Happy New Year!

I chose this photo of two women watching the sunset on July 3, 2020 to represent the relief of 2020 finally coming to an end. We are universally happy to see this horrific year end. In my 73 years of living, I can’t remember a worse one. Let’s let the sun go down on 2020, and hope upon hope that 2021 will be a better year in every way.

I suspect, however, as President-elect Biden has already stated, that things will get worse before they get better. Of course, he was referring to the pandemic, but that may also play out in other aspects of our lives.

I hope and pray that the New Year will, in the long-run, indeed bring a better life for all of God’s global children. Enjoy the sunset, but cherish the sunrise.

“Happy New Year!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

News you may have missed in the year we want to forget

The sun can’t set soon enough on 2020.

I’m glad this year we would all like to forget is coming to an end.

I know we still have a few days to go in 2020. I figured summing it up early would help us get a head start on the coming New Year.

As is my custom, I recorded some of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines. Consequently, there is no mention of the U.S. presidential election.

January

1 – Soot from raging wildfires in Australia turned glaciers black in New Zealand

5 – The BBC reported that 4 million hectares or 9.9 million acres had burned in Australia’s New South Wales since July 1.

14 – NOAA reported that 2019 was the fifth consecutive year that the U.S. sustained 10 or more $1 billion weather and climate disasters, including fires, flooding, and hurricanes.

15 – NOAA and NASA jointly released a report that showed 2019 to be the second warmest globally since records have been kept in 1880.

16 – The San Francisco Giants became the first Major League Baseball team to hire a female as a full-time coach.

22 – It was so cold in southern Florida that the National Weather Service warned citizens to be alert for stunned iguanas falling from trees.

28 – A team of international scientists discovered four new species of sharks that use their fins to walk off the coast of northern Australia and New Guinea.

February

6 – The temperature in Antarctica reached a record high 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest the continent has ever been.

10 – A scientist from Ohio State University reported finding byproducts of the Industrial Revolution in the Himalaya Mountains deposited long before anyone ever climbed that high.

17 – A pair of armed men robbed a delivery man in Hong Kong of hundreds of rolls of toilet paper due to the coronavirus.

21 – A published study identified a bird found in permafrost in Siberia as a horned lark that lived 46,000 years ago.

24 – After taking an 88-year-old Rochester, Washington man to the hospital with a broken hip, three Emergency Medical Technicians returned to the home and finished mowing the yard where the victim had fallen.

29 – Junior Heaven Fitch became the first female in North Carolina to become a high school state wrestling champion when she defeated seven boys to win the 106-pound division.

March

10 – A driver in Slidell, Louisiana pulled over for license plates that expired in 1997 told police that he was too busy to get them renewed.

12 – Snopes.com reported that the average American uses about 100 rolls of toilet paper a year, with most of it manufactured in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

13 – The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. announced that all 16 fragments of scripture that they had on display were discovered to be modern forgeries based on independent research.

29 – Smash-and-grab robbers stole a priceless Van Gogh painting from a Dutch art museum.

April

2 – It was announced that a record 6.6 million people in the U.S. applied for unemployment benefits the previous week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 14 – The organizer of a challenge to sew 1 million face masks for workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis reported that globally volunteers had sewn 20 million masks.

17 – NASA satellite images showed a 30 percent drop in air pollution during the three-weeks of stay-at-home orders on the U.S. east coast.

21 – A team of scientists sailing off the coast of Western Australia discovered the longest animal ever recorded, a 150-foot gelatinous siphonophore.

May

1 – The U.S. Census Bureau reported that one-third of Americans already felt some depression and anxiety from the pandemic.

8 – The U.S. Labor Department reported April’s unemployment rate at 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.

15 – A new study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that planting and caring for a garden boosts people’s mood as much as walking and cycling.

18 – Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living U.S. veteran of World War II at 110-years-old, was featured on the cover of National Geographic Magazine.

19 – A study published in Nature Climate Change showed a sudden 17 percent drop globally in greenhouse gases during the lockdowns due to the coronavirus.

