Christmas in Canun

A celebration with family.

The beach along the Gulf of Mexico at the resort where we stayed.

My wife and I wanted to wrap up our 50th anniversary year with the entire family in someplace warm. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Since our son’s career is in hospitality, we let him make the reservations. He found a family-friendly, eco-friendly resort south of Cancun, Mexico. However, it ended up that he and his wife couldn’t join us after all. Their doctor wouldn’t let her travel out of the country due to her high-risk pregnancy.

So, our daughter and her family, and my wife and I headed to Cancun without them with their blessings. We left Christmas Eve and returned on New Year’s Eve.

It was great to lounge in 85-degree weather on the beach with our three grandchildren and their mother and father. They enjoyed the waterpark, too, since the shoreline was rocky and uneven. We relaxed with them, chatting and teaching them card games.

Our reservations were made in early October, well before the omicron variant reared its ugly head. We double-checked with the airlines and the resort regarding their COVID-19 protocols. We were assured that all precautions would be taken, and that is what we experienced. We always felt very safe.

Here are some representative photos of our week-long experience at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

We traded Christmas trees for palm trees.

Palm trees provided plenty of shade for us, non-sun worshipers. The beach was lovely, but there were more rocks than sand under the water, which required water shoes to be worn to stay safe.

We spent Christmas Day getting acquainted with the resort. One of our grandsons and I explored the Mayan ruins on the resort property. We saw several giant iguanas, enjoyed a meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, saw the sunset, and watched a reenactment of a Mayan fire ceremony.

Of course, our oldest grandson and his dad had to try the jet skis while the rest of us watched from the shore. We also enjoyed the beautiful flowers and greenery that were all around us.

Because the resort is built in a jungle, we didn’t have to go far to find wildlife. Often, the critters came to us, mainly because people ignored the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs. So, it was prudent to not leave anything on your balcony or your sliding door open. As a birder, I was pleased to see a variety of bird species. Some were life birds for me.

We enjoyed our time at the resort. Patience was paramount given that, like most everyplace else, the resort was short-staffed due to COVID-19. Being flexible enhanced our overall enjoyment of the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Joy in a Time of Sorrow

Yes, it is possible.

A tornado-damaged barn in Ohio’s Amish country.

Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death, injuries, and massive destruction left by the late-season outbreak of strong tornadoes that hit the country’s midsection like a gut punch recently.

Given this and other tragic global current events, how can we be joyous now? The answer is both easy and hard.

This family of tornadoes brought sorrow to innocent people. Survivors were thankful to be alive. Many people lost everything, and dozens died.

As I viewed the video of the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, one clip particularly caught my attention. A first responder walked into a heavily-damaged nursing home where one person died from the tornado strike.

As the firefighter waded through inches of water in the dark, he passed several elderly nursing home residents sitting in their wheelchairs waiting for help. More than one of the residents thanked the firefighter for his assistance.

I was amazed. I figured those poor folks would be in shock and confused. Some probably were. But a few chose to express their thanks and joy for help despite their dire circumstances.

Not everyone can be joyous in this holiday season. Some feel alone. Some are homeless, cold, separated from family, while others mourn the loss of loved ones.

Our family knows those feelings all too well. My wife’s father died just before Christmas in 2001, and eight years later, I lost my father on December 21.

At Dad’s memorial service, I told those in attendance not to be sad for us. Dad loved Christmas and that there was no better time for him to pass on. He would have loved the festive decorations of the church.

During calling hours before the service, friends, family, and acquaintances shared their condolences and heartfelt stories of knowing our father. I remember one young man in particular.

The youngster came with his grandparents to express both his gratitude and sorrow. The young man remembered our father because Dad had shown him his arrowhead collection. That lasting impression exemplified our father’s love for life and learning.

How could we be sad at that? We couldn’t be, of course.

We loved our quirky, gregarious father, and we loved that others had opportunities to experience our father’s wide range of interests and joy for life. The fact that so many took time out of their holiday celebrations and ventured out in the snow and cold to be with us spoke volumes.

Joy on Christmas morning.

Another recollection of joy experienced at a stressful time was at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer firefighter in Ohio’s Amish country. A chimney fire had spread into the attic of a century-old Amish farmhouse. At the end of a 30-foot ladder, I sprayed water onto the fire through a small attic window.

With the flames under control, I looked down to the front yard, and I couldn’t believe the unfolding scene. Scores of people, primarily Amish, rushed in and out of the house, hauling out precious family heirlooms, furniture, dishes, and other items.

Several ladies and teenage girls already had washed some of the family’s clothes and hung them on the laundry line. Talk about expressing joy in the face of despair.

