Bluebells on the Bluebell Trail

Virginia Bluebells beautified the space between the Bluebell Trail and the South Forth of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah River State Park.

Friends told me that the Virginia Bluebells were at peak bloom along the Bluebell Trail in Shenandoah River State Park. I had to go see for myself.

The weather was perfect. Sunny skies and warm temperatures dominated the day. Both had been recent rarities in the Shenandoah Valley.

So, off I went, down what the Confederates called the Middle Road, to Timberville. From there, I took U.S. 211 east through New Market, up and across the Massanutten Mountain Range, and around the quaint town of Luray to U.S. 340.

A dozen miles later, I entered the park to find the empty entrance station. Due to staffing shortages, it’s an honor system to enter. You grab an envelope, place $10 in it, and deposit the fee into the slot. Hang the receipt from your rearview mirror, and you’re good to go.

And what a splendid day it was. First, I stopped at Cullers Overlook for a fantastic view of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, snaking its way north. Only a few more miles, and it converges with its twin, the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, at Front Royal. The majestic and historic Shenandoah River flows north to meet the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The South Fork of the Shenandoah River from Cullers Overlook, Shenandoah River State Park, Bentonville, Virginia.

As glorious as that view was, I didn’t linger long. I wanted to see the Bluebells. It was all downhill from there to the trailhead a half-mile away.

With camera and binoculars in hand, I eagerly set out on the mile-long trail. A swarm of insects greeted me only a few steps onto the earthen path. I had forgotten to pack the bug spray, so I raised my tolerance level and soldiered on.

Soon I began to pass folks who had a head start on me. They assured me that I couldn’t miss the lovely flowers as they headed to their vehicles. They were right.

Once the trail straightened out, patches large and small of Virginia Bluebells spread across the forest floor like a blue and green carpet. They even lined the riverbank much of the time.

I had an ample selection of flower photo ops. Since I also enjoy birds, calls from high above told me that warblers and other songbirds were foraging for insects among the emerging leaves.

The hungry little birds moved fast and furious, fueling up for their continued flight north. To my surprise, my attention focused on more obvious winged creatures.

Several butterflies flitted all around the trees and flowers in irregular patterns. I soon learned to stay still and let the beautiful insects come to me. Several were puddling on the path wear they found damp spots. They extracted nutrients from the moistened soil. A few stayed in place long enough for me to get a few decent shots.

Of course, I kept passing other hikers, and a few bikers who surprised me from behind. The butterflies flew but often returned within camera range.

I didn’t see as many birds as I had hoped, but I counted the trip a success. Communing intimately with nature tends to fill you with joy and appreciation. By the time I left, my cup overflowed

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Mirror Image

Silver Lake, Dayton, VA.

I frequent Silver Lake in Dayton, Virginia for a number of reasons. Birding and taking sunsets top the list.

I never know what I will find. Sometimes the sunsets are a bust. Sometimes few birds are present, not counting the ubiquitous resident Mallards.

Like most photographers, I look around for unexpected scenes. I couldn’t miss this one.

The clouds over the mountains to the west had moved east. Consequently, the sun sank behind the Allegheny Mountains without much color or fanfare.

The day’s last rays tinted the remanent clouds that lingered over the nearly still lake. This mirror-image perspective spoke volumes without saying a word.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

It Was a Sugary Kind of Afternoon

The initial stop on the Sugar Trail at New York’s Genesee Country Village and Museum.

I didn’t really know what to expect when our son and his wife informed us that we were going to a maple sugar festival. I knew that our daughter-in-law was super excited, which was enough incentive for me. Besides, what choice did I have? They had already purchased tickets, and it was a rain or shine event.

So, off we drove southwest from Rochester, New York, to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We arrived in less than an hour, and it was clear from the crowded parking lot that we weren’t alone on this adventure.

We checked in and were directed to the Sugar Shack, where the modern method of boiling maple sap down to create maple syrup was explained. In New York, it takes about 39 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. I thought back to my Ohio days when I visited various sugaring operations. The general rule there was 52 gallons of sap to create a gallon of maple syrup. I wondered if the latitude had anything to do with the difference.

From there, it was on to sugar snow. That’s where maple syrup is poured over snow for a special tasty treat. In the absence of snow, crushed iced served the same purpose. We enjoyed it just the same.

