Festive Calla Lilies

My wife and I and another couple toured a greenhouse in the Shenandoah Valley for their Christmas Open House. I was expecting Christmas wreaths and lots of poinsettias. They had those, but these festive calla lilies dressed in their many holiday colors really caught my eye.

I thought you might enjoy them, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

From my family to yours.

Beneath the russet oaks and the bright blue sky in the Shenandoah Valley, Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

I am grateful for those who faithfully follow this blog from around the globe. I especially appreciate your kind comments and continued readership.

Blessings to each of you as we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

View from the Campfire

My wife and I were sitting around a roaring campfire with friends when the clouds to the north began to reflect the rays of the setting sun. I slipped away from the genial conversation and snapped this photo at the peak of the lavender sky above this glorious autumn landscape.

From that point on, the conversation freely flowed, the radiant fire grew warmer, shaking off the evening chill. It was an evening to remember, most grateful for the all-sensory experiences.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Natural Combination

My old friend and Halloween

Paul Sauerbrey and Halloween just naturally went together. My late friend was born on October 31, 1915.

Whether he intended to do so or not, Sauerbrey, which was his preference, lived a trick-or-treat lifestyle. Ironically, he never wanted his birthday celebrated, nor did he particularly enjoy all the Halloween commotion.

Sauerbrey taught elementary school for 43 years and claimed never to have missed a day. He loved teaching that much.

Paul Sauerbrey

Sauerbrey also enjoyed both tricking and treating people. He either liked you, or he didn’t. There was no in-between for the Halloween baby.

Sauerbrey loved math, English, and science. He subscribed to magazines that promoted the latest scientific gismos, and he often ordered the ones that caught his fancy and that he could afford.

He would buy dozens of clickers and popup buttons that would react to changing temperatures. Once the metal reached a specific temperature, the seemingly dull device snapped loudly and popped high into the classroom air, startling students.

He also tormented his sixth-grade students with crazy word puzzles that required mathematical equations to solve. He praised the few students who figured out the correct Venn diagram and chastised those clueless as to what a Venn diagram was.

His students mirrored their teacher’s inclinations. They either liked him, or they didn’t.

I especially remember one particular prank Sauerbrey pulled on a warm summer day. Sauerbrey arrived at his favorite hangout, the village gas station.

A father and his two sons, one of whom was legally blind, owned the popular town hangout. Sauerbrey loved to pester the blind man, John, who was no saint himself. I was talking with John when Sauerbrey quietly approached from behind.

John had just poured a cup of water when Sauerbrey let loose with an air horn that he had recently purchased. John immediately turned and threw the water towards the sound and soaked our ornery friend. Sauerbrey’s trick had turned into John’s treat.

Sauerbrey loved to tell stories, especially about his younger years growing up on a farm in rural Coshocton County. Sauerbrey didn’t hesitate when a neighbor offered to take him and others to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Sauerbrey had never been to a major league game before.

The neighbor had his passengers sit on chairs in the back of his pickup truck. Long before interstate highways, the 100-mile trip took them three hours each way through both country and city settings.

The group sat in old League Park’s leftfield bleachers. When a player hit a home run, Sauerbrey caught the ball. He promptly threw it back onto the field to the surprise and ridicule of those around him. It was a long ride home for my friend.

Sauerbrey had a soft side, though. When my family visited his three-room home in Killbuck, Ohio, he always spoiled us with Cokes and Hershey bars. Of course, we had to help ourselves.

Sauerbrey was generous, far beyond offering candy and soda. After he died in 1993, the former teacher left a majority of his estate to the Holmes County, Ohio, Education Foundation to assist future Killbuck students in attending college.

Some of the students have been the first in their families to attend university. Their majors have run the alphabetical listings of college catalogs: chemistry, education, English literature, diesel mechanics, physical therapy, speech pathology, sports management, and many others.

To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students to assist with their higher education expenses. That’s quite a philanthropic trick for someone who never graduated college or earned more than $6,000 a year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

When the cousins all gathered

Fun and genuine comaraderie ensued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where we gathered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The happy cousins, oldest to youngest.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Celebrating Being Cancer-free

Anniversary flowers.

Anniversaries of momentous events are generally worth celebrating. Even though we kept it low-key, our 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year was a memorable milestone.

Birthdays fit the bill, too, especially if they end in zero or five. That’s our western culture for you.

Even the anniversary of a loved one’s death needs to be remembered, reverently, openly, and most certainly emotionally. My dear mother would have been 100 on June 22. I can still hear her comforting voice, soft and clear.

Some anniversaries, however, give me pause. I always feel that way each year I get the all-clear pronouncement from my urologist.

I have been cancer-free for 10 years post-robotic prostate cancer surgery. My PSA continues to be immeasurable, meaning no detectable cancer.

