Believe it or not, it takes work to retire

breakfast on the beach
Snowbird breakfast.

By Bruce Stambaugh

After all these years of work, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. It takes extra effort to learn to retire.

I officially retired at the turn of the New Year. I intentionally timed that major life event to coincide with the calendar and our annual winter trip to northeastern Florida. It just seemed logical.

After having worked my entire life, I decided to phase out of employment gradually. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what retirement would look and feel like. My hope was that this snowbird time would help me reorient my routines and priorities.

My wife and I are still relatively new at this snowbird business. We are downright raw rookies at retirement. Parking yourself on the ocean’s doorstep has served as an excellent approach to finding our way through this new, uncharted territory.

I knew this particular geographic location well enough from our previous visits. Neva and I have wintered on Amelia Island, Florida’s northeastern most barrier island, for the last few years.

Cutting the ties to my part-time jobs would be the challenge. On our prior trips, I especially kept a close eye on events at home out of necessity. I daily maintained the social network page of the coop-marketing group I facilitated.

Ohio's Amish country, snow, Amish farm
Meanwhile back home.

I had township trustee issues and responsibilities to hash out from time to time. If snow was in the Northeast Ohio forecast, I couldn’t sleep well even though I was 800 miles away from home. I kept wondering how the road crew was doing.

Occasionally, residents would contact me to report a problem. Despite sketchy cell phone service, I’d have to try to communicate with the other trustees or our workers. Sometimes multiple calls were needed just to complete a single conversation.

Now that I was retired, all that was history. Those responsibilities disappeared. I will admit, though, that I have done a lot of the same old wondering this first month off the job. Old habits die hard.

I still checked the weather, both for home and for Florida. I did so more for comparison than anything else. I wanted to see what friends and family back home were enduring.

black skimmer, breaking waves
Magic in motion.

For our part, I focused my attention on the tide charts and when the sun rose and set. That way I could time my morning and evening photo shoots and plan our strolls on the beach. Of course, when you’ve camped yourself where the ocean is your front yard, alluring tactile distractions abound.

It’s much more enjoyable to walk at low tide than high. Shorebirds linger by the tidal pools and sandbars probing and fishing for food. The moist, flatter, firmer sand made for easier walking, too.

I also watched the weather forecasts to plan day trips to nearby state parks for events like outdoor lectures, photography walks, and plain old exercise. Saturday mornings were reserved for attending the fabulous farmers market where we purchased locally grown produce, homemade goodies, and fresh, locally caught shrimp.

I know. It sounds like a tough life.

I hope I don’t come across as rubbing it in. I just wanted to assure you that life on this side of retirement seems to be working out, excuse the pun, perfectly.

Neva and I will enjoy this life of bliss while we can. Once we return home, this version of retirement will come to an abrupt end.

So far it’s been hard work learning to retire. But I think we’ll survive.

shoreline fishing, Atlantic Ocean
Mauve morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Backlit Great Egret

great egret, Egans Creek Greenway FL
Backlit Great Egret.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Backlit Great Egret” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Sharing life stories created a watershed moment

snowbirds, ocean view
Our ocean view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were four snowbird couples, all in our 60s and 70s, gathered for dessert and discussion. We all vacationed in the same Florida condominium building. We had a lot of tales to tell, and plenty of time and opportunity to relate them.

I wasn’t quite sure how the evening would go, given that not all of the couples knew one another. I need not have worried. The ubiquitous congeniality and spontaneity to share kept the conversation moving smoothly, freely, flawlessly. Amtrak never ran so well.

These had been lives well lived, not arrogantly or haughtily, but for family, community, with purpose and genuine, earthy pleasure. Farming does that to you. Most had some rooted connection, directly or indirectly, to the land in their upbringing.

Holmes Co. OH farm
Farming roots.

The group was geographically diverse, too. Bermuda, England, Ontario, North Carolina, and Ohio were each well represented.

After dessert, the stories just flowed. We all sat around a plain rectangular table. The chatter rolled as naturally as the crashing waves on the beach that served as our winter front yard.

Despite our various backgrounds, we had a lot in common. We were all grandparents, each with two children. Surprisingly, the conversation centered on subjects other than the grandchildren and their parents.

