Monthly Archives: April 2014

The joy of being with other writers

folderandnotesbybrucestambaugh

The festival folder and my scribbly notes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love being with other writers. They inspire me, challenge me, and rally me.

That’s one reason I belong to the Killbuck Valley Writers Guild, a small band of area writers devoted to honing their skills at the craft. We meet weekly, though I can’t always make it. We read, we write, and we share. It’s the writing process personified.

I also like to attend writing conferences on occasion. Doing so helps me keep up with what’s going on in publishing, and in today’s world of instantaneous information, there’s a lot. Time and experience have given me that perspective.

As a youngster, I took my writing ability for granted. I thought everyone could write. It took me a long time to realize that wasn’t the case.

In college, I chose to major in journalism, in part because I enjoyed writing, and because I had experience writing for local newspapers even as a teenager. I can thank the late Hymie Williams for that opportunity. Williams was a sports writer for The Plain Dealer, and got me started writing for the paper at age 16.

raymondbucklandbybrucestambaugh

Raymond Buckland is a driving force and a valued member of the Killbuck Valley Writers’ Guild. Having written 70 books, he serves as a mentor to the group’s members. We just call him Buck.

But an internship at a major metropolitan newspaper showed me the inside out of the publishing business, and I didn’t like what I saw. Instead, I turned to my first love, helping children. After my 30-year career in education ended, however, the ink in my veins still flowed.

I began my second career in marketing and writing, working for two local, successful businesses extolling the virtues of their products and services. I began writing my weekly column about the same time.

Now in my retirement phase of life, writing has finally become the priority it should have been all along. I greatly enjoy sharing stories week to week. But I also recognize that I still have much to absorb about writing.

When I learned about the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I signed up for the three-day deal. My wife and three other friends who also love to write accompanied me. I could not imagine what a wise decision we had made.

It was pure joy to mingle with people who know and love the printed word as much or more than I do. I was grateful for the chance to learn, grow, and improve my writing by attending workshops, listening to speakers, and joining informal breakout groups.

atcalvincollegebybrucestambaugh

The campus of Calvin College.

I had been to other writing conferences, and found them to be very helpful. But they did not compare to the breadth and depth of the offerings at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Held on the campus of Calvin College, the hospitality shown by the staff and volunteers, and even students that I encountered, was generous and gracious.

To be able to hear the personal stories of noted authors like Richard Foster, James McBride, Anne Lamott and Rachel Held Evans was simply amazing. To have the opportunity to speak briefly with them was icing on the cake.

These were real people, with real life issues, not much different than you and me. Hearing them, seeing them, conversing with them gave me renewed hope, and encouragement to keep writing.

The conference was a reminder that we all have stories to share. Attending the Festival of Faith and Writing inspired me to keep telling your stories, my stories, and to continue pursuing my dream of one day publishing a book.

For me, the conference affirmed three points. Writing is hard work. Having a circle of trusted friends is critical for effective writing. And I need to accelerate my writing endeavors here and now. Time is fleeting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

4 Comments

Filed under column, writing

Sweetness found in more than maple syrup

sugarshackbybrucestambaugh

Elmer’s sugar shack.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I left a voicemail message for Elmer, a former elementary student of mine. I told him that I would arrive at his sugar shack between 9 and 10 on Saturday morning.

No longer the fourth grader I fondly remembered, Elmer was now a husband, father, grandfather and entrepreneur. I considered it a privilege to be invited into this unpretentious but productive workplace.

The process of making maple syrup has to be done in a timely fashion. When the sap’s running, it’s time to get busy.

Above the sugar shack, a billowy blend of steam and smoke filtered through barren branches and into the morning’s overcast, and signaled that Elmer and his crew were already hard at work. The smoke meant the wood-fired boiler was stoked. The steam said the sap was boiling.

Strands of thin blue tubing zigzagged downhill from maple tree to maple tree, converging at the weathered wood building. Lid-covered buckets marked the taps on the trees and served as junctions for the plastic tubing.

