Another year, another 12 months of human folly

washdaybybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Yep, I did it again. Like previous years, I noted daily wacky news throughout this year. So much craziness ensued that I actually had a hard time picking which salaciousness merited mention.

I focused on human-interest stories that didn’t always make the headlines. I think you’ll agree that once again in 2013 truth was stranger than fiction.

Jan. 11 – An elderly man in Lincoln, Nebraska accidently drove his car through the plate glass windows of a pizzeria, and then ordered a pizza.

Feb. 12 – Undercover detectives defused a meth lab discovered in a porta-potty on a golf course near Purcell, Oklahoma.

dangersignbybrucestambaughFeb. 13 – The 52 year-old volunteer greeter at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas died of a heart attack.

March 22 – China and Russia signed nine trade agreements, including one to raise rabbits.

April 16 – Chris Holmes, a noted cake baker in London, England, quit his full-time airport security job by writing his resignation on a cake.

May 3 – Schools in normally cloudy Bellingham, Washington closed for a “sun day” because the weather was unusually sunny.

June 4 – About 100 high school students and their chaperones were kicked off of an AirTran flight from New York City to Atlanta when some of the students refused to sit down and turn off their cell phones.

June 16 – Lonnie Whitener and his 13-year old son both made a hole-in-one on the same hole in the same round on Father’s Day at a golf course in Richmond, Texas.

bottlesbybrucestambaughJuly 18 – Shortly after being declared the champion of a beer-drinking contest by consuming six liters of brew in Spain, the winner became violently sick and died.

August 8 – A 21-year old Vicksburg, Mississippi man, who had been arrested by police, escaped handcuffed, and then was rescued from the Yazoo Canal as he tried to swim to freedom.

August 9 – An 82 year-old man and his 41 year-old son were found in the Vietnam jungle after fleeing their home 40 years earlier during the Vietnam War.

August 10 – A 73 year-old gun safety instructor in Lancaster, Ohio accidentally shot a student when the handgun he was demonstrating discharged a bullet.

September 17 – A 26 year-old Russian man was charged with shooting his companion over beers after they got into a fight about the deeper meaning of the works of German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

September 23 – A study showed that 49 percent of the Internet links cited since 1996 in 555 decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t work.

junkdaybybrucestambaughSeptember 25 – A zoo in England banned visitors from wearing any kind of clothing that imitated animal print because it confused the zoo animals.

October 3 – A local bar owner found a treasure trove of Ron Santo memorabilia that the Chicago Cubs say was accidentally discarded in a dumpster.

October 10 – A German man’s marriage got off to a bad start when he drove for two hours after refueling his car, only to realize he had left his bride back at the gas station.

November 12 – A coyote joined the leaders running in the Arizona high school cross-country state championships for 50 meters before dropping out of the race.

December 2 – A stolen prosthetic hand and arm were recovered in a second hand shop in Bournemouth, England.

December 3 – Based on data from 600,000 phone calls, the research firm Marchex Institute found that people in Ohio swore more than any other state.

I swear I’m ready for 2014.

toiletsignbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

…maybe Christmas means a little bit more

Carrie's Bench

 
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(shared from pen and palette)
 

“It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!  It came without packages, boxes or bags!”…
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!  “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
(Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)

With all the distractions and details that precede this day, it is easy to wonder if the meaning of Christmas has been lost. Not one more sale nor sour-faced Grinch can change the gift brought to all on this daybreak. Hope is renewed in the birth of baby. Faith is rekindled in the bright morning star. Hearts soften as God’s love comes among us in the gentle care of a parent’s touch.

Yes, the meaning of Christmas is beyond all the chaos leading up to this moment. In the quiet of this early morning, may the spirit…

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Christmastime is gathering time

christmastreebybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Christmastime is gathering time. The very origins of the holiday make it so.

Though we may not think about it, those who gather in celebration replicate the inexplicable cast of characters that assembled for the first Christmas. Paying homage for this special birth, their lot represented a cross-section of social, political and religious backgrounds, not unlike today.

nativityscenebybrucestambaughTo be sure, they were a motley bunch, unassuming, even unaware of the tradition being created. Of course, we have no way of knowing the exact date or even time of year for the birth of the Christ child. We can only follow the story as it has been transcribed and translated for us.

Over time, the traditions of Christmas have been handed down and culturally adjusted to fit the changing times. There’s no documentation for tinseled evergreen trees or a jolly St. Nick in Bethlehem that ancient night.

An angelic troupe serenaded stunned shepherds huddled in a field, watching over their flocks. Astute individuals, long on the lookout for a messiah, offered praise and prayer. A ruler trembled. Later, wise kings traveled from afar to worship the boy, and offered precious gifts.

Mary and Joseph themselves were among the throngs reassembling in their hometowns on governmental orders of the day. Harsh as their journey may have been, they complied. History wouldn’t be the same if they had not.

snowbuggybybrucestambaughCenturies later millions travel by modern means to celebrate Christmas, and not always on Dec. 25th either. That fits the Advent model as well. Perhaps, because of schedules or availability, you have already gathered for the holidays.

