Category Archives: news

Finding gratitude where least expected

Rockingham Co. VA, rural farms

Where some of the local food is grown and where some of the food pantry clients live.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life never ceases to amaze me. In my long years of living, I’ve learned that gratitude often emerges in the least likely of places.

My wife and I were asked to volunteer one evening a month at a local food pantry near downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Friendly City is home to 55,000 people in the center of the Shenandoah Valley. The pantry operates once a week, providing foodstuffs for those who don’t have enough income even to buy basic grocery necessities.

Participants are only permitted to visit the food pantry once per month. Individual records are kept to ensure the rules are followed. That has never been a problem, however.

tomatoesbybrucestambaugh

Locally grown produce like these tomatoes is often donated to the food pantry.

The pantry receives its supplies from two sources. A regional food bank provides federal government USDA commodities, while local supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers donate their surplus food to the pantry. A few farmers even grow extra produce to help supply in-season fresh foods.

Those who depend on the food pantry for their sustenance must qualify by income for the USDA items. Pantry participants receive the locally provided food without qualification. The pantry offers a few healthcare products, too.

Neva and I have settled into our roles of interviewers. Our job has multiple responsibilities. We have to ask many invasive, personal questions before we can check off the USDA food preference list with the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to write down $0 for a monthly income. It’s a humbling experience both for the clients and us.

With all the “workers wanted” signs around, a logical question might be, “Why don’t these people get a job?” The answer to this question is two-fold. Many of the clients do have jobs. Their meager incomes and family sizes qualify them for the federal subsidies.

William Penn quotation.

From my observations and interactions, those who receive aid and don’t work are not employable for a host of obvious reasons. Some stay at home with small children. Some are senior citizens whose productive working days are long past. Some are disabled with no financial support of any kind. You get the picture.

Amid the discomfiting officiousness, one quality consistently shines from month to month, person to person. Everyone we encounter expresses gratitude for any help provided. Some are effusive while others say a quiet thank you.

As humbling and perhaps even embarrassing as the experience is for the clients, they are all thankful. Without being prompted, a few share heartbreak stories with us. They seem glad to have someone with whom to converse. We listen intently and thank them for sharing. A hardy handshake sometimes ensues.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels entitled to this food. Just the opposite is true. The clients’ glow of exuberant gratitude outshines any hint of disparity.

The joyous expressions and cheery thankfulness for whatever assistance they receive more than reward us for our collective efforts. Every client is especially appreciative if the list indeed includes healthcare items like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste.

It takes courage to admit you need help. But if your child is hungry and the cupboard is bare, courtesy, gratitude, and thankfulness vanquish pride.

A disconcerting trend has developed, however. Each time we serve at the food pantry the number of clients tends to increase. Nevertheless, humility, smiles, and expressions of relief also grow exponentially.

Who would have thought that we would find and receive abundant gratitude from those who can’t afford daily food? Who would have imagined that serving in such a manner would reward us with humankind’s most heartfelt thanks?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, food photography, human interest, news, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA

Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Summer is a humbling time

Amish farm, corn, wheat, oats

Grains of Summer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With all of its positive and pleasant attributes, summer makes it hard to be humble.

We all want to get out and take full advantage of the sunny days filled with warmer temperatures and a wide variety of activities. We fling ourselves full force into each day whether it’s for work or for play. We want to drink in every drop of sunshine, warmth, and blue skies, from dawn to dusk.

Hungry Mother SP VA

At the beach.

Toddlers, children, and teens fill the local swimming pools, both public and backyard venues, while adults keep watchful eyes on the less careful youth. Construction workers bask in the fair weather, narrowing four lanes to one with an arsenal of orange barrels.

Lawnmowers hum morning, noon, and evening throughout global neighborhoods. Contractors and excavators work sunup to sundown. Farmers are in their glory, beginning to harvest the fruits of their labor.

In many places, the corn reached far beyond knee-high-by-the-Fourth-of-July standards. In others, stalks stood only inches tall, drowned out by the super wet spring and early summer rains.

Amber waves of grain really did roll in the wind until giant combines gobbled them up or they formed rows of shocks like so many soldiers standing guard in Amish-owned fields.

Summer, however, has other, more drastic ways to get our attention with her weapons. Summer can humble us lowly humans in many ways. Think floods, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, golf ball-sized hail, record heat and humidity.

No matter our stature or station in life, we all succumb to those prevailing conditions. Summer humbles us.

humble singFor those unfamiliar with E.B. White’s beloved children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web,” humility played a major role in the book’s plot and dialogue. The spider Charlotte wove “Humble” into the web that served to save the life of the precocious pig Wilbur. She wanted a word that meant “not proud” as Wilbur’s crowning characteristic.

But humility has a second meaning beyond the social one. Humble implies a willingness to learn, and thankfully summer has much to teach us. The lessons are all around us in a more pleasing, useful, and beautiful form than what disasters wrought.

Vegetable gardens and truck patches team with all sorts of goodies that nurture us. Tasty homegrown sweet corn, luscious red tomatoes, green, red, and yellow peppers, and tangles of zucchini are just a few examples.

Roadside produce stands and supermarkets tempt us with juicy peaches and vine-ripened melons. Generations ago indigenous Americans taught us to plant, tend, and harvest these marvels.

