January dreaming


As a youngster, I remember those cold, blustery January days of sitting as close to the living room heat register as possible. I would grab the latest seed catalog that had arrived in the mail, and while myself away with luscious visions of warmer days ahead, corn on the cob, and fresh lima beans.

My brothers and sisters would sometimes join me in this communal dreaminess. We couldn’t wait to be harvesting our own fresh-picked pickles, ripe red tomatoes, and those buttery-colored ears of sweet corn. Of course, a lot of time, hard work, and patience would have to pass before all that deliciousness happened.

grandkids sled ridingBesides, we would often get interrupted when one of the neighbor kids arrived at our doorstep to ask us to go sledding. Kids being kids, we usually traded future pleasantries for present ones.

With the advent of technology and electronic interconnection, emails seem to have replaced those slick, thick printed advertisements. The contents have changed, too.

Smart marketers know most baby boomers now prefer discovery to husbandry, although I have plenty of peers who still love to get their hands dirty. It’s usually on a much smaller scale than 30 years ago, however.

My wife and I gave up gardening for the most part when we moved to Virginia. For a woman who loved her flower gardens, Neva furrows her forehead at any mention of planting a patch of wildflowers on our little slice of America.

Maybe the marketers have seen that expression, too. That could explain why we don’t get those tempting seed publications anymore. Travel brochures, invitations, emails, booklets, and yes, catalogs have replaced their agrarian counterparts, promoting fun-filled cruises, exciting explorations, and exotic destinations.

There’s a good reason for that. Since most boomers are retired or semi-retired, a majority of us apparently like to travel. Besides the printed and electronic information, television and computer pop up ads besiege us with romantic places to go.

That’s all right with us. Neva and I both like to travel, and since we fit the retired category, we try to visit as many places as we can as time and money allow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


We also have to consider our age, our station in life, and our health, not necessarily in that order. We both know we are fortunate when it comes to our overall physical fitness. We also know that that may not last. So we must get in as much travel as possible while we still can.

Neva and I both enjoy learning about new places, cultures, languages, traditions, history, geography, and enticing locales. We also like familiarity, which is why we keep returning to our beloved Lakeside, Ohio, every summer.

Traveling allows us to enrich ourselves in all those subjects and much more. We know we aren’t alone because many of the offers we receive fill up quickly.

The land and ocean cruise we took to Alaska and the Yukon last summer was proof of that. Boomer-aged trekkers predominated at every stop and venue of the trip. In our group, only one young millennial couple dared to join our silver-haired entourage. Poor things, they were even on their honeymoon.

Because traveling is now so trendy and relatively easy, despite the security screening delays, cruises and group traveling are often planned a year or more in advance. You can dream in January, but if you don’t book right away, you may get shut out.

My touristy point comes full circle with personal disclosure. This January, I’m writing from Florida.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020.

Basking in nature’s unexpected gifts

Raining over the ocean.

I stood on the shoreline alone in joyous disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, and yet, it was, it did.

“This” was no ordinary sunrise. Our snowbird rental on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, affords us striking views, especially at dawn.

The sea mirrored the sky as the celestial kaleidoscope slowly revolved from violets to pinks to oranges to gold to grays. I willingly allowed those siblings of earth and atmosphere to kidnap me.

My initial urge was to shout for joy, but that seemed irreverent, uncouth, and even sacrilegious. For once in my life, I stayed silent, sedated by the aura that engulfed me.

A renegade cumulonimbus cloud hovered miles offshore. Sheets of rain cascaded into the sea.

My eyes drew heavenward. The risen sun, hidden by clouds over the Gulf Stream, illuminated the universe, at least the part that I could see. It was heavenly, indeed.

With each degree that the sun rose into the clouds, the refracted rays altered the colors. As if someone had flipped a light switch, the violet hue transformed into orange, bathing everything it touched.

The scene was surreal. I felt like I had been pulled above the beach, the foamy waves no longer lapping at my feet.