June

2 – Irene Triplett, the last person still receiving benefits for being a dependent of a Civil War soldier, died.

3 – Scientists discovered the cleanest water in the world in the Southern Ocean, the body of water that surrounds Antarctica.

5 – A large asteroid swept by the earth closer than the moon is to our planet, and it wasn’t detected until two days later.

9 – Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space as a NASA astronaut, became the first woman to reach the deepest part of the Mariana Trench.

11 – It was revealed that a Siberian power plant leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into area rivers on May 29, turning the waters red.

21 – The temperature in Verkhoyansk, Siberia reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a record high reading.

24 – After being furloughed from her job because of the pandemic, Michelle Brenner, used her $1,200 stimulus check to buy ingredients to make 1,200 pans of homemade lasagna, which she gave to first-responders, hospital workers, strangers, and single parents.

30 – A report stated that Americans annually shoot off a pound of fireworks for every adult.

July

1 – People in Prague, Czech Republic, one of the first countries to require mask-wearing, celebrated the end of coronavirus restrictions by dining at a 1,600-foot -long table that wound its way through streets and across the Charles Bridge.

9 – Tropical Storm Fay became the earliest “F-named” storm ever recorded when it formed along the eastern Atlantic Coast.

15 – A research study published in Lancet revealed that the global fertility rate had dropped to 2.7 children per family in 2017.

17 – Queen Elizabeth II knighted 100-year-old World War II veteran Tom Moore for raising more than $40 million for National Health Service charities by doing laps in his backyard garden.

26 – Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of the classic film “Gone with the Wind,” died at age 104 in Paris, France.

August

3 – Mildred “Gerri” Schappals, 102 of Nashua, New Hampshire, survived COVID-19 after having also survived a severe flu during the 1918 pandemic, in addition to two bouts of cancer

14 – A report said that globally people use 200 billion plastic bottles annually, and most are not recycled.

16 – The National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada issued the first-ever Firenado Warning for a tornado caused by a firestorm near Lake Tahoe, California.

20 – A scientific report showed that Greenland lost 586 billion tons of ice from an extremely warm 2019.

22 – Researchers found pesticides and industrial compounds, likely from the U.S., in the snow atop four high-elevation pristine sites on the Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard.

28 – Guinness World Records declared Julio Mora Tapia, 110, and Waldramina Quinteros, 105, of Quito, Ecuador, as the world’s oldest married couple.

September

1 – Three different airline pilots reported seeing a man in a jetpack flying near their planes as they landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

3 – The production of a new Batman movie was shut down when the actor playing batman tested positive for COVID-19.

7 – A 33-year-old Arkansas man found a 9.07-carat brown diamond at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park.

8 – The Pew Institute released a study that showed that for the first time since the Great Depression the majority of young adults ages 18-29 lived at home with their parents.

16 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that summer 2020 was the warmest ever.

October

2 – The Irish Supreme Court ruled that the sandwiches made by Subway contain too much sugar to be legally considered bread.

5 – British Lincolnshire Wildlife Centre had to separate five gray parrots because they kept swearing at visitors.

14 – NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported that globally September was the warmest on record.

23 – For the second time, a Dutch researcher correctly guessed the password for President Trump’s Twitter account as “maga2020.”

24 – Anika Cherbrolu, a 14-year-old freshman at Independence High School in Frisco, Texas, discovered a compound that can bind the coronavirus, inhibiting its ability to infect people to win the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and $25,000.

26 – NASA scientists announced that they had discovered water in the form of ice on the moon.

November

2 – The driver of a train was saved from injury near Rotterdam, Netherlands, when the front carriage crashed through an end section of the elevated rails and landed on the tail of a giant whale sculpture.

10 – The National Hurricane Center reported that 2020 was the most active year ever for named tropical storms and hurricanes with 29 named storms.

16 – A 71-year-old Florida man was arrested for grand theft when he strapped a downed steel power pole to the top of his car and drove away, hoping to sell the pole for scrap metal.

