Christmas in Canun

A celebration with family.

The beach along the Gulf of Mexico at the resort where we stayed.

My wife and I wanted to wrap up our 50th anniversary year with the entire family in someplace warm. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Since our son’s career is in hospitality, we let him make the reservations. He found a family-friendly, eco-friendly resort south of Cancun, Mexico. However, it ended up that he and his wife couldn’t join us after all. Their doctor wouldn’t let her travel out of the country due to her high-risk pregnancy.

So, our daughter and her family, and my wife and I headed to Cancun without them with their blessings. We left Christmas Eve and returned on New Year’s Eve.

It was great to lounge in 85-degree weather on the beach with our three grandchildren and their mother and father. They enjoyed the waterpark, too, since the shoreline was rocky and uneven. We relaxed with them, chatting and teaching them card games.

Our reservations were made in early October, well before the omicron variant reared its ugly head. We double-checked with the airlines and the resort regarding their COVID-19 protocols. We were assured that all precautions would be taken, and that is what we experienced. We always felt very safe.

Here are some representative photos of our week-long experience at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

We traded Christmas trees for palm trees.

Palm trees provided plenty of shade for us, non-sun worshipers. The beach was lovely, but there were more rocks than sand under the water, which required water shoes to be worn to stay safe.

We spent Christmas Day getting acquainted with the resort. One of our grandsons and I explored the Mayan ruins on the resort property. We saw several giant iguanas, enjoyed a meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, saw the sunset, and watched a reenactment of a Mayan fire ceremony.

Of course, our oldest grandson and his dad had to try the jet skis while the rest of us watched from the shore. We also enjoyed the beautiful flowers and greenery that were all around us.

Because the resort is built in a jungle, we didn’t have to go far to find wildlife. Often, the critters came to us, mainly because people ignored the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs. So, it was prudent to not leave anything on your balcony or your sliding door open. As a birder, I was pleased to see a variety of bird species. Some were life birds for me.

We enjoyed our time at the resort. Patience was paramount given that, like most everyplace else, the resort was short-staffed due to COVID-19. Being flexible enhanced our overall enjoyment of the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.

© 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

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

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

Advent Abstract

I took this shot last week about 20 miles from our home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I was surprised that the photo turned out. I loved the vivid holiday colors that created an abstract look.

Can you guess where this shot was taken? There are clues if you look closely.

© 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

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

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

October is for the grandchildren

At least in our family, it is.

Trick or Treating in Texas.

I recently browsed through the myriad of old photos on my computer and made a startling but joyous discovery. October and our grandchildren go hand-in-hand.

I didn’t realize how much time we had spent with our grandchildren in October. That may not seem odd, but we lived in Ohio when they were born in Austin, Texas.

That’s where the October and grandkids began. We traveled to Texas multiple times in the decade that our daughter and son-in-law lived in the Austin area.

As I scrolled through the October photos, the grandkids just popped out at me. Being their grandfather, I know I am prejudiced. But a neutral person perusing the images also would have noticed the excessive number of grandkids’ photos.

That discovery made sense for our granddaughter, the youngest of the three. She was born in October, and of course, Nana had to be there for her birth and days after. I joined them as I could since I was still working some.

There are happy shots of all of us taking turns holding Maren like a precious commodity. That’s because she was. All newborns are. So, yes, there are a lot of baby pictures of Maren. She’s still very photogenic.

The boys played soccer, and their sister soon became a real fan. Maren attended her first soccer game a week after she was born. Despite the persistent Texas wind, Maren barely made a peep, wrapped in warm coverings and coddling of her loving mother.

Near the end of that October, Maren was dedicated at the little church the family attended. You know I was there to record it all, meaning we flew to Texas twice in the same month. It was one of the perks of semi-retirement.

While in Texas, I captured their Halloween adventures. Maren’s first foray as plump baby pumpkin took the honors. Her brothers stood guard, ensuring she wouldn’t roll away. We also shot a family photo with varying results.

In subsequent years, scarecrows, spidermen, and other noted characters made their late October appearances in later photos. Who doesn’t want their pictures taken while all dressed up?

Once our daughter’s family moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, our connections became frequent and not always in October. We seldom missed celebrating Maren’s birthday in person, however. Her first birthday was a real bash.

