This picture really is worth a thousand words

Overlooking the icebergs in front of the Knik Glacier, Palmer, AK.

Of the more than 2,000 photos that I took on a recent two-week trip with my wife, one single photo stands out for me. It wouldn’t win any photo contests, but it best represents the sentiment of our journey to Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The picture could have been of the ubiquitous and colorful fireweed blanketing a misty alpine meadow. During our visit, I captured the brilliant pink flower in every stage of blooming. But that’s not it.

I could have easily chosen one of several digital landscapes of the Knik Glacier. Our friends Doug and Rosene took us there on our very first day in the 49th state. The views were stunning, the experience exhilarating. But, no, that’s not my favorite photo.

The early morning view from Flat Top Mountain overlooking Anchorage, Alaska could certainly qualify, too. I could faintly see the grand mountain Denali through the morning haze. That wasn’t it either.

Other possibilities were the many snapshots of caribou grazing in meadows in Denali National Park and Preserve. For shooting at some distance through the window of a refurbished school bus, I thought the photos turned out pretty well. However, none of those shots could compare to my favorite.

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I had hoped to see a bull moose while on our trip. As we approached the end of our Denali tour, we spied one lumbering through the brush 100 feet from the bus. Even my first bull moose pictures couldn’t match the one that touched me most.

We much enjoyed our walk around the frontier town of Dawson City, Yukon. With its dirt streets and eclectic set of residential and commercial structures, it looked like a set right out of a John Wayne movie. As lovely as that assortment of Dawson photos was, they couldn’t measure up to my pick.

You should see Emerald Lake, a beautiful body of water worthy of its colorful name in the Yukon. Surrounded by mountains dotted with forests and meadows, the shots I got are some of my favorites, but not the favorite.

Shortly after that, we stopped at the quaint village of Carcross, built on a spit of land between two sparkling lakes. I captured a flock of ducks twisting and turning in the sky over Lake Bennett. As ecstatic as I was, those pictures can’t compare to my most precious shot.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

The narrow-gauge train trip down the mountain gap from the Canadian border to Skagway, Alaska was breathtaking. With a clear sky and divine mountainous scenery, the shot of the train crossing the trestle over a river is calendar-worthy. Nope. That’s not the one either.

I had high expectations for getting shots of several different glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. Sea, air, and light conditions made for perfect shots. But as you likely have surmised, they aren’t my choice either.

I was fortunate to capture memorable photos of gorgeous scenery, thrilling wildlife, spectacular glaciers, and eye-catching architecture. Yet, none qualify as my shot of shots. What is?

My favorite photo of our dream vacation is one of the best I have ever taken of my wife. Neva is standing at the stern of our cruise ship as it slowly eases out of port to begin our brief voyage.

The smile on her face is both precious and priceless. As she looks back at the camera, Neva’s radiance lights up the dim evening setting. It wasn’t the anticipation that created that glow. It was the pure pleasure of being there together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Watching the grandkids grow

Times have changed, and so have the grandkids.
Our grandkids are growing in so many ways. The most apparent transformations, of course, are their physical changes.

On their last visit to Nana and Poppy’s Ohio home, we had family photos taken. That was April 2017. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was taller than all three grandchildren. Not anymore.

When we returned from a recent trip to Alaska, I could no longer make that claim. Both Evan and Davis have outgrown me. Two years makes a big difference when you are growing youngsters.

In fact, Davis is challenging his older brother for tallest sibling bragging rights. At 15 and 13, they both likely have some growing yet to do.

When Nana asked Davis if he was the tallest in his middle school, he said not by a long shot. One classmate is already 6 foot 3 inches.

When I asked what sports the tall teen plays, Davis quickly replied with one defining word: “Guitar!” That’s what I get for stereotyping.

We took the sprouting trio out for our annual before-school-begins breakfast at their favorite eatery. Since it was already going on 10 a.m. by the time we arrived, the outing was more like brunch. Growing youngsters need their sleep.

The discussion around the breakfast table revealed other sorts of growth. They each shared about their recent trip to the west coast.

Back in Ohio.
The highlights they named surprised both Nana and me. They all liked the Chihuly Art glass garden in Seattle. Riding motorbikes and four-wheelers in Oregon was a close second, followed by watching surfers at Huntington Beach, California with cousins they got to meet for the first time.

We talked about the upcoming school year. When asked about the classes they would be taking in high school and middle school, each boy pulled out a smartphone and read off their schedules. Little sister, who isn’t so little anymore, is excited to have her best friend in her fourth-grade class.

