Category Archives: friends

Enhance your trip: Make it personal

Rochester NY, Pont De Rennes bridge

High Falls

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I share a mutual love for travel. To explore and learn together about new locations, people, and their mores substantially enriches our married life.

Adding family and friends into our forays gives us even greater joy. Our son recently moved to upstate New York, which gave us the perfect excuse to visit him and the Rochester area for the first time.

Nathan had moved to Rochester for a new job opportunity. He was effusive about the natural beauty and the many cultural and culinary opportunities that the city and surrounding area afforded.

Even before our flight from Virginia had landed, we saw what Nathan meant. The side-by-side Finger Lakes became elongated mirrors, beautifully reflecting the morning sunshine. That sight alone refreshed our spirits since rain persisted in Virginia.

The plane’s final approach to the airport took us right over downtown Rochester, a metropolitan area of a million folks. I caught a brief glimpse of a lovely waterfall in the heart of the center city.

Nathan picked us up, and we headed straight to his new apartment, a considerable downsize from his old Dutch colonial Ohio home. We immediately shared his satisfaction with his housing selection. He had bright and spacious living quarters in a stately Victorian that had been converted to accommodate several apartments.

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His new digs are ideally situated among other splendid old homes on tree-lined streets and boulevards. His place affords many amenities. It’s near downtown, trendy eateries, renowned museums, and art galleries. Nathan had chosen well.

Another personal plus for us was that retired friends from Ohio live just a mile away from our son. We caught up with them over brunch the next morning.

Of course, Nathan wanted us to experience a sense of his new stomping grounds. So off we went, walking and driving to area attractions over our long-weekend stay. The moderately rolling landscape dotted with mixed woodlots and ravines carved by ancient streams felt like home, both Ohio and Virginia.

We packed a lot in during our short stay. We toured the art gallery, wandered through an old mansion and accompanying gardens, dined at locally-owned and operated restaurants, discovered lighthouses, felt the cool north breeze off Lake Ontario, and sampled delicious home-made ice cream more than once. We admired the cityscape view from Cobb’s Hill and watched the autumnal equinox sunset from atop a skyscraper.

I found familiarity driving up Mt. Hope Avenue to Mt. Hope Cemetery. I had served 21 years as principal at Mt. Hope Elementary School in Mt. Hope, Ohio. More importantly, we toured the historic cemetery that holds the graves of social pioneers Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony.

Though I had never been there, it felt like I had. The old cemetery was established on glacial kame and kettle topography. It was the same glacier that formed the similar rolling hill and valley landscape of Holmes County, Ohio where Neva and I had built our homes, cultivated our marriage, raised our son and daughter, and fulfilled our careers.

Of course, we had to find those downtown waterfalls, too. Soon we stood on the Pont De Rennes footbridge admiring High Falls with the cityscape as its backdrop, and all the sights and sounds of a busy 21st-century city. I absorbed all that I could, ecstatic for our son.

Like most travelers, I greatly enjoy exploring new haunts and all they have to offer. When the excursion involves family and friends, the trip becomes even that more meaningful.

autumnal equinox sunset, Rochester NY

Final glow of the autumnal equinox sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, column, family, friends, history, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

A sunrise that made my day

Ohio's Amish Country, Holmes Co. OH

The sunrise at its summit.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat in awe at the beauty unfolding before me. What I had seen compelled me out into the dawn of the day.

I had slept restlessly despite having been emotionally and physically drained by the previous days’ activities. I had returned to Ohio to assist our son in preparing to move before the professional movers would shuffle him off beyond Buffalo to upstate New York for his new job.

For two long, hard days, we sorted and packed his items, and cleaned the house he was leaving for a smaller apartment. I would also stuff our van with family heirlooms and thrift store pieces to take back to Virginia. It was hard to see him off, he and I both in tears.

With those emotions still stirring internally, I surrendered to what lured me outdoors. The day was dawning with a broken cluster of wispy gray clouds hanging in the eastern sky. A spot of pink hue peeked at the horizon, giving me hope of a lovely sunrise.

