Splish, Splash!

Northern Cardinals in a birdbath.

I was fortunate to catch this pair of Northern Cardinals making good use of the birdbath in our backyard. A heater keeps the water from freezing so the backyard birds have access to water year-rouncd.

If you are not familiar with Bobby Darin’s hit rock and roll song, “Splish Splash,” click the link.

“Splish, Splash” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Zooming through the pandemic

Zooming with cousins.

Because of the needed health restrictions, we stayed close to home for much of 2020. That didn’t keep us from visiting with family and friends, however.

We recognized that the issued restrictions were and continue to be for our own safety. So, we faithfully followed them.

Like everyone else, we missed our everyday human interactions with friends and family most of all. Then we discovered a satisfactory no contact substitute.

We Zoomed.

Zoom is a program that works on devices like laptops, smartphones, and iPads to share face-to-face. Many businesses and educational institutions use it to operate during the pandemic.

We enjoyed being able to interact with folks and see them, too. We attended lectures, joined college classes, and watched concerts remotely on our computers.

Impressed, I downloaded Zoom onto my laptop, figured out how to set up a meeting, and off we went. Of course, Zoom isn’t the only remote option around. It just seemed the most logical and straightforward to use, especially with groups.

The executives of Zoom are no dummies. Your first session is free with no time limit. After that, the program shuts down after 40 minutes.

I’m no dummy, either. I bought a subscription when it was on sale, of course, and we haven’t looked back.

Zoom helped save our social life without violating the physical distancing requirements. We set up meetings with friends and family far and wide, and we Zoomed away.

We Zoomed at Thanksgiving with our son and his wife in New York. Our daughter and her family were with us, and we managed a holiday family photo with our granddaughter holding her uncle and aunt on her lap. That’s what laptops are for, right?

Before the COVID-19 travel restrictions, we had scheduled a reunion with my wife’s cousins and spouses. We kept the date and met remotely via Zoom.

Everyone liked it so well that we met again two weeks later. We’ve kept that up ever since, with everyone making it a priority. One cousin remarked that we have met together more via Zoom than we had in-person all the years previous. Technology transcends state boundaries or mountain ranges or hundreds of miles.

We heard stories new and old. We laughed and laughed, especially at the play-by-play of a herd of wayward dairy cows. In these dark times, we need as much laughter as we can get.

I even took free Zoom classes to sharpen my hosting skills. I was one of the hundreds in the remote classroom, yet I never left home to learn. I didn’t have to raise my hand to use the restroom, either.

We Zoomed with friends and family in Ohio, North Carolina, and locally, too. My wife contacted some college friends and set up a Zoom meeting. The ladies enjoyed it so much that they also now regularly met.

They chat as if they were in a dorm room. After the classmates’ last Zoom gathering, their laughter carried out of my office clear to the great room.

We have also Zoomed for doctor appointments, church meetings, small groups, worship, and community service meetings. We have visited history museums and taken virtual field trips via Zoom.

Though we use other options to communicate remotely, Zoom is our go-to tool. For the record, I don’t own Zoom stock, and Zoom didn’t endorse my commentary.

Pandemic or no pandemic, we are glad technology has permitted us to continue our lives and personal connections and still stay safe and sound.

Our Thanksgiving Day Zoom.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Horses in the snow

Horses in the snow.

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

Seeing horses was an everyday occurrence when my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio. We would see horses pass by our home on the busy county road daily pulling carts, buggies, and wagons.

The Amish still use workhorses, like the ones shown here, for their field work. Mechanical power was shunned in order to literally ground and keep the Amish connected to their earthy roots.

This photo shows a pair of workhorses amidst a wicked snowstorm in bitterly cold conditions. Since they could not find grass on which to graze, their owners would bring hay and feed to sustain them. In the distance at the bottom of the hill, the fallen snow had already been started to be cleared so Amish youngsters could skate on the thick ice.

“Horses in the Snow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

We’re leaving the lights on for you

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I are leaving the lights on for you. And, no, we’re not Motel 6.