It was then that I more fully appreciated the ocean’s contribution to this original, living painting. The gently swelling sea reflected both the water’s depth and the sky’s variable palate.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Dabs of puffy clouds scalloped the sky. The ocean’s choppy undulating created a more linear composition. It was cottony above, corduroy below.

Though the consistencies remained the same, the colors continued to change. The wind scurried the dazzling clouds east while the ocean rolled west.

An instantaneous golden glow ensued when the sun finally peeked through the distant clouds hanging above the horizon. Overhead, the rain clouds just as suddenly converted the gold to gray unapologetically.

With the sky now spritzing droplets, I turned to retreat to the condo. And then I stopped to behold another divine marvel.

A brilliant double rainbow arched above our suntanned building complex. Once again, I was awestruck. I motioned for my wife to go look at the rainbow. She only waved back from the balcony. Desperate, I pointed to the sky, mimed a bow with my right hand, and pointed up.

This time Neva understood and rushed to the back of the condo. She returned before I could even begin to clean the sand from my shoes. Her radiance from seeing the double promise equaled that of the sky, which made me even happier.

By the time I made it back to the condo, the sky had darkened, and the rain pelted down. The morning’s free art exhibit was now washed out.

Other than the rain, none of this was expected. The official forecast had called for precipitation to overrun the northern Florida east coast overnight. But with the rain’s delayed arrival, we were treated to this transformative experience.

This ecclesiastical event seemed to last an eternity. However, the timestamp on the scores of photographs that I took showed only 10 minutes had elapsed.

The magical scene had changed so rapidly that I couldn’t take in all of the finite details as they occurred. A review of my photos revealed the dramatic, atmospheric sequence of changes in that short window of opportunity.

Appreciative is too small of a word to describe my gratitude for having viewed the wondrous display. But most grateful I am.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Mowing snow while mulching leaves

Before the leaves fell.

This time it wasn’t my fault. Every time I went to mulch the accumulation of leaves that covered much of our yard, something or someone else thwarted my good intentions. We all know where that road leads.

First of all, I wanted to wait until all of the red maple leaves in the backyard had fallen. For some reason, they clung like flies to flypaper. The leaves of the front yard red maple had all tumbled weeks earlier.

When the weather was sunny and warmish, which wasn’t that often in the late fall of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we were gone. When we were home, it was too wet, or other commitments kept me from doing the job.

Even with a couple of gusty windstorms, the leaves clung fast to the tree. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood’s assortment of dead foliage swirled around and landed in our yard like it was a leaf magnet.

The turkey.
It was nearly Thanksgiving before the leaves finally succumbed. Even then, it took almost a week before most of them lay on the ground. The leafy blanket was so thick I could hardly see the grass in spots.

Finally, the timing and weather seemed just right. However, because of a heavy frost, I waited until after lunch to make my move. I shouldn’t have.

I had just started the leaf blower when our yardman arrived. Rain was forecast for the next day, and he wanted to get the year’s last organic fertilizer on the grass despite the carpet of leaves.

He assured me that the rain would wash the fertilizer off the leaves and into the ground. I yielded the yard to him. It rained for three days.

After the rain subsided, it turned cold, freezing the leaves in place. I continued to wait and watch the forecast. It was now early December.

A skiff of snow caused another delay. Most of it melted, except for the snow in the north-slanting shadows of our backyard neighbor’s evergreens and the front of our north-facing house.

A storm with freezing rains was approaching. It was now or never to mulch the leaves.

A few of the neighbor’s leaves.
I set the mower to its highest level so that only the tallest growth of grass would be clipped. I donned my insulated coveralls, put on my waterproof shoes, and cranked up the mulching mower.

Around and round I went, reversing course with each completed trip of the yard’s parameter. The piles of dried leaves that I had blown out of the flowerbeds and shrubbery into the grass easily shredded to bits. The backyard leaves were a different story.

A messy mix of chewed up leaves and dirt began to stick to the wheels. The messiness increased when I hit the patches of thin snow. The pulverized blend of icy moisture and leaves turned to sludge. I stubbornly mulched on.

