Like it or not, beach vacations rule

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By Bruce Stambaugh

If I had to choose between vacationing in the mountains and spending a week on the beach, I would always head to the mountains. But you don’t always get your way in life, especially when consistently out-voted three to one in a democratic family.

I thought about that recently while relaxing, you guessed it, on a beach. A towheaded little girl jumped in glee as the next lapping froth of a broken wave tickled her toes. The roar of the crashing surf drowned out her joyous squeals.

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Our four-year-old granddaughter was fearless at the beach.

Sandy-haired young boys, already tanned from summer baseball games, challenged the powerful surf head-on and lost. Deposited several feet down shore, the pair still celebrated in the foamy residue. The gamey boys shook their heads like wet dogs, and went back for more.

The excited little girl and the rollicking boys were our grandchildren. Watching them soak up the benefits of a beach vacation scarcely differed from the memories of our own daughter and son savoring the seashore when they were young. The infectious laughter and shrieks of oceanic ecstasy displayed by the grandkids perfectly mimicked those of our son and daughter.

Clearly, the family beach vacation tradition continues. The seashore in the summer is always mesmerizing. Senses are invigorated.

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The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is an iconic symbol for vacationers on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The sight of whitecaps frosting the rolling water, the sound of wave after wave pounding the beach, whiffs of salty sea air, the texture of gritty sand beneath your bare feet, incredible sunrises and awesome sunsets, animated shorebirds, and picturesque lighthouses soothe even the harshest of souls.

Growing up, our children certainly had plenty of opportunities to catch ocean fever. Once the kids were old enough to enjoy extended trips, the beach seemed to be the destination of choice, no matter what dad suggested. We fitted in informative historical spots and intriguing geographical venues in route to the shore. The beach, however, was the main allure.

Our family beach escapes could actually serve as a partial chronology of our life together.

The first such jaunt was to Ocean City, New Jersey. The kids were hooked, on the beachy benefits, not the historic landmarks of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that we visited on the way. Intriguingly, our son-in-law and his family had vacationed there, too.

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Sarasota, Florida’s Siesta Key Beach is rated one the world’s finest.

After that we did Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Cocoa Beach and Siesta Key Beach in Florida. Each year the kids upped the ante in where they wanted to plop their beach blankets. Eventually, it was California here we come.

I was all for visiting the left coast of the country. It truly would be a family vacation since both my wife and I had relatives and friends in the Golden State.

Besides, this would provide an excellent opportunity to get the family into some real mountains, Yosemite National Park being the main destination. Though they wouldn’t admit it then, our son and daughter loved Yosemite as I had hoped they would.

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The Summer Solstice sunrise on the Outer Banks was a beauty.

Still, it was being on the beach with their cousins that drew them. Our children were pleased until they hit the water at Huntington Beach. Even though we were in southern California, the ocean was a bit too chilly for swimming. Nevertheless, they soaked up the Orange County suntan time and the lively interacting with their kin.

Another crashing breaker swamped the grandsons. Their fair-haired sister kept building her Outer Banks sand castle. I continued to snap the camera’s shutter capturing the unfolding fun while I mentally recalled the many pleasant scenes on the beaches of our family life.

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Being buried in the sand is a part of every beach vacation.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Have hat, will travel

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Some of the hats in my utilitarian collection.

By Bruce Stambaugh

People collect all kinds of things when they travel. Post cards, plates, jewelry, T-shirts and mugs are popular items. Souvenir shops in any touristy locale confirm that.

Me? I collect hats, more out of necessity than sentimentality. Given my lack of hair, I call it BPS (Bald Protection Syndrome). At least I have a practical use for my hat hobby.

BPS is the only way I can explain my obsession with hats. Baseball caps, golf caps, air-cooled hats, even a cowboy hat, define my collection.

It dawned on me that my assortment of hats really represents a segment of my personal history. I look at a hat, and I can usually recall where I bought it or in some cases, like the cowboy hat, who gave it to me.

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Not a spot to spare on my hat rack.
The hats hang on an oak hall tree that a dear friend made for me. The hall tree stands in a corner beside my bed. The hats are the first things I see in the morning and the last at night, keeping the memories fresh in my mind.

The brown, broad-brimmed, pressed velvet Stetson cowboy hat occupies the pinnacle of the hat holder. That’s no coincidence. My daughter and her family gave it to me as a present several years ago when they lived in Texas. I wear it only on rare occasions.

I collect hats the way Imelda Marcos saved shoes. Each peg of the faithful hat rack is full of hats and memories. The hats come in different shapes and colors, but most are ball caps. All generate vivid recollections.

I have too many from a favorite vacation spot, Lakeside, Ohio. I don the bright yellow hat with a big blue block letter “L” on the front most often.

Perhaps some of my favorite hats are the ones I acquired while participating in some special activity. I have a handsome brown cap with the sun rising over the profile of a mountain, all stitched in white. I got that one at the state park where I once hiked and birded in Arizona.

Another hat I wear a lot is the one I received for attending a birding symposium. It should come as no surprise that the hat features a bird on the front.