18 – A Saw-whet owl, that apparently traveled from upstate New York in a large Christmas tree to midtown Manhattan, was rescued from the pine tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City and taken to a wildlife rescue center.

30 – A report showed that online spending on Black Friday jumped 22 percent from last year.

December

7 – The International Olympic Committee announced that beginning at the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris it would include breakdancing as a medal competition.

8 – Swedish retailer Ikea announced that after 70 years it would no longer print its annual catalog, which was the world’s largest.

9 – A humpback whale made quite a splash in the Hudson River, breaching in front of the Statue of Liberty and other New York City icons.

Here’s hoping that the New Year will be better than the old one in every way. How can 2021 not be?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! Whether you gather in person or remotely or in some combination of both, may this Season of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring purpose, meaning, and grace to each of you.

Thank you so much for following along all these years. Christmas Blessings to one and all!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Make this COVID Christmas a reflective one

An Ohio Christmas past.

I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.

Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.

I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.

My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.

My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.

Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.

It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.

Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.

Christmas 1956.

As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.

Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.

When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.

The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.

Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.

However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

White on White

We just had our first winter snowstorm in Virginia, even though winter doesn’t officially arrive until next Tuesday. Other than refilling bird feeders, I stayed in the safety of our home. Instead of going out, I sorted through my photo files and found this beauty after a snowstorm in Ohio’s Amish country. The late afternoon sun was just sneaking through the thinning clouds, kissing the white barn and homestead.

“White on White” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

There’s no better time to express your gratitude than during the holiday season

I am grateful for sharing holiday traditions across generations.

A familiar aroma wafted all the way from the kitchen to my office. Joy overwhelmed me as I inhaled the welcoming whiff of Christmas cookies.

I had seen my wife mixing the ingredients and rolling the dough earlier in the morning. Just imagining the taste of the gluten-free Moravian ginger snaps and cookie crumbles made my mouth water.

Neva loves to bake, and the dynamo that she is, she did so even though not feeling the best. After nearly 50 years of marriage, I knew not to intervene.

Baking is only one of Neva’s many gifts for which I am grateful. During the holiday season, she goes into overdrive, providing goodies and other pleasantries for friends, family, and even strangers. That’s in addition to taking the lead in decorating our home for the holidays.

(Please click on each photo below to enlarge them.)

We decorated for the holidays earlier than usual in an earnest attempt to counter 2020’s double-barreled doom and gloom of pandemic and politics. We plan on letting the festive lights shine well into the New Year, too. Hopefully, that effort will soothe our souls and those of others as well.

Strings of lights, wreaths, and trees said “Christmas” even before Thanksgiving. It was our way of being grateful as this long and tedious year winds down. We all need the holiday spirit now more than ever.

We are determined not to let the negative news negate the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Advent season. We weren’t immune, after all. There was nothing fake about family and friends who contracted the virus. We are most thankful that all have recovered or are in the process. Too many others here and around the world can’t say that.

Neva and I are grateful for leaders who do the right things for the common good, whether it concerns the pandemic, raging wildfires, or assisting hurricane victims long after the storms have departed. We rejoiced with the announcements of effective vaccines that will soon arrive, starting with those on the frontlines of COVID-19.

Gratitude always helps the one who shows it. The more you give, the better you feel. Perhaps that is what motivated Neva to bake in the first place. Being productive is in her DNA.

No matter our circumstances, expressing our gratitude, serves as a healing balm. I have often experienced that, sometimes in the least likely of places.

I was fortunate to have traveled to Honduras multiple times on short-term work trips. Our groups usually helped local residents build churches and houses for the very needy.

I vividly remember one situation in Gracias, Honduras, the country’s old Spanish colonial capital. The six of us worked side-by-side with community members to help construct their church building.

Each workday, the women of the local congregation that we were assisting prepared lunch for us. In the cooling shade of her adobe home, the pastor served us chicken noodle soup and refreshing fruit juice. We were most grateful for the food and hospitality.

