Looking for answers to some of life’s perplexing questions

By Bruce Stambaugh

From little on up, I have always been an inquisitive person.

One of the neighbor ladies from my suburban rustbelt neighborhood where I grew up must have noticed it. She called me “The Beacon Journal,” in honor of her favorite daily newspaper I presumed.

Seems I was always asking questions. If something happened in the neighborhood, I had to know all the assorted details, whether they were any of my business or not. They usually weren’t.

That inquisitiveness probably had a lot to do with my decision to major in journalism in college. Enjoying writing helped, too.

I still have the same inquiring mind today. The need to know is paramount from my perspective.

No matter what I’m doing, I seem to always be thinking of questions. Oftentimes they are totally unrelated to what I’m doing, which should come as no surprise either.

That mental process happens a lot when I’m on long trips, whether flying or driving. A big rig passes me and I wonder what the trucker is hauling. I see a jet cruise overhead and I wonder what were its points of departure and destination.

I ponder both the ludicrous and the serious stuff of life. In fact, I think about questions so much I started a list. I figured if I shared them with you I just might get some answers.

In no particular order, here are some of the significant questions conjured by my motivated mind.

• Once you pull those folded up canvas chairs out of their covers, does anyone ever put the chairs back in the covers again?

• How is it that you can put four pairs of socks in the laundry and when you retrieve the wash from the dryer you have nine socks and only six match?

• How far back should you stay from a car with the vanity plates H1N1?

• How many chocolate covered raisin clusters equal a serving of fruit?

• Why does it feel colder when it is raining and 36 degrees than it does when it is snowing and 26 degrees?

• Why do referees at high school basketball games wear jackets during the pregame warm-up when the gym is already stifling?

• Why don’t men know how to replace an empty toilet paper holder?

• Why is it that when you are driving with the windshield wipers going and they streak, the streak is always at eye level?

• Why do most people use the top plug in an electrical receptacle first, which blocks the use of the bottom plug?

• Do fish sleep?

• Why is the Big Ten Conference called that when it has 11 schools in its league?

• How can there be such a thing as “live video?”

• Even when they can see the road is inundated, why do drivers daringly head right into flooded roadways, often to be stranded and eventually rescued?

• Why did the Cleveland Indians trade Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn?

• Why do rocks that are naturally imbedded in soil find their way to the surface while rocks that you set in flowerbeds gradually sink?

I suppose I could have Googled for the answers to these pressing questions. But I’d rather hear from you. I look forward to seeing your answers, I think.

For this marriage, the key to success is no secret

Bruce and Neva Stambaugh
Bruce and Neva Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Where do you begin to share about being married to the same person for four decades? After all, my wife and I have been through a lot together during those 40 years.

Perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning. And what a beginning it was.

Crazy as it sounds, nine days after we met we were engaged, although we did wait a month to make it public. We didn’t want people to think we were totally nuts. We were married nine months later. When our two children were old enough to understand, we advised them against using our expeditious courtship as a model to matrimony.

I can remember our wedding day as if it were yesterday. I was so scared that I didn’t even notice that the farm field next to the church had been sprayed with liquid manure that afternoon.

Before the receiving line had formed, I got a taste of what married life really would be like. I accidentally stepped on the train of my wife’s wedding dress, and immediately had her finger in my face. I think that’s when I started to smell the manure.

Our son once asked me what was the secret to the success of our marriage. I simply told him that his mother and I have had no secrets between us. What happens happens. Good or bad, helpful or harmful, “for richer or for poorer,” it’s all out there.

Like most marriages, it hasn’t always been pretty or blissful. No marriage is perfect, including ours. Sure, we air things out, but in so doing try to always maintain our love, respect and admiration for one another. We may have raised our voices to one another from time to time, but never a hand.

We haven’t come this far together on our own either. Family and friends have graciously helped us along the way. Our parents were excellent models of wedded commitment.

From them we learned not only to serve others, but to also enjoy each opportunity that would come along. We try our best to humbly help wherever and whenever we can.