Soon, we were on the Sugar Trail, where volunteers in period costume explained the maple sugaring evolution one station at a time. Our umbrellas went up before we even stepped foot on the trail.

The wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of either our gang of six or the knowledgeable folks at each stop. They knew their stuff and shared how both Native Americans and white settlers took advantage of the sap run during February and March.

We learned a lot along the way. The walk was equally a figurative and literal stroll through the woods dominated by sugar maple trees. We followed the signs from stop to stop, ending up at how maple sap is currently gathered by most successful sugaring operations.

Plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree with plastic inserts that are tapped into the tree. Gravity carries the sap to the main collecting barrel instead of going from tree to tree emptying individual buckets full of the sweet stuff. In truth, only 2% of the water collected is sugar, thus the boiling of the water. Workers have to gauge the proper heat to avoid burning the syrup. Despite the mechanization, it’s still a tedious process.

By trail’s end, we were ready for lunch. A brief stop at an on-sight eatery got us going again. That’s when the real surprise came.

Genesee Country Village and Museum is a collection of historical buildings brought to the site for educational purposes. George Eastman’s boyhood home is in the village. Eastman was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company.

The village is divided into sections to represent the various architectural structures of the late 18th century into the early 20th century. Some of the buildings, like the Hosmer’s Inn and its smokehouse and the Jones Farm had guides in period outfits to give a brief description of the way life used to be in those particular times. We also enjoyed maple flavored goodies from the bakery.

The sun came out, and the temperature warmed, making our afternoon even more delightful. Most of all, it was a joy to spend these precious moments with family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina

The Tabby Manse House, Bay St., The Bluff, Beaufort, SC.

As much as I enjoy wildlife, especially birds, history and architecture also rate high on my list. In Beaufort, South Carolina, you can have it all.

After spending a month on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville, my wife and I weren’t ready to head back to the northern winter climes. We rented an Airbnb for a few days with another couple. My wife did an expert job of choosing our place. It was located only three blocks north of the historic waterfront area of the quaint and bustling downtown section.

Beaufort (as in beautiful) is indeed beautiful. Its city planners clearly understood the importance of maintaining the town’s long history while making the scenic waterfront attractive and available to all, locals and tourists alike.

We had been to Beaufort before, but my wife and I never tire of seeing the old antebellum mansions surrounded by stately old live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The more famous ones are located west of downtown on The Bluff along Bay St. They overlook the marina on the Beaufort River where shorebirds mingle with sailboats.

They aren’t the only beauties to be found, however. We prefer to drive around on our own, stopping at our leisure to photograph historical architecture, lovely scenery, and whatever wildlife we happen upon. We meet friendly locals out walking their dogs on an evening stroll in the process.

The homes and historic buildings grabbed our immediate attention every time we turned the corner. Some were newer, built to fit into Beaufort’s style. Most, however, were well-maintained residences or upscale inns, where customers could sit on expansive front porches and enjoy the evening, tea, and genuine conversation.

Beaufort is a town steeped in history. Its iconic mansions shout that loud and clear.

Dusk highlighted the Beaufort, SC marsh and marina area with the Woods Memorial Bridge visible above the trees at the west end of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Synchronized Foraging

American White Pelicans on the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, Florida.

My wife and I showed a couple visiting us from Ohio around our favorite winter retreat, Amelia Island, Florida. We drove to Old Town Fernandina Beach, where lots of history has occurred. A small square, Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park, marks the site of a colonial massacre of Indigenous peoples and some French trappers.

We drove to the small parking area overlooking the Amelia River on a bluff. Soon, our attention was drawn away from history to the present moment. A small flock of American White Pelicans had landed along the river’s edge at the park’s base.

The beautiful birds formed a floating wedge of sorts and immediately began to forage in their unique synchronized fashion. We witnessed a ballet on the water, as the video shows.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Seeing these elusive migrators was one thing. Observing their feeding ritual was something else altogether.

These were the first arrivals. The photos were taken five seconds apart.

American White Pelicans migrate to the coastal areas of California, Central America, and the Gulf Coast States for the winter. They nest in the Midwest and western states, as well as the Canadian prairie provinces.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Look Back on 2021

News that didn’t make the headlines.

Sunset in Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I’m glad 2021 has ended. We would all like to forget it for a million reasons. Likely, we never will, nor should we.

With politics and the coronavirus and its variants making up much of the headline news, I did my usual thing and kept track of some of the more quirky but still significant information.

