Monthly Archives: August 2012

Writing is my labor of love

By Bruce Stambaugh

I like to write. For me, it is a labor of love.

Writing takes time. It’s not physical labor, but it can be just as exhausting.

Sunflower at Marblehead Light House by Bruce StambaughTo report an accurate story, concentration and absorbing details and the setting are essential. Even more difficult is deciphering my scraggly handwriting afterwards. Trying to properly tell the story in an assigned number of words against a deadline adds to the creative challenge.

The good people of many of the events and stories I chronicle don’t necessarily crave the publicity. But they do appreciate the consideration, especially when they have put so much effort into their own work or hobby or community service. Those are stories worth telling.

Stambaugh family by Bruce StambaughOf course, when I write about my family, all bets are off. So far, though, I haven’t been barred from any family gatherings.

For the longest time, I thought everyone could write. I eventually discovered that most people don’t have my passion for writing.

I’m not bragging. I have much to learn in the writing field. In fact, I strive to improve my style, approach and content. This spring I attended three very different writing workshops in the space of six weeks. I was bombarded with helpful and practical information. The poets, columnists, scriptwriters and authors offered invaluable personal and professional tips.

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop held at the University of Dayton was incredible. Perhaps that’s because a huge majority of the hundreds of participants were women. They didn’t hold anything back, and we didn’t lack for laughter or levity. It truly was inspirational.

Batter up by Bruce Stambaugh
I realize I have several people to thank for teaching and encouraging me in my writing. Some were high school and college teachers. Most, like Hymie Williams, were practitioners.

Hymie was a sports writer for The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio. He and two news reporters anchored the paper’s Canton bureau. Out of the blue, Hymie called me one day to ask if I would be willing to fill in for him while he was on vacation. I was 16 years old then. Of course I jumped at the chance.

I had been sending Hymie and other local papers summaries of the Stark County Hot Stove League baseball games. Coaches called in the scores to our home since my father was the league’s secretary. I usually answered the phone and quizzed the callers for any significant details about the games.

I wrote up the results and next day looked for the story in the newspaper. I was heartened to see that the articles were consistently published with only minor changes.

I enjoyed my little stint as a sports reporter, especially since it was at the start of the high school football season. I had lots on which to report.

Light rays by Bruce StambaughThis opportunity heavily influenced my choice of a college major. I graduated with a degree in journalism, but quickly made a left-hand turn for a 30-year career in public education. When I retired, a newspaper came calling and the ink in my veins started flowing once again.

It is an honor and a privilege to be able to write a weekly newspaper column, this blog and other feature stories that shine the spotlight on deserving subjects. Their stories are refreshing, especially given all the negative news that dominates the national media. I enjoy sharing my photographs, too. But that’s a story for another time.

My goal is to continue spreading as much good news as I can, and there is still plenty to tell. After all, writing is my labor of love.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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More than a benefit bake sale

Baked goods by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

This could have been the bake sale of all benefit bake sales. As impressive as they are, the numbers alone don’t tell the entire story.

On June 3, the life of 2-year-old Betty Ann Weaver changed forever. Her left hand was accidentally mangled in a lawn mower. She lost all of her digits, with only a couple of stubs remaining.

Betty Ann returned to her parents’ home four miles west of Holmesville, Ohio on July 4. Her nine brothers and sisters and her parents, Roy and Lovina Weaver, were glad to have her back home.

After a month in the hospital and with rehab visits ongoing, medical bills accumulated. Her maternal grandmother, Ada Yoder, was determined to help. The gregarious woman, who lives with her husband, Wayne, a mile west of Holmesville, had a big idea to raise some funds for her granddaughter. She shared her vision, and soon a bake sale was planned.

“We had lots of help,” Ada said. In fact, four Amish churches donated hundreds of baked items that were sold August 16 and 17.

“There were some good looking items that we sold,” Ada said, “including a square angel food cake.” As delicious looking as all those items were, the homemade donuts were the real draw.

“We used 11 bags of donut mix,” Ada said. “Each bag made 50 dozen donuts. That’s a lot of donuts!

“The first day we started making donuts at 7 a.m. and finished at 9:30 p.m.” Ada explained. The next day the process began all over again.

“We started at 3 a.m. and finished at noon,” she said. “We had people here for donuts at 5:30 a.m. already.” The donut making finished up that evening with another round of frying them in coconut oil that lasted from 4-8 p.m.

Bake sale sign by Bruce StambaughAda said customers had to wait until the donuts cooled enough for them to be glazed and boxed. To generate orders, she had distributed fliers about the donut and bake sale to several area businesses. Many bought multiple dozens to share with employees.

“We had pre-orders for all the different kinds of donuts we made,” Ada said. “We did raspberry filled, strawberry filled, Bavarian cream and glazed.”

“I made six kettles of raspberry filling,” she said.

Ada said she was overwhelmed with both the amount of help she had and the response. The last baked good item, a regular, round angel food cake, was sold at noon on August 17. The sale was held at the Weaver’s home.