Another plus for us is that Neva and I have a lot in common. We love to travel, enjoy quietness, sunsets, nature, and sharing a meal with guests. Hospitality is one of Neva’s greatest gifts.

Of course, we each do our own things, too. She reads. I write. She quilts. I bird.

That might be another element that cemented our marital longevity. We wisely allow each other our own space and time, without a hint of jealousy or suspicion. If you truly love someone, trust is everything. Break it, and you find yourself back at square one or worse.

For me, the best part of being married for 40 years is just that. We have been married for 40 years. Our marriage has been an investment in one another, our wonderful children and their spouses, our grandchildren, our families, the community, friends, and our church family. We have been blessed by their contributions to us, too.

Where do you end sharing about being married to the same person for 40 years? For that answer, it’s probably best to go back to the beginning, again: “Until death do us part.”

Anticipating spring from on high

buggyandsnowbybrucestambaugh
Horse and buggies braved the weather no matter what it was.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know about you, but I am more than ready for spring. It’s been a long, long winter.

True, this year residents of Ohio’s Amish Country avoided the huge snowstorms of last winter, and overall we didn’t compile as much snowfall as last year. Instead, ice, as in freezing rain ice, predominated the snows. The nasty combination made the lesser snow amounts just as slippery and difficult to maneuver in as the previous year’s foot-deep accumulations.

Ice sparkles by Bruce Stambaugh
Ice sparkled in the morning sun.

Last fall, my wife and I made a major decision that we thought prudent. We had our home’s original windows and spouting replaced. Since the house was built in the mid-70s, both were overdue to be changed.

After all, building materials had greatly improved in the last three decades. Windows were manufactured to be tighter and more energy efficient. Spouting became seamless long ago. It was time we caught up.

With our rural property full of trees, and a dense deciduous thicket not far to the south and west, leaves and pine needles tended to clog our gutters and downspouts year-round. It’s amazing how much debris gets blown around long after the trees have dropped their foliage.

If a storm was forecast during any season, I would trudge to the garden shed, take down the eight-foot wooden ladder, grab the stepladder, and head to the roof to clean the gutters and downspouts. I used the bigger ladder to access the garage roof, and leaned the stepladder next to the stubby brick chimney to climb onto the house roof.

I really didn’t mind this labor-intensive exercise. Heights never bothered me either. I enjoyed my periodic roof excursions. The views were great. I could see the neighbor’s faded white barn a mile to the east. Belgian workhorses and chestnut buggy horses intermingled in the pasture with the Holsteins.

The north afforded the best scenery, a panoramic landscape of hills and valleys miles away. I peered over roof’s edge at the back of the house to spy on the school of goldfish swimming carefree in the little garden pond.

As I aged over the 31 years in this home however, I realized my balance wasn’t what it used to be. With safety in mind, I decided to quit the climbing and go for the new gutters with leaf guards.

The guards installed were u-shaped channels with tiny perforations that would allow the water to enter but nothing else, not even the thin, burnt orange pine needles. I was more than contented with this overdue addition until winter’s initial ice storm.

Icecycles by Bruce Stambaugh
Ice cycles hanging from the spouting were the first signs of potential problems.

The first glaze of ice sealed the pinholes of the gutter guards. With the freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw cycles of the storms, thick layers of ice easily accumulated on the new gutters. Ice cycles dangled the full length of the gutters on the front and back of the house.

When I realized what was happening, out came the ladders again, and back up on the treacherous roof I went. Given the series of storms with their mixed bag of precipitation that we experienced, I kept handy the rubber mallet and metal scraper needed to break loose the stubborn ice.

Icy gutters by Bruce Stambaugh
Ice clogged the gutters more than once this winter.

If for no other reason than saving my own neck, I for one will be glad when the vernal equinox says goodbye to winter and hello to spring. Just to be safe, I probably won’t put the deicing tools away until June. It is Ohio after all.