The year-end holidays may be over, but our modest festive light display is still burning brightly. We began our celebrative decorating early and are letting our lights shine well into the New Year.

We are not crazy, nor do we own stock in our electricity company. We have our altruistic reasons for letting the lights continue to shine.

Lighting up our homes inside and out runs deep in our linage. My wife’s family always brightened their cozy farmhouse with tactful holiday flare. Her frugal farmer parents wanted to share their holiday spirit, too.

Although my exuberant father sometimes got a bit too flashy for my taste, my family was no different. Nevertheless, Dad’s heart was in the right place. He wanted to bring joy to all who passed by our little brick bungalow on our busy suburban corner.

Dad’s enthusiasm seemed to progress with each passing year, however. He loaded the corner evergreen with strings of those big-bulbed multi-colored lights. Later, he outlined the front porch, then still later erected dangly white lights that imitated icicles around the roof’s edges.

Fortunately, our mother, the artist, had control over the creative interior decorating. The decked-out Christmas tree always stood in front of the living room’s picture window. Christmas cards covered the inside of the old wooden front door, and the fireplace mantel always said Happy Holidays!

My wife and I have a 49-year tradition of lighting up our home inside and out for the holidays. We credit our parents for that creative itch.

Given the world’s state in 2020, Neva and I decided to get a jumpstart on our holiday decorating. We had the time and opportunity since we tried to follow the stay close to home pandemic guidelines. So, that precisely is what we did.

We didn’t try to imitate my late father by any stretch of the imagination. We simply did our usual holiday festooning, only jumpstarted the holiday decorating just before Thanksgiving. The traditional commencement for our holiday decorating was the day after.

Our Jenny tree, a memorial for a friend gone too soon.

Now with Christmas come and gone, we packed away most of the interior decorations. But drive by our modest ranch home at night, and you’ll discover the exterior lights still brightly burning. They will continue to do so for a while.

What is our motivation? We are taking the idea of letting your light shine seriously. And why not? With the pandemic and continued social polarization, society is still bewildered and dismayed nationally and globally. The recent coup attempt in our nation’s capital only added to the nationwide angst.

Some might view our extended light display as simple-minded. We’re alright with that. It’s just our way of expressing gratitude for a new year and new opportunities to make things right in the world.

We also know that some might think our actions foolish. Our lights will shine nevertheless.

The multiple strings of little white lights combined won’t generate much real warmth. Instead, by letting the lights continue to glow, we hope that their presence, their shining on, countering the cold darkness of the world, will, in some small ways, warm a few hearts.

Like our late parents, our sincere hope is that this humble display simply helps brighten any passersby’s souls on any given chilly winter’s eve. We’ve noticed that we aren’t alone. Others continue to keep their holiday lights on, too.

Whether it’s a single glowing candle in the front window or a lighting extravaganza, that light radiates joy. That’s a commodity all of us need now and always.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Evening Grosbeaks

I had heard that flocks of Evening Grosbeaks were in the Rockingham Co., Virginia area. However, I could never discover where they were showing up on a regular basis. Then a friend from Ohio, where we used to live, sent me a text with a photo of Evening Grosbeaks that were regular visitors at her brother’s feeders. He lived a little more than 10 miles from our home.

I called and received persmission to photograph the birds. The home owner, also a birder, said the birds usually fed in the morning between 7 and 9. My wife and I arrived around 8 a.m., and I drove slowly up the farm’s long driveway. As soon as I reached the back of the house where the feeders were, about 30 Evening Grosbeaks flew to trees not far away. I lowered the van windows and waited for them to return.

And return they did! I had both of my cameras along, and I clicked away. I had seen Evening Grosbeaks before, but never this close or this many. Normally, Evening Grosbeaks don’t venture this far south in the winter. But during irruption years, they appear almost randomly at various locations in the east and midwest. It is thought that an irruption occurs when the hatch rate of birds is high, but their usual food supplies can’t match the demand. Other species, like Snow Owls, also appear in irruptions. The Evening Grosbeaks were feeding on black oil sunflower seeds.

