News you may have missed in 2018

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been another strange year on Planet Earth. So much craziness filled the headlines that some serious faux pas got overshadowed. Never fear. I kept track for you.

Jan. 12 – A British butcher who got locked in a walk-in freezer used a frozen sausage to batter his way out at his store in Totnes, England.

Jan. 16 – Eyelashes froze when the temperature reached 88.6 degrees below zero in Russia’s remote region of Yakutia.

Feb. 9 – An Alliance, Ohio kindergarten student took a loaded handgun to school for show and tell, but had the gun confiscated by his school bus driver when the boy showed the weapon to the only other student on the bus.

Feb. 23 – A third-grade student fired a police officer’s revolver by reaching into the hostler and pulling the trigger during a safety demonstration at a Maplewood, Minnesota elementary school.

Feb. 27 – Entrepreneur.com reported that the three fastest growing franchises in the U.S. were Dunkin Donuts, 7-Eleven, and Planet Fitness.

March 13 – A study by Bar-Llan University showed that the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors was transferred to their children and grandchildren.

March 14 – A Seaside, California gun safety teacher’s weapon accidentally fired in class, injuring a student.

March 23 – Orange snow fell on much of Europe due to the combination of sandstorm winds mixing with moisture in snowstorms.

April 5 – A report that studied the Sahara Desert from 1920 to 2013 revealed that the desert, defined by areas that receive four inches of rain or less annually, had expanded by 10 percent in that timeframe.

April 9 – Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois became the first sitting U.S. Senator to give birth while in office.

April 13 – A photographer in Madeira Beach, Florida captured a shot of an osprey in flight carrying a shark that was eating a fish.

May 2 – A new report indicated that Americans ages 18 to 22 were far more likely than senior citizens to report being lonely and being in ill health.

May 3 – According to federal research released, the rate of people infected by ticks and mosquitoes has tripled in the last 13 years.

May 9 – A new study by researchers at MIT indicated that fasting could dramatically boost stem cells to regenerate.

May 15 – A Gaylord, Michigan couple opened the hood of their car to discover a squirrel had stuffed 50 pounds of pinecones in their engine compartment.

June 7 – A study showed that seven out of 10 Americans were experiencing news fatigue.

June 25 – A kangaroo bounded onto a Canberra, Australia soccer field, interrupting the play between two professional women’s soccer teams for 32 minutes.

July 3 – Mark Hough of Altadena, California found a black bear bobbing in his backyard hot tub and that the bear had finished off the margarita Hough had left behind.

July 10 – Costa Rica became the first country to ban fossil fuels.

July 21 – After receiving a ticket for speeding, an Iowa woman sped away from police who clocked her at 142 m.p.h. and gave her another citation.

July 27 – A pawn shop in Somerville, Massachusetts bought a stolen violin for $50 and discovered from police that its real value was $250,000.

August 1 – A State of the Climate report indicated that 2017 was the third warmest on record globally after 2016 and 2015.

August 5 – Right-handed reliever Oliver Drake became the first Major League Baseball player to pitch for five different teams in the same season.

August 10 – A new scientific study reported that insect-eating birds consume about 400 million tons of insects each year.

September 10- The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center reported that 600 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. by flying into buildings, most often at night when they are lured by illuminated office windows.

September 14 – New census data reported that Social Security, food stamps, and other government programs kept 44 million Americans out of poverty last year.

September 25 – A record 1,260 dogs attended the baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox during Chicago’s promotional Dogs’ Night Out event.

September 26 – The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that an unprecedented 68.5 million people globally have been forced from their homes.

October 15 – A report by the University of Missouri indicated that honeybees stopped flying during the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

October 31 – The journal Nature published a report that showed over the past quarter-century the Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat than previously believed.

November 6 – The World Health Organization listed depression as the leading cause of disability in the world, with the U.S. leading the way with 13 percent of its population on anti-depressants.

November 9 – The Center for Disease Control reported that smoking rates in the U.S. at an all-time low, with 14 percent of adults who smoke cigarettes.

November 25 – A Bank of America ATM machine in Houston, Texas dispensed $100 bill instead of $10, and the bank allowed customers to keep the extra money.

December 8 – A 29-year-old Summerville, South Carolina man was arrested for arson after he allegedly burned several of his neighbors’ outdoor Christmas displays.

December 12 – The CDC listed fentanyl as the deadliest drug in the U.S., causing 18,000 deaths from overdoes in 2016.

December 14 – Snopes.com reported that the busiest day of the year for Chinese restaurants in the U.S. is Christmas Day.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a better year for our planet and all its inhabitants.

Happy New Year!

Let’s let the sun set on 2018.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Year-end Shadows

shadows, snow, bird feeder
The end of 2018 is in sight. Given the state of the world today, perhaps we all need a fresh start in life, no matter our age, our situation, our status. A new year brings new hope.