A lazy, little stream split the handsome, steep hillside farm fields on either side of the hollow. Even after all of the moisture we had had, the creek just trickled softly as if it didn’t want to disturb the bucolic setting. Near the entrance a small sign welcomed one and all to the Yoder’s sugar camp.

The annual effort clearly was a family affair, too. With my arrival, the close quarters of Elmer’s operation soon filled with curious family members. Some were there to work and visit, others, mainly to scope me out.

When he’s not making maple syrup, Elmer has his fingers in several other operations. He makes wooden slats for the interiors of utility trucks as well as nylon pockets for tools and electronic parts.

In addition, Elmer makes wood clocks in the shape of Ohio with each of the state’s 88 counties a different wood. Elmer has developed his own variety of sweet, tart apple. I can attest that they are delicious. Elmer is a multi-talented man.

As Elmer showed me the various aspects of his sugaring operation, I marveled at his ingenuity, and his acute knowledge. He talked while he worked, once using the hydrometer to check the percentage of brix in the bubbling solution.

Outside large stainless steel tanks captured the sweet liquid until it was pumped into the reverse osmosis system that made his sugaring operation so efficient and kept the finished product consistent.

All the while young sons and pretty daughters scurried about their tasks, too. They stoked the fire frequently to maintain the proper temperature to keep the boiling sap boiling.

Elmer demonstrated how syrup is graded by both flavor and color. Apparently, lovers of maple syrup have their preferences.

Soon more family members entered, including two that I should have recognized but did not. Sister Fannie, and younger brother, Harry, arrived just minutes apart. Like Elmer, I had taught them, too. I had no idea they were coming.

That’s when the stories really started to flow faster than the maple sap. They reminded me of events and interactions I had long forgotten. Their smiles told me they had waited a long time for this opportunity.

Teachers live for moments like this. To have former students chatter on and on in heart-felt contentment overwhelmed me with abundant joy.

The apples and syrup each had their own special sweetness. No instrument, however, has yet been made to gauge the sweetness of the hospitality shown to me.

maplesyrupbybrucestambaugh

The signs said it all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

6 Comments

Filed under Amish, column, family, Ohio, photography, weather, writing

Spring’s first day: Winter coat to no coat

springssunrisebybrucestambaugh

Spring’s sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Winter just wouldn’t let go, even on the first full day of spring.

The day dawned with glorious anticipation. A rosy sunrise filtered through the cumulous clouds hanging low on the eastern horizon. It was down hill from there for much of the rest of the morning.

After the welcoming daybreak came the discovery of a horseshoe nail in the sidewall of a relatively new tire. It’s just one of the hazards of living in Holmes County, Ohio.

Next came the snow, which the weather forecast seemed to have overlooked. By the time my wife and I had reached our morning’s destination, nearly an inch had fallen.

plowinginthesnowbybrucestambaugh

Plowing in the snow.

A former student of mine had invited us to view his maple sugaring operation at the southern end of the county. It had been a long time since I had seen Elmer, a quiet, studious youngster when I taught him in fourth grade. That was 44 years ago.

Elmer had called earlier in the week to tell me he’d be boiling sap. Unfortunately, this day wasn’t one of them. Instead, we had a very nice visit with Elmer and his wife, reminiscing about those long ago school days.

After a while, Elmer’s mother joined us shortly before we needed to leave. By then an overcast sky had replaced the springtime squalls.

thinningskybybrucestambaugh

Thinning sky.

Up hill, down dale, around curves left and right, the further north we drove towards home, the stronger the sun became. At lunchtime, with the heavens still hazy, the sun hung overhead like a bare light bulb trying to illuminate an entire gymnasium.

I had a couple of appointments to keep in the afternoon, which required further driving. I enjoyed my visits, and was pleased to see no line at the usually busy carwash. I needed to clean off the mud from the morning’s foray.

When I returned home, my workaholic wife was outside cleaning up the yard and flowerbeds. Out of chivalry and my own desire to enjoy the remainder of the day, I donned a light jacket and joined her.

I needed to do my part in collecting winter’s litter. When you propagate a mini-forest of various deciduous and evergreen species, a lot of dead leaves and windblown sticks need to be gathered.