“Evening Grosbeaks” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Make 2021 a year full of grace

The sun rises on a new year. (Photo by R. Craig Stambaugh, used by permission.)

It’s a new year, and I couldn’t be happier. I imagine you are right there with me.

It’s all too easy to remember the bad of 2020. Canceled vacations. Remote learning. Lockdowns, unfamiliar yet necessary health recommendations. Ubiquitous death and illness. Record global temperatures, wildfires, and hurricanes. Street weddings, street violence, racial prejudice, delayed funerals, and sports without fans in the stands. Those were but a few examples of last year’s upside-down waywardness.

A pair of intertwining events dominated nearly every aspect of our lives here in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic enwrapped presidential election news as if it were kudzu strangling a forest. You know the caustic results.

We can remember the good of 2020. Puzzle swaps, mask-making, thank you parades, individual acts of random kindness, curbside pickup, quilting, contemplation, prayer, silence, self-reflection.

However, as nostalgic as I can be, I have no desire to even look back on 2020. Learn from it? Yes. Reminisce, regurgitate, or even reflect, no!

An empty Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH.

Still, we will need to start this new year right where we left off. The wane of 2020 doesn’t mean dropping the safety standards instituted to quell the pandemic. If anything, we will need to be even more diligent and obedient to health officials’ directives.

We cannot afford to repeat the interpersonal degradations that occurred all too often last year. If we are to put this horrific human behavior behind us, we must be better than that as individuals, families, communities, and as a nation. Vaccines can’t inoculate us against hate.

We all will be better off as individuals, families, communities, and society to spend our efforts, energies, and opportunities by looking ahead and looking around us. We all need to put aside our prejudices, preferences, and prerogatives and be better citizens than we were last year.

Approaching the new year with a new attitude is the only way all of our lives will improve. There are no exceptions.

A bouquet of grace shows caring and compassion.

It won’t be easy, but if we grant each other even a sliver of grace, the world will improve for you and me. We need to silence our shouting and institute our listening.

We need to put our egos aside and truly hear what others are saying. If we disagree with the words, tone, and content, we need to ask for clarification, understanding, and sometimes forgiveness.

Looking inside our souls, our own beliefs, our priorities are always the right places to start each day. Be gracious toward yourself, and then offer the same measure of mercy toward others. You might be surprised by both the results and the rewards.

That is how we live in grace. Grace requires that we move with elegance and live with courteous goodwill towards all, including ourselves. Being gracious toward others makes you vulnerable. Nevertheless, vulnerability is the highway to change.

The responsibility to be compassionate and resilient resides in all of us. Vulnerability drives both of those human qualities.

Vulnerability requires courage, patience, and strength. In the words of author Brene Brown, vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up, be seen, and have no control over winning or losing.

So in 2021, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be patient. Be generous, and the only way to do that is to be gracious and vulnerable. Do so in the right way at the right time with the right persons. When is that? Right now!

Can we be so bold, so humble, so passionate about compassion to answer in the affirmative? If we can, then 2021 will be a better year in every way than the previous one.

Quality family time serves as positive example of grace and compassion.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Happy New Year!

I chose this photo of two women watching the sunset on July 3, 2020 to represent the relief of 2020 finally coming to an end. We are universally happy to see this horrific year end. In my 73 years of living, I can’t remember a worse one. Let’s let the sun go down on 2020, and hope upon hope that 2021 will be a better year in every way.

I suspect, however, as President-elect Biden has already stated, that things will get worse before they get better. Of course, he was referring to the pandemic, but that may also play out in other aspects of our lives.

I hope and pray that the New Year will, in the long-run, indeed bring a better life for all of God’s global children. Enjoy the sunset, but cherish the sunrise.

“Happy New Year!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

News you may have missed in the year we want to forget

The sun can’t set soon enough on 2020.

I’m glad this year we would all like to forget is coming to an end.

I know we still have a few days to go in 2020. I figured summing it up early would help us get a head start on the coming New Year.

As is my custom, I recorded some of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines. Consequently, there is no mention of the U.S. presidential election.