By the time I had finally finished, the poor mower looked like it had endured a motocross mud run. Brown muck covered much of the mower’s bright red body. The wheels were caked in a sticky mixture of chopped leaves and residue of red clay that poses as Virginia topsoil.

Shreds of green grass clippings topped off the muddy mess like colorful sprinkles on an ice cream cone. It was so sad and ugly that I couldn’t even take a picture of it.

But the mulching was done, and I was a happy man. The unusually difficult task of mowing my lawn had become an existential saga. And then the sun came out.

Not this much snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Reach out to those who can’t celebrate

As joyous and fun as the holidays are, not everyone can celebrate. All of the holiday hype merely adds fatigue and angst for those who have no family or who have lost loved ones this time of year.

Amid our own holiday celebrations, my wife and I have our moments of remembrances. My father died a few days before Christmas a decade ago. So did my father-in-law nine years earlier. A young adult friend, studying to be a doctor, succumbed to cancer, also at Christmastime.

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m sharing our story and asking for awareness. For us, the holidays bring mixed emotions. We can be joyously celebrating one moment, and suddenly out of nowhere, we are pricked with the painful reminder of those whom we loved but are now gone.

The sadness, the loss, the hurt all appear uninvited. What sets off the sensation is unpredictable. It could be a familiar fragrance, an innocent comment, or a peculiar sound. It could be nothing more than the thought of missing a father, mother, brother, sister, or friend.

In the cases of my father-in-law and my father, we were relieved when they finally could cross over to the other side. Dementia and cancer can be cruel, gut-wrenching deaths. Even if life’s end does come during the holidays, there is comfort in knowing their physical misery has finally ended.

It was especially so for my father. Dad loved Christmas. When he died 10 years ago, the Ohio winter weather was brutal. An extended cold snap and heavy snow guaranteed a white Christmas. Dad would have loved the brightly decorated church welcoming the holidays.

We said our goodbyes to Dad on December 26, which was a Saturday. We understood if folks couldn’t come. To our surprise, scores of people young and old braved the weather. We were glad they had taken time out of their own holiday plans to pay their respects and share their sympathies with our family at the visiting time and attending the service.

Every year, as we approach this most hallowed time, there are moments when I hear Dad’s voice as clear as if he were still with us. I think it’s a reminder of how childlike Dad embraced Christmastime his entire life. The thought brings a smile to my face every time. That’s the way our father would want to be remembered.

But for others, it can be different. When you lose a loved one no matter the age or situation, the loss can be a shock from which some never recover. If the death or traumatic accident happens during the holidays, the grief can even be more profound.

We must give both space and grace to those who grieve. They need their time alone to mourn, whether their personal loss was recent or decades ago.

However, we must also be inclusive of them, especially if they were left to live alone. That may mean including those who grieve in family gatherings, or it may mean visiting them on their own time and in their own surroundings. Whichever, they must not be forgotten.

The holiday season is meant to be a joyous time, one of celebration, good cheer, and gracious giving. We should always honor it that way.

We must remember, however, that not everyone can celebrate in that manner. Personal loss changes people. In our reveling, we must recognize and embrace their grieving.

Doing so may be the most appropriate gift that we give them.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Go ahead and ring those bells!


Whenever I hear those old sleigh bells, I know it’s officially the holiday season.

It’s not hyperbole in describing those silver bells as old either. My wife’s grandfather used them on his horse-drawn sleigh. Their pleasing tinkle, tinkle, tinkle conjures up all that’s good and joyous about Christmastime. Visions of Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer team pulling jolly Old Saint Nick in his gift-laden sleigh danced in my head.

That enchanting tinkling sound returns every year as Neva gets the urge to decorate the house inside and out for the holidays. That usually happens on a whim, based on our busy schedules and the weather forecast. This year it was a few days before Thanksgiving.

The jingling of the bells is her unintentional announcement that the holiday display initiative has begun. Neva often completes the jolly decorating on her own, whether I’m home or not.

