It’s an old-fashioned Ohio winter

Except we live in Virginia.

Just another snowstorm in northeast Ohio.

So far, this certainly has been an old-fashioned Ohio winter. The only problem with that statement is that we live in Virginia.

I was afraid this might happen since my wife and I decided to forgo our usual weeks-long hiatus to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. It wasn’t always warm in our snowbird retreat there either, but at least it never snowed.

My preferred winter morning scene.

I don’t mind the snow so much. It’s the cold that gets to me. The older I get, the colder I get. My doctor blames that phenomenon on some of the medications that I take. Still, the results are the same.

My wife and I determined it best for us to stay close to home here in the Shenandoah Valley during the pandemic. We didn’t want to miss our chance at getting our virus vaccines since we were in a priority category to receive the shots.

We decided that it was better to endure the usually milder winters of Virginia than those of the Buckeye State we knew so well. This year there’s hardly been a difference.

Scenes from Ohio winters.

We have had cold, windy, wet, snowy, and often gray winter days. It hasn’t been as bad as living in the northeast Ohio Snowbelt. But we still feel those cold Arctic northwest winds nevertheless.

The Allegheny Mountains to our west help block some of the storms, and their western upslopes receive much more snow than we do here in the valley. However, if a storm tracks east of the mountains, we get our fair share of the white stuff, too. Snow and cold have been the rule, not the exception this winter for us.

So far this winter, we have had multiple measurable snowstorms. Some even lasted for a couple of days. We are used to seeing more sunny days here than we did in Ohio. Not this winter. I miss my frequent doses of vitamin D.

There is one good thing about snow in Virginia. It shuts everything down, significantly decreasing the number of drivers trying to test their macho mettle.

In Ohio, severe winter storms also closed schools, businesses, and highways. But that didn’t stop hardy souls from enjoying the snow. In extreme storms, snowmobiles ruled the roads until the snowplows ruined the fun.

Friends have teased us about all the winter storms we’ve had so far this year. “I thought you moved south,” they jest. My rational reply always is, “Yes, just not far enough south.” For the record, we are at the same latitude as Cincinnati.

Of course, we moved here for the grandkids. I’m pleased that they also have sledding hills to conquer and snow forts to build, as we did as youngsters. I’m contented to hear about their fun rather than join in.

Scenes for Virginia winters.

Snow brings more than recreation, though. The aesthetic results of valley snowstorms are a marvel. Like our former home, rolling farms dot the landscape of our expansive county. When blanketed with inches of snow, the already pastoral scenes turn majestic.

The mountainous landscapes become black and white panoramas of steeply sloped woods sprouting from white forest floors. Old Order Mennonites in buggies and on bikes don’t let the slippery stuff stop their endeavors. In that regard, it feels just like Holmes County, too.

The nice thing is that we don’t have to leave our home to enjoy the snow-sculpted scenery. Frosted branches of the neighbors’ evergreens bend low from the wet, white weight. We miss the Florida sunshine, but Neva and I are enjoying the beauty of wintertime in Virginia just as much as we did in Ohio.

Snow-covered Old Order Mennonite farms at the base of the Allegheny Mountains.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Dessert!

A Valentine’s Day surprise.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. My wonderful wife served up a delicious noon meal. She saved the best for later. At halftime of a basketball game we were watching on TV, Neva brought out this amazing dessert: a gluten-free brownie sundae with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, topped with fresh red raspberries. It tasted even better than it looks. The flavors perfectly blended together.

I knew I had to photograph this lovely dish. The fire engine red table cloth as the backdrop made the red raspberries pop. It was a great way to finish off our Valentine’s Day dinner.

“Dessert!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Accepting reality will help us all

I’ll remember January 20, 2021, for a long time.

Yes, it the day we inaugurated a new president of the United States. It was also the day our country passed a sobering, horrid milestone. The number of deaths in the U.S. from the COVID-19 virus surpassed the total number of U.S. military personnel killed in World War II.

That stark and mournful statistic sends a message more significant than its unfathomable number. More citizens have now died of a virus in a year than a four-year-war. What does that say about us as a people?