I sat in the morning’s coolness on the patio waiting breathlessly for the show to begin. Would those clouds enhance or hinder a brilliant sunrise? The answer found itself in patience, not my best quality.

Flowers reflect first light.

Nevertheless, I remained nearly alone overlooking Millersburg, Ohio from our friends’ place high on a hill. A light, feathery mist lingered over the hardwoods, farm fields, and commercial properties that filled the Killbuck Valley.

As the sky brightened ever so slightly, a menacing caw, caw, caw punctuated the morning air. I strained in the dim light to find the source of the harshness. Suddenly, a pair of inky figures, their black wings flapping furiously, repeated their raucous call.

The two American crows were on a beeline southwest in hot pursuit of another crow far ahead of them. It was like two undercover cop cars chasing a crook.

The only other sounds were human-induced, the distant hum of a few vehicles, and a dump truck on an early run from the gravel pit down the road. Neither crickets nor katydids had awakened yet.

Then it happened. A silent burst of radiance raised me out of my chair and freed me from my stupor. I danced barefoot into the dewy lawn. I soon found myself at the southeast corner of the yard where I had a better angle to view the sunrise and could ignore the obnoxiousness of an ill-placed cell tower, its red lights annoyingly blinking.

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Ironically, the only camera in hand was the one on my cell phone. So I hypocritically began snapping photo after photo of the stunning, flowing scene changing second by second.

Those once gray clouds now glowed gold, yellow, orange, red, pink, mauve, and crimson. In the foreground, security lights and streetlights twinkled below the incredible show. One would think I was observing my first ever sunrise the way I clicked away.

Still, I continued to capture the incredible drama before me, not for myself so much as for others. In such a setting, my joy comes as much in the sharing as experiencing the splendor. When the sun finally poked above the horizon, I walked back towards the house.

This sunrise had awakened me as no other had. I felt renewed and refreshed from the emotions and exertions of the previous days. I was ready to begin my journey home.

For most folks, if they saw it, this was just another sunrise. To me, it was a blessed miracle.

Millersburg OH, Holmes Co. OH

Even the northern sky flashed radiance.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

How retirement was meant to be

Virginia sunset, August susnet

Sunset wakes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we were, two couples sitting around a table at 10 o’clock on a beautiful but sultry Monday morning playing cards. Our only objective was to win the game.

Nana Neva and I had taken an extended weekend break from our part-time grand-parenting duties to explore a less-familiar area of Virginia with another retired couple.

We had worked all of our lives to reach this point. Playing cards followed by a round of dominoes seemed like the perfect way to begin a new week, especially on a hot and muggy morning.

We played until lunch and then walked down the slanting limestone driveway to a cozy eatery in a marina for some fabulous homemade ice cream. Choosing which flavor became the toughest decision we made all day.

The location had much to do with our buoyant attitude. We had rented a cottage situated on a point overlooking a man-made lake where the dam generated hydroelectricity. The lake was long and narrow, the product of a few creeks damned up to fill steep valleys in southern Virginia.

Such a project brought more natural benefits than producing power. Wildlife thrived.

Each morning and evening a resident bald eagle perched on a favorite snag, often on the same limb a quarter of a mile across the bay from us. We had a perfect view from our deck that faced the water, made murky by a series of recent heavy rains.

Osprey, Virginia

On the watch.

Before breakfast, I spotted an osprey perched on a dead pine farther up the narrow bay. The “fish hawk” stood tall and stately in the morning mist.

Pileated woodpeckers called and flew back and forth across the water, too, landing if only briefly in the sizable wild cherry tree in our front yard along the shoreline. An eastern kingbird, a much smaller species, chased the much larger woodpecker upon every approach. Fierceness is the kingbird’s nature.

The ripe fruit of the lakeside tree drew songbirds, too. The kingbird didn’t seem to be as bothered by the Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, and even young redheaded woodpeckers. I could have stayed there all day to watch that show.

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The previous day we ventured to Rocky Mount, the county seat where my maternal grandparents were born. We researched family records in the historical society. The lilt and soft, southern accent of our hostess could have been my grandmother’s.

