Category Archives: holidays

Patriotic Repurposing

WV farm, antique tractor, American Flag

Patriotic Repurposing.

I spotted this scene while traveling along a West Virginia highway. I had to stop to get the photo. I loved all the textures, the various shades of red, and the lines in this shot. The farmer’s patriotism showed through by painting his version of the American flag on an old wooden pallet.

In honor of Presidents Day (Feb. 19), which combines Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) and George Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22), “Patriotic Repurposing” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, history, holidays, human interest, news, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, travel

With the past in mind, decorating for the holidays took on a new look

holiday lights,

Our modest outdoor light display.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Decorating for the holidays is a given at our house. My wife and I have modestly festooned our places of residence ever since we were married.

Before that, we both grew up in homes that embraced the holidays with tinsel and trees, colorful lights and holiday wreaths, Christmas cookies and stockings hung with care. We carried over some of those traditions but also created new ones with our own family.

This year nothing changed, and yet, everything changed. We still decorated, just in a new location. Old traditions, long-held and revered, came to an end.

old ice skates, old wooden sleds

Holiday nostalgia.

We will miss our annual Christmas Eve morning gathering with dear friends and extended families for that meaningful and nutritious breakfast. Those warm memories are still held alive in our hearts.

With the move from Ohio to Virginia, we knew that preciousness would be left behind. We also anticipated new activities, new celebrations, and new gatherings with our daughter’s family and old friends who had relocated here, too. And one by one, those are happening.

With decent weather in late November, my energetic wife got a head start on the celebratory decorating inside and out. I had no choice but to join in. With a smaller house and fewer shrubs, our exterior lighting display lessened, too.

Just like all those years in Holmes County, Ohio, artificial greenery loaded with colored lights still got wound around the welcoming light pole that shines on the sidewalk and driveway.

Artificial evergreen wreaths adorned with burgundy and purple ribbons hang from each window. Below them, battery-powered candles offer soft reminders of the reason for the season. Strings of white lights brighten the porch and a unique old bench we recently purchased at an antique store.

Strings of cheery white lights twinkle from our little concolor fir tree we planted in honor of a dear friend, who died much too soon. Our “Jenny tree” shines brightly, just like our late friend did with everyone she met.

Christmas decorations, holiday decorations

Ready for the holidays.

Inside, we splurged and purchased a new artificial tree and hung trinkets and ornaments that hold personal memories. The same angel as previous years hovers at the top of the tree, blessing all who enter. Neva received it years ago as a gift from one of her students.

My creative wife has a magical touch in making the mundane shine with holiday cheer. A grapevine wreath wrapped with strings of little white lights bedecks the top of an old oak ironing board that Helen Youngs, our Holmes County grandmother, gave us.

The stockings hang from door pulls on the bookshelf instead of the old barn beam mantel on the brick fireplace in our former Ohio home. I’m sure Santa will find them just as quickly.

We do miss that fireplace. Its radiant heat and sweet-smelling goodness just seemed to say Happy Holidays each time I fired it up. Now, we take extra effort to share similar warmth in the season’s greetings we offer others however and wherever we can. After all, the Christmastime fire must always burn from within to ensure its joy is seen and felt by all.

Christmas decorations

Lighting up the ironing board.

The chances for a white Christmas in Virginia aren’t the best. I recall many an Ohio Christmas where that was also true. We joyously celebrated anyhow, and we will do so again this year.

At the darkest time of year, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas all are celebrated with lights. That is most appropriate.

All is well here in the lovely Shenandoah Valley. May the season’s joyous light bless you and yours whatever your holiday situation may be.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, column, family, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, Ohio, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 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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Filed under column, family, friends, holidays, human interest, photography, writing

Happy Thanksgiving!

driftwood tree, Little Talbot Island State Park FL

Standing strong.


A straggly driftwood tree on a lonely beach might seem like a strange symbol with which to say “Happy Thanksgiving.” From my perspective, it’s just right. The stalwart tree, battered by wind and sea, still stands. To me, it serves as a reminder of all those in the world today who have so little, who daily strive to just find food, water, and shelter. Likely, we don’t have to really look too far to find folks who lack at least one of those most precious life necessities.

It struck me that the tree dramatically overshadows the person walking the beach looking for seashells and sharks teeth. Of course, this is due to distance. That perspective, however, serves to highlight just how small we are in relationship to all of the world’s human problems.

My point on this Thanksgiving Day in the United States is for all of us to be extra thankful for all that we have. It’s too easy to take for granted the gathering of friends and family around a bountiful table of your favorite Thanksgiving offerings. As we partake in the meal, let us remember in prayer and in decisive action those who have so little.

“Standing Strong” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, holidays, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, writing

Compassion and empathy in the U.S. Constitution?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionAs the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.

In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.

I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.

Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.

Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.

national symbol, bald eagle

Our national emblem.

The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.

The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.

hiking trail, Virginia

What path will we take?

None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.

As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?

How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, history, holidays, human interest, news, writing

Leadership models are still needed today

bald eagle

Our iconic national symbol.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As a child, I liked February for very practical reasons. The shortest month of the year offered three celebrations, Valentines Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and Washington’s Birthday all in the space of 10 days.

Feb. 12, 14, and 22 were all important dates for us elementary scholars 60 years ago. Madison Avenue marketing gurus had yet to invent, and politicians endorse Presidents Day. Valentines Day was the favorite of the students of course.

George Washington

George Washington.

With their imposing portraits hanging in each classroom, the first president and the 16th clearly carried more importance. As primary school children, we were taught to admire and imitate the values those two distinguished leaders modeled so magnanimously.