The sound of the bells, however, drew me away from a writing malaise to join in the fun. With the late November weather sunny and warmish, Neva already had the exterior decorating underway.

We had earlier agreed to simplify both the outdoor and indoor displays. Even then, our previous ones were modest by comparison.

Out came holiday quilted wall hangings, seasonal books, and Christmas candles. Up went the artificial holly wreaths and our late friend Helen’s ceramic Christmas tree upon her antique oak end table. The tree’s red lights stay continuously lit against its shiny green bows all tipped with white for snow.

With each completed display, the memories flowed. Barn wood-framed antique Christmas postcards hang near the front door, welcoming all for the holidays. My late father made the frame years ago.

No room goes untouched with Neva’s artistry. A rustic steel nativity scene adorns her grandmother’s china closet.

Dashes of snipped holly and boxwood grace the front porch and family room. A garland of shiny red beads and artificial greenery accompany the sleigh bells that surround the table lamp in the front window. It’s only appropriate that that string of bells take center stage.

Holiday candles and soap caddies gussied up the bathrooms. In the dining area, Christmas tree knickknacks serve as bookends to the candy dish, where red and white peppermint candies tempt me from atop the antique dry sink.

Salt and pepper shakers disguised as Mr. and Mrs. Snowman oversee the kitchen. Holly stenciled water glasses, festively decorated serving bowls, and platters all wait their turn in the cupboards to serve their cheerful purposes.

Neva already had completed most of this by the time the sleigh bells rang. I arrived in time to decorate the tall and skinny artificial Charlie Brown Christmas tree sequestered in the corner of the open spaced living area.

I enjoyed hanging an assortment of ornaments that represent nearly every year of our togetherness. Neva completed the adorning with thin, red-striped candy canes, also an annual tradition.

Next to the tree, strings of little white lights tactfully wind through stacked books resting on the wooden bench a friend had restored. Strings of green garland and white lights and Christmas tchotchke brightened both the back porch and the utility room.

I can’t overlook the subtle but most prominent and meaningful holiday symbol of all. By night, little battery-powered candles flicker from the windowsills. Their glow is small, but mighty, brightening the darkest December nights and the starriest.

That evening I took my tea in an oversized holiday mug. It’s hand-painted smiling snowman enjoyed every sip right along with me.

When it comes to Christmas, our welcome sign is out. My wife always makes sure of that.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

November: The contemplative month

2017-11-20 14.19.03

The fall election is over. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone, and so have most of this fall’s colorful leaves. It must be November.

We can thank the pelting rains and wicked winds of a raucous cold front for dislodging most of the leaves. We can thank Congress for the time change.

I never adjust well to this convoluted toying of time. I wake up early and am ready for bed before dark that Sunday afternoon.

When we lived in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, I always chuckled at the various reactions to this contrived notion of messing with clocks to supposedly save energy. The Amish had that down to a science.

Some Amish complied with the change to stay connected with the rest of society. Others compromised and moved the time back a half an hour. Some never changed time in the first place.

2016-11-05 16.28.16

I miss that kind of contrariness. I haven’t checked with local buggy-driving Old Order Mennonite farmers here in Virginia to know if they mess with time in the same manner.

With the time changed and the leaves disappearing, our attention turns to Thanksgiving preparations. At least it should if we aren’t too distracted by all the Christmas gift-giving commercials already on television.

It can be for that very reason alone that I become contemplative in November. I think it’s the colder weather though. I do appreciate the cleaner, clearer air. Thanks to a couple of killing frosts, I can breathe again.

Then, too, the early darkness readies me for bed way before bedtime. These are the days of the earliest sunsets of the year until we get to the winter solstice.

I do appreciate the clear evening skies, too. I love to watch the moon creep across the darkened sky surrounded by sparkling jewels and winking planets.

The month of November ushers in the dormant season. By month’s end, the deciduous trees will be bare. We’ll see things in the landscape we had totally forgotten about, like houses we didn’t remember were there.

cropped-dsc_0555.jpgThe longer evenings give me time to reflect on the activities of the day. I do miss my fireplace, though. There is truly nothing like warming your backside sitting on the hearth in front of a roaring, crackling fire.