In the process, I was a boy again, standing in the hot Virginia sun inserting a nickel into a parking meter for my father. Dad had to finish the task because I wasn’t strong enough to turn the knob so the coin would activate the meter. The street meters have long disappeared, just like the department store where a relative had worked.

We visited the Booker T. Washington National Monument where the famous educator was born and freed as a slave. The sweltering heat and humidity made it easy to envision the slaves toiling in the parched fields.

Back at the cottage, boats rippled the reflected sunset as they headed in for the evening. Spiders devoured gnats trapped in the delicate webs on the deck just as a young eagle glided across the dusk’s burnished light.

This is what retirement was meant to be. We are grateful to be at this phase of our lives.

That said a palpable quietude subdued any thought of celebration. Too many others would not know the same joy and appreciation. Empathy should temper our golden years. Compassion must rule the way to ensure a purposeful retirement.

retirement, Smith Mountain Lake SP Virginia

A picture of retirement.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, birding, birds, column, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia, writing

Transforming work into play

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

The prairie on the hill.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Several years ago, our lifetime friends Dave and Kate built their dream house on a hill overlooking Millersburg, Ohio. They picked the perfect spot.

From that lofty vantage point overlooking a lovely valley, Dave and Kate can see the county courthouse clock tower, the school where they both taught, and the hospital where their children were born.

The setting is marvelous, the view fantastic. Still, through hard work and creativity, the couple has managed to improve their surroundings, not only for themselves but for the wild things, too.

About five years ago, Dave decided to turn work into play so to speak. He kicked the cows out of the five-acre, pastured hillside that surrounded the house. His goal was simply to let nature take her course.

Before the European invasion 300 years ago, a dense, mature forest covered most of what is now Ohio. Dave wanted to test an old theory that the land would replenish itself if allowed to go fallow.

So instead of cows grazing, grasses, plants, and seedlings began to sprout freely. Today, the results are impressive, producing rewards that even the amiable couple could never have imagined.

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On an all-too-brief return to our Ohio haunts, Dave led me on a walking tour of his mostly-spontaneous prairie. We traversed a looping pattern of mown paths that crisscrossed the rolling hillside topography.

Up and down and around we walked. All the while Dave pointed out some of the changes that had already naturally occurred. In some spots, he had helped things along with saplings and young trees he had planted. He checked on them like a mother hen guarding her chicks.

Of course, he encaged the plantings with wire mesh to stymie the ubiquitous and free-ranging deer that nibble the tender and tasty leaves and stalks. Sometimes it worked.

Wildflowers and plants now flourished in the prairie plots where heifers used to munch. The floral growth attracted appreciative pollinators that flitted and buzzed about while we ambled along. Bees and butterflies, flies, dragonflies, and damselflies all made appearances.

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

Eastern Bluebirds.

Several pairs of eastern bluebirds tended to their nests in boxes Dave had erected. Some had eggs, some second brood hatchlings. Others were empty. When we cleaned out an old nest from one birdhouse, a bluebird pair began building anew a short time later. Dave’s face glowed.

At the bird feeders, Ohio’s smallest to largest woodpeckers and several species in between vied for the suet offerings. Both pileated and red-bellied even brought their young to learn to forage for the protein.

On the parameters of the property, red-tailed hawks dove from shaded oak perches, unsuccessful in snagging a mammal breakfast. An indigo bunting began its song but stopped short, a typical behavior this late in the summer.

Cedar waxwings preened in the morning sunshine on dead ash snags. American goldfinches harvested thistledown for their late-season nests.

The gnarled, amber trunks of giant Osage orange trees served as living statuaries in the young reclaimed landscape. Their coarse-skin fruit hung lime-green and eerie, like so many Martian brains.

Once dormancy dominates the prairie, Dave will mow down this marvelous and necessary wildlife habitat to eliminate the human-made nuisance multi-flowered rose bushes. Of course, he’ll save the trees, both those he planted and the multitude of volunteers that are thriving.

That adage is coming true. Left to grow on its own, this come-what-may former pasture is an ever-changing habitat for all things bright and beautiful. The environmentally friendly owners couldn’t be more grateful.