This surge of warmth and sunshine had energized me. I decided to trim some of the wiry lower branches of the jumble of trees and scrubs I had planted over three decades.

afternoonshimmeringbybrucestambaugh

Afternoon shimmering.

I knew when I had snipped a sugar maple limb. The sap dripped like a leaky faucet. Right then and there I decided I would head back to Elmer’s sugar shack the next day. I definitely wanted to see his outfit in operation.

All the while, the afternoon sun grew stronger and stronger. It was good to be outside again enjoying the sights, sounds and odorous whiffs of the springtime countryside.

Every few minutes, the song sparrows let loose a few bars of their cheery chorus. Not to be outdone, the cardinals called, too, first from a fir tree, and then they flitted to the bare branches of the oaks and maples.

I was enjoying myself so much, I pitched my jacket altogether. In a matter of hours, it had gone from a winter coat day to a no coat day.

I was glad that winter had finally let go its hoary hold, even if it was only a brief interlude on spring’s first afternoon.

farvervalleybybrucestambaugh

Farver Valley.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Leave a comment

Filed under Amish, column, Ohio, photography, weather, writing

A detour of no inconvenience

snowonthemountainsbybrucestambaugh

Snow on the Appalachian Mountains.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This winter’s wicked weather altered many well-laid plans, especially for travelers. My wife and I were no exception.

We delayed our trip south by a day due to a winter storm in the Appalachian Mountains. The extreme cold air followed us all the way to northern Florida.

As we readied to return home at vacation’s end, yet another major winter storm was chugging up the Ohio Valley. We weighed our options about our return trip. It would have been delightful to remain in place. But we needed to return home. It was time.

gamenightbybrucestambaugh

Game night.

South Carolina and North Carolina were still recovering from one-two punches of unusually extreme wintry weather that downed thousands of trees and caused massive power outages. We didn’t want to risk being stranded there either.

Fortunately, we had an attractive option that would take us well out of the way home. We decided to visit our grandchildren in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a year-round scenic place. It was a big sacrifice, I know.

We hadn’t seen our grandkids since Christmas. It was only logical that we should avoid the storm by detouring to Harrisonburg. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Oh, we had a lovely two-day drive to their hillside home near the university where their daddy, our son-in-law, works. But the storm detoured, too. The morning after we arrived we awakened to three inches of snow overtop a quarter inch of ice.

closedbybrucestambaugh

The heavy snow even cancelled class at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA.

It snowed all day, doubling the snowy accumulation. Of course, schools were closed, giving us bonus time with our three grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren. It was a vacation within a vacation, like finding a diamond ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.

The backyard where our daughter and her family live is perfect for sled riding. The day we left Ohio a month earlier, it was 15 degrees below zero. So I had plenty of warm clothes to wear, including the pair of waterproof shoes I wore while walking on the beach.

We bundled up, grabbed the day glow orange toboggans, and went out into it. We had a riot. Little Maren, the daring four year-old, really isn’t so little anymore. She laid supine in one of the sleds and zipped down the gentle slope and slid right into the neighbor’s backyard.

The boys whooped, and Maren immediately recognized her amazing accomplishment. She jumped up and screeched with glee, “That was just like a rocket booster.”

That’s pretty much how our two and a half days with them went. We would play outside until the cold drove us inside. As soon as his jacket was off, Evan was setting up the game boards, or dealing the playing cards. He loves table games, not only because he is competitive, but mostly because he usually wins.

Davis was content to unwind and warm up on his own, playing his creative, imaginary games with his Lego people and assembled utilitarian pieces. I hope I’m alive when he is awarded the Noble prize in the sciences.

If she’s not playing with Davis, Maren knows all the buttons to touch on the screens of the iPad or laptop whichever is available to her. When I get over my pride, I’ll have to have her show me how to operate them.

My wife and I may have arrived home a week later than we expected. But in this case, the delay was no inconvenience at all.

deeratsunsetbybrucestambaugh

Deer at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

6 Comments

Filed under column, family, news, photography, travel, weather, writing