As they chattered on and we waited on the food, I couldn’t help but reflect on their younger years in Texas, where all three were born. We enjoyed those infrequent visits, although the hot Lone Star summers often kept us inside playing with Matchbox toys and changing diapers.

Now they live in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and so do we. They are the primary reasons we moved here from the beloved Buckeye State more than two years ago. Living five miles apart is much more convenient than five hours by airplane.

Watching the grandkids change so quickly is both gratifying and a bit scary. We relish each moment, even the predictable squabbles of youth and siblings. I’m thankful that the role of grandparent is less harried than that of the parent.

Evan, Davis, and Maren all have their various likes and dislikes, gifts and abilities. It is both a joy and a challenge to keep up with their busy, young lives.

We bundle up and watch Even pitch even if it’s 40 degrees with a stiff northwest wind. I marvel at Davis’ preference for quiet, personal time, whether on a solo bike ride or being in his room. I shake my head in disbelief at Maren’s packed after-school schedule. How she manages soccer and choir practices, and piano lessons that sometimes follow one another is a mystery to me.

The grandchildren are growing. Nana and I relish the rapid changes that seem to occur daily. We anticipate with wonder all that is yet to come, thankful we’re here to help and take it all in.

Kids being kids.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Reflections on 30 years in public education

A one-room Amish private school in eastern Holmes Co., OH.

It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.

It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.

I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.

I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.

I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.

I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.

A retirement gift from the staff.
Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.

To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.

I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.

I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.

For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.

I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.

I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.

It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.

I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.

My last class as an elementary teacher.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

The colors of August

Wheat shocks at sunset.

The colors of August captivate me. Living nearly all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio gave me a full range of that summer paint pallet.

The pleasing contrasting greens and golds quickly got my attention. I admired the rolling contoured rows of lush green field corn against the toasted waves of winter wheat.

In the eastern part of the county, wheat shocks stood as sentinels guarding the fattening ears of corn nearby. Unfortunately, their presence seldom deterred the deer from nibbling the outer rows to the cob.

The blooming alfalfa brought pretty butterflies, honeybees, and other vital pollinators. The swooping swallows had their own feast, especially when the farmers made their August cuttings whether by tractors or horse-drawn mowers.

August was when the vibrant green leaves of deciduous trees began to curl in the heat, humidity, and parched soil. By month’s end, a few even turned brown or began to color.

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I always enjoyed the flowers that bordered blossoming gardens or multiple flowerbeds like my wife cultivated to perfection. Hollyhocks were my favorite until the gladiolas raised their pink, red, yellow, and white flags.

I would be negligent if I failed to mention the summer birds, some of which had already begun their return flight south. Though not as vocal as earlier in the year, most still showed their breeding colors.

The flashing iridescent red on emerald of the male ruby-throated hummingbird and the flashy orange and black of Baltimore orioles spruced up any welcoming yard, if only temporarily. Sometimes the two species vied for dibs at the sugar-water feeders.

By months end, early morning coolness brought silent, silken fog that glowed bronze with the rising sun. If eyes were sharp, silver droplets dotted the dewy threads of spider webs artistically strung from one barbed wire strand to another.

Much of that changed, however, when my wife and I moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Like Holmes County, the Valley, as locals like to call it, is the breadbasket of the south. Agriculture still rules the rural areas.

Farming is a bit different here, however. Though the Old Order Mennonites still drive horses and buggies, they man the latest farm machinery invented. As thrifty as their Amish cousins, they often farm right up to the roadway.

Though the topography is similar, strip cropping is seldom used. No-till farming seems to be the in thing here. The result is wide swaths of wheat sown between two fields of field corn or the tallest soybeans I have ever seen. It’s still green and gold, just different species.

With soil that hardly ever freezes and being further south, the growing season is longer. Farmers and gardeners get an earlier start on planting and consequently harvesting. The colors I was used to in August begin to appear in July. Produce stands evidence that.

The produce peak, however, still seems to be August. My wife and I can attest to that thanks to the generosity of our son and daughter’s families. They gifted us a weekly produce box known as CSA, Community Supporting Agriculture.

End of August morning.
We have already enjoyed weeks’ worth of fresh, organic produce that is as tasty as it is luscious to admire. Mellow yellow summer squash, prickly green pickles, plump red tomatoes, sweet red beets, orange cantaloupe, and juicy red watermelon make our summer meals perfect.