I reflected on all of that during a recent snowstorm that blanketed much of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Shadows of the tree, its limbs, and the bird feeder they held played upon the newly fallen snow in our front yard. The contemplative scene gave pause to my birdwatching, to my reading, to my writing, to all that was happening near and far.

The long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun that had finally broken through gave hope that neither the winter’s frostiness nor the world’s cold calamities could keep us down long. For in the abrupt transition between the snowy brightness and shadowy darkness, light prevails.

Here’s hoping that light will shine warmly for the approaching New Year. “Year-end Shadows” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

A Christmas Poem: Do Not Fear

Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VA.

“We live in fearsome times.” My father told me that when we uselessly practiced nuclear bomb drills by hiding under our school desks, when with trepidation I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white when JFK called the Russians’ bluff on Cuba, then when Dallas happened, and assassins shot Martin and Bobby, and cities burned, and a president resigned, and revolts occurred, and we always seemed to side with the bad guy, when we chided dictators for gassing people only to bomb the survivors in their mourning.

“We live in fearsome times.” My grandfather told me that when he silently remembered his own gassing in the war to end all wars and died at the age that I am now coughing and coughing and coughing because there were no records that he was poisoned 100 years ago on the western front.

“We live in fearsome times,” I tell my grandchildren in failed efforts to shield them from the constant volleys of lies and accusations and nonsense spewing forth into their innocent world by powerful people who lost their decency, compassion, and empathy long, long ago.

“Have no fear,” I reassure them to ears deafened by headsets and screen time. Still, I think they get it all, the nonsense, the truth-telling, and the untruth-telling. That is my hope in this season of hope. On this darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, there is enough oil now to keep the candles burning. But we have to keep pressing on like those Hanukkah days of old. We must pour new wine into new wineskins, not old. We don’t want to waste the wine by bursting.

We live in fearsome times. We must be patient in the season of waiting. We must choose clarity over certainty, though certainty it is that we too often choose, only to be disappointed, and blame circumstances and others for our wrong choices. Those in the Old and those in the New reported the same. Therefore, in this season of light, hope, peace, patience is the rule as “we live by faith, not by sight.”

Love Advent banner, Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VAWe live in fearsome times. This is the season of anticipation, joy, love, forgiveness, wonder, when blended, a recipe not to fear. We look for the brightest star to lead us forth, but stars are in heaven, not on earth. Behold the heavenly host is near. Do not fear.

We live in fearsome times. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, not on our terms, but Yours and Yours alone. Our fragility and our insecurity overcome our logic, excite our emotions precisely opposite of what the good tidings proclaim, why the angels yet rejoice. They know the true Ruler is the Lamb, not the lion.

We live in fearsome times. Humans always have, always will simply because we are human, unable or unwilling to listen, to hear, to comprehend the goodness, the freedom, the surety bestowed on us to bestow on others, especially during these dark days.

We live in fearsome times. What will we do? How can we go on? Awareness is enough.

“In the beginning was the word… The serpent was more crafty than any other… Everyone who thirsts… Sing aloud, O daughter Zion… Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah… In the sixth month… In those days a decree went out… In that region there were shepherds… And the Word became flesh… Fear not…” Hallelujah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

A Dickens Christmas doll display

Last June, my wife and I visited some friends in eastern Pennsylvania. Our excellent hosts Mary and Hubert had to show us the sights. I found one venue a particular joy. It was a company that hand-manufactures dolls, Byers Choice. Among doll enthusiasts, they are a household name. I had never heard of them.

What piqued my interest was their Charles Dickens Christmas display that featured various scenes from his classic novella “A Christmas Carol.” Of course, Byers Choice used hundreds of their dolls as characters in each scene. Because I love that story, I was hooked. I took several photos, which I am sharing with you here as a holiday edition of my Photo of the Week. In honor of the season and Dickens, this post will be the gallery of the week.

I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed shooting them.

The first gallery is presented as a tiled mosaic. Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

The second gallery is a traditional slideshow.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Byers Choice, Chalfont PA
Byers Choice showroom.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Holiday lights illuminate seasonal darkness

holiday lights
Our modest Christmas display under a waxing crescent moon.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always found it ironic that we celebrate the season of light and hope at the very darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Over the years, however, I’ve come to understand why.

We are in the midst of the season of hope and light. The eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah has just concluded. Advent, the Christian pronouncement of the coming Messiah, ends on Christmas Day.

Menorah candles (Getty Image).
It is no coincidence that holiday lights shine the brightest during the season’s darkest hours. Isn’t that the purpose of Hanukkah and Christmas? The Menorah has nine candles while the Advent arrangement has five.