Here are just a few of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines or the TV news.

January 1 – The National Interagency Fire Center reported that U.S. wildfires burned 10,275,000 acres, the most ever recorded.

January 7 – Tesla CEO Elon Musk became the wealthiest person globally with a net worth of $185 billion, surpassing Jeff Bezos’s paltry $184 billion.

January 8 – A Missouri woman who married a 93-year-old Civil War Veteran when she was 17 died as the last remaining widow of the war.

January 9 – The state fire marshal announced that no child died in a fire in Massachusetts for the first time since officials kept records.

January 15 – A racing pigeon that disappeared from Oregon in October 2020 reappeared in Melbourne, Australia, where officials tried to catch and kill it due to Australia’s strict quarantine rules.

January 18 – D.C. National Guard Sgt. Jacob Kohut, a band teacher, taught students from his Humvee before a 12-hour shift to guard the Capitol Building.

January 25 – A new study showed that the earth is losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice per year through melting glaciers and polar ice caps.

Glaciers globally are melting at rapid rates.

January 26 – Stranded in a snowstorm near Hayes Hill, Oregon, Jefferson County Public Health staff administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that were about to expire to motorists who were also stuck.

February 12 – The U.S. had its deadliest week in a century for avalanche deaths when 15 skiers died between January 26 and February 6.

February 16 – Fran Goldman, 90, was so determined to get her first coronavirus vaccine after struggling to get an appointment that she walked six miles round-trip in a foot of snow in Seattle.

February 17 – Houston’s Gallery Furniture opened two stores to shelter people from the cold and snow after power and water supplies were lost all across Texas.

March 3 – The California Highway Patrol in Los Angeles caught a driver in the carpool lane with a realistic-looking passenger dummy wearing a face mask and a Cleveland Indians baseball hat.

March 8 – The sun shining through a crystal ball in the living room of a Delton, Wisconsin home caused a $250,000 fire.

March 9 – Shoe Zone, a foot ware retailer in Great Britain, announced that Terry Boot had replaced Peter Foot as the company’s financial boss.

March 11 – A digital artist known as Beeple sold a collage jpg image at a Christie’s auction for $69.3 million.

March 16 – Despite being closed for six weeks during the pandemic, a record 1.7 million people visited Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia, in 2020.

March 19 – Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted for the first time in 800 years.

March 23 – Officials blamed high winds from a dust storm for the grounding of Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, to be blown sideways, blocking the Suez Canal and closing the busy shipping route.

April 8 – Archeologists in Egypt announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old lost golden city unearthed near the city of Luxor.

April 8 – On his second shot on the seventh hole of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, professional golfer Rory McIlroy hit his spectator father with the golf ball.

April 12 – Hope Trautwine pitched a perfect game for the University of North Texas softball team by striking out all 21 batters from Arkansas Pine Bluff.

April 14 – A report in “Nature Communications” revealed that archeologists had unearthed 3,500-year-old terracotta honey pots in central Nigeria.

April 28 – Walmart restarted its pandemic delayed experiment of online ordering of groceries and having one of their employees not only deliver it to your home but also stock your shelves and refrigerator.

May 8 – Spencer Silver, the research chemist at 3M who invented the Post-It Note, died at age 80 at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota.

May 11 – A skull-head painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City for $93.1 million.

May 20 – Research from Minderoo found that the average American throws away 110 pounds of plastic annually.

June 3 – Italian artist Salvatore Garau sold an invisible sculpture at auction for $18,300.

June 5 – A study revealed that, on average, Americans touch their smartphone 2,617 times per day.

June 9 – National Geographic officially recognized the body of water around Antarctica as the world’s fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean.

June 23 – A herd of 30 cows escaped from a slaughterhouse in Pico Rivera, California, and were later corralled in a cul-de-sac by police, although deputies shot one cow.

It’s not a herd, but it definitely is loose. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

June 28 – The New York Yankees, the team I love to hate, made Gwen Goldman’s 60-year-old dream come true by making her the team’s honorary batgirl for a game.

June 28 – Ankeny, Iowa, police arrested 42-year-old Robert Gollwitzer, Jr. for phoning in a bomb threat to a local McDonald’s restaurant because employees forgot to include dipping sauce for his chicken McNuggets.

July 8 – Zaita Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, became the first African-American to win the National Spelling Bee contest in Washington, D.C.