That is the way life is, isn’t it? When we are down and out for whatever reason, joy reaches in and touches our heart and soul and gives us hope.

We can choose to be joyful even in the face of death and terror. At every opportunity, be the joy.

An Amish farmstead in December.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The Old Hot Rod

I came across this intriguing scene yesterday in a rural Virginia town. The car’s owner appeared from his residence across the street, so I asked permission to take photos of the old hot rod and building. He said he didn’t mind and continued toward the old structure’s entrance.

I asked him what kind of car it was. “A Model T,” he replied. Before he could take another step, I asked him about the building. He kindly told me that it had housed an insurance company’s office many years ago. When I further asked about the front doors, the man said he had installed those for better access to his workshop.

I loved how the color of the door fronts nearly matched the pink wheels of the Model T hot rod. And the shapes of the windows merely added to the building’s character.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Under the Sycamore Tree

One of the lessons of photography is patience. I drove to Lake Shenandoah a few miles east of Harrisonburg, Virginia, yesterday hoping to capture a photograph of the evening sun shining on the red barn, with a beautiful reflection in the lake. As you can see, that’s not the shot I got.

Clusters of clouds blocked the late afternoon sun. Plus, a steady west wind rippled the shallow lake, eliminating any possibility for the anticipated reflection. I got in my car and started to head home when the sun broke through.

I quickly parked my vehicle and decided to head to the south trail. I kept looking back, and just as I walked beyond a tall sycamore tree, the lighting seemed perfect. I scooched down to properly frame the photo. The light bathed the cattails in the foreground and just kissed the red barn enough to have it pop among the russet colors. In addition, a sliver of the lake showed and far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah National Park.

Patience doesn’t always pay off, but in this case, it certainly did pay dividends.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The Soybean Field

Sometimes the best things are right at home.

After visiting the mountains of West Virginia, and traversing the highways and byways through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York in search of brilliant fall colors, I finally found some. This in-transition soybean field is a mile from our home in the Shenandoah Valley.

As you can see, the trees still aren’t very colorful, but the various shades of yellow intermixed with the verdant green of the soybean leaves caught my attention. Set beneath the cottony clouds and the cerulean sky, the scene nicely framed the farmstead.

“The Soybean Field” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

When the cousins all gathered

Fun and genuine comaraderie ensued

Finally, it happened. The six Rohrer cousins were in the same room at the same time.

We originally intended to gather on April 30, 2020. Of course, that wasn’t possible with the pandemic raging. That didn’t discourage us, however.

The cousins all made it a priority to Zoom every two weeks until we could meet again in the flesh. Spouses often joined in. Stories, old photographs, and laughter filled each session.

But it wasn’t the same as being there with one another. In the cousins’ formative years, the Linder, Miller, and Rohrer families all lived in northeast Ohio, no more than an easy drive from one another.

As the five women and one male married, fulfilled careers, and reared children, we dispersed into different locales, including other states. The trend even continued when we all retired.

Cousin Barb lives in southern California. Her sister Brenda moved from Ohio to North Carolina to be close to her granddaughters.

Pastor Larry and his wife moved from northern Indiana back to her family farm near Dover. His little sister Cathy and her husband settled in her home community of Columbiana.

My wife’s sister Audrey and her husband Bob have spent most of their lives in their beautiful home with envious views near Sugarcreek, where we agreed to meet. Of course, my wife Neva and I relocated from our beloved Holmes County to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, also to be close to grandchildren.

Where we gathered.

The timing of this cousin reunion revolved around two criteria. First, we all needed to feel comfortable that it was indeed safe to gather together. We were mindful of the ravages of the Delta variant of the coronavirus even though we were all vaccinated.

The second element was when cousin Barb could fly in from California. Once she finally solidified her travel plans, we settled on a date to meet. We all headed to Sugarcreek for a day of frivolity, childhood memories, and remembrances of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

Of course, we started the day with food, a carry-in style brunch that provided plenty of options to stay fueled for the next few hours. Our hosts had everything perfectly arranged.

We met around tables in the airy garage since we’re all vaccinated baby boomers, some with compromised immune systems. Neva and I had taken along games, but the dominoes and cards never saw the light of day.

We were too satisfied with finally being together that nothing was going to interfere with the free-flowing fellowship. We listened, laughed, and basked in the wonders of our lives.

From a non-blood relative perspective, it seemed to me that these were more siblings than cousins. Close, supportive families are a rare treasure today.

Preacher Larry captured our attention with family stories and photos. And our hosts even had a repurposed festive fall-themed Christmas tree for decoration.

I admired the genuine appreciation and interest the cousins showed to one another. Retired preacher Larry shared snippets of genealogical discoveries that he had made.

