Why are you thankful?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Thanksgiving is upon us. This year in the United States, the annual day of thankfulness arrives as early as possible, November 22. Our Canadian friends to the north celebrated their Thanksgiving on October 6.

It is only right and proper to pause as a people to reflect and give thanks. We can be grateful for so many things in our abundant living.

A friend on social media posted a list of items for which he was thankful. Given his life of service to others, I wasn’t surprised at how simple and ordinary the conveniences were that he listed.

Sometimes it’s the familiar, everyday activities and routines that are most meaningful to us. With my friend’s permission, here is his top 10 list of thankfulness:

1. Drinkable tap water
2. Flush toilets
3. Working septic system
4. Washer and dryer
5. Electricity in the home
6. Clothes to wear
7. A house to live in
8. Shoes
9. Floors that aren’t dirt
10. Ample food

Keeping things simple helps us think beyond ourselves, consider the plight of others who don’t have even those most basic necessities. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 780 million people globally do not have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion lack improved sanitation. That’s billion with a B. Think about those numbers for a second.

Food, water, and shelter are the basic essentials for living. My friend set a good example. He recognized just how fortunate we are to be able to go most anywhere in our country and turn the tap and be able to drink the water without worry of contamination. I realize that folks in Flint, MI would differ with this comment. As dangerous as their situation is, I’m glad it is an exception.

And when it comes to waste products, I’ve always respected folks who make their living dealing with the muck of life. Farmers, public utility workers, garbage and waste haulers all have tough jobs. I am thankful for them.

Granddaughter's new shoesBefore we moved from Ohio to Virginia, Neva and I significantly reduced our individual wardrobes. I had too many shoes and too many shirts and pants I seldom wore. Off they went to the thrift store. I’ve been to locales where decent clothing was hard to come by, if only for economic reasons. I, too, am thankful for affordable clothing and footwear.

Housing is indeed another luxury we too often take for granted. Many moons ago I encountered students I had in my classroom who lived in a house with dirt floors. I had a hard time getting over that when we were more than halfway through the 20th century.

Now here we are well into the 21st century, and poverty and inadequate housing are still rampant in our society and globally. Neva and I do what we can to help the homeless through trusted charitable agencies. I am also thankful for the home we share together, and for my gracious wife’s willingness to use her gift of hospitality.

Before the guests arrived.

Finally on the thankfulness list is food. Food is a universal need and reason for jubilation. Food takes center stage at Thanksgiving. Roast turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, salad and pies all bedeck Thanksgiving Day tables in Canada and the U.S. alike.

When we say grace over this Thanksgiving Day meal, I’ll also be mindful of those who would love to be gathered there with us. Perhaps we should ensure that happens by inviting others not generally in our family circles.

When you think about it, doesn’t my friend’s list about cover what Thanksgiving is all about? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Divergence

Massanutten Mt., Shenandoah NP, stratocumulus clouds,

Divergency.


When I left home shortly after 8 a.m., the sky was cloudy. The forecast was sunny. I wondered how “they” could get it so wrong. I was heading to Shenandoah National Park at the easternmost section of Rockingham Co., Virginia. By the time I got to the east side of Harrisonburg, skies to the northwest were crystal clear. I had hope that the day wouldn’t be gloomy after all.

By the time I arrived on Skyline Drive, the road that winds its way along the park’s spine, I could see that it was just a matter of time that the sky would clear. When I reached the critical point of the layer of stratocumulus clouds on the left and clear sky on the right, I had to take a picture. I felt fortunate to capture the meteorological phenomenon that scientists call divergence. That is, the air mass with the clouds was moving away in a horizontal direction from the air mass without clouds.

I used the Southern Pine as the marker of this weather DMZ. Massanutten Mountain is just to the right of the pine tree.

“Divergence” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Finding gratitude where least expected

Rockingham Co. VA, rural farms

Where some of the local food is grown and where some of the food pantry clients live.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life never ceases to amaze me. In my long years of living, I’ve learned that gratitude often emerges in the least likely of places.

My wife and I were asked to volunteer one evening a month at a local food pantry near downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Friendly City is home to 55,000 people in the center of the Shenandoah Valley. The pantry operates once a week, providing foodstuffs for those who don’t have enough income even to buy basic grocery necessities.

Participants are only permitted to visit the food pantry once per month. Individual records are kept to ensure the rules are followed. That has never been a problem, however.

tomatoesbybrucestambaugh

Locally grown produce like these tomatoes is often donated to the food pantry.

The pantry receives its supplies from two sources. A regional food bank provides federal government USDA commodities, while local supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers donate their surplus food to the pantry. A few farmers even grow extra produce to help supply in-season fresh foods.

Those who depend on the food pantry for their sustenance must qualify by income for the USDA items. Pantry participants receive the locally provided food without qualification. The pantry offers a few healthcare products, too.

