicking, here are few that failed to make the headlines in 2016.

January 3 – Police in Gladwin Co., Michigan, investigated a hit and run car-buggy accident where the buggy ran over the car, and then took off after the horse spooked.

January 9 – The Downtown Soup Kitchen in Anchorage, Alaska served “Bullwinkle’s chili” for lunch when someone donated a road-killed moose.

February 3 – A research study found that residents of Oregon were the fastest talkers in the U.S, while folks in Mississippi spoke the slowest.

February 12 – Girl Scouts set up outside a San Francisco marijuana dispensary and sold 117 boxes of cookies.

March 4 – Because of another unusually warm winter, Alaska had to import 350 cubic yards of snow to start the annual Iditarod dog sled race.

March 16 – A report said Ohio had 1,300 farms with at least a century of family ownership.

April 26 – A man who stole a woman’s purse in Washington, D.C. was arrested after he jumped the fence at the White House to avoid police.

May 6 – The Social Security Administration announced that for the second year in a row, Emma and Noah were the most popular names in the U.S. for girls and boys.

May 25 – Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., reached a record low of being only 37 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

June 8 – A Vermont newspaper, the Hardwick Gazette, announced an essay contest with the winner becoming the owner of the paper.

June 14 – A Chinese national was fined $1,000 for leaving the walkway, stepping on the fragile travertine crust, and collecting thermal water at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

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July 7 – Scientists in Iceland painted a long stretch of asphalt bright colors to discourage Artic Terns from frequenting the highway that provided warmth and camouflage to them.

July 30 – Daredevil skydiver Luke Aikins, 42, jumped 25,000 ft. without a parachute into a net in Simi Valley, California for a new world’s record.

August 7 – Four men with knives accosted the head of security for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as he left the opening ceremonies.

September 8 – The Daldykan River in Russia turned blood red after passing a nickel mine and a metallurgical plant.

September 12 – The Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York reported that August continued a streak of 11 consecutive months that set new monthly record high temperatures.

October 1 – Having survived both World Wars and the Auschwitz concentration camp, Yisrael Kristal, 113, finally celebrated his bar mitzvah in southern Israel.

October 18 – A 52 – year-old Youngstown, Ohio man reported to police that at 5 a.m. a woman robbed him of his pants and underwear, but not his wallet or cell phone.

November 8 – The website WorldWideWebSize.com reported that there were at least 4.75 billion Internet pages.

November 27 – A group called Cards Against Humanity convinced thousands of people to donate more than $100,000 to pointlessly dig a hole in the ground, dubbed the Holiday Hole, over the period of several days as a Black Friday spoof.

December 4 – A Florida woman wandered for 12 hours in a park after taking a wrong turn in a half-marathon in Venice, Florida.

So there you have it. As you can see, the presidential election wasn’t the only silliness on the planet. Let’s all hope for a better 2017.

Mystical sunset on a mystical year.

Mystical sunset on a mystical year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Shunned

workhorse, Amish shunning

Shunned.

Shunning is a discipline method used by many of the Amish when a member of their church blatantly breaks with their established traditions. Leaving the church after having joined as an adult is the most common reason people are shunned. Shunning involves ignoring and avoiding the offending person.

I climbed a small embankment on this snowy day to photograph this beautiful workhorse. To my surprise, the horse turned its head away from me when it saw the camera. Now I know Amish humans don’t want their faces photographed. However, I never had a horse do this to me. This beauty watched me exit my vehicle. The horse then assumed this position as I photographed it. Once I put the camera down, the horse bolted away to join another workhorse in the snow-covered pasture.

“Shunned” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Inspired by the paradox of Christmas

stockings hung by fireplace

Ready for Christmas.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Make no mistake. The celebration of Christmas is a paradox. It always has been, and likely always will be.

I sensed that conundrum even as a child. Amid all of the glitz and glamor, the singing and shopping, all was not right with the world. Even in my limited adolescent life encounters, I saw extravagance and excess rub shoulders with poverty and despair.

As a young person, I had trouble reconciling such diametrically opposed situations. That didn’t prevent me from tearing into my presents, emptying my bulging stocking hanging by the fireplace, or enjoying the scrumptious meal our devoted mother had fixed.

We celebrated the season of sharing at elementary school, too. Before the classroom party, we often made simple decorations that I later volunteered to deliver to a local nursing home.

I’m not sure how much cheer the painted plaster ornaments or the looping strands of colorful paper chains gave the residents lying helpless in those hospital beds. The scene certainly left an indelible imprint on my young mind and soul.

rural church

Old church.

I took seriously the Christmas message of a different kind of king ruling my life. Growing up in the shadows of World War II and in the daily doings of the Cold War, I felt the chill of unsettled political consequences. I didn’t pretend to understand them.

I just knew my heart, mind, and soul were open to something better, more meaningful, more fulfilling to not only me but also those I encountered. The Christmas story awakened in me as it did the shepherds eons ago.

As I grew and more fully understood that precious bit of history mixed with lore, wonder, and interpretation, I more clearly saw the point of Christmas. Life is full of contradictions, uncertainty, disappointment, hypocrisy, and greed. My duty was to counter the bad with the good wherever and whenever I could.

That belief guided my life. It stirred my career in education. It thrust me into community service via fire and rescue and as an elected official. I enjoyed helping people, and still do. I receive great pleasure in assisting others in need.

I’m no saint, however. I know I made mistakes. I am human. But I did what I could, working with those around me to get things done, mostly for the benefit of others.

So here I am nearly seven decades on this earth, still applying, still pondering that Christmas story of long ago. In so doing, I loathe that others are denied the privileges that I enjoy simply because of their beliefs, their skin color, their economic status, and their dire situation only because of where they live.

Citizens in Aleppo, Syria, Frakes, Kentucky, and Millersburg, Ohio know what I mean. Folks everywhere are hurting, and all the Christmas hoopla doesn’t always heal their hurts. The avalanche of carols, merriment, and partying might even inflame those problems.

The holidays can depress people more than they already are. They miss loved ones who passed on too close to Christmas. I can identify with that, too, having lost family and friends during the holidays.

Christmas display

Christmas joy.

Christmas is a time to ponder. It is an eternal gift that is unwrapped daily. A genuine gift of Christmas celebrates while serving, gives while receiving. It corrects injustices.

If you know a person who is down-and-out for whatever reasons, send them a card. Call them. Visit them. Feel their pain. Hear their cries.

Those are but a few reasonable opportunities to explain and experience this paradoxical holiday we call Christmas.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, family, history, holidays, human interest, writing

Season of Lights

Advent candles

Advent candles.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have entered the time of our shortest days, our darkest time of year. We also approach two important religious holidays that happen to occur simultaneously this year. The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, begins on Saturday. The Christian celebration of Christmas is Sunday, with many activities taking place on Christmas Eve or Saturday.

The Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations each revolve around lights. Hanukkah has its menorah, Christmas its star of Bethlehem. Hanukkah celebrations run through New Year’s Day. Some Christians follow the 12 days of Christmas to January 6, also known as Old Christmas or Three Kings Day.

In both instances, the light shines brightly in December’s darkness. “Season of Lights” is my Photo of the Week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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