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

The Bee

The patch of lovely pink coneflowers drew me to them. The pretty flowerbed would make a nice photo. Then I spotted a lone bee atop one of the flowers. It sat motionless, as if resting. The amount of yellow pollen protruding from each side impressed me. I had to snap a photograph before it flew away.

Ironically, the bee stayed still, and I walked away glad that it had caught the attention of these old eyes.

“The Bee” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

How do you mid-summer dream?

A mid-summer, multi-colored flowerbed.

How do you mid-summer dream? It’s something we all do but may not recognize it as such. I’m not necessarily channeling Shakespeare’s classic comedy either.

Mid-July is the time of year when we find ourselves drowsing. We can thank the month’s long days of heat and humidity for that. I’m not complaining, mind you.

Summer’s lush and contrasting colors are at their peak before August’s dog days wither and fade them. There is no better time than the present to commune with the out-of-doors. It is summer, after all.

It’s a dreamy time of year. Nature gives us plenty of opportunities to while away our time by gazing at the many varieties of vibrant and verdant scenes that surround us. City, suburban, or country, all we have to do is notice the abundant bold beauty.

There are plenty of options for all ages. Venues like the Wilderness Center offer multiple choices for summer dreaming. Stroll the many trails or take a seat on a bench or a log and just sit and absorb whatever you encounter. Mosquitoes don’t count.

Put on your best summer muse. It could be the initial quiet moments of the dawning day or the cool of the evening as Venus glimmers brightly low in the western sky.

Sit on a porch swing and watch the fireflies flicker in the late evening haze. Cast a keeper-hook into a bed of blooming water lilies and gently reel and wait for that expectant tug on the line.

Swim in a farm pond with your teenage friends, or just lounge on a dock and bask in the ensuing laughter. Sit around a campfire, listening to the snap, crackle, pop, and watch the sparks skitter higher and higher until they fizzle.

Stand at your garden’s edge, and smile at the success of your persistent efforts to keep the weeds at bay. Watch a sunset over a lake or stream. Be awed as the orange, golds, and reds magically meld into pinks and blues as dusk becomes nightfall.

Silently follow a family of chimney swifts as they swoop in wide loops overhead, busily chattering before suddenly dropping into a nearby smokestack. Sit high in a mountain at a scenic overlook for hours and savor the ever-changing view.

Don your skis and skip wave after wave behind a speeding motorboat, laughing in the glorious moment. Share a homemade sour cherry pie with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream with your grandchildren.

Even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has embraced the dreaming. She recently opened up the Buckingham Palace lawns to the public for picnic lunches. Take your own food, of course.

Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve your health. A mere 20 minutes outside three times a week could make a huge difference for you physically and mentally. By month’s end, you will have spent five hours recharging in nature.

Think back on all that has transpired in the last year and a half. Think ahead about what might yet be. Most significantly, dream, observe and appreciate all the goodness around you at this midway spot in our calendar year.

We all have endured a great deal, some more than others. There may be more to come. That’s all the more reason to take time to find a special place of respite outside, a spot where you can reflect and dream.

We can’t change the past, and we can’t know what lies ahead. We can, however, enjoy the moment at hand.

There is no better place to do that than your favorite open-air space. Happy mid-summer dreaming.

Summertime lushness in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Shocking Scene

I took this photo exactly seven years ago today while I was checking my roads as a township trustee in Holmes County, Ohio. Wheat shocks standing in fields like this one was once a common scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

Today, only the lowest order of Amish still shock their winter wheat, oats, and corn in the fall. The mainline Amish have introduced horse-drawn harvesting machines to gather their grain. Doing so was a matter of efficiency. With less than 10 percent of Amish still farming, fewer farmers are available to help in the harvesting process.

Consequently, this photo perhaps is a shocking scene in today’s terms. “A Shocking Scene” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Hugs worth the wait

A pandemic inconvenience

Sodus Point Lighthouse, Sodus Point, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had waited two years for these hugs. When we finally embraced our son and his wife, all seemed right with the world again.