Neva and I have settled into our roles of interviewers. Our job has multiple responsibilities. We have to ask many invasive, personal questions before we can check off the USDA food preference list with the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to write down $0 for a monthly income. It’s a humbling experience both for the clients and us.

With all the “workers wanted” signs around, a logical question might be, “Why don’t these people get a job?” The answer to this question is two-fold. Many of the clients do have jobs. Their meager incomes and family sizes qualify them for the federal subsidies.

William Penn quotation.

From my observations and interactions, those who receive aid and don’t work are not employable for a host of obvious reasons. Some stay at home with small children. Some are senior citizens whose productive working days are long past. Some are disabled with no financial support of any kind. You get the picture.

Amid the discomfiting officiousness, one quality consistently shines from month to month, person to person. Everyone we encounter expresses gratitude for any help provided. Some are effusive while others say a quiet thank you.

As humbling and perhaps even embarrassing as the experience is for the clients, they are all thankful. Without being prompted, a few share heartbreak stories with us. They seem glad to have someone with whom to converse. We listen intently and thank them for sharing. A hardy handshake sometimes ensues.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels entitled to this food. Just the opposite is true. The clients’ glow of exuberant gratitude outshines any hint of disparity.

The joyous expressions and cheery thankfulness for whatever assistance they receive more than reward us for our collective efforts. Every client is especially appreciative if the list indeed includes healthcare items like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste.

It takes courage to admit you need help. But if your child is hungry and the cupboard is bare, courtesy, gratitude, and thankfulness vanquish pride.

A disconcerting trend has developed, however. Each time we serve at the food pantry the number of clients tends to increase. Nevertheless, humility, smiles, and expressions of relief also grow exponentially.

Who would have thought that we would find and receive abundant gratitude from those who can’t afford daily food? Who would have imagined that serving in such a manner would reward us with humankind’s most heartfelt thanks?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Autumn on the Farm

farmstead, Rockingham Co. VA, Shenandoah Valley

Autumn on the Farm.

The morning sun broke through the layer of cumulus clouds to perfectly highlight this hillside farm west of Harrisonburg in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Even though they were past their peek coloration, the sun-drenched buildings of the farmstead nicely accentuated the leaves of the mixed hardwoods.

“Autumn on the Farm” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA

Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Aviary Sunbathing

Shenandoah Valley, Rockingham Co.

Absorbing the sun.

At first sight, I wasn’t sure what was under the blazing maple tree. From a quarter of a mile away, I couldn’t tell if the figure was a person or a bird.

Fortunately, I found a route that paralleled the scene and drove slowly down the narrow country road. I clicked a shot with my zoom lens fully extended. A quick review of the picture confirmed my suspicions. I had captured a Great Blue Heron basking in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. But why at this exact spot? Was there water nearby?

I pulled my vehicle forward and found the answers to my questions. A small stream, which I later learned was Cub Run, meandered behind and below the bird and alongside a set of railroad tracks. This gorgeous bird couldn’t have picked a more lovely spot to absorb the welcomed sunrays.

“Aviary Sunbathing” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Facing unfounded fears brings unexpected rewards

Compton Gap Trail, Shenandoah NP

Our lunchtime view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to hike. Planting myself in a hiker’s paradise has afforded me unlimited opportunities to satisfy my love for hiking. In reality, it hasn’t worked out quite the way I anticipated.

First of all, I have too many interests and too little time to fulfill all of them. Family responsibilities top my priority list, especially in the fall when our grandchildren seem to be their busiest. Hiking takes a backseat so I can help with the grandkids.

When I do get a chance to head to the many trails of Shenandoah National Park, I usually go alone. I enjoy the oneness with nature and the precious personal time to think and explore at my own pace.

However, that lone ranger approach to hiking changed when I discovered a peer-hiking group. When an outing on a trail I had not yet tackled was offered, I wanted to go. However, I hesitated for somewhat personal reasons.

I wasn’t sure just how fast the group would walk. Neither did I know if they would take as many breaks as I was sure to need. At my age, any hike that begins early morning can be problematic. In the words of Forest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

Despite my doubts, I sent the confirmation email that I would join the group. I was greatly relieved when I got the reply.

The leader welcomed me into the hiking circle. He volunteered that the trek would accommodate all the hikers’ needs. In other words, the group would stop as often as necessary. I was glad about that news, but now a new set of insecurities surfaced.

I didn’t know how many people would be in the group. I didn’t know their level of hiking expertise. Nevertheless, I didn’t let my petty, irrational fears deter me, and prepared for the hike.

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I loaded my hiking gear, the hiking poles I had purchased but never used, my camera, binoculars, and a light lunch. I dressed in several layers of clothing to peel off as the day warmed.

Our group was small, only five, all of us retired with various levels of hiking proficiency. The other four hikers were as pleasant as could be.

We each enjoyed the camaraderie that ensued along the way. Our revered leader knew all aspects of the park, its botany, geology, and history. His genial personality served him well.

The day was crisp, the forest quiet except for an occasional gusty wind that rustled the still green leaves. I was surprised at how very few birds I saw or heard.