When I posted those results on social media, I did so with hesitancy. I hesitated because I know too many people who have not made it through their cancer journey or are currently struggling with the disease.

I am a sensitive old guy, and posting about my good fortune could be tantamount to rubbing it in. I certainly didn’t want to come across with that attitude.

Research shows that such a mindset stems from survivor’s guilt, also called survivor’s remorse. It’s a circumstance where a person survives while others in the same situation don’t, and you feel conflicted, guilty, and remorseful about your outcome versus theirs.

It might seem irrational, but the condition applies far beyond dealing with cancer. People who survive motor vehicle wrecks or a military conflict while others are maimed or killed exhibit survivor’s guilt.

A friend of mine survived the bombing of the Marine base in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. He happened to be away from the barracks at the time of the explosion. Guilt and anger ebbed and flowed throughout my friend’s life.

I empathized with him at the time but didn’t fully comprehend his feelings until I went through my own traumatic experience. When I met other prostate cancer patients who didn’t have the same successful outcome as me, I understood my Marine friend’s agony more fully.

Despite my reluctance, I am glad that I shared my decade of good fortune on social media. I credited my skillful surgeon and expressed thanks for the excellent medical insurance that got me through physically and financially.

A few of the comments in response to my post drew my attention and perhaps sent me over the hump of the lingering compunction. One particularly caught my eye. A former student shared about her current struggle with cancer.

She thanked me for sharing my good news. She said that seeing that others make it through the Big C gives her and other patients like her hope. Reading that brought me great joy.

Signs of hope in nature.

Her response deeply touched me because she has already been through the cancer medical mill with her husband. As a young man, he fought the good fight and won. His humility concealed his challenging journey.

Now his wife is traveling down the cancer highway. I wish her and her family all the best and will endeavor to stay in touch.

Society can easily be dismissive of others without really knowing their unique situations, hardships, and achievements. Friends need to pay attention.

Venezuelan visual artist Carlos Medina captured my sentiment with this quote, “A soul that carries empathy is a soul that has survived enormous pain.”

We can empathize by recognizing and being with the hurting, listening to their stories, or simply holding them in prayer. In those encouraging actions, there is no remorseful guilt. 

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Starstruck at Heavenly Wonders

A mountaintop experience

The Milky Way and Perseid meteors. Photo by Michael Mancewicz on Unsplash.

When was the last time you went out and sat under the stars and just enjoyed the evening?

We used to do that as kids regularly. But as adults, not so much. Come 10 p.m. or sooner, it’s lights out for this baby boomer.

Of course, enjoying and appreciating life often occurs outside our comfort zones. When my wife and I received an invitation to view the Perseids meteor shower on its peak night, we couldn’t refuse.

Our friend Edgar asked us to accompany him to his mountaintop cabin to watch the meteoric show. We left early to take in all that nature had to offer on Shenandoah Mountain.

The 30-minute trip was worth the drive alone. We traveled U.S. 33 west through a forested tunnel of hardwoods and pines, crossing the Dry River multiple times as it winds its way down into the Shenandoah Valley.

With a moderate drought in full swing, the rocky riverbed indeed was dry. We passed parks and gated lanes into the George Washington National Forest and zigzagged our way up the mountain slope.

Before reaching the summit, we turned a hard right into the private road that led to Edgar’s cabin. He unlocked the gate, and we began our rock and roll ascent on the two-lane drive, one track for right tires and the other for the left.

Soon the incline smoothed to wave-like rolling. We stopped at Big Hill, Shenandoah Mountain’s summit. My GPS read precisely 3,800 feet in altitude.

I was surprised to find that much of the rounded old mountain top was a meadowland full of wildflowers and butterflies despite the lack of rain. The verdant views in every direction were hazy but still impressive.

The best was yet to come. After a light dinner in Edgar’s cabin, we talked the evening away. When our daughter sent a text that she had seen a meteor from the city’s high school parking lot, we hightailed it outside.

We didn’t stay long. Residue clouds from afternoon thunderstorms lingered over the mountain ridges.

We retreated inside to continue our enlightening conversation. Edgar related the cabin’s history and how his wife’s family had acquired the property and built the place. Once they became owners, Edgar and his late wife remodeled it. The view from the deck was incredible.

At 10:30, we turned out the lights and headed outside. The three of us sat in the sloping yard and looked northeast. We knew the peak time of the meteor shower was yet to come.

We hoped for some early meteors, and we weren’t disappointed. Our lively conversation quickly filled in the gaps between the intermittent flashes in the night sky.

Crickets and katydids waged a surround-sound insect symphony. Soon an out-of-tune screech owl grated their nocturnal harmony.

A singular cry interrupted the concert from the tree line that marked the Virginia/West Virginia boundary 30 yards to our west. Several meteors later, the bobcat bid farewell from much farther down the ridge.