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

Sunrise valley view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, rural life, travel, writing

There really is no place like home wherever that may be

Holmes Co. OH, sunset, Ohio's Amish country

Holmes Co. hills at sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I were returning from our winter hiatus on Amelia Island, Florida when I first spotted a glimpse of familiar mountains. We were still well south of Martinsville, Virginia in the folding foothills of North Carolina’s Piedmont region.

As much as we had enjoyed our time in the Sunshine State, we were glad to see those Blue Ridge Mountains that would guide us home. They earned that name long ago with the shadowy, bluish hue they cast from a distance. Their western cousins, the Allegheny Mountains, do the same.

We wound our way through south-central Virginia. We passed my maternal grandmother’s homestead and cruised through Roanoke, a city surrounded by those ancient, rounded ridges. From that point, the primary objective was to stay alive amid the bobbing and weaving strings of traffic on the always congested and dangerous I-81, which dissects the lovely Shenandoah Valley.

Holmes Co. OH, Amish farm

Holmes Co. farmstead.

It was the last stretch that led us home. Less than a year ago, our home was among the lesser but equally charming hills of Holmes County, Ohio. Ironically, they are the westernmost foothills of the Appalachian range that includes both the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.

Neva and I had spent all of our adult lives living in Holmes County. We had resided in both the county’s western and eastern sections. In west Holmes, the valleys were broader and hills steeper than those in the more gently rolling landscapes of the east that were dotted with Amish farms and family-owned cottage industries. We loved our times in both the east and west.

After a lifetime of arriving home in Holmes County, my emotions felt conflicted, from incongruity to tranquility as we approached our newest county of residence near our grandchildren. Still, we shared the familiar feelings of comfort and security as we approached our Virginia home.

That amalgam of thoughts flooded my mind as Massanutten Mountain came into view. It’s the geographic landmark that juts through the center of Rockingham County and looms to the east of our new hometown, Harrisonburg.

Mole Hill, Harrisonburg VA

Mole Hill.

Exiting the interstate, I pointed the van west towards an even more iconic landmark, Mole Hill. It’s alleged to be a long-dormant volcano, now sprinkled with stands of mixed hardwoods, fertile farm fields, and homey farmsteads. Mole Hill appears to be at the end our street. In reality, it’s a couple of miles west the way the crow flies. Viewing that satisfying scene brought smiles to our faces.

Because we were so deeply rooted in the Holmes County community through schools, church, and local service organizations, it has taken us a while to indeed settle into being Virginians. This return trip from Florida personally sealed the deal.

Please click the photos to enlarge.

I never thought I’d consider any place but Holmes County home. I was wrong. As much as we enjoyed our time in Florida, it was reassuring to be back in the Shenandoah Valley.

A few minor complications arose, however. I couldn’t remember where the cereal bowls were, the bathroom light switch was, and that the wastebasket was under the kitchen sink. The weather also forced us to wear winter coats again.

I have a friend Ava who was born and raised just a few miles from our suburban Virginia home. She now lives in Ohio, and always celebrates returning to these “blue, blue mountains,” as Ava refers to them.

Neva and I now know that same exhilarating feeling. With no disrespect to Holmes County, it was good to be home.

Allegheny Mountains, sunset, Shenandoah Valley VA

Blue at sunset, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under Amish, column, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Alice always made me smile

By Bruce Stambaugh

Alice.

Alice always made me smile. Oh, she could be annoying. Even when I’d kindly caution her to keep her voice down, that didn’t stop Alice from being Alice. Nor did that stop me from liking her.

I got to know Alice at our little church in Millersburg, Ohio. I can’t even remember how long I’d had the privilege of being Alice’s friend. She was a friend to many, to whomever she met really. Alice just had that kind of outgoing, unabashed personality.

Nothing held Alice back. If she wanted something or wanted you to know something that she knew, she’d share, any place, any time. Tact and appropriateness of timing were never part of Alice’s arsenal. Ironically, consideration of others most certainly was. It’s what motivated her, drove her, caused her to fearlessly blurt out her innermost feelings with no compunction.

Alice could be a pill, even a pest. If she had your number, especially your phone number, Alice would find any old excuse to call you. Alice often rambled on and on if you would let her. That’s how much she loved you.