July 10 – Death Valley, California, the temperature hit a world-record high of 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

July 12 – The Copernicus Climate Exchange Center reported that June was the hottest on record in North America.

July 13 – Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported that 841 manatees had died between January 1 and July 2, more than any other time in the state’s history.

July 22 – The United Arab Emirates used technologies, including drones, to stimulate clouds to produce rain to counter 120 temperatures and low potable water sources.

August 6 – An unopened Super Mario Brothers video game sold for $2 million at auction.

August 10 – NASA satellite photos showed for the first time in recorded history smoke from wildfires burning in Siberia reached the North Pole.

August 12 – According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the number of White people fell for the first time since 1790.

August 13 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said July 2021 was the hottest on record, 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th -century average.

Amish children sledding. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

September 9 – France fast-tracked 12,000 frontline COVID-19 workers to citizenship for their valiant ongoing efforts to help those in need.

September 12 – Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans, Louisiana, turned 112, the oldest surviving World War II veteran. (Sadly, Mr. Brooks died January 5, 2022).

September 13 – The governor of Massachusetts mobilized 250 National Guard members to serve as school bus drivers since the state’s schools were short on employed drivers.

September 16 – Tobacco giant Philip Morris purchased Vectura, a British company that manufactures inhalers.

September 17 – Alabama’s Health Officer, Scott Harris, said that for the first time in known history, the state had more deaths than births in 2020.

September 20 – The Guinness Book of World Records named the paint developed by researchers at Purdue University as the world’s whitest.

October 4 – A Brazilian soccer player was arrested for attempted murder after kicking a referee in the head during a match.

October 16 – Elon Musk became the world’s richest person when the company’s stock soared, and his net worth grew to $209.4 billion.

October 21 – Timber the Moose, a wooden marketing sign for the Cabin Store in Mt. Hope, Ohio, got its stolen head returned by an Amish youngster who found it in a field 10 miles away.

A real bull moose in Denali National Park.

October 25 – Hertz announced that it had ordered 100,000 Tesla electric cars for its rental inventory.

October 26 – A hiker in Colorado got lost but refused to answer his cell phone because he didn’t recognize the search and rescue team’s number.

November 4 – Colin Craig-Brown of Hamilton, New Zealand, dug up what may be the world’s largest potato that weighed 17.2 pounds from his garden.

November 5 – Billy Coppersmith, a Maine lobsterman, caught a one-in-100 million blue “cotton candy” lobster and donated it to an aquarium in New Hampshire.

November 16 – Psychologists in London revealed a study showed that the perfect hug should last between five and 10 seconds.

November 24 – Roto-Rooter said that plumbers refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving Day as Brown Friday because it’s the busiest day of the year for plumbers.

December 4 – The National Weather Service issued a Blizzard Warning for the summit of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.

December 7 – A report stated that turf grass is now the biggest plant crop in the U.S., collectively covering an area larger than Wisconsin.

December 9 – Davyon Johnson, 11, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, saved a fellow student from choking using the Heimlich maneuver and saved an older woman from her burning house later in the afternoon.

December 11 – The Oxford Dictionary named “vax” its word of the year for 2021.

December 26 – Kodiak, Alaska hit a record high of 67 degrees, giving the term “baked Alaska” a new meaning.

Will 2022 be as stormy as 2021?

What will 2022 bring?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Remembering Christmases Past

It’s the gathering that counts.

Christmas morning in our Ohio home several years ago. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.

I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.

Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.

Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.

Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.

Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.

As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.

My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.

My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.

At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.

Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.

We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

There is nothing better than snow on Christmas Day with the grandchildren.

A special note to followers of this blog.

Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.

As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.

I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.

In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

What Does Advent Require?

It is more than preparation.

Advent candles and tapestry.

We are halfway through the season of Advent already. Advent in the Christian tradition occurs the four Sundays before December 25. That is the day earmarked as the birth of Jesus.

Advent is generally understood to be an annual time of preparing and waiting for Christmas, the personal recognition of the birth of Christ. For many, Advent is a sacred, significant time.

For others, Advent is just another word in the Christmas vocabulary. It’s familiar to us, but do we genuinely consider its implications in our hustle and bustle before the big day? Perhaps a better question is this: Do we even know what Advent means?

A concise, accurate answer to that question would be to recite the four universally accepted Advent themes: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love, most often celebrated in that order on Advent Sundays.

An Advent banner at church.