Aligned by tradition and calendar, the two holidays usher in the season of hope and peace through miracles and light. They are intricately and purposefully interwoven.

The darkness challenges us to survive and thrive. To that aim, we ponder, wonder, and imagine all that is both good and wrong with our immediate world as well as the world beyond our personal life space.

During the darkest time of year, the seasonal contrasts are stark. Too many earthly citizens are in despair. They search for the basics of life: food, shelter, water, and safety. Many face loneliness, financial hardships, family disputes, or significant health issues. These are indeed dark times for them.

Dissimilarly, flashy TV and online commercials urge us to delight others via elaborate gift giving. They tout that the holidays aren’t complete without a new car or pickup sitting in the driveway or a glittery diamond necklace dangling around your sweetheart’s neck.

Wouldn’t it be more fitting in this season of hope to bestow blessings on those in need of life’s essentials? Such generous acts would undoubtedly help brighten the dark season of life if only for a few.

Advent candles.
Advent candles on Christmas Day.
The festive seasonal lights shine far beyond the reach of the Menorah and Advent candles. Hope means more than the sparkling, flashing, flickering lights of Christmas, more than the glittery cards and lavishly wrapped gifts beneath a festive tree.

The music of the season should spark a spirit within us to reach far beyond our circle of family and friends with whom we gather to celebrate. Perhaps like me, multiple year-end appeals for funds from bona fide charities that help the poor, the orphaned, the hungry, and the homeless have besieged you.

It is easy to be numbed by the sheer volume of needs. It doesn’t have to be. It would be both prudent and appropriate for those of us who share the Judeo/Christian experience and heritage to shine that warming light to others in whatever way we can. That would both help brighten their potentially dim holidays and create a real sense of personal satisfaction.

Christmas tree
Christmas tree.
As people of faith, shouldn’t we be the light that those in need seek? In the spirit of the season, that is something to ponder and do.

The luminaries of Hanukkah and Christmas remind and challenge those of each faith to reflect on the past and the foundations of their shared customs. The lights also illuminate those in our midst who are hurting and downtrodden.

If each one of us would reach out to help at least one person, one family, or donate to one charity, the holidays would be a little brighter for them and us. Doing so would be reason enough to light yet one more holiday candle.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Late Bloomer

Norma Johnson Wildlife Center
Late Bloomer.

While on a recent birding outing, I noticed a spot of yellow nestled among the blades of grass that fell every which way on the grassy path. A pesky weed, this dandelion was well out of season.

“Late Bloomer” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Home for the holidays indeed

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH
Martha’s wash line.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Last year at this time we were still settling into new surroundings, situations, and holiday opportunities as our relocation process to Virginia’s magical Shenandoah Valley continued. We had moved there to be close to our grandchildren. Celebrating the joyous season with them was paramount.

But this year was different. With Thanksgiving as early as it could be, we found an opening in our busy retirement schedules to return to our Ohio homeland.

An early winter snowstorm surprised us as we traversed roads in the higher elevations of West Virginia and Maryland. That couldn’t deter us, however. We arrived safely in the Buckeye State to celebrate personally with a few family members and friends, people we love and cherish. Some gatherings were planned while others were serendipitous.

Holmes Co. OH, Rebecca's Bistro
Fun with friends.
The frivolity began before we could even unpack our suitcases. That’s the kind of company we keep, and that is willing to host us. Our first evening meal and lively conversation with lots of laughter set the tone for our all too brief visit. We had so much fun we could have turned around and gone straight back to Virginia and been pleased with the trip. Of course, we didn’t.

The next morning we met old friends at a busy locally-owned bistro for breakfast. We discovered other friends there, too. We stayed so long it would have been more profitable if the proprietor had charged us per hour rather than per meal.

As we left for old haunts near Holmes County’s Mt. Hope, the van mysteriously pulled into the parking lot of a favorite chocolate shop. Affabile store owner Jason must sweeten his candy with his hospitality.

We made a beeline to the furniture store where I served as its chief marketer for 11 years in Mt. Hope to say hello to former fellow staff members. Fond hellos, fun memories, and new looks for the store inside and out greeted us. Their ability to create the latest styles in beautiful furniture boggles my mind.

After that enlightening encounter, we took a break at the charming Red Mug Coffee shop, an apt name if there ever was one. Of course, I drank my delicious brew from a red mug.

We hadn’t even ordered when a former student entered. Lonnie and our family go way back. He was born two hours before our daughter. Their cribs were side by side in the nursery at the hospital in Millersburg.

Then a high school friend of our son spied us and years of catching up ensued. Marlin proudly shared photos of his adopted children. Those kids couldn’t be in a more loving situation.