I used those evenings to think and reflect on our past, present, and future. With that, we recognize November’s other holiday, Veterans Day.

November is like recess at school. It’s the needed break between all of the action of October and December.

Soon Black Friday advertisements will blitz our mailboxes, newspapers, TV commercials, and annoying social media ads. Thanksgiving will be no more than a prelude to that glorious commercial day. Too bad there’s not an app to eliminate that.

As you might have surmised by now, I’m well into my contemplative shtick. I have a brain. I try to use it every now and then. November’s dark days seem like a good time to do that.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to Indian summer? With nine of the last 10 years the warmest on record globally, maybe the weather gods decided we don’t need it anymore. It’s just a thought.

Everything seems to slow down in November. From my point of view, that’s one of the eleventh month’s purposes. Let’s all take a little time to sit back, relax, talk with your spouse, listen to your children, play with your grandchildren, and be kind to one another.

Christmas is only a few weeks away.

2017-11-27 18.26.53

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Testing the limits of my new-found freedom

Looking west from the Skyline Drive.

I saw my chance at freedom, and I took it.

The previous day I had met with my orthopedic surgeon seven weeks after my knee replacement surgery. His last comment to me succinctly and professionally summed up his analysis of my progress. “I’ll see you next September,” he said with a broad grin.

I had driven myself the 35 miles south to the doctor’s appointment. Previously, my lovely wife had served as my chauffeur.

I still had a few physical therapy sessions to complete, and the doctor wanted me to return to the gym for some specialized exercises to strengthen my legs. Other than that, I had no restrictions, and I intended to make the most of it.

After an hour session with the physical therapists the next day, I decided to head to Shenandoah National Park. I had seen some beautiful photos of gorgeous fall foliage in the park, and I wanted to experience it myself.

Such an excursion would get me out and about so I could shoot some photographs of my own. My limited mobility had kept me close to home. On this beautiful, bright day, I felt free.

So after lunch, I headed to the park. My initial intentions were to do double-duty. A friend had a short film previewing in Charlottesville not far from the national park’s southern boundary. I figured I could do the Skyline Drive, take a few photos, and make the mid-afternoon screening.

I drove half an hour to the park entrance, where I joined a long line of vehicles. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to enjoy this gorgeous day.

At one of my stops at an overlook on the famous scenic Skyline Drive, reality hit. Altogether, the physical therapy, the driving, the numerous frequent stops had taken their toll. I was exhausted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I altered my plans. I wouldn’t make it to Charlottesville. In fact, driving to the park’s southern entrance was also out.

I continued driving, stopping, and photographing the incredible scenery. The old, folded mountains, dotted with nature’s emerging color-scape, and the clarity of the day had emotionally thrilled me despite my tiredness.

At one turnout, I found complete contentment despite my fatigue. I had observed several monarch butterflies floating on the day’s easy breeze. They looked for any sign of sweet nourishment on their long journey south. A lone monarch flitted around in front of me until it rested on a single fading flower.

The view across the storied Shenandoah Valley was pristine. The atmosphere was so clear that I could easily see from my spot on the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Allegheny Mountains 40 miles to the west. Their summit ridge separates Virginia from West Virginia.

In between lay the iconic valley itself. I spotted Mole Hill, a local landmark. Mole Hill is a long-extinct volcanic dome now capped with a deciduous forest that still showed mostly hunter green.

Earth toned farm fields fanned out from Mole Hill. The afternoon sun highlighted bright white houses and bank barns of Old Order Mennonite farms. From so far away, they appeared as miniatures. With that satisfying scene etched in my mind, it was time to head home.

By realistically reevaluating my situation, I was able to take my time, expend my energy to the max, and enjoy the colorful landscapes. I had passed my first test of independence.

Of course, I exacted a price for exercising my freedom. Fatigue and the day’s pleasantries helped me sleep well that night.

White and Gold.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019