January

1 – Soot from raging wildfires in Australia turned glaciers black in New Zealand

5 – The BBC reported that 4 million hectares or 9.9 million acres had burned in Australia’s New South Wales since July 1.

14 – NOAA reported that 2019 was the fifth consecutive year that the U.S. sustained 10 or more $1 billion weather and climate disasters, including fires, flooding, and hurricanes.

15 – NOAA and NASA jointly released a report that showed 2019 to be the second warmest globally since records have been kept in 1880.

16 – The San Francisco Giants became the first Major League Baseball team to hire a female as a full-time coach.

22 – It was so cold in southern Florida that the National Weather Service warned citizens to be alert for stunned iguanas falling from trees.

28 – A team of international scientists discovered four new species of sharks that use their fins to walk off the coast of northern Australia and New Guinea.

February

6 – The temperature in Antarctica reached a record high 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest the continent has ever been.

10 – A scientist from Ohio State University reported finding byproducts of the Industrial Revolution in the Himalaya Mountains deposited long before anyone ever climbed that high.

17 – A pair of armed men robbed a delivery man in Hong Kong of hundreds of rolls of toilet paper due to the coronavirus.

21 – A published study identified a bird found in permafrost in Siberia as a horned lark that lived 46,000 years ago.

24 – After taking an 88-year-old Rochester, Washington man to the hospital with a broken hip, three Emergency Medical Technicians returned to the home and finished mowing the yard where the victim had fallen.

29 – Junior Heaven Fitch became the first female in North Carolina to become a high school state wrestling champion when she defeated seven boys to win the 106-pound division.

March

10 – A driver in Slidell, Louisiana pulled over for license plates that expired in 1997 told police that he was too busy to get them renewed.

12 – Snopes.com reported that the average American uses about 100 rolls of toilet paper a year, with most of it manufactured in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

13 – The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. announced that all 16 fragments of scripture that they had on display were discovered to be modern forgeries based on independent research.

29 – Smash-and-grab robbers stole a priceless Van Gogh painting from a Dutch art museum.

April

2 – It was announced that a record 6.6 million people in the U.S. applied for unemployment benefits the previous week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 14 – The organizer of a challenge to sew 1 million face masks for workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis reported that globally volunteers had sewn 20 million masks.

17 – NASA satellite images showed a 30 percent drop in air pollution during the three-weeks of stay-at-home orders on the U.S. east coast.

21 – A team of scientists sailing off the coast of Western Australia discovered the longest animal ever recorded, a 150-foot gelatinous siphonophore.

May

1 – The U.S. Census Bureau reported that one-third of Americans already felt some depression and anxiety from the pandemic.

8 – The U.S. Labor Department reported April’s unemployment rate at 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.

15 – A new study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that planting and caring for a garden boosts people’s mood as much as walking and cycling.

18 – Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living U.S. veteran of World War II at 110-years-old, was featured on the cover of National Geographic Magazine.

19 – A study published in Nature Climate Change showed a sudden 17 percent drop globally in greenhouse gases during the lockdowns due to the coronavirus.

June

2 – Irene Triplett, the last person still receiving benefits for being a dependent of a Civil War soldier, died.

3 – Scientists discovered the cleanest water in the world in the Southern Ocean, the body of water that surrounds Antarctica.

5 – A large asteroid swept by the earth closer than the moon is to our planet, and it wasn’t detected until two days later.

9 – Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space as a NASA astronaut, became the first woman to reach the deepest part of the Mariana Trench.

11 – It was revealed that a Siberian power plant leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into area rivers on May 29, turning the waters red.

21 – The temperature in Verkhoyansk, Siberia reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a record high reading.

24 – After being furloughed from her job because of the pandemic, Michelle Brenner, used her $1,200 stimulus check to buy ingredients to make 1,200 pans of homemade lasagna, which she gave to first-responders, hospital workers, strangers, and single parents.

30 – A report stated that Americans annually shoot off a pound of fireworks for every adult.

