Here’s to the year of the quirky calendar

Amish country, spring, Amish buggy, Amish school
Spring in Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Being a weekly newspaper columnist, I pay attention to the calendar. I have to if I want my columns to appear in print. If I miss a deadline, well you know.

I only just recently noticed the quirkiness of the 2016 calendar. For instance, February, the shortest month, had five Mondays. If you are reading this on Feb. 29, it’s “Leap Day.” Within its 31 days, January only had four Mondays. Go figure.

That got me delving into the rest of the year. My research revealed several interesting tidbits of facts and silliness. Every month has at lease one cause, and many weeks have more than one reason to celebrate.

Digging further, I discovered a wide diversity of day designations that I never heard of. I guess I need to get out more.

January and February are history. Here’s a sampling of what’s in store for the rest of 2016. For the sake of space, I picked the most notable ones, minus the standard holidays.

spring flowers, crocuses
Crocuses.
March brings its share of quirkiness. March 3 is “If Pets had Thumbs Day.” March 9 is “Panic Day.” Besides the “Ides of March,” March 15 is “Dumbstruck Day.” I couldn’t make this stuff up.

April is no better. By starting off with “April Fools Day,” it follows that April is “National Humor Month.” Appropriately, it’s also “Stress Awareness Month.” The first week of April is “Read a Road Map Week.” I wonder when “GPS Week” is? April 4 is “Tell a Lie Day,” followed by “Go for Broke Day” on April 5.

May is “National Bike Month” and “National Photograph Month.” Designated days include May 3, “Lumpy Rug Day;” May 11, “Eat What You Want Day,” and the only Friday the 13th of the year.
Though I love June, I’m a little confused about its designations. It is “Aquarium Month” and the first week is “Fishing Week.” Maybe I can figure that out on June 1, “Flip a Coin Day.”

keep calm sign
The sign says it all.
Surprisingly, July has only one week dedicated to a cause. Week two is “Nude Recreation Week,” which I am not advocating. I will, however, promote July as “Blueberry Month.” Besides being “Independence Day,” July 4 is “Sidewalk Egg Frying Day.”

I like August. It’s “Admit You’re Happy Month,” which goes nicely with the second week, “National Smile Week.” Appropriately, Aug. 16 is “National Tell a Joke Day.”

Just in time for football season, September is “Little League Month” as in baseball. The ninth month starts off with “Emma M. Nutt Day.” She was the very first telephone operator. You’re on your own until October.

With 18 endorsements, October is a highly regarded month. Did I mention October is “Sarcastic Month?” That must explain why Oct. 3 is “Virus Appreciation Day.”

Hold your ears in November when it’s “National Drum Month.” And is it ironic that Nov. 8 is both the “U.S. General Election” and “Dunce Day?”

That brings us to December. It seems like 2016 will end goofy, too. Take Dec. 21, the winter solstice. Besides being the year’s day with the least daylight, Dec. 21 is “Humbug Day,” “Look on the Bright Side Day,” and “National Flashlight Day.”

Say what you will, the calendar is used to promote a variety of legitimate to questionable causes and remembrances. I’m not endorsing this practice, just reporting it.

I’ll simply stick to writing my columns as the literary spirit moves, quirky days or no quirky days. Enjoy this “Leap Day.” Tomorrow is “National Pig Day.”

pileated woodpecker, shadow, winter solstice
Solstice shadow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Under the Driftwood Arch

driftwood, art photography
Under the Driftwood Arch.

I could say a lot about this photo, its marvelous characteristics, angle, perspective, textures, aesthetics, how I came upon the scene, and the uniqueness of the barrier island beach. Instead, I’ll simply let the photo and the headline speak for themselves.

“Under the Driftwood” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

The magic in my life and yours

black skimmer, breaking waves
Magic in motion.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Do you believe in magic? I do, and I’m not channeling The Lovin’ Spoonful here either.

Whether we know it or not, we all have a little magic in our lives. It’s all around if we only take time and effort to notice.

I watched with joy and affection as the six-year-old tilted her head, gently flipped her long, blonde hair, batted her eyelashes, and put her index finger to her cheek contemplating her next move in dominoes. A mirror of her mother, I mentally catapulted back 35 years to when our daughter was the same age as Maren.

birding on the beach
Birder Bruce.
I knew my friend and his wife were passing through to visit. Just seeing him leaning into his camera on a tripod focusing on a flock of shorebirds on the beach gave me chills. The loving embraces of Bruce and Helen rekindled lifetime friendships.

I could hear the deep bass pulsate as the Swartzentruber Amish buggy approached from a quarter of a mile away. The dishes in our antique china closet rattled in harmony with the subwoofers syncopated vibrations as the buggy passed by the house.