Still another hat I obtained in Arizona and bought especially for birding is a lightweight, broad-brimmed, air-cooled canvas hat. I only wear it when it’s hot or when we go to the beach with the grandkids.

Two hats in my collection have extra-special meaning to me. I purchased both in Honduras. One is bright red with orange lettering that spells out the name of the poor Central American country.

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I’m happiest in hats.
The other Honduras hat is black with a red rooster on it, which is very apropos. As unstable as the Honduran government is, I think the roosters actually run the country. They are everywhere and don’t bother to wait for the sun to rise to announce their presence.

The pride and joy sports hat in my collection is bright red with a raised deep blue block “C” on the front. I wear it when I attend Cleveland Indians games to show my support for the often-hapless team. Wearing it may also reveal other blemishes in my character.

Some people collect stamps, others coins or antiques or teacups. I collect hats. Each one has a story and a special meaning.

Vacation season is here. More travel, more memories, and more hats ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

No matter where they live, people are people

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Baseball fans enjoying a game.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I find people fascinating, a joy to watch. I can easily pass the time observing crowds at airports, sporting events, meetings or shopping.

Humans come in a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, races and ages. They adorn themselves with a variety of intriguing duds and accessories. I marvel at and learn from their diversifications.

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Marie was tickled pink that I wanted to take her picture on the dock at Lakeside, OH.
I remember a specific time many years ago when the shoe was on the other foot. My wife and I were visiting her cousin in southern California. Barb had two daughters, ages two and three months. Our daughter was two months old.

I was informed that we were going shopping one afternoon at the local mall. We were quite the sight and unintentionally created an intriguing distraction as we sauntered around the sprawling mall with a toddler and two infants in strollers and two lovely mothers and one man.

When I volunteered to care for the girls while the women ducked into a few stores, the fun began. We became the mall’s main attraction. The kids drew passing shoppers in like they were magnets.

I found myself engaged in conversations with people curious about the children. Were the babies twins? When I said they were born three weeks apart, I could see the mental wheels turning in the questioners’ heads.

When my wife and her cousin, who are close in age, returned to check on us, the eyebrows really arched. People’s non-verbal communication revealed their conceptual inferences about one man, two wives, and three little girls.

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Dr. Catherine Barnes (center) taught the Conflict Analysis course during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

In reality, that’s how we operate as social beings. We reach conclusions based on what we see, and interpret observations based on our own life’s experiences and values. Many times, like my mall experience, those assumptions frame and tilt what reality is if the truth is not properly explored.

Recently I was asked what the single most important point I had learned at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute that I had attended in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The answer flowed easily.

“The most significant concept I learned was that people are people,” I said. Not exactly profound, but true nonetheless.

Not wanting to come across as cryptic, I further explained my seemingly glib answer. Based on what I had gained first hand from my global classmates, we all strive and often struggle for the exact same things. We desire basic human needs and rights regardless of our culture, race, religion, wealth, ethnicity, or gender.

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Much of the SPI class involved small group interaction among class members.

Our modest class consisted of female and male inhabitants from four continents, 13 countries, and multiple races and religions. Yet, we were all there for one common purpose. We wanted to gain practical and applicable methods for understanding and resolving conflict.

To that end, the cultures, traditions, and primary languages of each class member became secondary to the overall goal. No barrier would deter our learning, thanks to an outstanding professor guiding dedicated students.

We all had too much to lose by allowing prejudice to cloud our thinking. After all, most of the astute class members would return home to implement and teach the knowledge they had acquired. In too many situations, that would be done in hostile, dangerous, unstable conditions.

Our class discussions easily revealed that people universally desire the same life goals. We all need food, shelter, security, identity, dignity and the freedom to grow and explore in an ever-changing, challenging world.

No political bend could deny the obvious. Regardless of roots of origin, people are indeed people, and they ache to be treated accordingly.

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Friendships formed from the classroom interactions.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

In memory of an impulsive father

thecottagebybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father was a loving, loveable guy. His impulsive actions, however, often masked those admirable traits.

Combined with his affability and innate friendliness, his good intentions sometimes wrote a recipe for embarrassment if not potential disaster. Even when in the wrong, Dad would turn a negative into a positive.

Dad was definitely gung-ho about everything he did in life. With his many interests, he did a lot in his 89 years of living. He went full force, no holds barred. Dad was simply passionate about life.

If he knew this about himself, Dad certainly never acknowledged this reckless abandon approach to life as a fault. The way he lived, he had to have seen this passion as an attribute.

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My wife and I surprised my parents on Father’s Day in 2009 with a visit to the cottage they had built. We had purchased it from them, and remodeled the cottage. Dad died on Dec. 21 that year.

Dad loved sports, especially outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. He also amassed an extensive Indian artifact collection. Dad was involved in many community activities, almost always in leadership positions. The end result was that he made many friends in his lifetime.

Dad’s enthusiasm sometimes got the best of him, and others, too. The story my nephew shared at Dad’s memorial service three and half years ago pretty well summed up my father’s impulsiveness. The story is true with no hyperbole interjected.