Boiling sap produces more than just maple syrup

Sugar shack by Bruce Stambaugh
Gary Miller's sugar shack is nestled against the woods where the maple sap is obtained.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When Gary Miller of rural Millersburg, Ohio got the idea to make his own maple syrup a couple of years ago, he never envisioned where that thought would take him.

“Two years ago,” Miller said, “I was standing in the rain under an umbrella boiling sap in an assortment of old used pans on my grill.”

This year, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of some close friends and family members, Miller has his very own sugar shack. And when the sap is running, his shack and the surrounding woods are very busy places indeed.

The shack itself was donated to Miller. A friend, Paul Conrad, had an old shed he told Miller he could have, and Miller’s sons moved it in seven different sections for him. Once on site, the building was reassembled, reusing the old lumber.

That process set the tone for what was to come. Much of the equipment used by Miller and his friends has been refurbished as some part and purpose of the maple syrup operation.

Checking taps by Bruce Stambaugh
When the sap is running, the taps get checked frequently.

Indeed, when the sap is moving, so are a half dozen or so of Miller’s friends who help with the project. They placed 400 taps in sugar, red and black maple trees, according to Miller.

“We are careful about how many taps we place in a tree,” Miller said. “We don’t want to stress them.”

They also helped split the wood that fuels the fire that boils the sap on a homemade evaporator. Of course, the gregarious crew also put that together. Much of that ingenious system consists of recycled metal and other materials.

The wood stove that holds the fire that boils the sap belonged to Scott Sponsler, another friend. The stove was extended with metal from old toolboxes from a pickup truck that Miller owned.

Miller had a fan rebuilt and some ductwork manufactured locally. Together they help distribute the heat generated by the wood stove. The heat evaporates the sap into syrup.

The sap enters the sugar shack from another recycled item, an old bulk tank rescued from an unused milking parlor. It is held up by a repurposed metal stand so the sap flows by gravity into a smaller, reconstructed holding tank inside the old wooden shed.

Sap maze by Bruce Stambaugh
Gary Miller explained how his sap boiling operations works.

From there, the sap runs into a customized sheet metal maze that allows the sap to be evaporated as it circulates up and down the four parallel troughs. After entering a second connected metal maze, the sap begins to change color. It is closer to the firebox and the preheated sap really starts to boil. Its darker color indicates that the moisture is being bubbled away.

Miller said that the sap isn’t officially maple syrup until its consistency is at least 66.9 degrees Brix, as measured by a hydrometer. Miller said with his setup, it takes 51 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Hydrometer by Bruce Stambaugh
Gary Miller showed how he uses a hydrometer to measure the maple syrup's moisture content.

Miller and his friends make the syrup when the sap is running. He said warmer days and cooler nights are the best conditions to make the sap run.

Before it is pumped into the elevated holding tank, the sap is gathered into 15-gallon containers from each tap bucket. The containers are carried on the back of a small tractor. Of course, the tractor was loaned, too.

Pouring sap by Bruce Stambaugh
Scott Sponsler poured sap from one of the tap buckets into a 15-gallon container before heading back to the sugar shack.

All the free equipment and labor is only appropriate. Miller said the maple syrup that is produced is not for sale, although it does have a name, Smoke Pit Maple Syrup.

“This is not a commercial operation,” Miller emphasized.

Instead customers get to donate whatever they feel the syrup is worth. The money is used for an educational scholarship program in Honduras. Miller’s Sunday school class at Millersburg Mennonite Church is financially sponsoring the schooling of several children there.

With all that said, Miller shared another important ingredient in the maple syrup production as far as he is concerned.

“It’s not about the syrup,” Miller said. “It’s about the fellowship.”

Indeed, laughter and kibitzing among the friends intermingle with the steam from the cooking sap in the cold, small shack. The steam and merriment waft together out into the cold air through the open doorways. The good-natured ribbing helps make the labor-intensive sugaring efforts all the sweeter.

Persons interested in obtaining some of the Smoke Pit Maple Syrup should contact Miller at 330-763-0364.

Maple syrup by Bruce Stambaugh
Various sized jars of Smoke Pit Maple Syrup lined a shelf in the sugar shack.