Of course, much of what we learned then was more lore than fact. The stories weren’t even alternative facts. The young lives of these two critical leaders had become romanticized over time.

Washington and Lincoln both revered honesty. Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story lingers like a fairy tale. Lincoln prided himself on honesty, too. His presidential campaign slogan was simply “Honest Abe.”

Washington was and is admired for his stalwart, steady, stable leadership in tumultuous, tenuous times of our young country. Lincoln, of course, perilously held the country together during its darkest hours, the Civil War.

In the late 1960s, the federal holidays were legislated to fall on Mondays creating long weekends for employees and mega marketing sales campaigns for retailers of every kind. Consequently, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in Feb. That means his Feb. 22 birthdate can never be celebrated on the actual birthday.

Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln.

The dynamic leadership of Washington and Lincoln both formed and saved our country. Each man cast aside personal time and gains for the country’s common good. They were humble, honest leaders who enabled our nation to reach far beyond anything they could have imagined.

Clearly, there was much more to George Washington than repenting from chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth. He was a resolute military and civilian leader whose personal stability laid the foundation for the United States of America. He rightly earned “The Father of Our Country” mantra.

Lincoln was perhaps a more complex figure, and viewed differently, depending on which part of the country you lived in and what individuals believed at the time and believe now. Some states still don’t honor Lincoln’s birthday.

Nevertheless, it was Lincoln’s absolute resolve and courage that saw our divided nation bend but not break. In the end, his steadfast pronouncements cost him his life. Though he was known to ponder and doubt, he never wavered from the way the united country should go.

Though he would have rather been back on the farm at Mt. Vernon, Washington fulfilled his leadership calling. But he was not arrogant in thinking he could lead alone. Washington valued the opinion of others and collaborated with Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson to name a few, men whose viewpoints often differed with his.

Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address perfectly summed up his attitude and approach to the vision of how the country should and must operate to survive. His famous words are emblazoned on our national soul: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Both presidents modeled righteousness and humility through their values, principles, and character. Those are still valid, desired characteristics for all citizenry, and especially for today’s leaders.

wheat shocks, grain fields

Amber fields of grain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under history, holidays, human interest, news, writing

Be kind to yourself

Shenandoah National Park, mountain view

Be kind to yourself. Enjoy each view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I can be my own worst enemy. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that admission.

I hate to be wrong. Even if I make the simplest mistake, I can be extra hard on myself. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.

I went birding, and the bird I had heard but not seen suddenly popped out of the brush and began preening in the warm morning sun. It was the perfect opportunity for the photo I had been seeking. Only in stalking the bird, the dangling straps of my camera and my binoculars became intertwined. By the time I untangled them, the bird had disappeared.

eastern phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

I drove into town to buy three items, but I left the short grocery list on the counter at home thinking I could easily remember what to get. I relied on my sharp memory and growling stomach and purchased 10 items. When I returned home, I discovered I forgot to buy milk, the most important item on the list.

Another time I pulled into a fast food restaurant’s drive-through, placed my order, drove to the pickup window, paid for my food, and drove away with a satisfied smile on my face. Halfway home I realized I hadn’t waited for the server to hand me my food.

Before visiting my trio of grandchildren in Virginia last fall, I thought I would surprise them for Halloween. I bought three perfectly plump pumpkins that would make great Jack-O-Lanterns. I set the bright orange pumpkins on the counter in the garage while I finished packing my vehicle for the trip.

When I arrived at their house on a beautiful sunny afternoon, my heart sank. I couldn’t find the pumpkins anyplace until I returned home several days later. The pumpkins all sat in a row on the counter where I had put them.

Civil War reenactment, living history

Playing the part.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. We sometimes do strange things. Depending on your makeup, some folks just shrug off such silliness, while others can’t forgive themselves for being so inept. I leaned to the latter for most of my life.

I’ll confess that I have spent much too much effort in my lifetime mentally beating myself up over such foolishness. I mumble to myself about my stupidity. I call myself names I wouldn’t dare say out loud.

As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed the goofy mistakes have increased exponentially. I attribute that to the aging process. Several of my peers have verified my suspicions, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

The other seniors have related similar lapses. They, too, show disgust at their ineptness of leaving luggage by the door, losing cell phones, wondering where their glasses are when they are on their head.

I felt great relief in hearing them tell their sadly funny stories and enjoying their hearty laughter at their own forgetfulness. I took my cue from their more appropriate responses.

I realized self-chastisement was a waste of time. Negative self-talk wasn’t helping the situation. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just human nature. I feel much better laughing off my self-induced comedy of errors.

If you’ve been forgetful lately, just know that you are not alone. So be kind to yourself when you do err. Let it go. Laugh a little. Have fun with the miscue, with those you’re with, and with life.

Be kind to yourself. By the way, has anyone seen my car keys?

sunrise, Lakeside OH, Lake Erie

A good way to be kind to yourself.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, holidays, human interest, writing

The Blue Hour

Usina Bridge, St. Augustine FL, night shot

The Blue Hour.

A friend, an expert photographer, led a photo shoot to St. Augustine, FL for the last evening of the Night of Lights. Each year the city adorns itself with white lights for the holiday season through January.

Though the rest of the town was beautiful, I was particularly taken by the lighted Francis and Mary Usina Bridge over the Tolomato River that fronts the historic city. My friend loaned me his tripod, enabling me to shoot this photo. It was my first serious attempt at nighttime photography.

The blue hour is the time after sunset that the sky remains blue before it suddenly turns to all black. Even with a layer of clouds, the blue showed through.

“The Blue Hour” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, travel, weather