Fireplaces provide benefits far beyond warmth

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I asked if anyone wanted to help bring in wood for the fireplace, only one person volunteered. Our two-year old granddaughter said she wanted to help.

On went her hat, coat, mittens, and the mini-muck boots that her older brothers wore when they were her age. Maren followed me around like a miniature shadow, constantly asking questions.
Firewood by Bruce Stambaugh
To play along, I asked questions too, like what color the blue wheelbarrow was. “Yellow,” she said without hesitation. I wheeled it behind the shed to the winter’s stacked wood supply.

I carefully tossed the split hardwood into the wheelbarrow. Of course, Maren wanted to imitate her Poppy. I handed her the kindling pieces. Now and then I gave her a weightier one, and the sharp little blonde quickly let me know that it was “too heavy.”

Maren hung in there like a trooper despite the cold. The tip of her nose turned red within minutes, quickly followed by her cheeks. She never complained, just kept helping to load and unload the wood from pile to wheelbarrow to garage. She even learned where the “little ones” went and correctly deposited them all on her own, while Poppy stacked the heavy pieces just outside the door to the family room.

Gathering wood is just one of the satisfying rituals of having a fireplace. The effort reaps more than needed wood. I enjoy the exercise, and find the aromatic discharge from the chimney invigorating as it mingles with the cold air. I even gain a certain satisfaction in watching the light smoke swirl from the top of the stubby brick chimney. Altogether it spells contentment.
Dancing fire by Bruce Stambaugh
Indeed, having a fireplace is really all about enjoyment. A fireplace may be inefficient. But I savor the all-inclusive ambiance of a blazing fire, its fragrance, its crackling sounds, the penetrating warmth and the simple beauty of a dancing fire.

There is nothing quite like the pure warmth of a fireplace fire to take the chill off of a frosty fall evening, to enhance the beauty of a snowbound day in Amish country, or to free you from the numbness of a damp and miserable spring day. In each situation, I sit in front of the fire until my bones are warmed.

Watching the fire flicker away in multiple colors, constantly changing shape and posture, and occasionally spraying golden sparks warms both body and soul. When family is home, like they were at the holidays, the fireplace becomes the center of activity Holiday gathering by Bruce Stambaughexcept at mealtime, unless roasted hotdogs and toasted marshmallows are on the menu.

I think I got this affection for fireplaces from my father. On rare occasion, he would light a fire in the living room fireplace at home. When that happened, it was truly a special family time.

Each home we have owned has had a fireplace for all of the aforementioned reasons. Even our cottage, which my parents built, hasCottage fireplace by Bruce Stambaugh two fireplaces, one on the main floor, and one in the walk out basement.

At home I buy my firewood each year, usually from a local farmer. It provides his family with extra income, and my family and me with immeasurable joy. Since the cottage is built in an expansive woods, we gather and split dead wood for our fireplace.

We often have a firewood frolic to get the job done there. The neighbor volunteers his hydraulic splitter. I round up some young, willing helper who enjoys showing off his youthful prowess to lift the heavy logs. My expertise is stacking the split wood just so.

Having a fireplace may be considered a luxury in some corners, an inefficient heating effort in others. Maren by Bruce StambaughI take a different view. Added altogether, the affable socialization, the exhilarating labor, the fire’s soothing pleasantries, yield rewarding results.

If your granddaughter helps bring in the wood, it’s all the better.

2012 calendar looks to be a bit on the crazy side

Eerie sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

We were having a right nice 2012 until January 13th arrived. Of course, it was a Friday, the day the first disruptive snowstorm of the season hit the northeast Ohio area.

Forsythia by Bruce StambaughUntil then, the winter weather had been more like early spring. People reported dandelions and forsythia blooming. I even saw a pussy willow bush ready to open. One person bragged about mowing the lawn at the end of December.

Then along came Friday the 13th. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not blaming the snowstorm on that supposedly superstitious day. In fact I’m not even superstitious, knock on wood.

I had to wonder though if this was going to be the first of several goofy events, either natural or human induced, to occur in 2012. I’m only thinking this because of the way the year’s universal calendar plays out.

Besides the Friday the 13th snowstorm, this is also a leap year. People born on February 29 will finally get to celebrate their Birthday by Bruce Stambaughbirthdays again. February, the shortest month of the year even with Leap Day, has five Wednesdays this year. September has its usual 30 days, and five of them are Sundays.

Of the 12 months, three begin on a Sunday, one on a Monday, one on a Tuesday, two on a Wednesday, two on a Thursday, one on a Friday and two on a Saturday. I think we can thank the Leap Year phenomenon again for making sure no day got ignored.