Even if there had been no meteors, the night sky’s sparkling diamonds captivated us. The clouds had dissipated, and stars, planets, constellations, and the Milky Way served as our canopy. Both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper shone brightly as the mountain coolness enwrapped us.

The meteors put on a splendid show for this trio of grandparents. Some streaked long and brilliant, others short and dull. Grateful for one last bright burst from the heavens, we headed home, full of grace and in awe of nature’s wonders.

My wife and I felt honored to be under the spell of the starry universe and Edgar’s gracious hospitality.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The view to the east from the cabin as the setting sun reflected off of clouds.

Loving people who care for the environment

Conservation is important

A scarlet tanager sits atop a tree.

It was a double-your-pleasure moment.

We were all standing on the deck of the cabin when my wife spotted a bright red bird at the top of a tree 40 yards away. Through the binoculars, I quickly found the bird. Its jet black wings nicely contrasted with its radiant red body.

Upon hearing the description, the property owner was ecstatic. “I’ve been hoping the scarlet tanager would return,” he said with glee.

I got as much kick out of Rice’s reaction as I did seeing the distinctly marked bird. After all, this was a big, middle-aged man, not some youngster seeing this beauty for the first time.

I love it when people love nature. Their company becomes all the more enjoyable.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by our host’s excitement. My wife and I were there as guests to tour his expanse of property high on one of the seven hills of Glenmont in southwestern Holmes County, Ohio.

Our connection with this enthusiastic young man and his partner Liz goes back decades. My wife was Rice’s kindergarten teacher. We’ve known Liz since she was born and her baby boomer parents even longer.

When our children were children, they played together. We were as close as close friends can be. Neva and I felt privileged to explore this restored property that was all about conservation.

The scarlet tanager was only one of the highlights of our visit. Inside the cabin, an old property plat map hung framed on the wall. I’m a sucker for maps, and it called my name.

When I look at a map, one of the first things I do is find the legend. It tells me how to read the map. The descriptions of the property boundary markers caught my attention.

A large solid blue dot represented stone markers, which European settlers used when they claimed the land not long after Ohio became a state in 1803. Different icons identified more conventional boundary markers like standard iron pins.

Out on the large porch of the restored cabin, we spotted more than the scarlet tanager. Barn swallows swooped low over a trio of small ponds, skimming the water’s surface for a drink on the fly. A pair of young eastern bluebirds watched the show from perches on a dead ash tree. Painted turtles sunned themselves on an old snag angled into the water.

Sensing my intrigue, our hosts piled my wife and me into a Cadillac version of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and off we went to tour the rolling, mostly forested acreage. Of course, I wanted to find those unusual stone markers, too.

Our friends had cleared and maintained paths that wound up, down, and around the hilly landscape. We were in for a real treat.

We crossed a tree line in the ATV and spied a young buck with velvety spiked antlers. We stopped to view an open, rolling field planted explicitly with crops for the wildlife. Conservation is Rice’s practical goal.

As we continued over the undulating trails, our host pointed out trees he specified to be left by loggers who thinned the woods three years earlier. He walked with the loggers to ensure only the designated ones were cut.

High above the cabin, we came upon one of the old stone markers. It was too easy to find. A surveyor had recently spray-painted its top fluorescent red.

I appreciate people who care for the land. When they express their excitement openly at seeing the fruits of their labor, everyone is rewarded, including the wildlife.

Reflections of a painted turtle.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Family and friends overshadow any vacation destination

Beauty and exercise go hand-in-hand at Lakeside, Ohio.

My wife and I could hardly wait for our Ohio vacation to arrive. It wasn’t so much the destination as it was the people we would see.

After 50 years of marriage, relationships are everything to us. With all of the interruptions caused by the pandemic restrictions and safety measures, the sheer desire to see friends and family members drew us back to our home state.

Sure, we wanted to visit our old rural Ohio stomping grounds, Holmes County. Before that, though, would come a much anticipated week at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. It’s the Buckeye State’s most beautiful mile.

We have relaxed there each July since 1987, minus last year’s pandemic summer-sequestering. We looked forward to enjoying all of the resort town’s amenities.

We longed to stroll along the Lake Erie shoreline to view the colorful collage of flowers. We looked forward to playing dominoes with other baby boomer friends on the porch of our hospitality house. Most of all, we anticipated reuniting with fellow Lakesiders.

First, we connected with a couple of my siblings on the way. My youngest brother and his wife greeted us with their new Britney Spaniel puppy in tow. Our sister soon joined us, and we caught up with news of children and grandchildren around a table of finger foods.

To help further break up the long drive from Virginia, we stayed overnight with a lifelong friend. Glad for our company, she went overboard to accommodate us, sharing deep conversations that resulted in laughter, tears, and lots of delicious food. Our reunion holiday was off to a good start.