I remember as a youngster having an advent calendar in our home. My two brothers and two sisters and I would take turns opening the little doors to reveal the contents hidden behind each tiny flap.

Each day of Advent revealed a colorful illustration, scripture, or word to ponder, or perhaps a suggested act of service to others.

I just remember the pent-up anticipation of what lay hidden behind each door. It was a successful subliminal modeling method for the Christmas waiting.

To be clear, no one would have described our family as devout. We were “religious” only because we celebrated Christ’s birth and attended the local Methodist church regularly.

But as youngsters, we naturally got caught up in all the secular holiday hubbub. Later in my life, I was introduced to knowing and respecting that other religions had solemn and festive holidays.

Consequently, the older I have gotten, the more I sense a spiritual link between the lights of Christmas and those of Hanukkah. It is a significant element of our Judeo-Christian history for this septuagenarian.

That understanding creates a deeper meaning to Advent, one too often ignored. While we wait for Christmas, Advent also calls us to reflect on what has transpired in the course of history, personally and collectively.

Human history is full of cruelty by one race, tribe, or religion to others who look, live or believe differently. The Trail of Tears comes to mind.

White settlers of our nation literally and brutally pushed out Native Americans from their homelands, where they had lived for generations. Those indigenous peoples not only lost their land, but many also lost their lives in the agonizing march west.

A similar but lesser-known atrocity occurred in Illinois and Wisconsin in 1832. The bloody Black Hawk War opened land to white settlers who replaced the Sauk, Fox, and other native nations.

Nor can we ignore the unethical enslavement of an entire race of people for economic purposes. That indictment, unfortunately, applies far beyond our southern states, where slavery was a way of life.

Perhaps you can add personal examples to this lurid list. Sadly, such horrific atrocities continue today around the globe. We only need to look at the headlines for confirmation.

The oft-overlooked reflective aspect of Advent requires each of us to acknowledge and confess these wrong-doings. Doing so is part of the necessary preparation for the celebration of Christmas.

So, Advent, like life itself, has a dark side. We must allow the season’s light to infiltrate the darkness that is all around us. Preparation, anticipation, and repentance are the main ingredients of Advent.

The principles of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love help guide us through these dark times into the light. That is what Advent is all about.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why I Celebrate December

There are many reasons.

An Amish farmstead in December. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

December has always given me plenty of reasons to embrace the 12th month despite its sometimes wicked weather.

Though not the most important, I’ll confess that the first reason is personal, perhaps even selfish. My birthday is in December. It’s always precisely three weeks before Christmas, which I believe has propelled me through to the holidays over my many years.

Like it or not, the holidays of December take center stage. Marketing gurus ensure we get their messages.

I always look forward to the four Sundays of Advent. Our lives would be a lot more pleasant if we carried the message of peace, hope, joy, and love far beyond the holidays.

A byproduct of those cherished qualities is joyous holiday music. Some of it, of course, has been absconded by the Scrooges of the world. Their tunes can be a bit corny. That aside, the musical sounds of Christmas somehow still warm the coldest day.

I also love the various stories and films created around the holiday season. Charles Dickens’ novelette “A Christmas Carol” tops my annual December reading list. When I taught elementary school, I read it every year to the delight of my students before Christmas break.

I’ll also admit that I’m a sucker for the movie “Home Alone.” In a somewhat ridiculous manner, the classic film brings home the joy and spirit of the season. Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still laugh as the left-behind youngster gets the best of the buffooning burglars.

Even though the holiday decorating seems to happen earlier each year, I still enjoy seeing the many displays of holiday cheer. It catapults me back to the 1960s when our hyperactive father piled his obedient children into the family sedan after dark. We would drive miles and miles, finding a wide variety of holiday light displays.

Of course, Dad had to join in the illuminating competition. He decorated the big pine on the corner of our suburban lot with hundreds of multi-colored lights. He kept at it for years and years, constantly adding to the glowing ostentation.

Those were the days when sending Christmas cards was in vogue. Hallmark loved our dear mother. She addressed and signed the cards in her lovely cursive while her children licked the glue of the stamps and the envelopes to seal them. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.

I always enjoyed a white Christmas. A fluffy layer of snow made it seem warmer than the actual air temperature. We would dust off our sleds and slicken the blades with paraffin to ensure good sledding.

Off we would head to a nearby hill or a local park where others had built snow-packed ramps. One teeth-shattering jump was enough for me.