For those non-gardeners among us, we sniff and thump and feel and taste to select the best of the bunch like our parents and grandparents did. The poor fruits and veggies pay the ultimate price.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Flower gardens are peaking with hollyhocks and zinnias and cultivated flowers, too. Leafy hardwoods provide shade and refreshing coolness from the oppressive summer heat for humans and critters alike.

Wildflowers and wildlife, too, show their stuff. Dainty spotted fawns venture out on their own while mom watches from more secluded spaces. Parent bluebirds and house wrens ferry insects, worms, and berries to their youngsters nearly as big as the adult birds.

Families crowd beaches and climb mountains on vacations, exploring new venues or returning to old haunts discovered by previous generations.

Where is humility in all of this? Using the educational definition, it’s merely a reminder of the responsibility of the created to care for the creation. That is about as humbled as we can get.

pasture field, cumulous clouds

Summer landscape.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under Amish, birds, column, family, food photography, human interest, nature photography, news, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, weather, writing

Celebrating the freedom to be kind

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

Fort McHenry.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Long ago, someone once tried to trick me with a skewed question. “Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?” was the query.

My answer went something like this: “Well, the English have a July 4th like the rest of the world, but I doubt that they celebrate it.”

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day of traditions: family gatherings, picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games, and fireworks, although the latter is often spread out over a period of days depending on planned community events.

American flags are flown, and many decorate their houses with red, white, and blue buntings. Some communities hold parades with high school bands, fire trucks, decorated floats, and troupes of children riding patriotic adorned bicycles.

In typical American fashion, fireworks on the Fourth of July began in 1777 during the Revolutionary War with England. They weren’t the only flashes and booms in the sky then. Muskets and canons were also fired as ways to increase the commotion and hopefully boost the morale of the rebelling colonists.

A few years later during the War of 1812, Baltimore, Maryland had a life or death situation louder and fiercer than any fireworks. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry, the primary protective garrison of the city’s harbor. Much like today, Baltimore was an essential Atlantic coast port. Its defense was vital against the British, who had just burned the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

The fort withstood a horrific 27-hour bombardment by the British fleet. Francis Scott Key, a noted attorney, witnessed the attack from a ship in the harbor. When the smoke and mist cleared in the morning, Key saw the stars and stripes still flying from the fort, and was moved to write a poem about the battle. That poem became the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.

My wife and I recently visited the fort with a friend. As I watched a replica of the original flag flap in the morning breeze, I thought about the importance of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s much more vital than food, fun, and colorful pyrotechnic displays.

In these current, trying times, when everyone seems to be talking and fewer people listening, I recoiled at the unnecessary squabbles going on in families, private and public meetings, in the media and on social media. Much of it is not pretty, and too much of it is hurtful, divisive, and driven by fear, not fact.

A person I recently met gave this suggestion: Treat people kindly in the moment. It might be the only time you have with them. She was right.

This Fourth of July, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began listening to one another without bias, without interruption, without labeling, without being dismissive or rude or worse? After all, we are one nation, made up of many peoples from many different origins, languages, races, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds. That is as the Founding Fathers envisioned in the words of the U.S. Constitution.

So let’s carry on with the usual Independence Day activities. As we join together with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, let’s begin again to converse with one another with civility, kindness, respect, and appreciation, whether we agree or disagree with what is said.

That’s how a community as small as a family and as large as a nation should behave in order to thrive. In accomplishing that, we really will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July besides Independence Day.

grocery store sign

A sign for many cultures.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Let the summer reading commence

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s June and time to start making a dent in the summer reading lists. I’ve been reminded of that fact multiple times lately. Maybe you have been, too.

Scholarly newsletters featuring summer reading lists have recently inundated my email inbox. Friends on social media are both asking for reading suggestions and offering their own.

For full disclosure purposes, I am not the reader in the family. That honor goes to my wife, who reads and reads and reads. She has her reading habits down pat.

Me? I’m a laissez-faire reader, meaning I read as the literary spirit moves me. That also means that I don’t have a summer reading list.

What I peruse depends on my mood, mode, and purpose for reading. If I’m reading for pleasure, you can find me on the back porch, lounging in a rocker, beverage by my side, book or magazine in my hand. I’m not a romance novel kind of person.

Learning new words is also an essential part of why I read. I want to learn about the subject matter, but I also desire to expand my vocabulary. Every now and then I’ll insert a few of those new words into my writings. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Growing up, I don’t remember having many books in our home. I don’t know why. With five active children in a small brick bungalow, perhaps we just didn’t have space.

We did frequent the local libraries though. My siblings and I would hop on a bus. It cost us a quarter each way, a significant investment in learning 60 years ago.

I especially loved the library located in an old refurbished mansion in Canton, Ohio’s center city. The combined smell of the books and a faint odor of a home once loved drew me in.

I’d scamper the spiral stairs of the ancient home with its coal smoke-blackened stone exterior. I couldn’t get enough of the thick, frosted glass floors of the mezzanine. The books became secondary to this young mind.

I wasn’t a great reader in school, as in elementary, junior high, high school, and college. Reading to me was like swimming, and I can’t swim. I think that fear of reading aloud manifested from having to orally read in front of 35 other terrified second graders. I heard the giggles when I stumbled over big words like “truck” and “peanut.”

Phonics was foreign back then. Sight-reading was the preferred method, and for me sometimes tricky. It’s probably the reason I read so slowly.

I loved to be read to, however. When I became a teacher, I made sure I incorporated reading aloud Mark Twain, