Morning Blues

Eastern Bluebird, bluebirds, birding
Morning Blues. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I was contemplating long and hard about what to do for my last Photo of the Week post for 2014. I thought about picking out the best photo I could find to cap off the year. When I looked out the window yesterday morning, I changed my mind. The small flock of Eastern Bluebirds that frequents the peanut butter suet feeder in my backyard had arrived. So had the bright sunshine, more a rarity in northeast Ohio than the secretive bluebirds.

I grabbed my camera and was fortunate to capture this stunning male sitting atop the feeder, basking in the morning’s sun rays. The sun illuminated the already beautiful bird all the more. I found the iridescent tail feathers incredible. I searched no more.

“Morning Blues” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Another year, another round of human folly

Amish buggy, rural road, Holmes County Ohio
Down the rural road. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Each year I record some of the more arcane, inane, and maybe even insane happenings that tend to escape headlines. Here are a few of the highs and lows of human endeavor from 2014.

Jan. 9 – An off-duty Houston, Texas firefighter extinguished a fire in an 18-wheeler by using the truck’s cargo, cans of beer.

Jan. 31 – Sparked by static electricity, methane gas from a herd of dairy cows in Rasdorf, Germany exploded, nearly blowing the roof off the barn.

Feb. 22 – Released state records showed that a Spirit Lake, Iowa man was fired and lost his unemployment benefits because he used a forklift to retrieve a candy bar from a malfunctioning vending machine.

March 19 – Greentown, Ohio, volunteer firefighter Justin Deierling proposed to his girlfriend, Megan Zahorec, an elementary teacher, during a scheduled fire drill at her school.

March 24 – Former TV Judge Joe Brown was arrested in Memphis, Tennessee for contempt of court.

April 16 – A three-year-old toddler was reunited with his mother after he was found playing with toys in a claw machine in a bowling alley across the street from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska.

May 5- A Loveland, Ohio man, whose job was to collect coins from parking meters, pleaded guilty to stealing $20,000 in quarters over eight years.

May 15 – The University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio announced that it was replacing 75 percent of its lawn because a weed killer had accidently been used instead of a fertilizer on 54 of the campus’ 72 acres.

June 4 – While participating in a drill about what to do if a gorilla escaped, a Spanish zoo worker dressed in a gorilla suit was shot with a tranquilizer gun by a veterinarian, who didn’t know about the exercise.

July 9 – An 80-year-old American agave plant acquired and housed in the botanical garden at the University of Michigan since 1934 finally bloomed.

July 26 – The Colorado Rockies baseball team gave away 15,000 replica jerseys of All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with his last name misspelled.

August 25 – A masked gunman robbed three people riding in a horse-drawn buggy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

August 31 – Leandra Beccera Lumbreras of Mexico turned 127, the oldest living person in the world.

West Virginia, ginseng hunting,
Ginsing country. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

September 1 – Ginseng season started in West Virginia with the herb expected to bring more than $700 per pound.

September 15 – To celebrate the anniversary of the Suez Canal, Egypt published a commemorative stamp, only to realize that the canal pictured was the Panama Canal.

October 8 – A study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development rated Mississippi as the U.S. state with the worst quality of life.

October 13 – Police in Akron, Ohio said that they arrested 50-year-old David Scofield of Lancaster after he pulled over an off-duty police officer using a fake police car and uniform.

October 20 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was named the winner of Gawker.com’s Worst Accent contest.

November 11 – Police in Oslo, Norway responded to an apartment where screams were reported only to find a man upset because he lost a game of chess to a computer.

December 3 – A pet cat survived for more than a month when it accidentally stowed away in a moving box when its human family relocated from Norfolk, Virginia to Hawaii.

December 15 – The Merriam-Webster Dictionary named “culture” as its word of the year.

I don’t know if there was much culture or not in the mumbo-jumbo of shenanigans during 2014. Let’s hope 2015 brings a culture of blessings, peace and civility all around.

winter sunset, December sunset, Ohio sunset
The sun sets on another year. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Merry Christmas!

nativity display, nativity scene, quilting, wall hanging
Nativity display. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Christmas is upon us. I thought this photo of a Nativity scene the best way to say Merry Christmas to my friends and followers of this blog. This shot of a quilted wall hanging, lighted candles and poinsettia plants is my Photo of the Week.

I wish each of you a Merry Christmas!.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Christmas: Where dreams and memories meet

Christmas morning, Christmas gifts
I found this black and white photo of Christmas morning 1956 at the Stambaughs. Apparently I wanted a guitar. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Growing up in Canton, Ohio after World War II, Christmas was the holiday of holidays for our family. Christmas related activities ran the gamut of the Advent season. My earthly father saw to that, and Mom chimed in, as if she had a choice.

Our wonderful parents modeled the joy of the season for us. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t seem to derail any of their holiday plans or enthusiasm. Given my father’s meager income, I don’t know how they pulled off the Christmas they did for us year after year.

Like most families, we had our Yuletide traditions. Shopping was one of them, and extravagance was not on the list. Consequently, shopping took a back seat to preparing the home place inside and out for Christmas. Dad led the charge.

Christmas decoration, pine tree
This is the corner pine tree Dad decorated with lots of colorful lights every Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
We lived on a corner of a very busy intersection in our mixed blue and white-collar neighborhood. Dad had planted a pine tree right on the corner to provide some privacy and help block the noise.

At Christmas, Dad filled that tree with multiple strings of lights, the nightlight-sized bulbs so popular then that glowed in all the primary colors. As the tree grew, so did the string of lights. Year after year, Dad wanted those Christmas lights to shine for all who happened by.

Then there was the family Christmas tree. Dad would round up as many of his five children as possible, and off we would go, sometimes tromping through deep snow, to select just the right tree for our household.

The tree always went up in front of the large plate glass window in the living room. Again, Dad wanted the world to know that his family had the Christmas spirit.

On went the ropes of garland, the fascinating bubbling light bulbs, and strings of regular Christmas lights. On went the fragile decorative ornaments, including colorful antiques from previous generations, and the simplistic arts and crafts ones we had made at school.

Next came real candy canes that somehow seemed to have totally disappeared by Christmas morning. Finally, we slathered the tree’s tender limbs with tons of silvery tinsel. There wasn’t an empty space on the tree.

The plastic church that illuminated centered the wooden fireplace mantel. A pair of red candles affixed in Mom’s cherished cut glass candlesticks adorned the mantel’s ends.

baking Christmas cookies, Christmas
My wife continues the tradition of making Christmas cookies with our grandchildren. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Mom and her cherubs rolled, baked, iced and sprinkled sugar cookies in shapes of stars, Christmas trees, bells, and ornaments. Dad bought chocolates at the neighborhood candy shop.

My brothers, sisters and I were so excited we could hardly sleep the night before Christmas. All the while, Mom and Dad stayed up late assembling and wrapping gifts. We weren’t allowed up before six on Christmas morning. But younger brother Jim always started the countdown well before then.

Because of his hardscrabble childhood, Dad always wanted us kids to have the Christmas he never did. If Dad’s goal was to turn his dreams into a lifetime of memories for us, he more than succeeded. I think he wanted that for Mom and himself, too.

When Dad died five years ago just before Christmas, my brothers, sisters and I mourned his passing. We marveled, though, at the timing of Dad’s death, Christmas, his favorite time of year.

Christmas is for children. It brings out the youngster in all of us no matter what age we happen to be. That’s only appropriate, since the holiday started with the birth of a long-anticipated child.

May your Christmas dreams also be fulfilled, and may loving Christmas memories last a lifetime.

Christmas tree, Christmas, Christmas presents, Christmas decorations
Christmas at the Stambaughs. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Wash day

Amish, laundry line, wash line, wash day, Holmes County Ohio
Wash day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014

No matter the season or the weather, Monday is laundry day in Ohio’s Amish country. That’s a given, since the Amish take seriously the scriptural admonition to do no work on the Sabbath. Other than necessary farm chores, the Amish do not “work” on Sunday. Consequently, it’s normal to see freshly washed clothes flapping on a laundry line every Monday. Given the size of their families, averaging about five children, laundry is done other days as well. But you can always count on seeing laundry lines on Monday all around Amish country.

As is evident in this photo, the Amish have become quite adept at stringing the wash so that it does not interfere with children, animals and implements can move freely around the yard. In this case, a sturdy line was affixed to a pulley high on the barn siding. The line connects to a similar pulley on the wall of the outbuilding. This makes it very convenient to hang the laundry without having to endure the wintry elements of a typical northeast Ohio winter. The pulley moves so that clothes are hung one garment at a time.

The pastel pieces of laundry really stand out against the solid red background of the barn. “Wash day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Tis the season to remember the poor

snow scene, barn in snow
Christmas landscape. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to read to children.

As an elementary student, I feared being called on to read. I was in my glory when the instructions were to read silently. I had my immature reasons, most of which were cemented in fear of reading aloud, mispronouncing words and the ensuing public chastisement.

I got over it, but I still don’t like to read out loud in front of groups. There was an exception, however. When I became an elementary teacher, I enjoyed reading to my own students because they respectfully listened.

Often times I read right after the noon recess. Intermediate school children played hard. I wanted them to be ready for the afternoon lessons. I found reading timely, age-appropriate stories perfect for getting the students calmed and cooled down.

All they had to do was listen, even with their heads on their desks. Reading allowed me to refocus, too.

reading to children, reading
Reading to my granddaughter.
This time of year, I always read Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” I still read it to myself every year. It’s one of my Yuletide traditions.

The book is a classic with a timeless story of a changed heart and helping the poor. Set in 19th century London, Dickens beautifully played out the true meaning of Christmas through the tension he created between Ebenezer Scrooge and the other main characters in the book, mainly his nephew, Fred, and Scrooge’s desk clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I marveled at how well the students paid attention. After I finished reading for 10 or 15 minutes, the students always begged me to read on. Most wanted to hear what happened next. Some, of course, just wanted a further delay in doing the afternoon lessons.

I read and continue to read “A Christmas Carol” because it is incredible literature, very well written, and a commentary on the societal situations at the time. I also enjoy the spirit that the book imbibes. It clearly reflects the true meaning of Christmas.

reading, reading to grandkids
Reading to grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
In the opening scene, the stage is set. Two men enter Dickens’ accounting office to ask for a monetary donation to help the poor. Scrooge asks them if the poor houses and the workhouses have disappeared, knowing they have not.

Scrooge shoos the men out, and in the process lets in his happy-go-lucky nephew, Fred. He promptly invites Scrooge to a Christmas party, to which Scrooge imparts his legendary “Bah Humbug” retort. Fred leaves, disappointed but not discouraged.

Dickens’ classic still rings true today. As technologically advanced as we are today, as quickly as we can communicate with others, as good as we have it in our North American society, the poor are still among us.

I am thankful for all of the organizations, churches, businesses and individuals that give freely of their time and money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the less fortunate at Christmastime.

These kind and generous acts exemplify the Christmas spirit in action, much the way Dickens’ fabled tale does. Because I have read the story so many times, I know what’s coming. But because the story is so well written, still apropos, I keep reading “A Christmas Carol.” Its message to help the poor is intended to reach far beyond the holiday season.

If you haven’t ever read “A Christmas Carol,” I won’t spoil it for you. Read it. Your Christmas will be brighter for it, and maybe, just maybe, someone else’s life will be richer because you did.

food delivery, helping the poor
Helping the poor anytime of year any way possible is always appreciated. © Bruce Stambau gh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Country chapel

Chapel at Judy Gap, country church, chapel
Country chapel. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife and I drove for four hours in a steady to light rain from our home in Ohio on our way to Virginia’s Shenandoah’s Valley. We never saw the sun. We passed through Judy Gap, West Virginia, a low spot in the razorback ridge of the nearly vertical Tuscarora quartzite outcropping, and started up yet another mountain pass. As we rounded a curve, this country chapel stood, basking in the bright sunshine that had broken through the heavy cloud cover.

The contrast between the little church’s illuminated white paint, silver roof, and the dark clouds in the background made this week’s Photo of the Week selection easy. “Country chapel” is it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.