Alice attended church whenever possible. Other good folks went out of their way to provide transportation for her.

Alice loved Helen Steiner Rice poems. She’d read them aloud every chance she got in church, often in honor of someone’s birthday. Of course, Alice did so long after other announcements had already been made. Spitfire that she was, Alice didn’t need a microphone. She would just shout out her comments, prayer requests, and recitations as the spirit moved.

Alice could pull this off because everyone knew her situation. It wasn’t toleration mind you. It was admiration for her unequivocal love for others and her fierce desire to share whatever was on her mind. Nearly 99 percent of the time, her thoughts and concerns were for others, not herself.

Alice receiving communion.

As Alice did her readings or made her proclamations, knowing smiles radiated from all around the congregation. Every worship leader graciously acknowledged her comments and the service continued without a hitch.

In addition to poems, Alice loved a good joke and prank. Though often silly and uncomplicated, Alice laughed her wicked laugh as she told and retold the punch lines. Once when our infant granddaughter squeezed Alice’s index finger and wouldn’t let go, Alice was in heaven. She joyously reminded me of that incident whenever she could. That was Alice.

Several years ago, I escorted Alice to Texas to visit her only living brother, whose health was failing. People thought I was crazy to take on that formidable task.

Though dependent on a wheelchair, Alice traveled with no problems. The further we got from Millersburg, the quieter she got. The return trip proved just the opposite.

Alice listened to my every instruction. Deep down, she and I both knew just how much this journey, paid for anonymously, meant to her. Witnessing Alice embrace her brother Floyd was one of my lifetime thrills.

Quixotic as she was, Alice married late in life on the most romantic day of the year, Valentines Day, Feb. 14, 1970. She and her husband Charlie lived right behind our church. In recent months, Alice was confined to a nursing home, substantially reducing her mobility. Alice recently died there at age 95.

Alice’s unbridled love for life was an excellent gift to us all. In her memory and in her honor, I hope that same devotion becomes an exemplary measure of living out our own lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, friends, human interest, Ohio, writing

A glimpse into the past, hope for the future

living history, old stone house, Granite Quarry NC

Living history.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I parked the van on the 21st Century side of the road and walked with my wife and our host couple across the two-lane highway back to 1766. The combination of the cold winter air and the smoke from several campfires immediately invigorated our senses and drew us in like kids to candy.

It was Christmas 18th Century style at the Old Stone House in the appropriately named village of Granite Quarry, North Carolina. The massive stones that formed the large, two-story house had been quarried a short distance away. A cast of volunteers decked out in period attire for their chosen character roles held me spellbound at every station.

The ladies at the beehive oven kept producing fresh-baked goodies for visitors to sample. The cornbread was pretty tasty. Members of the Mecklenburg Militia caroused around quietly spinning yarns that spanned generations. Still, they did their duty. To my knowledge, no one was arrested for pilfering sweet bread or inciting unrest.

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The militia’s cotton tents appeared flimsy and insufficient to keep out the cold for their camp over. Indeed, a spy told me they all intended to sleep in the comfort of the little log cabin outbuilding that housed a book sale for the event. Given the bite in the late afternoon air, I couldn’t blame them.

The old granite house stood proud and impressive, having been restored 50 years earlier. Its 22-inch walls kept the interior warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

We stepped into the living room to time-appropriate music as our guide rattled off detail after detail of what life was like three centuries ago. Though this house was large and elegant even by today’s standards, life was demanding. The family and their indentured servants and slaves always had plenty to do merely to ensure day-to-day survival.

The children in our group weren’t too impressed with the straw ticking that served as the mattress on the old rope bed. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite” took on a practical meaning to them. The guide demonstrated the sizeable wooden key for tightening the ropes that served as slats to hold the mattress. The herb tansy was interspersed with the straw to keep most of the bugs away. We all laughed when a stinkbug crawled out onto the ticking.

Upstairs was plain and noticeably cooler since the only heat came from the first-floor fireplaces. A slave squeezed into a wall space behind the massive kitchen fireplace to keep the fire going overnight.