Indeed, the rest of the world is watching us. And, I can tell you that friends who live in other countries are shocked by what is happening with the spread of the pandemic in our great nation. It shouldn’t have been this way. But it is, and we all have to do something about it cooperatively.

Scientists, medical personnel, and researchers made great strides in developing COVID-19 vaccines in a short time. Of course, they were aided by the federal government with funds and expeditious approval of the vaccines. For that, I give great thanks.

But the facts are facts. To curtail this horrible pandemic, as many people as possible need to get the vaccines. Because of supply and demand, many of us will have to be patient and wait our turn.

Because we are a democratic republic, federal, state, and local authorities must now work together to distribute the vaccines. Consequently, when you get yours will depend on where you live and to which category you belong. Each state has set its particular priority classification requirements for immunization.

In part, that is why my wife and I decided not to be snowbirds this winter. We wanted to stay home for several reasons. Safety and getting the vaccines were high on the list.

A snowbird breakfast.

Yes, we miss our friends and the crashing waves and warmer temperatures on our beloved winter paradise, Amelia Island, Florida. However, we were uncertain if non-residents would be able to be vaccinated in the Sunshine State.

This winter is our first full one in the Commonwealth, even though we moved here nearly four years ago from Ohio. It’s a lot like living in northeast Ohio, except we have more sunny days and less snow.

With all those years of living in much more severe conditions than we have in the Shenandoah Valley, Neva and I are making it through. We are also following all of the CDC guidelines as best we can.

We continue to stay close to home. We continue to do curbside grocery pick up. If we order a meal, we get it via curbside delivery. We much appreciate those services and tip accordingly to show our gratitude.

As for the coronavirus vaccine, we are still waiting.

We know that some people may be leery about being inoculated. We are not. We respect people’s rights not to, but we also expect them to follow the proper guidelines to keep the rest of the population safe.

The reality is that we must all do our part in dampening down this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to ensure that it is quelled and does not reoccur. Getting the vaccine will go a long way to reaching that end.

We will also wash our hands, and wear masks and keep our physical distance when around others. We will continue to pray for the sick and all those who are working diligently with those infected.

Given the critical circumstances, it’s the best we can do.         

An Amish buggy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Zooming through the pandemic

Zooming with cousins.

Because of the needed health restrictions, we stayed close to home for much of 2020. That didn’t keep us from visiting with family and friends, however.

We recognized that the issued restrictions were and continue to be for our own safety. So, we faithfully followed them.

Like everyone else, we missed our everyday human interactions with friends and family most of all. Then we discovered a satisfactory no contact substitute.

We Zoomed.

Zoom is a program that works on devices like laptops, smartphones, and iPads to share face-to-face. Many businesses and educational institutions use it to operate during the pandemic.

We enjoyed being able to interact with folks and see them, too. We attended lectures, joined college classes, and watched concerts remotely on our computers.

Impressed, I downloaded Zoom onto my laptop, figured out how to set up a meeting, and off we went. Of course, Zoom isn’t the only remote option around. It just seemed the most logical and straightforward to use, especially with groups.

The executives of Zoom are no dummies. Your first session is free with no time limit. After that, the program shuts down after 40 minutes.

I’m no dummy, either. I bought a subscription when it was on sale, of course, and we haven’t looked back.

Zoom helped save our social life without violating the physical distancing requirements. We set up meetings with friends and family far and wide, and we Zoomed away.

We Zoomed at Thanksgiving with our son and his wife in New York. Our daughter and her family were with us, and we managed a holiday family photo with our granddaughter holding her uncle and aunt on her lap. That’s what laptops are for, right?

Before the COVID-19 travel restrictions, we had scheduled a reunion with my wife’s cousins and spouses. We kept the date and met remotely via Zoom.

Everyone liked it so well that we met again two weeks later. We’ve kept that up ever since, with everyone making it a priority. One cousin remarked that we have met together more via Zoom than we had in-person all the years previous. Technology transcends state boundaries or mountain ranges or hundreds of miles.