Rather, reminiscing of careers, successes, failures, misadventures, heroics, and pure silliness filled the evening. I marveled at the wisdom that surrounded me. Not once did the current global politics enter the confab. That was an unspoken blessing.

morel mushroom
Morel mushroom.

Instead, true stories of hidden treasures, broken dreams, personal confrontations, changing priorities, and even morel mushrooms dominated the banter. Of course, smartphones did fact checking.

The comfort level with one another was sublime, not altogether surprising given the characters in the room. Years of experience from office managers, teachers, cooks, explorers, antique enthusiasts, carpenters, and community volunteers were present and accounted for.

Unfettered wisdom oozed from each participant. Despite some of the type A personalities in attendance, no braggadocios emerged. It was an equal-opportunity session, and all took advantage of the necessary give and take of listening and responding. I felt honored to be a member of this temporary social club.

We had originated from backgrounds that spanned rural, tropical, transient, suburban. That only enriched our camaraderie and the conversation. One refreshing tale led to another.

colorful parasail
An uplifting and colorful conversation.

Though no clergy was among us, it was pretty clear we were in the midst of a sacred moment that lasted more than three hours. There was no agenda, no order of service, no liturgy, no sermon, only immediate trust, mutual respect, adamant admiration, and unending inquisitiveness. The gathering was church defined.

Amid all the world’s problems, I found peace and hope in these kind folks and their faithfulness despite humanity’s all too frequent calamitous interactions. Our friends’ faith rang loud and clear, always, always in humble, gentle, kind voices.

Some of these individuals had just met, and yet here they were affirming and absorbing and encouraging one another without bias or inquisition. I was grateful to be counted among them. I felt safe, secure, sure, loved, appreciated, and appreciative.

In truth, the beachfront location was the magnet that drew us all together in this pleasant place. The genuine fellowship was the glue that cemented our budding friendships.

Humanity too often measures historical events in earth-shattering happenings. For me, this evening of pure, pleasurable fellowship instead modeled the way we all should go. It was a moving watershed moment that pulled me into this new, transformative year.

dawn, colorful sunrise
The dawning of a new day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Where sunrise meets low tide

low tide, sunrise, dawn, Fernandina Beach FL
Where sunrise meets low tide.

Timing and perspective can combine to create an attractive setting to photograph. Such was the case when the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean at low tide on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL. The interworking of dawns colors and the patterns and textures sculpted by the retreating tide produced this fascinating picture.

Framing the scene at a downward angle to the beach placed the colorful sunrise at the very top of the photo. Even the usually unwelcome contrail reflected in tidal pool pointed to the rising sun. “Where sunrise meets low tide” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Holidays heighten reality of moving

sunrise, Amish farm
Dawn shown brightly as the holidays began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The holidays brought it all into perspective. We were celebrating a lot of “lasts” in Ohio. On the outside, I may have been smiling and laughing my way through the gayeties. Internally, my spirit struggled to stay afloat in a torrent of tears.

My wife Neva and I have spent our entire lives as residents of Ohio. I like to tell people that I was born and raised in Canton but that I grew up in Holmes Co. I think my wife feels the same way. We cherished our experiences in this peaceful, rural community. Nevertheless, we joyously anticipate the transplant to Virginia.

The topsy-turvy ride on the emotional roller coaster began last fall. I’m a big picture person, and I knew the May moving date would roll around sooner rather than later. Closure needed to come to my various community commitments. I also knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

As the year wound down, several last events were rapidly approaching. I thought about what I would be facing. The list of “lasts” was long and involved both personal and community commitments.

Reality soon hit hard. Long-held traditions were coming to an end.

chip and seal, Saltcreek Twp. Holmes Co. OH
Road improvement.
After nearly 20 years, I would attend my last township trustee meeting. I loved that aspect of community service. Along with that, I’d end my term on the East Holmes Fire and EMS board of directors, too. I enjoyed working with others to help people solve problems, and making the community even safer than it already was.

Serving in those two worlds brought me great satisfaction. But I knew they successfully could go on without me.

I feared the gatherings of family and those of friends who felt like family members would be the most difficult to face. On the one hand, I lovingly anticipated our get-togethers. On the other, it saddened me to know that this would be the last of its kind. I savored each moment and each situation.

The passing of parents on both sides had taught me that traditions of family gatherings could indeed change and still uplift. Grandchildren were now adults establishing their own lives and traditions. Adjustments had been happening for years already.

gag gifts
Another goofy gift.
The separate gatherings with my siblings and with my wife’s sister and her family were always special. But their lives were changing, too. It is simply the way life is.