Since the builder of the house had migrated south from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he modeled his home after the ones he knew. The spacious clapboard kitchen was attached to the main house, wherein that era the kitchen was a separate building at most southern homes.

Old Stone House, Granite Quarry NC

Will the door to the past help guide us into a better future?

The kitchen was the engine that ran the household. Here everything from cooking to spinning to laundry to bathing took place. Since the youngest in the family got the last bath using the same water as the others, you didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The guide mused how we still use sayings without knowing their real origin.

In warmer weather, bathing took place in the stream that ran through the deciduous woods behind the house. Likely there was no lingering in that outdoor bathing arrangement.

I marvel at this kind of living history. It allows us to stand in the present, glimpse the past, and long for a better life for all future generations everywhere.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, Christmas, column, family, food photography, friends, history, human interest, photography, rural life, writing

Light on the Shortest Day

Christmas lights, memorial tree

Light on the Shortest Day.

The winter solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere, arrives at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time today. Historians note that ancient peoples celebrated this day with festivals of light in recognition that from this day forward daylight slowly but inevitably increases until we reach the summer solstice in six months. They further portend Christianity affixed Christmas to coincide with these secular celebrations. Regardless, Christmas has been on December 25 for ages, though it’s doubtful that is the actual date of Jesus’ birth.

Nevertheless, the holidays are filled with images of lights. Houses are decorated in honor of the season. Businesses, too, join lighting up the dark December nights. Entire towns and cities hold holiday lighting festivities and light up their downtowns with seasonal decorations and glowing lights.

Our family has joyfully joined in that tradition for 46 years. This year, in our new location in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we planted a little fir tree in the backyard. We call it our “Jenny tree” in honor of a friend who died much too soon at age 47. Jenny was a light to the world, to everyone she met, her family, the children with whom she shared at the school where she worked, and of course her coworkers.

Accordingly, I decided to fill our little Jenny tree with white lights. They burn night and day throughout the holiday season as a reminder of the light Jenny so lovingly shared in life.

But for me, today is more than the winter solstice. It marks eight years since my father died. He loved Christmas. Furthermore, my wife’s father died 16 years ago on December 22. And Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer 27 years ago also on December 22. Our little Jenny tree shines its radiance for all of these good folks that we loved and miss so much.

“Light on the Shortest Day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, family, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, writing

Holidays and friends are a natural combination

Shenandoah sunrise, Harrisonburg VA

Sunrise over Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I read an article recently about the importance of having friends. The timing couldn’t have been better.

It was one of those bright and beautiful mornings when I should have been exceedingly happy. American Robins welcomed the frosty day with glorious and varied song, a rare occurrence this late in the year. Having done their duty, they continued their exuberance by mobbing the heated birdbath in the backyard and guzzling the refreshing water, perhaps to soothe their rusty voices.

As often happens in our too busy lives, I forgot this welcome distraction all too quickly. We had early morning business in town. Sign here. Sign there, and we were off to a favorite coffee shop that also happens to offer gluten-free scones. But there was a first world problem. I couldn’t find a parking spot, and I didn’t want to do the drive-thru.

holiday food tray, holiday gatherings

A tray of simple foods beautifully decorated by my creative wife.

I had hoped to enjoy quality time with my wife, sip a mocha and nibble at a tasty treat. Because reality didn’t meet my expectations, I punted and drove home. I know. It was silly of me. Typical man.

Back home I found the article in an email I receive daily. The thrust of the story forced me to immediately readjust my stubborn attitude. The piece presented nothing new or earth shattering but redeemed me with just plain common sense.

In a nutshell, here’s what the writer said about friends. We need them, and they need us. He wasn’t talking social media friends either. As human beings, we need real, live, face-to-face friendships.

Numbers aren’t the point. Connectivity is. The keys, the writer suggested, were having friends who are dependable, enjoyable, and easy to talk to. It was that simple and yet that hard.

That kind of intimacy can only happen with so many people. The suggestion was to gather together a few friends who share that trio of characteristics. When it comes to friendships, quality should always outweigh quantity. The writer said the group should meet regularly to help bolster the relational bonds.