We heard stories new and old. We laughed and laughed, especially at the play-by-play of a herd of wayward dairy cows. In these dark times, we need as much laughter as we can get.

I even took free Zoom classes to sharpen my hosting skills. I was one of the hundreds in the remote classroom, yet I never left home to learn. I didn’t have to raise my hand to use the restroom, either.

We Zoomed with friends and family in Ohio, North Carolina, and locally, too. My wife contacted some college friends and set up a Zoom meeting. The ladies enjoyed it so much that they also now regularly met.

They chat as if they were in a dorm room. After the classmates’ last Zoom gathering, their laughter carried out of my office clear to the great room.

We have also Zoomed for doctor appointments, church meetings, small groups, worship, and community service meetings. We have visited history museums and taken virtual field trips via Zoom.

Though we use other options to communicate remotely, Zoom is our go-to tool. For the record, I don’t own Zoom stock, and Zoom didn’t endorse my commentary.

Pandemic or no pandemic, we are glad technology has permitted us to continue our lives and personal connections and still stay safe and sound.

Our Thanksgiving Day Zoom.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

We’re leaving the lights on for you

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I are leaving the lights on for you. And, no, we’re not Motel 6.

The year-end holidays may be over, but our modest festive light display is still burning brightly. We began our celebrative decorating early and are letting our lights shine well into the New Year.

We are not crazy, nor do we own stock in our electricity company. We have our altruistic reasons for letting the lights continue to shine.

Lighting up our homes inside and out runs deep in our linage. My wife’s family always brightened their cozy farmhouse with tactful holiday flare. Her frugal farmer parents wanted to share their holiday spirit, too.

Although my exuberant father sometimes got a bit too flashy for my taste, my family was no different. Nevertheless, Dad’s heart was in the right place. He wanted to bring joy to all who passed by our little brick bungalow on our busy suburban corner.

Dad’s enthusiasm seemed to progress with each passing year, however. He loaded the corner evergreen with strings of those big-bulbed multi-colored lights. Later, he outlined the front porch, then still later erected dangly white lights that imitated icicles around the roof’s edges.

Fortunately, our mother, the artist, had control over the creative interior decorating. The decked-out Christmas tree always stood in front of the living room’s picture window. Christmas cards covered the inside of the old wooden front door, and the fireplace mantel always said Happy Holidays!

My wife and I have a 49-year tradition of lighting up our home inside and out for the holidays. We credit our parents for that creative itch.

Given the world’s state in 2020, Neva and I decided to get a jumpstart on our holiday decorating. We had the time and opportunity since we tried to follow the stay close to home pandemic guidelines. So, that precisely is what we did.

We didn’t try to imitate my late father by any stretch of the imagination. We simply did our usual holiday festooning, only jumpstarted the holiday decorating just before Thanksgiving. The traditional commencement for our holiday decorating was the day after.

Our Jenny tree, a memorial for a friend gone too soon.

Now with Christmas come and gone, we packed away most of the interior decorations. But drive by our modest ranch home at night, and you’ll discover the exterior lights still brightly burning. They will continue to do so for a while.

What is our motivation? We are taking the idea of letting your light shine seriously. And why not? With the pandemic and continued social polarization, society is still bewildered and dismayed nationally and globally. The recent coup attempt in our nation’s capital only added to the nationwide angst.

Some might view our extended light display as simple-minded. We’re alright with that. It’s just our way of expressing gratitude for a new year and new opportunities to make things right in the world.

We also know that some might think our actions foolish. Our lights will shine nevertheless.

The multiple strings of little white lights combined won’t generate much real warmth. Instead, by letting the lights continue to glow, we hope that their presence, their shining on, countering the cold darkness of the world, will, in some small ways, warm a few hearts.

Like our late parents, our sincere hope is that this humble display simply helps brighten any passersby’s souls on any given chilly winter’s eve. We’ve noticed that we aren’t alone. Others continue to keep their holiday lights on, too.

Whether it’s a single glowing candle in the front window or a lighting extravaganza, that light radiates joy. That’s a commodity all of us need now and always.

© 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

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

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