We knew we were not alone. Necessary health restrictions continue to keep millions of global people apart.

So, we felt fortunate to travel from central Virginia to upstate New York finally. The scenery was magnificent. The traffic not so much.

The road to Rochester, New York, was a long and winding one. With the heatwave, it was a hot one, too.

Though the city is due north of our home in the Shenandoah Valley, there is no easy way to get there. We can thank the old, folded Appalachian Mountains for that. The lush, forested mountains contrasted with the ripening grain fields we saw.

One highway closely followed the picturesque Susquehanna River part of the way. We even passed through central Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Hand-painted signs advertising quilts and produce reminded me of our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, home of the world’s largest Amish population, and where we used to live.

Upper left to right; The Sam Patch tour boat on the Erie Canal; Williamsport, PA; 100-acre pond; Male Eastern Bluebird; a hike on a hot and humid day.

For us, the mini-reunion was especially sweet. Unable to travel in June 2020, we had to watch our son’s street wedding on Zoom. It wasn’t what we wanted, but what we had to do.

Since the specifics of each state’s pandemic policies and restrictions were unique, we had to be patient to see our son and his bride in person. According to the guidelines, they couldn’t come to us from New York State, and we couldn’t visit them from Virginia.

That all changed once the vaccines became available. Our son and daughter-in-law got vaccinated just as we did. With both states relaxing restrictions due to declining infection numbers, we finally set a date to trek north.

Our daughter-in-law teaches middle school English, and her academic year didn’t end until the last week of June. That worked out perfectly for us. We may have missed their wedding, but we would be there to help celebrate their first anniversary.

And celebrate we did! With the heatwave in progress, however, we scaled back the planned outdoor activities. Still, we enjoyed a pleasant boat ride on the Erie Canal and took anniversary photos at a quaint lighthouse on Lake Ontario.

Food enthusiasts that they are, Nathan and Jess, arranged meals at some excellent restaurants. We were even able to eat outside in the evening’s shade. We savored the food and conversation and watched people stroll along city sidewalks.

We visited a park and toured a wildlife rehabilitation center. A refreshing breeze cooled us as we sat on benches overlooking a 100-acre pond. Before we left, we hugged some more.

Yes, we were inconvenienced all those months by the pandemic and the health restrictions needed to deter it. But with those embraces, all of the pent-up stress evaporated into the steamy air.

Yet, there was more. With each hug, I had to think about all those who haven’t yet had the same opportunity. I also thought about all those thousands upon thousands of mourning folks who would never be able to hug their lost loved ones taken by the pandemic’s virulence.

My wife and I were more than rewarded by merely being with our son and his wife. We were most grateful.

As I drove home, it hit me that the long and winding road to Rochester served as a metaphor for the horrific pandemic. The approaches and responses to the coronavirus have taken many twists and turns since its emergence in December 2019.

Hopefully, science will straighten those pandemic curves soon. Meanwhile, I’ll cherish every hug I get.

Tioga River Valley, Tioga, PA. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Summer Sunset

As I arrived at my favorite sunset photo op spot, this stand of grass caught my attention. The setting sun illuminated the seeding heads of the stalks, creating a bleaching effect.

I thought they made the perfect foreground for the sunset over the Allegheny Mountains that mark the Virginia/West Virginia border.

“Summer Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why does summer go so fast?

Why does summertime always seem to go so fast? It’s July already!

Once Memorial Day passes, and school dismisses, it’s on to summertime fun. With the warmer, more pleasant, consistent weather and longer daylight hours, we fill our days with the most enjoyable activities we can.

That’s easy for school children and retirees to do. We have all the time we need to enjoy each moment of each day if we so choose. However, most people who still work have to squeeze in as much outdoor time as possible.

Home improvement projects, gardening, lawn-mowing, fishing, hiking, biking, painting, and grilling are just some of the “ing” activities that fill the hours before and after work. But, from what I can tell, most folks do a fine job of making these precious days count.