Here in the largest Amish population in the world, both traditional Christmas Day and the more reverent Old Christmas, always Jan. 6, will find families and friends gathering and sharing food, fellowship, and gifts. You might know Old Christmas as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.

Our own families will make merry on several occasions. Christmas Eve morning two kinships are blended into one for a festive breakfast, a holiday custom spanning three decades.

On Christmas Day, we’ll repeat the family ritual of enjoying a tasty holiday meal, and opening gifts. Those traditions have been toned down a bit from my childhood days when my good parents splurged beyond their means to make Christmas merry.

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Some of us will eat tofu instead of turkey or ham, and the gift giving has been reigned in as well. We set a reasonable spending limit, pick a name out of a hat, and that’s that. Of course Santa still fills the stockings hanging from the fireplace mantel.

Later, the five Stambaugh siblings and any available family members will met at our little sister’s home to honor the season and our folks. After all, Mom and Dad instilled in us a fervent love for Christmas.

Myriads of global families will mirror my own, each in their own traditions and styles. Others have already gathered to bake cookies, or attended school programs, or a holiday concert. Still others packed food and clothing for the needy or served meals to too many homeless peoples around the world.

A curious collection of peoples was drawn to that original anointed Nativity scene. Once the event’s date was arbitrarily fixed as Dec. 25, families have been assembling ever since.

Centuries later, Christmas is still for gathering. The modes and means of doing so may have changed, but the reason has not.
In that, let us all rejoice and be glad that we can gather together indeed.

friendsgatherbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Appreciating the daily gifts we are given

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A beautiful sunrise greeted these birders in search of a Snowy Owl.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For much too long already we’ve been enduring an avalanche of cutesy commercials and gimmicky advertisements foisting an assortment of products from A to Z on us. Each one is pitched as the perfect Christmas gift to give.

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Snowy Owl.
Catalogues, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the Internet, even emails push various products for us to purchase for our loved ones. I do my best to ignore them. It’s a bold statement from someone who spent part of his career in marketing.

I understand why all the product promotions are done. Retailers often need productive holiday sales to ensure a profit for the year. I certainly don’t begrudge them for trying.

At my stage in life, I find greater joy in a brilliant but brief sunrise than a glitzy ad. Sometimes on the coldest rural Ohio mornings, the pinks and blues that quickly morph into warm oranges, reds and yellows stir me more than any new car wrapped in a big red bow could.

Joy comes in many packages if we just take the time to notice them, even on the grayest of days. Amid this entire holiday hullabaloo, I have to remind myself to stop and take a deep breath.

Advent is the perfect time to slow down our lives, not speed them up, rushing around trying to find just the proper gift. It might already be right in front of us.

I speak from experience.

When our daughter, now a mother with young children of her own, was two-years old, she would stand on the kitchen counter at our home in Killbuck, Ohio. Together we would watch the birds devour the birdseed we had put out for them. Young as she was, Carrie could correctly identify each species.

Teetering on the rim of the Grand Canyon is an awesome feeling. Sharing that incredible vista with a person who is viewing it for the first time is even better. When it’s your son, seeing his smile is priceless.

When my wife and I braved a frigid winter’s night with a dear couple to search the dark sky for a rare comet, I was cold but hopeful. We rejoiced when we found it, quietly celebrating the event together. No words were needed.

When you go in search of a Snowy Owl, a rare avian visitor to our area, your hopes are high. Even when the bird can’t be located, the camaraderie of other birders on the same search makes up for the whiff. There are no wild goose chases in birding.

When you receive a hand-made card that includes drawings of a cardinal, an eagle and a blue jay, all appropriately colored by your grandchild, you know you are loved. You keep and display that precious gift where you can see it daily.

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The gifts of life are all around us. We just have to look for them.
When a long-lost relative unexpectedly contacts you, you rejoice and reconnect with someone you may have only ever met once or maybe never. Surprise gifts rule.

When you stand in line for an hour or more to offer your condolences to the family of someone you have never met, you are blessed by the grace and appreciation shown to you by the mourners. Even in grief, great gifts are exchanged.

Advent is a time for reflection, renewing, remembering. It is a holy gift, freely given, gladly embraced.

The din of commercials not withstanding, Christmastime models what it means to give and to receive. I wonder what gifts will unwrap themselves for you and me today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Writing the dreaded annual Christmas letter, then and now

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I gave up sending Christmas cards en masse several years ago. To keep up with the times, we transitioned into doing an annual Christmas letter instead.

We thought a personal synopsis more appropriate to keep friends apprized of what was happening in our family, and those of our adult children. Plus we saved the expense of the store-bought cards.

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The late Marian Stambaugh.
With electronic communication now socially acceptable, most of our letters are sent via email to the chagrin of the U.S. Postal Service. Whenever I begin our annual letter, nostalgia appears like Marley’s ghost. Advent days long-passed flash before me.

I have fond memories of the Christmas cards our family received from friends and relatives, some near, some far. After she had opened the cards and read them, our kind mother would allow us kids to tape them to the inside of the wooden front door of the home where I grew up in suburban Canton, Ohio.