When I learned that the pastor had killed her last chicken to feed our small group, I was genuinely humbled. Given her gracious sacrifice, we all thanked her profusely.

Showing gratitude works both ways. Study after study has shown that expressing gratitude through productive actions benefits both the recipient and the giver. Our Honduran experience indeed verified that.

Perhaps author Ami Campbell appropriately summed up the purpose for appreciation. Gratitude is the birthplace of generosity, she stated. To that, I say, “Amen!”

In what ways will you express your appreciation to others this holiday season?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Scalloped Sky

Clouds have fascinated me since I was a kid. Clouds affect our moods and inspire our imaginations with their unique shapes and various colors. These rippled altocumulus clouds appeared in the eastern sky just as the sun rose over the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The sun’s low angle helped accentuate the wrinkles in the cloud layer.

Though it looks like a black and white photo, this is actually a color shot. “Scalloped Sky” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Why I wrote my own obituary, and why you should, too

I haven’t been bored during all of these stay-close-to-home pandemic months despite my limited times of being out-and-about. I have had plenty to do, and even then, I haven’t completed everything that I had wanted or needed to do. Just ask my wife.

I did accomplish one important goal, however. I wrote my own obituary. I don’t mean to sound morbid, especially during the holiday season. I don’t want to be a prophetic scribe either. I know my humor can be strange sometimes, but I am not kidding on this solemn note.

I was fortunate to celebrate another trip around the sun recently. I still have a long way to go to match my folks’ longevity. Mom lived to be 90, and Dad died a month short of his 90th.

I have been retired from my first career as a public school principal for 21 years already. Those years zipped by as I toiled in my second career as a writer and marketer.

Where has the time gone? The answer to that question inspired me to get busy on my private to-do list before my final day arrives. Consequently, I took the time to eulogize myself. I wanted to ensure appropriately mentioning all the essential points.

As my friend, author, and naturalist Julie Zickefoose recently wrote, “Life is a limited time offer. We need to make the most of it while we can.” She shared that about having lost her husband, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law all within a year.

Her point was that life is short. We can only live in the present moment. Will we waste away our time worrying, fretting, paranoid about actions and events over which we have no control? Or will we be productive citizens, helpful to others, friends, family, and strangers alike?

Obituaries should summarize a person’s life once they have ended their physical stay here on earth. A good obituary will reflect both the chronological benchmarks of one’s life and the individual’s personality.

Who better to do that than the person themself? We each know the good, the bad, and the ugly of our individual lives. But unlike others, we also know the why of each event, most of which we had no control over.

Besides, I like to write, and I want my obit to tell my story correctly. Don’t we all desire that? After all, I won’t be around to read it if some else writes it.

I love to make people laugh, most often using myself as the butt of the joke. Why shouldn’t that also be the case in my obituary?

I don’t want the litany of my life to read like a biographical resume: seed-seller, newspaper boy, gas station attendant, newspaper stringer, teacher, principal, marketing consultant, blogger, and wannabe photographer. I was and am so much more than that. We all are.

I wanted my obituary to tell the meaningful but less obvious threads of my day-to-day living. The memories that popped up surprised me. Like why I never learned to swim or how growing up near a volunteer fire department influenced the rest of my life. You might have the same experience.

By writing my own obit, I also wanted to make it easy on my survivors. All they have to do is fill in the blanks of when, where, and why. I hope and pray they are in no hurry.

With the pandemic still raging, none of us can be too careful. Daily newspaper death notices tell that tale all too often.

I suspect you indeed want to know some of the stuff that formulated who I became. When the time comes, you can read it in the paper.

Ridgeline Sunrise

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a year since my wife and I last visited our former stomping grounds in Ohio’s Amish country. That’s when I took this shot at dawn of a distant ridge. December’s bare deciduous trees on the rolling hilltops provided a foreground silhouette for the glowing morning sky.

“Ridgeline Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020