Northern Gannets knifed into the ocean as a pod of dolphins played in the unusually calm Atlantic waters just off shore. These birds usually fished far from shore in churning waves, not placid shallows. We enjoyed the free show immensely.

Ft. Clinch St. Park, grandson
Getting the answer.
I observed the unabashed curiosity of the middle grandchild as he approached the reenactment soldier to ask a question about the Civil War fort. With the answer in hand, we trekked off to view the remnants of the old kitchen.

The melodic reverberations from the church’s old pipe organ grabbed me more firmly than a human handshake. I marveled at the introspective results, peace, joy, purpose, and compassion.

Antsy man that I am, I have at last learned to wait in one spot for the birds to come to me. I am seldom disappointed.

frosted produce field
After the frost.
After the first frost of the season, I waded into the rainbow of produce that littered the fertile field. The upbeat young farmer merely said a new season had begun.

In sadness, a friend told me that police arrested her young neighbor for writing threating notes to do public harm. The family can hardly afford to put food on the table let alone this. Her compassion moved me.

A small herd of deer leaped from the protection of the woods through my neighbor’s open field across a woven wire fence and into the next farm field. I watch with wonder their white tails bob in the dreary day until they bounded out of sight.

A friend sent me a note of appreciation. His expression of gratitude humbled me, drawing us closer than we were before.

wall hanging
Pastels.
The pleasing pastels of the wall hanging rested in my wife’s quilting frame. When completed, she gave the lovely piece to a friend who said the colors perfectly matched her décor. Karen’s smile was all the thanks Neva needed.

His family about to leave after their short visit, the oldest grandchild, 11 going on 21, climbed out of the back seat of the van. Evan gave Nana and Poppy another goodbye hug. We each teared up.

There might not seem anything magical about these everyday scenarios. But there was. The magic wasn’t pulled from a black hat or a shirtsleeve. Rather, life’s fleeting wonder is all around us all the time. It’s our duty to notice.

Real magic transcends illusionary tricks. It’s the ordinary moments in our lives that create extraordinary memories.

sunrise, Atlantic Ocean
Morning magic.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Sparkles All Around

surfer, Atlantic Ocen
Sparkles All Around.

I enjoy shooting photographs into the sun. It’s always challenging to get everything in focus and avoid the sun’s glare on the camera lens. When that happens, the results are exciting.

I loved everything about this photo. Your eyes go to the nearly silhouetted surfer headed home after a few hours in the Atlantic’s chilly waters. But it’s what’s all around him that made the scene. From background to foreground, the textures and details glittered from the late morning sunshine.

The silvery sparkle on the surface of the rippled ocean, the folding of the wave, the remnants of previous waves lingering on the beach, the water dripping from the surfer’s foot, and even the grains of sand on the beach sparkled in their own way.

“Sparkles All Around” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Living core values is just good business

rural view, farmstead, Holmes Co. OH
A rural view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late friend, Perry Reese, Jr., knew a good thing when he saw it. Perry could read people like a newspaper. Best known as Coach, Perry scrutinized his surroundings similarly.

That fact was one of the main reasons the talented and demanding teacher and coach loved living here. It was not easy for a single, black, Catholic man to reside and work amid the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite population. But he did for several successful years until his untimely death in 2000.

Coach Reese
Perry Reese, Jr.
Perry thrived here as a winning coach and as an asset to the entire area. Why? He embraced the same core values as those revered by local folks. Work ethic, faith, community, and family together formed his life foundation.

Paramount to making Perry’s basketball team, players had to demonstrate a strong work ethic. The same characteristic holds for area businesses, too. Honing that esteemed value keeps the local economy healthy and stable, better than state and national averages.

Perry was a very private person, including practicing his faith. But there was no question as to where Perry stood, and he impressed that on his players.

St. Genevieve parish, Holmes Co. OH
St. Genevieve Cemetery and Parish.
It’s fair to say that local businesses attempt to model that approach with their products, services, employees and customers. The goal: actions match beliefs.

Perry loved the community, and for the most part, the community charitably returned the affection. He knew the importance of positive interactions and interpersonal relationships.

It takes determined effort to work together for the common good in a close-knit community. Though not perfect, this area shines in this regard.

Individuals, groups, clubs, churches and foundations regularly join forces with businesses to assist in time of need. Share-A-Christmas and the new county fairgrounds are two examples that come to mind. Add in the multitude of benefit auctions for individuals and service organizations, the commitment to community speaks for itself.

Despite his singleness, Perry placed enormous significance on the importance of family. In fact, he considered his players his family, and many considered him a father figure.