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Laundry on the washline told us that Martha was home. After warm, welcoming hugs, we visited with her and her youngest child until we just had to leave. Our timing couldn’t have been better. I stopped to visit briefly with my friend Dan, who mows the roadsides in the township where I served as a trustee for 20 years.

We found our former across-the-road neighbors Paul and Mary as gracious and hospitable as ever. The time ticked away here much too quickly as well.

The visiting continued at Killbuck with the doctor who brought our daughter and son into this world. As always, his spry wife considered us family. We checked in with a couple of their children and spouses, too. Of course, “children” is a relative term since they all are grandparents.

The pace of our last day in Ohio was just the opposite. Neva went shopping with her sister, and sure enough, met even more friends. I ran some necessary errands before going birding. I was thankful for the exercise, the wildlife I encountered, and many photo opportunities. The sun finally burned through the haze by late afternoon. Still, the air’s temperature couldn’t come close to matching the warmth of fellowship we had experienced.

Holidays are for gathering, reminiscing, sharing. Through both our planned and spontaneous encounters, it was indeed a joy to be home for the holidays.

white-tailed deer, Norma Johnson Wildlife Center
A young buck white-tailed deer bounded across the trail far ahead of me.

Click the photo to enlarge it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Chimneys

Dayton VA, architectural photography,
Chimneys

For a small town, the buildings in downtown Dayton, Virginia have a lot of chimneys. Santa may have to work overtime in this rural village in the Shenandoah Valley.

“Chimneys” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Birds and trees signal inevitable change

ice storm, male cardinal
Icy red.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The annual migration of birds has been going on for some time now. Fall in the birding vernacular doesn’t equal calendar fall.

There is a logical reason for that. Different species of birds begin their migration at different times. Shorebirds and songbirds often lead the winged entourage to warmer climes. Others trail along alone or in giant flocks to the delight of avid birders. To account for these time travel variances in the birding world, fall is the most extended season, running from August through November.

backyard birds
At the suet feeder.

The same concept is valid for trees and deciduous plants. Some species begin their winter hibernation sooner than others. Their various changing colors can foretell this annual transition. Poison ivy leaves often turn bright red before September arrives, while the glossy leaves of shingle oaks fade from emerald to russet and hang on until early spring.

For me, I welcome these transitions, especially the birding varieties. As the leaves of the red maples in our yard began to fall, birds I had not seen before began to arrive.

Storms brought down many of the remaining leaves. They also blew in flocks of birds, some temporarily. Others seem here to stay.

Last fall, our first in the Shenandoah Valley, birds were scarce at the feeders. The numbers and variety of birds were well below my expectations. I longed for the many beautiful birds we had had in Ohio.

Optimist that I am, I hung the feeders again right after Labor Day and attracted a few regulars. I can always count on chatty house finches and boisterous blue jays. Once the weather cooled, the suet feeder went up in the backyard.

backyard birds
An inquisitive Carolina Wren.

I was contented with the usual suspects, happy that even the Carolina Wrens made regular appearances. But I could not have anticipated what happened next. About six weeks ago, I noticed some birds that resembled the numerous house finches that frequented our feeders. A closer inspection with the binoculars told me that we had a small flock of purple finches with a few pine siskins thrown in for good measure. I was ecstatic.

I had never had purple finches at the feeders and only had had passing pine siskins that took a break to refuel during migration. I hoped beyond hope that the birds would stay. So far they have.

These are gorgeous birds, each in their particular plumage. The reddish hues of the male purple finches appear iridescent, especially if the sun reflects off of their foreheads where the winter colors are the brightest. Though much duller and muted, the rich browns and creams of the females’ feathers are equally stunning.

backyard birds
A rare visitor, a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

The more demur pine siskins tend to feed with the purple finches and the American goldfinches. Their brown stripes and flash of yellow at the wing tips make them striking birds as well.

The departure of the leaves and arrival of the birds mimic life. We can’t do anything about the past and try as we might, we can’t predict the future. Dull leaves and the arrival of purple finches are proof positive.

To be most productive, I strive to be present in each moment regardless of what change occurs. The mystery of it all sparks a spirit of gratitude.

I’m thankful the birds and trees keep reminding me that change is inevitable. If we pay attention, we can enrich our lives by embracing each subtle transformation, seasonal or otherwise.

For good or for ill, change happens. It is the way life is.

Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, House Finches, American Goldfinches
Finches feeding.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Where it fell

Where it fell.

If you are a photographer, it is not hard to figure out why I took this shot. The bright red maple leaf lying in the middle of the Appalachian Trail jumped out at me. Amid the late fall drabness of mostly bare trees, frost-killed ground cover, and other fallen brown leaves, how could I not see the leaf resting upon the bluish-gray basalt rock?

From my perspective, this composition was just waiting to be captured. “Where it fell” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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