Of course, critical social interactions like vacations and weddings also chip away at summer’s beck and call. But, hopefully, all of the planning time and money spent will make the events worthwhile. Usually, the smiles provide proof.

However, summer’s waning is especially noteworthy given all that we have endured during the ongoing pandemic. We here in the United States are most fortunate to have the vaccines so readily available. They allow us to shake off the doldrums of the prolonged, unexpected, and unwanted coronavirus ramifications.

Too many global citizens aren’t as fortunate, though I am glad to see that our country is coming to their aid. But the number of world’s people desiring the shots far outnumber the available vaccines at this point.

On the beach.

Still, Americans are taking to the highways and byways, packing national parks, baking on beaches, and celebrating the opportunities to do so. It’s a joyous feeling. We will continue our travel plans, but we will still be cautious.

My wife and I ventured out on our first out-of-state trip to visit her cousin and spouse in North Carolina. It was nice to be on the road again, even if the Interstates became parking lots from time to time due to accidents or construction.

We didn’t do anything special. The weather put a damper on that. But it was simply a joy to be together again, playing cards, reminiscing, watching TV shows, and enjoying dining out once again.

Another transition back to normalcy also lifted our spirits. We began to attend in-person church services, still with distancing and masks. Words alone can’t express my gratitude.

My wife and I got to see our son and his wife for the first time in nearly two years. We had watched their wedding via Zoom, but we made up for our absence by celebrating their first anniversary with them.

Last summer the pandemic interrupted our annual trip to our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua on the shores of Lake Erie. We hadn’t missed a summer there since we started going as a family in 1987.

We look forward to renewing friendships and making new ones, which is always easy to do in the summertime resort. I’ll rise to catch the break of dawn and head to the dock each evening to capture the sunset along with scores of other memory-makers.

We’ll play dominoes on the porch, stroll the shoreline sidewalks lined with lilies and hollyhocks. I’ll sit on a bench and watch the boats sail away, and enjoy the lake breezes.

I’m glad it’s summer, and I am thrilled to be able to travel again. However, the joy of reconnecting relationships far overshadows any exotic destinations.

With all of these interactions, perhaps that answers my question as to why summer seems to be already speeding along.

A summer sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Hot Full Moon Rising

I captured this shot of the Hot Full Moon rising over Shenandoah National Park just after sunset on June 24. You can see outlines of the trees along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Given the recent spell of sweltering weather over much of the U.S., including Virginia, the Native Americans properly named this moon.

I stood on the eastern side of Mole Hill 30 miles west of the park to take this photo. The darker line in the foreground is the summit of the Massanutten Mountain ridge.

“Hot Full Moon Rising” is my Photo of the Week.

© 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

Three in One

Pileated Woodpecker parents lead a juvenile to a feeder.

We were very fortunate to have Pileated Woodpeckers frequent our bird feeders when we lived in Ohio’s Amish country. Our home was built on an Amish farm. You can see the alfalfa in the background. That’s how close we were to the fields.

Woodlots and overgrown fence lines were also nearby, creating excellent habitat for a wide variety of birds. Our little acre and a half had many mature shrubs and trees, including this old sugar maple. The birds loved it because of its dense leaf cover, and the crinkled bark for wedging in seeds to be cracked.

I always kept a keen eye out for the birds. I often photographed them through our west-facing windows, like this shot. The Pileated Woodpeckers would announce their arrival with their loud, intimidating call that served as a warning to all other birds.

I found this photo that I took at the end of June in 2015 while sorting through my many digital photographs. Mom was at the suet feeder while Dad looked on from the other side of the tree trunk. Junior was glued to the lower level of the maple’s trunk hungry for breakfast.

Some people have told me that they have never seen Pileated Woodpeckers at backyard feeders. Well, here’s proof that they do visit feeders where they feel safe.

“Three in One” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021