“We were very pleased with the results,” Ada said. “We made in excess of $5,000 the first day alone.”

The money will be used to help defer medical expenses for her granddaughter. Donations may still be sent to Wayne Yoder, 9378 County Road 329, Holmesville 44633.

The article appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Trouble in a peaceable pond

Feeding fish by Bruce Stambaugh

The grandchildren love to feed the goldfish in the little garden pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have greatly enjoyed the little garden pond that students and staff gave me when I retired as their elementary principal 13 years ago. It was fun building the pond and the little waterfall that gurgles night and day.

The pond, visible from all rear windows and our open back porch, has multiple benefits. The mini falls’ mesmerizing tinkling of water on water lulls me to sleep on pleasant nights. An assortment of wildlife has ventured to the pond, including deer and a Great Blue Heron.

Goldfish, snails and aqua plants help keep the pond’s water in proper equilibrium. A family of green frogs just showed up on their own. They have been a welcome addition, until recently that is.

Frog and flower by Bruce StambaughSummer, of course, is when the pond is most popular. Songbirds drink the cool water and bathe in shallow pools. The green frogs station themselves at the pond’s perimeters waiting for insects. Blooming white lily blossoms enhance their chances.

The pond also attracts the grandkids when they visit. It’s one of the first places they explore. They particularly enjoy feeding the goldfish and hunting for the frogs.

Davis, the middle grandchild, is especially inquisitive. Last time here, he wanted to know where the frog nests were. Davis bent over visually surveying the pond, intently looking for the frogs.

Lucky frog by Bruce Stambaugh

Perhaps this green frog was hoping for a little Irish luck in finding lunch.

It was during his investigation that we discovered something very unusual. The largest of the green frogs was resting atop something dark, wet and balled up. I recognized the clump as a dead bird.

As I approached the crime scene, the murder suspect made a quick getaway with one giant plop into the water and hid under the lily pad leaves. From what I could discern, the poor bird was a female House Finch.

I could hardly believe it. I knew that bullfrogs ate birds. But green frogs? I wondered if it wasn’t just a coincidence that the frog came to rest upon the dead bird.

Still, the lifeless bird showed every indication that a frog had tried to swallow it. I distracted the grandkids by playing ball. When I went back later to retrieve the victim, it was gone.

A few days later, while cleaning the pond and feeding the fish, I discovered yet another dead bird. Curious, I contacted Julie Zickefoose, a noted author, artist, and lover of all things nature. She had never heard of a green frog snatching birds either. Julie suggested that I had a troublemaker in my peaceful pond, and that the perpetrator be removed to a farm pond if for no other reason than the safety and welfare of the birds that come to enjoy our pond’s refreshing water.

Fall pond by Bruce Stambaugh

The pond in the fall.

As long as those frogs had been there, I really hated to pin the fowl play on one of the green gang. I decided I needed conclusive rather than circumstantial evidence before I removed the big guy.

I decided to be vigilant, and watch and wait to see if the frog really did go after birds. On sunny days, it usually claims an easily visible grassy pad at water’s edge waiting for a free lunch.

Either the frog has had a change of heart, or perhaps diet, or I’m not a very good detective. So far, I haven’t found anymore carcasses.

I’ll keep watching, and if I catch the frog green-handed, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, let’s hope peace and tranquility reign in our little pond of paradise.

Bird bath by Bruce Stambaugh

A juvenile American Robin enjoyed a refreshing bath in the little waterfalls.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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The sweetest part of summer

Cooking corn by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Growing up in my post-World War II world, our family always had a garden. It was a logical way to keep the expenses down for our energetic family of seven.

Even as children, we knew Dad didn’t make much money. He worked hard at his white-color job. He left early and arrived home in time for the staple supper Mom always had waiting for him and the five of us ornery kids, although I think I was easily the best behaved of the bunch.

Mom worked hard, too, without a paycheck. Like most women of the era, she was a professional homemaker. She was at home all day, and during the summer months so were her five children.

She trusted us to roam the neighborhood as long as we checked in from time to time. Cell phones and texting weren’t even bad ideas then.

When Dad arrived home, the tempo changed. If my two brothers and I weren’t playing baseball, we, along with our two sisters, piled into the 1947 two-door, cream-colored Chevy, and headed to the garden two miles away. The land around our suburban home was too small to support a substantial garden.

A friend of Dad’s allowed us to use a portion of his property to garden. We planted, hoed, weeded and watched the crops grow. We cared for potatoes, green beans, radishes, carrots, peppers, and my favorite, sweet corn.

Rainbow of peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait for the corn to ripen. Every trip to the garden I would squeeze the ears to see if they were filling out. When the tassels turned from blonde to brown, I knew the corn was close to being ready.

I loved the smell of corn, stalks and ears alike. Dad showed us how to carefully peel back the husks for a peek to confirm that the ears were ripe. For me, there was something special about the sharp sound of Dad yanking the corn free from its mother stalk. We took turns carrying the plump ears to the wheelbarrow at the end of the rows.