Photos of doing October homework, playing video games, and Evan, Davis, and Maren watching their mother coach her women’s college volleyball teams. The three became regular gym rats.

Some of the funniest photos weren’t Halloween costumes. Capturing a mechanical bull bucking the boys to the ground ranked high on the list.

Once we also moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, photographing the grandkids became much more accessible. Still, October seemed a photographic month.

There’s Maren in her great-grandmother’s wedding dress, enjoying treats after browsing a bookstore, and of course, more volleyball. At age nine, Maren preferred pumpkin pie to a birthday cake. To avoid craters in the filling, she blew out a single candle.

Shots of the grandkids run the gamut of their lives. Concentrating on Lego assemblies, playing with the family dog, cookouts, chopping firewood, participating in a relative’s wedding, playing in the spirit band, and baking with Nana were just a few of the grandchildren memories recalled thanks to the photos.

I also have a shot of two of the grandchildren sitting at a bar. There was no room in the restaurant, but the food was just as tasty seated on a stool.

That’s how much I love my grandchildren, especially in October.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Insights about my enigmatic father

My father at the World War II Memorial three months before he died. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a designated day to remind me of my late father. I see him in many of my machinations and manners. I walk, talk, and too often behave much as he did. I’m still working on that.

Understand me, though, that I loved my father unconditionally. It just took me too long to realize that I spent too much of my adolescent and young adult life trying to earn his affection when affection wasn’t his thing. I finally realized that Dad was already sharing his love in how he lived his life.

Dad had many interests. In his nearly nine decades of living, he squeezed in an array of activities. Unfortunately, assisting our dear mother around the house wasn’t high on his list.

My father had Ichabod Crane’s physique and Rip Van Winkle’s spirit. At six foot two inches in his prime, Dad was tall for his era. But his skinny build gave him a gangly appearance.

Dad was athletic and energetic, especially when it came to having fun. He loved to tell stories of dancing with Mom at Moonlight Ballroom in Meyers Lake Park in Canton. We played “Moonlight Serenade” at his memorial service as he danced into glory.

However, the only time I ever physically saw him dance was with Mom at a niece’s wedding. Though in their 80s, they glided across the floor as if they were 20.

Top left: With our parents on Dad’s last Thanksgiving; Middle: Dad with my two brothers, sister and me before our other sister was born; Top right: Mom and Dad on their wedding day; Bottom: The home Dad helped build and where we all grew up.

Dad loved to tell stories. When we lived in Ohio, I would occasionally run into people who knew my father. Their complimentary comments often referenced Dad’s storytelling.

I always acknowledged that Dad was indeed a great storyteller and that some of those stories were actually true. I always smiled when I said it, though.

By profession, Dad was a project engineer. He helped build the red-brick bungalow where he and our mother raised their family. His pride and joy, though, was the inviting cottage he and Mom built at a lake in southeastern Ohio.

Although he couldn’t swim, Dad enlisted in the Navy in World War II. He did so because the Great Lakes Naval Base was only hours from home. However, he found himself in the engine room of the U.S.S. San Diego in the Pacific theater.

After the war, Dad worked on submarine missiles and was part of a team that designed a new gondola for the Goodyear blimp. Yet, projects around home went unfinished or were patch jobs. His favorite tool was duct tape.

Dad loved social gatherings. He took it upon himself to organize family reunions. He also once planned his high school class reunion and then forgot to go.

Dad and Mom visited us frequently in rural Holmes County, Ohio. His pretense was to see his grandchildren, but he spent his time scouring fields for arrowheads. In his excitement to show us what he had found, Dad tracked dirty footprints into the house.

Even as cancer overtook his body, Dad’s passion for life remained. He was ready to go but didn’t want to leave this life he loved.

Though unconscious, the Hospice nurse encouraged me to tell Dad that it was alright to let go. So, I did.

Dad’s reaction didn’t surprise me. Unable to speak or open his eyes, he just waved me away. I took it as an indication that he wanted to die on his terms and time. And that is what he did. Early the following morning, while the nurse left his side for five minutes, Dad took his final breath. I don’t need Father’s Day to remind me of my father, but I am thankful for the day and my dad nonetheless.

Dad gave a presentation to retirement home residents on his favorite topic, Native Americans. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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