Other oddities include Washington’s Birthday and Ash Wednesday coinciding. April Fools’ Day and Palm Sunday share the same date. A full moon occurs on Good Friday. August is the only month that has two full moons, August 2 and 31. September’s full moon also occurs on the last day of the month.

Unless you have been hiding in a cave, you have long figured out that 2012 is also a presidential election year. Given the candidates performances so far, that alone would make 2012 a bit tilted.
Flag and bunting by Bruce Stambaugh
To add to the calendar party, we have to mention the Mayan calendar references December 21 as being the day the world ends. That day just happens to be this year’s winter solstice. Maybe we won’t have to worry about winter anymore.

Of course, as we learned last year and a thousand times before, the Mayans can’t claim title to announcing the end of time. Harold Camping still has some explaining to do from last year’s fruitless end-times predictions.

Playing off the fears of an already unsettled global society, the goofiness goes on. For instance, one claim for this year is that a previously unknown planet will hit Earth. Right, and the Cleveland Indians will beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series thanks to an assist by Steve Bartman.

Another oddball prediction has the Earth’s magnetic poles switching places, sparked by a series of solar storms. Better stock up on sunscreen before the prices go up.

Number 13 by Bruce StambaughThere is yet one more piece of information that just might sway you to cash in all your stocks, sell your property and give the proceeds to a respectable charity. Of course it involves Friday the 13th. There are three of them in 2012, January 13, April 13 and July 13.

That in itself may not be so statistically unusual until you hear what my friend, Mic, discovered. The three Friday the 13ths are each 13 weeks apart.

To quote my good friend, “Be forewarned.”

Checking the roads and the scenery

Fall haying by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

When I moved to Holmes County, Ohio more than four decades ago, one of my initial purchases was a county road map. I wanted to learn my way around the ridges, valleys and hamlets of the area.

I drove both the highways and back roads in order to get to know the topography and citizenry of this place. Geography buff that I am, landscape variations between the glaciated and the unglaciated portions of the county greatly intrigued me.

I marveled equally at the steep wooded hills that defined the broad Killbuck Valley, and the rolling farmlands and rivulets in the county’s northern section. The common elements of picturesque scenery and practical people reoccurred despite the demographic differences.

All these years later I still drive the roads, still learn, still enjoy my bucolic and human encounters. I think about that often, especially when I inspect the roads for which I am responsible as a township trustee.

Washout by Bruce StambaughMy main objective is to ensure safe road conditions, and check for potential problems like plugged culverts, leaning trees and slippery roads. I do those duties, but the pastoral vistas and the genial people I encounter along the way can easily distract me. I don’t mind in the least. The diversity of the countryside and characters in my township are truly remarkable.

My regular route takes me up hill and down vale, through densely wooded ravines with sharply slanting walls that rise abruptly on both sides. In several places road and stream are pinched with just enough room to navigate side-by-side.
Amish farm by Bruce Stambaugh
In minutes, I can motor from forested valley to high, rolling fertile fields that surround coffin red bank barns and white farmhouses. Various shapes and sizes of purposeful farm buildings cluster around the intentionally unadorned agrarian castles.

It was inevitable that over the years the views would be altered. With the population regularly expanding and the land not, cottage businesses and manufacturing buildings sprouted up out of necessity. Many are Amish run and involve some aspect of the lumber industry. Other shops create products specifically for the benefit of the Amish lifestyle, like buggy shops and farriers.

The commerce is nice. The views and residents are better.
Saltcreek farm by Bruce Stambaugh
Near one of my favorite hilltops, the land falls away gradually, cascading toward the Killbuck lowlands. It is a sacred place for me, and yet it is at this precise spot where a new Amish country murder mystery novel is set. When I read about the book’s release, I wondered if the writer had ever met the good folks on the homestead he had impugned.

Last winter, during a fierce snowstorm, a semi-tractor trailer truck got stuck on the slippery incline in front of this very farmstead. The kind farmer cranked up his bulldozer, puttered out the long lane in blinding snow and pushed the teamster and his rig over the hill and on his way.
Wash line by Bruce Stambaugh
When it comes to beauty, seasons are really insignificant as I traverse my lovely township. Refreshing summer breezes flap wash lines loaded with pastel clothing. Gaggles of youth skate and play on frozen ponds. A Golden Eagle roosts on a chubby fence post. Leafy rainbows of the mixed hardwoods compete with those in post-storm skies.

Then, too, rounds from paintball guns plaster stop signs, runaway streams wash away road banks, and citizens rankle at impassible roads. Fear not. Repairs can be made, relationships mended.