The fact that so many local businesses are family-owned and operated mirrors that concept. Family is everything here. Any and every good excuse is used to gather the family together any time of year.

Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, even solemn holy days like Old Christmas and Ascension Day, families assemble to share and commune. That’s not to say some good old-fashioned ribbing and recreation won’t also ensue.

family, friends, gathering
Gathering of family and friends.
In that same vein, businesses also reward their employees with family days like picnics, destination trips for the entire family, and financial bonuses. After all, a son or daughter might just be part of the next generation of employees.

All that said, it doesn’t mean that businesses and owners set themselves on a higher plane than elsewhere. Nor does it mean mistakes don’t happen. They do. But incorporating these four essential core values creates productive consistency in both corporate and individual lives.

Another admirable quality, humility, ties these four values together for individuals and businesses alike. Perry Reese, Jr. successfully used that important attribute to bind his teams together as one, just as businesses strive to keep their faithful employees.

These four fundamental principles have been time-honored traditions in Holmes Co., Ohio. In truth, they are revered universal values that transcend any and all geographical, social, political, gender, religious or cultural boundaries.

Friend to many, Perry Reese, Jr. was a gem of a guy, who humbly modeled the community’s core values. To do so was simply smart business.

Amish church gathering, Amish buggies
Church gathering.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

The Blue Door

Amish private school
The blue door.

Even in a blowing snowstorm, this light blue door stood out from the blandness that surrounded it. Blue is one of the few colors permitted by the Swartzentruber Amish, the lowest order Amish. They are the plainest of The Plain People. If you didn’t know that, you might not think much about this ordinary blue door. But for the scholars and teacher of this Amish one-room school, it might be the only splash of color they see in their stark schoolyard.

“The Blue Door” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Living the rural life and loving it

barn fire, Holmes Co. OH
Barn fire.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When fire destroyed my neighbor’s old bank barn a couple of years ago, all the firefighters could do was protect the outbuildings. The fully-involved structure burned to the ground.

A month later, blessed insurance arrived in the form of neighbors, family, friends and church members who raised a new building in a day. They started at first light and had the barn roofed and sided by evening. It’s the way of rural life here.

Amish barn raising
Barn raising.
I’ve happily lived my adult life in one of the richest agricultural areas in Ohio. That’s a bit ironic for someone born in a city and raised in a suburb.

My parents influenced my appreciation for the agricultural lifestyle. Dad introduced his five children to farm life early on. Being an avid sportsman, Dad loved to hunt and fish.

Dad knew the importance of building trust with the farmers to be allowed to tromp around their property. Dad listened to their stories, and they returned the favor.

sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Rural sunset.
Mom influenced me positively on farming, too. An accomplished artist, she painted lovely landscapes of farmsteads and their surroundings. The scenes Mom created closely resemble the ones I see every day.

My wife and I built our first house on a bluff overlooking two tributaries of the mighty Killbuck. Manicured farm fields fanned out to the west from our front yard. Thick stands of mixed hardwoods that glowed in the fall filled the surrounding, steep hillsides.

When Farmer Bob came around on a hot summer’s day fixing barbed wire fence rows, I ran out with a cold, clear glass of water just for a chance to talk to him. When it was time to till the garden, Farmer Jim came up from his field to do the job. I offered to pay, but he just winked and smiled and advised using Triple 12 fertilizer.

When we moved northeast 16 miles 36 years ago, we hoped to experience the same interactions. We did that and more.

Amish manure spreader
Spreading sunshine.
When I asked Farmer Levi for some manure for the garden, he delivered it on a bitterly cold February morning. By the time I had dressed to go out to help him, a steaming pile of natural fertilizer already sat atop the snow.

I thanked Levi and asked him how much I owed him for his trouble.

“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t have anything in it.”

That earthy attitude is only one of the reasons I’m wedded to this charming, inviting agricultural community. There are many others.

produce auction, Holmes Co. OH
Produce auction.
No one would ever mistake me for a farmer. Yet, I feel right at home whether in milking parlors, bank barns, farmhouses or pastures.

For more than four decades I have admired families and circles of friends gathering crops, and sharing equipment and smiles. They work long and hard in all kinds of weather for narrow profit margins.

Farming is no longer the dominant occupation it once was here. Less than 10 percent of the Amish farm today. The recent uptick of local produce truck patches has helped continue the family agricultural tradition. I’m glad they have produce stands and auctions to turn all their efforts into cash.

As I photograph sunrises on early chilly mornings or sunsets on sweltering evenings, my mind wanders to my mother and father. I’m forever thankful they taught me to appreciate the land and the good folks who cultivate it.

Rural living has more than made its mark on me. It has wholly and wonderfully enriched my life.

sunset, Ohio's Amish country
September sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016