Of course, we loved when it snowed well before December 25. But snow on Christmas just made that day all the more special.

The holidays always seemed to make December go too fast. In reality, it was and still is all of the activities we pack into preparing for the holidays.

Still, December awakens all of our senses. The fragrant pine wreaths, the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, the twinkling of the light displays, the yummy Christmas cookies, and especially the hugs of appreciative grandchildren fill my spirit to overflowing.

Lastly, it’s humankind’s general geniality that stitches December’s colorful quilt together. I still believe that even amid today’s global health and humanitarian crises.

I hope I am right. Only time and our intentional daily interactions with others can determine that answer. If that happens, that’s the only birthday gift I’ll need.

Advent candles. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Defining Thanksgiving

The ways it has real meaning.

The iconic Thanksgiving turkey. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

In the U.S., Thanksgiving Day is always the fourth Thursday in November.

Do we truly understand the breadth of what Thanksgiving means, though? Yes, we have our childhood memories of loving, familiar faces gathered around a dining room table ladened with savory food.

For me, and perhaps for you, I cherish those thoughts of the soothing fragrance of a steaming, hot turkey fresh out of the oven, tasty mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, flavorful stuffing, and of course, homemade pumpkin pie. That mental picture never gets old.

In my case, it was usually Grandma Frith’s three daughters and their families who somehow found room to squeeze into one space to enjoy the feast and one another’s company. I hang on to those precious recollections, knowing that it was a different era then.

Times have changed as they should. We’ve all grown up. Our grandmother and all our parents have passed on. Even the oldest of the 17 baby boomer grandchildren died too young.

We are scattered all across the country now, still related but disconnected. We each have created new traditions with our own families. In effect, we are replicating what we knew, what we loved, only altered to fit our situations.

As our adult children married and have children of their own, holidays like Thanksgiving naturally take on new approaches. In our mobile age, families learn to share their loved ones. It’s the prudent thing to do.

So, one year we gather together on Thanksgiving Day with as many immediate family members as possible. The following year, Nana and Poppy find alternative ways to celebrate.

The ways it has real meaning
Thanksgiving with friends during the “off-year.” Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

We gather with our grandchildren and their parents when it is convenient. It’s still Thanksgiving, just not on the designated day. We are thankful nonetheless.

To me, the date and day are insignificant. I am thrilled to assemble with our intimate troupe wherever and whenever we can. While my stomach rumbles full of turkey, my soul is full of joy. The latter is the preferred nourisher.

For that, I am most grateful. I am also aware that all peoples are not equally blessed, and that thought alone humbles me. It stirs me to be more vigilant for opportunities to care and share with those less fortunate.

I count my blessings, indeed, grateful to be where I am, at this place in time, even if the times are hard for some. It is our responsibility to help others however and wherever possible, simply for the common good of all.

For no matter our circumstances, we are one nation indivisible. We must work hard to keep it that way, especially at Thanksgiving.

The word “thanksgiving” is derived from two words and blended for a singular meaning. The word “thanksgiving” dates back to the 1530s and is formed by combining the noun “thanks” with the verb “giving.”

“Thanks” is taken from the Old English “panc,” meaning grateful thought. “Giving” comes from the Old English “giefan,” or to bestow or grant.

Consequently, Thanksgiving is more than a mere term, more than a holiday. Thanksgiving is a sentence requiring appreciation, gratitude, and generosity.

So, Thanksgiving means much more than delicious food, genuine fellowship, and back-to-back-to-back football games. Thanksgiving involves praise, reflection, and acts of kindness.

The Thanksgiving command suggests a trio of actions for each of us. First, we must remember those who have helped us achieve what we have. Second, embrace and celebrate with your friends and family. Third, we need to share our blessings of abundance with others.

In so doing, Thanksgiving weaves the past, the present, and the future into a purposeful, warming lifestyle tapestry. That alone is reason to be thankful.

A tapestry of colors. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Maria Vincent Robinson

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Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. -Twyla Tharp

Roadkill Crossing

Writing generated from the rural life

ANJOLI ROY

writer. teacher. podcast cohost.

Casa Alterna

El amor cruza fronteras / Love crosses borders

gareth brandt

reflections about God and life

church ov solitude

We are all just babes in the woods.

Run to Rebuild

A blog of Jim Smucker's run across Ohio to raise money for a house for flood victims in West Virginia

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