I marveled at the life that each of these good people has lived, is living. Their vocations and avocations, their service, and their faithful commitment to family, friends, church, and one another comprised their lives.

Respect for another was paramount. It’s a character seemingly forgotten in today’s divisive world.

The group got a pleasant surprise before I left to pick up the pizzas from a local pizzeria. A niece and her husband arrived from Michigan to join the party.

With only two slices of pizza left, it was photo time. We took shots of the group, couples, and siblings. And then, it was time to say farewell for now.

To both witness and participate in this manifestation of familial love brought pure delight.

The happy cousins, oldest to youngest.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Make October a Month to Remember

While still remembering those of the past

Fall comes to an Amish farmstead in Ohio’s Amish country.

By its very nature, October holds a storehouse of memories for people. It’s a month on nostalgia steroids.

Who doesn’t remember raking leaves into giant piles in the yard and then jumping into them? Guilty as charged.

I have fond memories of our father loading his brood into the family station wagon and heading southwest along the winding, hilly roads to Holmes County, Ohio. That was before the state eliminated the undulating curves between Berlin and Millersburg.

I distinctly remember stopping along the road on the east side of Millersburg at Briar Hill Golf Course to view the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. Dad especially loved a giant sugar maple’s warm oranges and reds.

Years later, when I found myself teaching in Holmes County, I ventured out after school to explore the backroads for scenic views myself. It was a two-fold way to enjoy the colorful landscape and learn my way around.

I always found the hills around Glenmont to be stunning when the leaves were exceptionally bright. I also found them difficult to scale as a volunteer firefighter when a passing train sparked a woods fire up a remote and steep pass.

I remember standing on schoolhouse hill overlooking Killbuck, where I taught. Billowing smoke from burning leaf piles filled the valley from one end of town to the other. My eyes watered from the fragrant stinging. Fortunately, outdoor burning like that is no longer permitted.

Once my wife and I moved to the county’s eastern end, I found the trees were just as beautiful as in the west. Rows upon rows of corn shocks enhanced the bucolic scenes all the more.

When my wife retired 15 years ago, we were freer to explore October’s natural wonders far beyond our limited Holmes County horizons. We discovered our beloved county wasn’t the only pretty place on earth.

Friends invited us to share a condominium with them in Arizona in early October. In locales like Sedona and the Grand Canyon, we discovered vibrant autumn colors in rocky ridges and spires instead of leafy trees. It was gorgeous, just the same.

Of course, October offers more than brilliant colors. I remember hayrides down Panther Hollow with our church youth groups on dark and chilly nights. Hot cider and fresh donuts at the outing’s conclusion sealed the spooky experience.

Not to let nostalgia carry us away, October often brought the first frost and the first snow. I recall embarking on a conservation field trip with a busload of underdressed fifth graders. By the end of our farm tour, we all were tromping through inches of snow.

October highlights come in so many flavors and textures. Various festivals abound celebrating harvest time, including cheese, wine, pumpkins, and apples. It’s all about socializing.

Produce stands and greenhouses hold customer appreciation days before they close for the season. Dodging the yellow jackets can be as challenging as bobbing for apples.

October is in the middle of fall migration for many birds species. Shorebirds and birds of prey use sunny day solar thermals to aid their southern journey. The last of the Monarch butterflies wing it to Mexico.

Halloween, though, seems to overshadow all of the beautiful interactions between humankind and our environment. Entire towns decorate for Halloween comparable to Christmas. I’m not against that, but I simply prefer the daily unfolding natural beauty.

October provides plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the crisp air, golden sunsets, and changing foliage. Consequently, October stirs lots of emotions.

Perhaps the best October memories are the ones we make today.

October’s blue and orange.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Signs of Fall

How many can you see?

Signs of fall are everywhere in this photo of an Amish farmstead that I took five years ago while living in Ohio’s Amish country. The standing corn still waiting to be picked, either by hand or horse-drawn corn picker, is the most obvious. In the background, the tops of the deciduous trees had started to turn red and orange. In the center of the photo, the purple martin house has been lowered for the season, the birds long-parted for Central and South America.

Can you find other signs of fall in this photo?

“Signs of Fall” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

August came early this year

The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

Wheat shocks glow in the evening sun in Holmes County, Ohio.

August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.

The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.

The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.

A wildfire-enhanced sunset.

August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.

In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.

As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.

You are never too young to help husk corn.

We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.

August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.

A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.

County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.

Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.

If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.

Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.

Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.

I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.

I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.

An August sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The Billboard House

Somethings in life don’t need describing. Despite the conflicting messages on the side of this house, I’ll just let the photo speak for itself. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

“The Billboard House” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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