July

1 – People in Prague, Czech Republic, one of the first countries to require mask-wearing, celebrated the end of coronavirus restrictions by dining at a 1,600-foot -long table that wound its way through streets and across the Charles Bridge.

9 – Tropical Storm Fay became the earliest “F-named” storm ever recorded when it formed along the eastern Atlantic Coast.

15 – A research study published in Lancet revealed that the global fertility rate had dropped to 2.7 children per family in 2017.

17 – Queen Elizabeth II knighted 100-year-old World War II veteran Tom Moore for raising more than $40 million for National Health Service charities by doing laps in his backyard garden.

26 – Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of the classic film “Gone with the Wind,” died at age 104 in Paris, France.

August

3 – Mildred “Gerri” Schappals, 102 of Nashua, New Hampshire, survived COVID-19 after having also survived a severe flu during the 1918 pandemic, in addition to two bouts of cancer

14 – A report said that globally people use 200 billion plastic bottles annually, and most are not recycled.

16 – The National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada issued the first-ever Firenado Warning for a tornado caused by a firestorm near Lake Tahoe, California.

20 – A scientific report showed that Greenland lost 586 billion tons of ice from an extremely warm 2019.

22 – Researchers found pesticides and industrial compounds, likely from the U.S., in the snow atop four high-elevation pristine sites on the Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard.

28 – Guinness World Records declared Julio Mora Tapia, 110, and Waldramina Quinteros, 105, of Quito, Ecuador, as the world’s oldest married couple.

September

1 – Three different airline pilots reported seeing a man in a jetpack flying near their planes as they landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

3 – The production of a new Batman movie was shut down when the actor playing batman tested positive for COVID-19.

7 – A 33-year-old Arkansas man found a 9.07-carat brown diamond at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park.

8 – The Pew Institute released a study that showed that for the first time since the Great Depression the majority of young adults ages 18-29 lived at home with their parents.

16 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that summer 2020 was the warmest ever.

October

2 – The Irish Supreme Court ruled that the sandwiches made by Subway contain too much sugar to be legally considered bread.

5 – British Lincolnshire Wildlife Centre had to separate five gray parrots because they kept swearing at visitors.

14 – NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported that globally September was the warmest on record.

23 – For the second time, a Dutch researcher correctly guessed the password for President Trump’s Twitter account as “maga2020.”

24 – Anika Cherbrolu, a 14-year-old freshman at Independence High School in Frisco, Texas, discovered a compound that can bind the coronavirus, inhibiting its ability to infect people to win the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and $25,000.

26 – NASA scientists announced that they had discovered water in the form of ice on the moon.

November

2 – The driver of a train was saved from injury near Rotterdam, Netherlands, when the front carriage crashed through an end section of the elevated rails and landed on the tail of a giant whale sculpture.

10 – The National Hurricane Center reported that 2020 was the most active year ever for named tropical storms and hurricanes with 29 named storms.

16 – A 71-year-old Florida man was arrested for grand theft when he strapped a downed steel power pole to the top of his car and drove away, hoping to sell the pole for scrap metal.

18 – A Saw-whet owl, that apparently traveled from upstate New York in a large Christmas tree to midtown Manhattan, was rescued from the pine tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City and taken to a wildlife rescue center.

30 – A report showed that online spending on Black Friday jumped 22 percent from last year.

December

7 – The International Olympic Committee announced that beginning at the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris it would include breakdancing as a medal competition.

8 – Swedish retailer Ikea announced that after 70 years it would no longer print its annual catalog, which was the world’s largest.

9 – A humpback whale made quite a splash in the Hudson River, breaching in front of the Statue of Liberty and other New York City icons.

Here’s hoping that the New Year will be better than the old one in every way. How can 2021 not be?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! Whether you gather in person or remotely or in some combination of both, may this Season of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring purpose, meaning, and grace to each of you.

Thank you so much for following along all these years. Christmas Blessings to one and all!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Make this COVID Christmas a reflective one

An Ohio Christmas past.

I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.

Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.

I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.

My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.

My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.

Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.

It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.

Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.

Christmas 1956.

As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.

Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.

When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.

The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.

Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.

However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020