Husking corn by Bruce Stambaugh

Husking sweet corn is still a family affair in our household.


We loaded the car trunk with our golden treasure and headed home. We all helped husk the tender ears. We worked as fast as we could, knowing full well that the quicker we got the corn cleaned, the sooner we could enjoy it.

We ate some, and we froze some. By we, I mean my mother of course. Cooking the corn in the pressure cooker always unnerved me. I guess I was fearful of its scary hissing sound. Thankfully, my wife now just cooks the corn in a kettle on the stove.

Freezing corn by Bruce Stambaugh

Though my wife cuts the kernels from the cob before cooking the sweet corn, she still uses Tupperware and other similar contains to hold the corn in the freezer.

Mom ran the cooked corncobs down a wooden corn cutter. The yellowy kernels and sweet juice dripped into a marbled blue and white porcelain bowl. We helped fill the Tupperware containers, and once they cooled ushered them downstairs to the freezer.

Having sweet creamed corn in the middle of winter was a special treat. Still, it couldn’t compare to holding a freshly buttered and salted ear and crunching those tasty rows of kernels.

The ripening corn crop did have one drawback, however. When we were done harvesting and freezing the Iowa Chief, we knew it was time to start school.

Years later, here we are again near summer’s end. School is set to begin or already has. The tender sweet corn is already in the freezer, although it’s now Incredible, not Iowa Chief.

Sipping my morning coffee, I watch the school buses pass by the house. At my age, it’s the sweetest part of summer.

This column appeared in the Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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After this June and July, do we really need August?

Ohio chaparral by Bruce Stambaugh

Parched pastures in Ohio more resembled California chaparral.


By Bruce Stambaugh

The dog days of August are upon us. The month is notorious for hot, humid and mostly dry weather. Haven’t we already experienced enough of that without adding to the enduring misery?

Once June arrived, the lovely spring weather we had enjoyed literally evaporated. The weather turned unusually warm and dry, not just in Ohio, but also across much of North America. Many record high temperatures were recorded. Geographic areas that had been moist quickly joined other regions that have had ongoing, long-term drought conditions.

Artesian well by Bruce Stambaugh

This artesian well normally runs steady year-round. It dried up by the end of July.

Water became a precious commodity. Wells were taxed. Perpetual springs slowed to a trickle. Local streams, normally gurgling with water from occasional rains, displayed more creek bed than flow.

I pitied those who had to work outside for a living. Many businesses had their employees arrive early to take advantage of the morning coolness, and then let them leave mid-afternoon at the height of the heat.

National Weather Service offices all across the country regularly posted heat advisories and excessive heat warnings. In the cities, where concrete and steel intensified the heat, people sweltered.

It was bad enough here in the country. Lawn care services, usually swamped for work or used to rushing to beat the rain to complete their jobs, simply lost business. They were used to mowing green, not brown. Indeed, there was no need to do so.

Brown lawn by Bruce Stambaugh

Lawns that were mowed short took a beating from the heat.


Farmers watched helplessly as their corn curled and parched pastures more resembled California chaparral. In America’s breadbasket, farm animals were sold off since feed and hay prices soared. By July’s end, two-thirds of the country was in some stage of drought.

Wild animals sought cooler climes, too. Groundhogs abandoned their normal burrows in hayfields and ranged outside their normal habitat for scarce food and water. A young one dug a hole under our back porch for protection from predators. It munched on our herbs and flowers, and boldly drank from our little garden pond in broad daylight.

Curled corn by Bruce Stambaugh

Field corn was so stressed from the heat and drought that it curled.


A pose of raccoons was more cautious. Being nocturnal, they regularly fished and splashed at night. The groundhog and seven of the masked bandits were captured in live traps baited with a gourmet meal of apple slices and marshmallows.

What really stood out though was how people seemed to adjust to the oppressive conditions. Sure complaints were lodged to nobody in particular. The only moisture to fall on some farmland was from farmers’ tears. Still I found people overall to be as congenial as ever. They seemed determined not to let the heat get the best of them.

One exception to that was on the highway. Drivers appeared more aggressive than usual, perhaps incited by the blazing sun and warm car interiors. In my various road trips, I noticed an unusually high number of vehicles, large and small, abandoned along highways or sitting with their hoods up. Their operators peered into the engines or talked on cell phones while waiting for help to arrive.

Brown grass by Bruce Stambaugh

Burned out lawns and parched flowerbeds like these were common all across the midwest part of the United States.


Trees and flowers, too, were stressed. Leaves turned yellow or brown. Some gave up the ghost altogether. When I walked to the mailbox to get the mail, the grass crunched beneath my feet like snow. Right now, I’d rather have the snow. Can’t we just skip the dog days of August and sashay right into a normal fall?

Given such a notion, maybe the heat has gotten to me after all.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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