We followed the Appalachian Trail up the ridge on sometimes rocky, steep terrain, sometimes mostly flat, well-worn earth. Short grasses and fallen leaves bordered the trail.

We ate our lunch standing and sitting on ancient igneous outcroppings overlooking the sweeping valley below. Signal Knob, the northern-most point of the Massanutten Range, stood across the way overlooking the old-aged Shenandoah River.

After lunch, we crossed back over the AT, scrambled around and down another rocky point to view a rare exposure of basalt columnar jointing. Seeing the hexagonal formation dispelled once and for all any remnants of my silly fears.

It had been a glorious day hiking with newfound friends. Naturally, all of my fears proved to be unfounded.

In this age of fear-mongering and extreme reactionary phobias, it was a timely reminder for me. Trivial or not, tell your fears to take a hike before they walk all over you.

South Fork Shenandoah River, Shenandoah NP

Overlook at Shenandoah River State Park.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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The Embalming House

McGaheysville VA, Rockingham Co. VA, Halloween

The Embalming House.

With Halloween season in full swing and the day itself less than a week away, I wanted to join the fun. As we continue to explore our new Virginia haunts (pun intended), we keep encountering fantastic scenery and intriguing architecture all across Rockingham Co.

On our latest exploration, we visited the burg of McGaheysville (pronounced MaGakiesville) southeast of Harrisonburg. We found a cute little shop, some Civil War era farm homes and a doctor’s office/residence combination. A historical placard indicated that the building across the road from the doctor’s place was the embalming house. I thought that was both convenient and a subtle inference of the former physician’s medical prowess.

“The Embalming House” wasn’t much to look at, but it was more than appropriate for my Halloween Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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The older I get, the faster the days go

sunrise, Harrisonburg VA

A new day begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Just the other day I remarked to my daughter about how fast the days seem to go. I didn’t have to wonder why.

Logic would dictate that just the opposite would be the case in retirement. Weren’t the golden years meant to be slower, more relaxed than when we were younger?

I thought back to my full-time working life when days started early and ran late. Whether in my first career as an educator for 30 years or in my second gig in marketing, a wide variety of activities filled the days.

Add in the agenda of our active, growing children, community commitments, recreation, organizational meetings, and each day just disappeared. There never seemed to be enough time to complete all that was on my daily plate.

As you might imagine, teaching was demanding. I was bone tired by the time Friday rolled around. When I became an administrator, the routines changed, but my duties often extended long after school had been dismissed both for the day and for the year. Mindless meetings had much to do with that dynamic.

Not much changed in my marketing career. I could always count on surprises that suddenly altered my plans for the day.

When I said goodbye to all of that a couple of years ago, I figured my pace would slow down. Instead, life’s speed seems to have accelerated in retirement.

youth soccer, Harrisonburg VA

Goal by our granddaughter.

My daughter concurred with me about the quickness of the days. I had to wonder, however, about the look she gave me. Was it a sympathetic gaze into what the future held for her, or was it a look of astonishment at my declaration?

Perhaps there was a third option, one of appreciation for the assistance her mother and I provide to her family. We were in the heart of the volleyball season, and Nana and I do our parts to help make our daughter’s household run as smoothly as possible.

Carrie is the women’s coach at Eastern Mennonite University, and her husband is the chief financial officer for a rapidly growing start-up company. Professional duties pack their daily schedules.

So we do what we can to help. Nana makes meals, tidies up our house and theirs, and does laundry, shopping, and so much more. I have my honey-do lists.

sproodle, dogs

Our granddog.

Sometimes I care for our granddog. Sometimes I pick up a grandchild at school and transport them to another venue. Sometimes I serve as the landscaper, and sometimes I help with homework, even if it is math and in Spanish.

All of this interaction helps make the days disappear one right after the other. Of course, it could be that our energy level at this age isn’t what it was in our younger years. Then we chauffeured our son and daughter from school to soccer and piano practices to church youth group in addition to all of our other responsibilities.

Whatever the reasons for time flying, Nana and I prioritize our time and efforts into doing the tasks at hand. In between, we rest, relax, exercise, have lunch on the porch together, pray and meditate each in our individual way.

In truth, we expected all the busyness. We moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for just such assignments. It’s our new life calling.

We didn’t realize how very fast these golden times would go, however. In these autumn days of our lives, the time just seems to evaporate. I for one couldn’t be happier.

valley, Ohio's Amish country

In the evening of our lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Fragrant Shadow

Fragrant Shadow

My wife and I have enjoyed observing the various migrating butterflies that frequent the flowering butterfly bushes in our backyard. We had the three shrubs planted this spring. The fragrant, white blossoms have attracted several varieties of butterflies.

I especially enjoyed watching this Common Buckeye flit from flower to flower. I liked how the sun cast a shadow of the flower onto the Buckeye as it enjoyed the sweetness of the blossom.

“Fragrant Shadow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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