Happy to merely admire the colors, I almost hate to have Neva slice, dice, fry, cook, and can the colorful lot. I change my mind, however, with the fresh salsa alone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

How do we respond when lightning strikes?

Storm clouds at sunset.

Recently, I received an early morning unexpected wakeup call. Others heard it, too. Neighbors and folks who live miles away got the same loud awakening.

At precisely 3:36 a.m., an extremely close lightning strike nearly knocked me out of bed. I learned later that others said the same thing.

The storm was unforeseen, not in the forecast, and as a severe weather spotter for the National Weather Service, I keep a close eye on the weather. This storm took me by surprise.

I was sound asleep, and yet I somehow remember hearing the sizzle, a loud pop, an extremely bright flash, and then a bang and thunder that rattled buildings up and down the Shenandoah Valley. All that happened in a terrifying split second.

Of course, I jumped up right away, wide-awake as if it were noon. Fearful that the lightning had struck our home, I immediately did an extensive check of the interior and then the exterior of our place.

In my office across the hall, the strike had fried our Internet modem and the Wi-Fi router. My laptop seemed saved by the surge protector.

I roamed the house sniffing for smoke and fortunately found none. I went outside and noted that it had rained, but was not now.

Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled in the far distance. I scanned the neighbors’ homes in front and back of us. Everything seemed fine, so I went back inside and rechecked the house before settling back into bed.

We all face life moments when we need to be rescued.
I later learned that the lightning had hit two houses away. The lightning damaged electrical equipment in several homes and knocked the Internet provider offline for several hours. One lightning strike had created all this damage by following an underground cable.

This close strike was the first we have experienced in Virginia. When we lived in Holmes County, Ohio, our house was struck at least six times in the nearly 38 years we lived near Berlin. We never had a fire, but usually had to replace a variety of electrical products over the years.

I have to confess that the surprise lighting bolt immediately unnerved me. A deep, personal sensation filled me like a close encounter of the heavenly kind. I said a silent prayer of gratitude and dozed back to sleep.

Life is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes the most straightforward experience or situation suddenly brings deep, passionate meaning. I thought of others who have found themselves under ominous and personal storm clouds. For them, unfortunately, mere replacement isn’t always an option.

We all are struck by lightning in some way. It could be a sudden illness, a severe car crash, the death of a loved one, a house fire, a lost wedding ring, a lost job, or a terminal diagnosis. The list is endless. How we choose to respond can determine the intensity of the shock.

That unexpected bolt awakened me not only from my sleep but from life’s slumber, too. I know I have faults, can do better, can be kinder, listen instead of talk, share instead of desire, pray instead of complaining.

Lightning strikes the earth 100 times per second. So the close lightning strike wasn’t that unusual. The extraordinary sense of making every moment count while I still can, however, literally hit close to home.

For me, the message was simple. Time is short. Time is fleeting. I need to be kind and generous, compassionate, and considerate unconditionally. Will you join me?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

There’s always a pleasant surprise at Lakeside, Ohio

Cottages in early morning light along Ohio’s most beautiful mile in Lakeside, OH.

Upon our return from our most recent stay at Lakeside, Ohio, a friend who had never been there asked me what we liked. “Everything!” I replied immediately. I wasn’t facetious either.

We go for the wholesomeness of the Chautauqua town on Lake Erie. We love the renewal of friendships, the happy buzz of children playing, generations of adults relaxing on front porches of quaint cottages, inspiring sunrises and sunsets, informative presentations, and a variety of nightly entertainment that touches multiple genres in a week.

We stay in the same hospitality house every year, often with some of the same guests, who have become friends over the years. We quickly settle into the same routines.

A two-mile walk around the gated community’s parameter precedes breakfast on the spacious wrap-around front porch. As we enjoy coffee, cereal, and friendly conversation, we people watch. Many folks make donut runs to a restaurant a block away.

The OH Pops stand at the farmers market.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the farmers’ market vendors assemble and set up their offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables, scrumptious homemade pies, and even doggie treats. The streets fill with customers from 9 a.m. to noon.

When I saw people browsing the various vendors while eating popsicles, I had to wonder where they got them. Friend Jeanne informed me that a new stand offered the cool treats for the hot weather.

Visions of creamsicles from my youth danced in my head. I went to find the source.

Beneath a rainbow-colored umbrella, a thin young man operated a stand that was nothing more than an icebox on wheels designed to be towed behind a bicycle. The young entrepreneur greeted everyone with a welcoming smile.