Peace is restored to my Camelot, at least until my next dreamy drive.
Amish school by Bruce Stambaugh

Better late than not at all: Humbly accepting the Versatile Blogger Award

By Bruce Stambaugh

Last March, I was honored to receive an award I really didn’t know what to do with. I had only been blogging for three months, and I wasn’t sure if this was legitimate or the blogger’s version of a chain letter.

Versatile Blogger AwardAaron Graham was nice enough to bestow the Versatile Blogger Award on me after he read my Questions post. And for my more cynical readers, I have never met nor do I know Aaron. He adequately described the award and why I received it, along with a few others. In accepting this coveted award, all I had to do was write a post thanking Aaron. I also had to proclaim seven little known facts about myself, which would have been a piece of cake since I am so little known to start with. And I had to hand out the same award to up to 15 other bloggers. In my naiveté, I wasn’t sure I knew 15 other bloggers. Sure, I had more people than that visit my blog, and several posted comments. I could have easily gone back through those comments, clicked on their blog and christened the 15 I felt most deserving as fellow Versatile Bloggers. But I didn’t.

You see one of my many faults, and my kind wife will attest that it is only one, is that I procrastinate. I wrote about that, too, once. But that was long before I starting blogging. Still, the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and here we are in 2012 and I still haven’t passed on the award the way I should have. Until now.

What spurred me on? One of my blogging friends, Mikalee Byerman, was awarded the Versatile Blogger award after her hysterical Jesus is my Trash man post. When I saw that, I knew the award was valuable and for real. In fact, Mikalee was on my short list of bloggers to nominate.

So thanks to Aaron, who by now has probably forgotten me, and to the nice lady from Bellingham, Washington who crowned Mikalee, I am finally accepting this award, revealing seven startling insignificant facts about my life and naming 15 very deserving bloggers for the same award.

And the nominations are:

Bob Zeller for his persistent and informative posts about his two great loves, besides his wife, photography and birds. His shots are amazing.

Patricia Koelle, who shares some exquisite shots from her home in Germany.

Scott sees the extraordinary in the ordinary, and has the wherewithal to share it. http://littlecrumcreek.wordpress.com/.

Subhakar Das, who knows both books and photographs with equal expertise at http://ficfaq.wordpress.com/.

Heather who shares a love of animals and words, not only with me, but also with her long list of devoted readers. http://becomingcliche.wordpress.com/.

Lucy Gardener loves food, photographs and life. She incorporates all three very nicely on her blog. http://lhgardener1988.wordpress.com/

I think you’ll find Carrie Craig a most appreciative person.

Judy at Northern Narratives beautifully chronicles the days through her lens.

Though focusing on poetry, the subjects and style of Kvenna Rad’s poems are indeed versatile and deserving of this award. http://kvennarad.wordpress.com/

A military spouse from Texas has an important and timely message to follow on http://sottmp.com/.

Grace encourages people to decorate their life at http://www.herumbrella.com/.

Tinkerbelle loves laughter, and shares her youthful sense of humor from her London base. http://laughteriscatching.com/.

Fiona takes an upbeat look at life from China. http://fionaqiqi.wordpress.com/.

Anyone that takes a picture a day, plus loves words and dogs gets my vote. http://livingtheseasons.com/.

And last but not least, any 16-year old who titles his blog, Learning to be Wrong, has to be right. Way to go, Justin. http://learningtobewrong.wordpress.com/.

As for my seven personal revelations, they’re not nearly as revealing or as exciting as the bloggers I’ve listed. But to fulfill the award’s requirement, here there are:

1. I can’t swim.
2. I’m afraid of the water.
3. I almost drowned when I was two.
4. I only take showers (See a pattern developing?)
5. I have never water-skied.
6. I used to have long, blond, curly hair until the seventh grade.
7. I attended the Cleveland Browns’ last World Championship (now hyper-marketed as the Super Bowl) victory, a 27-0 trouncing of the highly favored Baltimore Colts in 1964. Of course since then the Colts moved to Indianapolis, and the Browns moved to Baltimore, thanks to Art Model. The good folks of Cleveland sued to get their name back and won. Unfortunately, the Ravens, really the exiled Browns, went on to win a Super Bowl so Model could be buried in his camel’s hair overcoat and a championship ring on his finger. Or was he already? I can’t remember. I haven’t followed pro football since Model moved the team. I’d rather go swimming.

Well, folks, that’s the best I can do. My procrastination has finally been overcome by guilt, and the Versatile Blogger Awards have been duly handed out. Bring on the Oscars.