Mom and Dad had a cabin on Clendening Lake in southeast Ohio. They loved to host friends and family as frequently as possible. My younger brother and his family attended one such outing.

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A favorite activity of Dad’s was to pile everyone onto his pontoon boat for a combination cruise and fishing trip around the 14-mile long lake. The scenery was always enjoyable. The fishing on the other hand often was more bait than catch.

On this particular voyage, Dad had found a spot right across the lake from the cabin. My nephew reported that the fishing was good until my father’s impetuosity intervened.

Dad cherished interacting with people, often to the point of being late for supper or forgetting an appointment altogether. I think he invented the word “relational.”

While my brother and his family were concentrating on catching croppies, Dad noticed another boat on the opposite shore. He thought it looked like the owner of the cabin next to his.

fallfishermanbybrucestambaughDad suddenly announced to his surprised passengers, “Hey, that looks like Bennett over there,” and up came the boat anchors. Lines were reeled in, and across the lake they went at full throttle.

Since Clendening isn’t a very wide lake, it didn’t take too long to reach the spot where Mr. Bennett was fishing. My nephew recalled wondering why his grandfather wasn’t decreasing the pontoon’s speed as they got closer and closer to the south shore.

Seeing the inevitable, my brother motioned for Dad to slow the boat or change coarse. He did neither.

Dad instead responded by yelling a series of “Hellos” to Mr. Bennett, who at first waved back, then tried frantically to wave Dad off.

Dad greeted his neighbor by ramming the pontoon boat into the much smaller bass boat, tipping it and its owner into the murky lake. Fortunately the water was shallow there. But all of Mr. Bennett’s rods, reels, tackle boxes and stringer sank straight to the lake’s bottom.

Dad had finally stopped the pontoon by the time Mr. Bennett had popped up soaking wet. What was my father’s first comment to Mr. Bennett after the crash? An apology? Not exactly.

Dad matter-of-factly hollered, “Hey, Bennett, are you catching anything?”

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My older brother, Craig, and I accompanied our father, Dick Stambaugh, on an Honor Flight trip to Washington. D.C. on Sept. 12, 2009. We posed in front of the Ohio pillar at the World War II Memorial.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Viewing the world through different lenses

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The Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We have it pretty nice here in the Greater Holmes County, Ohio area. I have known that ever since I moved to the area just after the historic July 1969 flood.

Ask locals, and they’ll tell you that it’s the best place in the world to live. I wouldn’t begin to argue otherwise.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this is the only place to call home. Clearly, if it were, the countryside wouldn’t be the same. Pastoral settings would give way to a jagged urban scape and all the trappings that accompany it.

For those who never venture afar from our comparatively protected environs, there is a danger with our self-satisfaction. Seeing the world with only our particular glasses can give us a distorted viewpoint on other cultures, socially, politically, economically and any other way you want to look at life.

At times it can be good to change lenses. That means we sometimes have to get well out of our comfort zone to do so. We have to let go of what we know, and learn anew.

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Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offers incredible views, like the morning mist rising out of the valleys.

Recently I took an intensive graduate school course at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. It’s a place as pretty as home, only old age mountains backdrop rolling, fertile foothills.

Of the 16 participants in the class, I was one of only three North American students. The others came from places like Azerbaijan, Thailand, Iraq, Kurdistan, Belgium, Ghana, Nigeria, Syria and Haiti. I would have struggled to find some of these countries on a globe.

The students ranged from young adults to grandparents like me. Their given names were Amstrong, Yvon, Nurana, Carlos, Rana, Aunt, Ray, James, Oscar, Henry, Nameer, Ernest, Amina, Khant and Salar. They were pastors, government leaders, workers for non-governmental aid agencies, interpreters and teachers.

Though our cultures, races and geographic origins varied greatly, we were there to learn about the various ways to analyze and understand conflict. Given the current situations in the countries represented, much useful information was certain to be shared back home.

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Much of the class time was spent in small group discussions and activities.

In the classroom, we sat in groups of three or four, each day a different configuration, each day new and fascinating stories intertwined with the professor’s lessons. Their personal stories, shared privately, were compelling, if not fearsome.

A pastor from Haiti called his wife every night and spoke to her from midnight until nearly dawn just to ensure his family’s safety. The consequences of war had destroyed the home of a young woman from Syria. Yet reconciliation, not retribution, was the aim of these devoted, considerate, inquisitive community leaders striving to promote peace.

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The dynamic women of the Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Instead of focusing on how bad it was in their country or blaming other governments, these men and women were glad for the opportunity to learn how to dissect and resolve conflict. They would take what they had learned and apply it as best they could. Their goal was to improve the world around them, even if it was one person at a time. Where there was despair, they saw hope.

When the Haitian pastor asked me if my home was safe, I hesitated before answering. I looked deep into his dark, wondering eyes, and simply said, “Yes, I live in a very safe place.”

“You are very fortunate,” he replied softly. I was humbled.

All of us who live in our lush, agrarian area are fortunate. Occasionally it takes looking through other life lenses to fully appreciate our own home view.

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A typical springtime view in Holmes Co., Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013