A sandwich chalkboard listed the luscious and unique flavors available for the day. I bought two different varieties, banana split, and apricot lavender. Of course, I shared with my wife.

One bite of the banana split pop, and I was hooked. The taste and texture of the mini-chocolate chips convinced my taste buds. I had to get the story on these OH Pops, the appropriate and official name of the young man’s business.

Storm clouds reflect sunset colors on the Lakeside dock.
I dashed back down the street and waited until other customers were served. I introduced myself and learned his name was Derek.

I identified myself as a journalist and wanted to know his story. When he told me, I was in near disbelief.

Derek was 30-years-old. His two nieces, ages seven and 12, live with him. A judge gave him custody of the girls when their mother sadly fell victim to the pandemic opioid crisis. The court decided Derek, their uncle, was the best suitable relative to care for the young girls.

The pair helps Derek make the icy treats, and even suggest the unusual flavors and ingredients. In addition to farmers markets, Derek is hired for special events and wedding receptions.

Derek got the mobile icy pop idea from seeing similar operations in large cities that he visited. He thought, “Why not here?”

Besides his business, Derek works two other jobs to make ends meet.

His vision for both the business and for the welfare of his nieces much impressed me. The combination of this young man’s work ethic and dedication shines as a model for all of us.

If this wasn’t a lesson in humility and compassion, I don’t know what is. Meeting Derek and hearing his heartwarming story was just the latest reason we love to visit Lakeside, Ohio every summer.

Dawn breaks at Lakeside Chautauqua in Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Plan ahead for rest and relaxation

Iconic summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

When we lived in Ohio’s Amish country, Sunday was a day of rest. It was a biblical concept that was actually put into practice.

Our house was built on an Amish farmstead. Few in our neighborhood mowed their lawns, washed their cars, or worked in their gardens. There were six other days of the week to do those tasks.

I wasn’t raised that way. Growing up, I knew nothing of Amish and Mennonite ways. Sunday was a day for worship and rest, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t wash and wax my car. I didn’t consider that activity to be work at all. In fact, I found cleaning my vehicle relaxing.

My Mennonite farm girl wife adhered to the Sunday day of rest tradition. I quickly swung to her custom of keeping the Sabbath after our marriage all those years ago. Sunday was church day and frequently involved hosting or visiting with others.

I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t been sorry.

Since we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, those quiet Sundays aren’t so quiet anymore. By most standards, our neighborhood of family homes is somewhat subdued. However, the sound of lawnmowers, power washers, and weed eaters echo from street to street any day of the week, including Sundays. We clearly are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Never on Sunday.
Still, several of our neighbors join Neva and me in holding to our principles. We mean no disrespect or ill will towards those who feel free to do yard work or some other Sunday chore. After all, working in the yard, garden, or flowerbeds can be therapeutic and therefore relaxing. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and other outdoor activities are equally satisfying.

It is vital that people who hold either view respect those who believe differently. It’s the only way we can successfully coexist as friends, neighbors, and viable society. In fact, others observe Sabbath on different days of the week.

That fact became clear to me while planning for our spring trip to New England. I have learned to plan ahead to avoid the stress of any kind of deadline, writing, or otherwise. That is a significant admission from a professional procrastinator. I sense great joy and accomplishment in getting things done correctly ahead of time.

I had several articles due to various publications for which I write around the time we were scheduled to leave. I made it a goal to complete them as thoroughly as possible before their due dates.

Doing so delayed much of the planning for the New England trip. Consequently, I had only done cursory research on places to visit.

Glen Ellis Falls, Jackson, NH was just one of many recommendations to visit that friends made to us.
Friends who had previously visited or lived in New England had given us excellent tips. I used those as the prologue to our itinerary. I scoured tourism websites, birding hot spot recommendations, perused multiple maps, both online and the physical hold-in-your-hand fold up kind.

Finally, I came to the realization that I only needed to compile an outline itinerary. The day-to-day details would unfold according to the notoriously wet and cool spring New England weather. We packed so we could dress in layers as the weather changed. We only set reservations for a few hotels and guided tours. We used the travel list of attractions as a guide, not an absolute must.

I felt immediate relief. It was 18 hours before we intended to leave, and everything was ready to roll. In my relaxed state, I realized just how important that was to me mentally and physically.

It felt like Sabbath Sunday, but only it was Thursday afternoon.

The view from the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019