Probably the most challenging tradition to end was with our dear lifetime friends Dave and Kate. Dave and I went to elementary, junior high, high school, and college together. He was my best man at our wedding.

Their children and ours were close in age and played together growing up. Many moons ago we started to meet for Christmas Eve breakfast. At first, we met at local restaurants. Then we began to meet in our homes, alternating years hosting the event.

We shared food, fellowship, goofy gifts, and the strongest love of life anyone could imagine. As time passed, the children became adults, began careers, established homes, and some had children of their own. However, this breakfast was so sacred even those who lived far away made it a priority to attend.

In his contemplative prayer before the meal, Dave’s voice broke with emotion in recognition of this poignant finality. The moment acknowledged our mutual appreciation for our revered personal and family friendships.

Dave’s heartfelt words comforted my crying soul. His grateful thanks had blessed much more than the morning’s food. Lifetime friends are like that.

true friends, Christmas Eve
Dave, Kate, Neva, and I posed at our last Christmas Eve breakfast.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Guiding Lights

Amelia River, harbor light, full moon
Guiding lights.

The setting full moon and a harbor light guided sailors on the Amelia River in Florida in the dimness of a misty dawn this January day.

“Guiding Lights” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

What’s retirement? I guess I’ll find out

Amish boys, harvesting corn
Working in the township that I love.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I started out the New Year the best way possible. I retired.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved working. I love working. Given that we are moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley next spring, it’s time for me to shift into a lower gear.

The transition from work to non-work has been a gradual one to be sure, much like how I transitioned my way into the wonderful world of work. Altogether, I’ve been working for more than 60 years.

cooper's hawk
I’m a hawk about work.

I started out at age eight selling seed packets door-to-door. I’ve been working ever since.

I delivered newspapers for two different urban publishers. Profits from those ventures were invested at the new McDonald’s built at the end of my route. A quarter bought me a cheeseburger and a Coke.

In high school, I pumped gas at Carl’s Garage in Canton, Ohio. Gasoline was 27 cents a gallon when I started, 31 cents when I graduated.

I was a Fuller Brush salesperson. That experience convinced me to go to college.

I attended night school for my first two years at university studying to be a journalist. During the day, I worked at a huge corporation where my father and grandfather spent most of their employment years. I learned from that experience not to work at a huge corporation unless I absolutely had to do so. I’m glad I never did.

I wove being a stringer for The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, in between my high school years and my college days. A stringer is a person who writes stories freelance. Ambitious stringers like me wrote for pennies on the word.

That connection, fortunately, led to an internship at The Plain Dealer. Remember what I said about working for a large corporation? I learned the same was true for a major metropolitan newspaper.

That’s how I ended up in Holmes Co., Ohio. First, I taught for nine years at Killbuck Elementary School. That saved my life, or maybe better stated, made my life. Folks welcomed me with open arms. I felt right at home.

I married, and my wife became a teacher, too. When our children arrived, Neva put her career on hold to do her very best at being both mom and wife. She got an A+ in both categories.

Winesburg Elementary School, Holmes Co. OH
Where I served as principal for 21 years.

After earning my Master’s degree, I became an elementary principal in the East Holmes Local School District. I also coordinated the district’s substantial federal programs. I learned to multi-task or else. Those were 21 marvelous years.

At age 51, I made yet another transition. I retired as an educator and served as a marketing and public relations guru for a few local businesses. Another job tied my education and marketing careers together.

I served as a Saltcreek Twp. Trustee for nearly 20 years, and with the impending move that community responsibility, too, has come to an end.

dog, granddaughter
Chasing the grandkids and the grand dogs will become my main job.

Now my work priorities have changed. The time has come to refocus my lagging energy and flagging memory to the top priorities in my life: my family and my writing. Retirement was necessary for that to occur. This blog will continue to feature my writing and photography, but will likely change name and format.

My wife and I will settle into our new setting near our grandkids in Virginia in May. I can let grandkids completely wear me out playing baseball, listening to concerts, and however else they choose to spend their time and parents’ money. We’ll be there cheering them on.

I’m looking forward to all the unknown adventures ahead. Just don’t wake me before 8 a.m.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017