Beautiful summer weather welcomed us to the Chautauqua on Lake Erie. Lakeside was still Lakeside.

However, a powerful night-time cold front arrived, drowning out many of our outdoor Lakeside plans. The weather remained wet and chilly, more so than the forecasts had foretold.

Still, we were at our favorite family resort, and that was all that mattered. The on-again-off-again rain couldn’t dampen our reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

As a photographer, I always enjoyed rising early for gorgeous sunrises over the lake. Clouds and fog foiled that, too. The sun still rose. We just couldn’t see it.

The traditional stroll to the dock for sunsets even became iffy. A bagpiper serenaded the sundown to the joy and amazement of the adoring crowd at one of the few sunsets that we did see.

Summer flowers brightened cottages, homes, and even businesses thanks to the dedication of the hardworking Lakeside staff and volunteers. We enjoyed the many flashy floral displays.

Despite the weather, the Lakeside days slipped away. Saturday came too soon, and we bid farewell to our Lakeside friends. We headed southeast for dinner with my two brothers and their spouses.

Then it was off to the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, Holmes County, where we had spent most of our adult lives until moving to the Shenandoah Valley to be close to our grandchildren four years ago. We were amazed at the continued new construction, primarily commercial buildings.

On Sunday, we returned to the church where we worshiped for 46 years. More friends shared hugs and smiles both before and after the service.

We stayed with dear friends and watched the sun glint off of the newly restored courthouse dome. It was hard to believe the many changes of the last four years as our gracious hosts drove us around the county.

As we headed back home, we made one more important stop. Breakfast with my wife’s sister and husband and a close cousin and his wife, all baby boomers, too, served as an appropriate send-off.

Spirited conversations and genuine fellowship with family and friends marked the pinnacle of our Ohio vacation. Soggy weather couldn’t swamp that.

A friend’s house adorned by daisies.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Reconnecting with friends

Food, fun, and fellowship is always an excellent combination.

I had waited a long time to take a picture like this. However, I got so wrapped up at the moment that I left my camera at home. So my smartphone camera would have to suffice.

There we all were 40, gray-headed old souls who finally, after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, gathered together to eat, laugh, and share. I had to capture the moment.

The group was our faith formation or Sunday school class. We had only met a couple of times via Zoom since March 2020. So to finally be meeting in person was a taste of heaven on earth.

As a group, we were all on the same page. We followed the recommended health restrictions issued and altered as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, morphed, and challenged global scientists and medical personnel.

Our hosts had moved to the Harrisonburg, Virginia area from Wayne County, Ohio a year before we moved from a neighboring Ohio county. They had invited the entire class to their rural home nestled into a hill and surrounded by forest and wildlife.

Storms were in the forecast, but this was a determined group. The desire to see each other face-to-face overtook any threat of severe thunderstorms.

Besides, we met in a sweeping semi-circle in our hosts’ expansive and sparkling clean garage. With east and west doors open, a welcome breeze kept us comfortable.

As the first people arrived, an orphaned fawn hobbled across the emerald grass and plopped down. Soon, it righted itself and wobbled into the woods, likely looking for its mother.

Cars arrived at steady intervals, which allowed some positive personal interaction as guests exited their vehicles. With all safely vaccinated, no face masks were required. The many smiles spoke volumes. Fist bumps and hugs abounded.

An approaching storm.

With the hosts providing the main course, half the class brought salads and the other half desserts. Typical for any Mennonite potluck, the offerings were tasty and satisfying. No one went away hungry.

After lunch, we all found our seats in the garage and began the organized sharing. First, the class coordinator asked each person to share briefly about their pandemic situations. Some spoke at length, while others said only a few words.

Several of the attendees live in a local retirement community with even tighter standards than those who lived independently. They were more than delighted to be sitting with this gray-headed crowd.

One man shared how he had lost all of his siblings. Some deaths were due to COVID-19, others from natural causes. Not being able to gather to mourn in the usual fashion compounded his grieving.

Some told of vacations and weddings canceled. Others beamed at finally physically reconnecting with family and meeting grandchildren, some for the first time.

The eldest of the group stole the show, however. When it was this stateman’s turn to share, Cal simply said, “I’m glad to be here,” parroting late-night TV show guests’ comments. Other one-liners had us all laughing with this soon-to-be 96-year-old.

A thundershower clipped through the conversations, but it didn’t deter these determined folks. The laughter, sharing, and caring continued right on through the distant rumbles of thunder.

We were all grateful for the opportunity to see, hear, and be together again in the flesh. But we were also very thankful for the church and political leaders who have guided us through this unwelcome pandemic storm.

The fellowship of like-minded friends is invaluable. Consequently, our bonding time ended in a grateful halleluiah prayer of thanksgiving.     

Can you find the fawn?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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