Now in our busy, bustling 21st-century lives that effort takes time and planning. It also requires commitment. That’s the dependable part.

holiday gatherings, friends

Our small group before we ate a simple holiday meal.

If you aren’t already a part of such a friendship circle, the holidays provide excellent opportunities to start. Food is a necessary common denominator in sharing with friends. It’s the equalizer, the icebreaker, and the unifier of people. Food transcends all human hesitations.

Once the group is created, it’s important to set a regular time and place to meet. Each party or couple should be responsible for some aspect of the meal. It doesn’t have to be a feast. A simple dinner will suffice.

In living in the same locale for nearly 50 years, Neva and I had all of that. We knew what we were giving up when we decided to move to the Shenandoah Valley to be near our grandchildren.

We hoped it wouldn’t be long before we would be gathering with new friends, and that’s precisely what has happened. We’ve joined a like-minded set of former Ohioans who have also resettled in the area. We meet once a month, and food and inspiring conversation are always given elements of our evenings.

Find the folks you enjoy, who are dependable, and who are affable. Begin with a holiday party. It just might be the start of a routine that will fill your life with unexpected joy, just like robins suddenly singing on a chilly December morning.

robins, birdbath

Gathering around water hole.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birds, column, food photography, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, photography, writing

This birthday is a big one and I’ll enjoy it just like all the others

birthday, birthday cake

A previous birthday with the grandkids.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster, I never liked having a birthday in December. From my perspective, my day always seemed to get caught up in the hubbub of the holidays. I suspect that was just my juvenile selfishness surfacing.

Fortunately, I eventually got over that attitude. Unlike others I know I thoroughly enjoy birthdays. If they get hidden in the holiday hoopla, so be it. I’m still determined to embrace each and every one. That wasn’t always my attitude even far beyond youthful facetiousness.

I remember when I turned 30. It wasn’t pretty. I got depressed. I couldn’t believe I was that old. I look back at that experience and chuckle. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’d trade that day for this one in a heartbeat if I could.

Christmas tree

The tree went up right in time for my birthday.

After that, birthdays became more or less routine celebrations unless someone pulled a surprise on me like some teachers did once. They thought it would be cute to post a larger than life sign in the front yard of the school announcing the principal’s 39th birthday. I played along and tried to be as good-natured about Jack Benny’s perpetual birthdate as I could.

Based on the comments of others older than me, it was turning 50 that I really dreaded. As it turned out, the watershed date proved a dud. I had already lost most of my hair by then anyhow.

It was turning 60 that really got me. It was as if a switch had been flipped and my body suddenly screamed at me to slow down, take a rest. My knees ached. What muscles I still had disappeared just like my hair had long before that. It was my body’s way of saying I really wasn’t 39.

There was one ironic quality about hitting the big 6 0. It bothered my son more than me. He had turned 30 seven months earlier. Nathan rightly recognized that he was exactly half my age and that would never happen again. That thought alone agonized him and energized me.

Now that I’m about to turn 70, I recognize and accept that I’m heading down the homestretch. I look back on my life with smiles aplenty. I’ve enjoyed this long ride and have many wonderful folks to thank for getting me to this point.

My wife leads that pack. Behind her are my son and daughter, their significant others, our three grandkids, my siblings, and a host of other family, friends, and coworkers. I’d be remiss to forget my late parents and in-laws. Regardless of our achievements, none of us passes through life alone.

birthday celebrations

Celebrating birthdays on a recent visit to Ohio.

As I look back, of course, I also recognize a few of my imperfections and mistakes. Others are better suited to identify those faults. Thank goodness that heartfelt apologies can create lasting lifetime friendships.

I’ve tried to learn from my errors. Now that I’m 70, I want to keep that learning process moving so that my old brain remains sharp and curious for as long as possible.

I recall much that has happened in my seven decades of walking this marvelous planet of ours. Both personal and universal, joyous and calamitous events have filled those years.

Birthdays are hallmarks of individual lives no matter the age or when they occur. I’m just grateful to be 70. That said I’ll aim to redouble my daily efforts to serve as wisely and productively as I can. At my age, that’s all that can be expected.

70th birthday, rosy sunset

Hoping for a rosy road ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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