Some years Mom would cover the door with colorful paper wrapping, creating a festive background to the many season’s greetings we had posted. Mom taught us to apply the various sized and beautifully illustrated cards in an attractive, creative pattern.
Both hand-written and typed letters of greetings from friends and relatives who lived hundreds, even thousands of miles away were tucked into some of the cards. It was the way to communicate back then.

I think Mom had a higher purpose for the festooned door beyond being a welcoming holiday decoration. For our modest middle-class family, the patchwork of cards served as a symbol of how rich we really were, not in monetary wealth, but in valued, enduring relationships.

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Advent candles.
Typical of many post-World War II families, Dad worked, first a blue-collar job, then a white-collar one. Mom efficiently ran the household on Dad’s meager income, and nurtured her five energetic darlings.

Our family sent out a host of our own Christmas cards. Our ever-thrifty mother would purchase the greeting cards during the post-Christmas sales of the previous year.

Mom addressed the envelopes with her easy, flowing handwriting while some of us kids helped seal and stamp the cards. I sweet-talked my younger siblings into licking that horrible tasting glue on the back of the postage stamps. I hope they’ve forgotten that.

That was a long time ago. Technology and progress, always a subjective word, have changed our lives forever.

Each year I enjoy authoring the one-page summary of the year’s top family happenings, though a couple of years ago I forgot to mention our 40th wedding anniversary. My wife is the letter’s chief editor, so all was forgiven.

I try to make the annual accounting as lighthearted and informative as possible. In recent years, when the aged bodies of parents, aunts and uncles have breathed their last, the letters tended to be more subdued.

I used to simply sit down and write the highlights from memory. Afterwards, I would double-check the calendar that chronicled

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Christmas wreath.
all of our appointments, meetings, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations and other notable events.

Given my previous major omission, I now scour the calendar before I begin to write. Only instead of the daily ledger with scenic pictures, I click on my laptop’s calendar icon to scroll through the year month by month.

It’s time to write our family’s annual letter. It might make people laugh. It might make them cry. But I sincerely doubt it will end up on anyone’s front door.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Heading down Route 66

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The Grand Canyon, one of the many destinations made more accessible by U.S. Route 66.

By Bruce Stambaugh

U.S. Route 66 is legendary. Built in 1926, the highway that connected Chicago with Los Angeles helped to open up the western United States, especially after World War II.

Officially tabbed “The Will Rogers Highway,” the concreted, two-lane road became so popular that it quickly took on another moniker, “the Mother Road.” The highway enabled many Americans to access locales they had only heard of or dreamed about.

Many took to the famous road to visit historic sites, national parks, or tickle their toes in the southern California surf. Hundreds of service oriented businesses, restaurants, gas stations, motels and the like, grew once sleepy towns into expanding cities.

After Bobby Troup took a trip from Pennsylvania to the west coast on the road, he penned a now iconic song about his experience. “Route 66” is still a familiar song.

Today tourists from around the world travel as much of the original route that remains, too. They want to relive what life was like before the road was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985. The establishment of the Interstate Highway System spelled doom for the romanticized route and the cities and businesses through which U.S. 66 traversed. Radiator Springs, the fictional town in the movie “Cars,” is used as an example of how the Interstate Highway System affected so many small towns across the southwest.

I have traveled on only a few sections of the famous route. My late father, however, had a very personal and memorable connection to U.S. 66. It was the road he and two other sailors drove home following their discharge from the Navy at the close of World War II.

I remember Dad telling me about a restaurant owner in Texas who helped them out. As they drove east along U.S. 66, Dad and his traveling companions kept seeing billboards for a restaurant that advertised serving “the largest steak in Texas.”

Of course the trio decided to check out the claim. Still dressed in their Navy whites, they had little money. Glad for their service to country, business owners often gave them discounts or even free food at places where they stopped.

This restaurateur was no exception. Never one to be bashful, my father approached the restaurant’s owner, and told him they had seen his many billboards along the road. Dad point blank asked him if his largest steak claim was true.

Impressed with their enthusiasm and their military service, the owner gave all three men a free steak dinner. Dad said it was indeed the largest steak he had ever eaten.

So why am I telling you all this about a road that doesn’t exist anymore? I blatantly used this nostalgia to make a simple, metaphoric point. I’m beginning my own journey on 66. I’ll soon be that age. Our birthdays are important after all. We only have them once a year.

Since I was a kid, I have wistfully declared that I would live to be 100. I had no way of knowing that of course. It was just my way of saying I enjoy life, and want to live it as vibrantly, as long, as well, and as purposefully as possible.

I feel very fortunate indeed to have completed nearly two-thirds of the way to that century mark along life’s bumpy highway. I don’t know if I’ll reach that lofty milestone or not, but I am going to give it my all trying. I still have a lot of living to do.

This year I’ll travel down my own personal Route 66. For in the masterful words of the beloved American poet Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before I sleep.”

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Cathedral Rock from Oak Creek Crossing, Sedona, AZ.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013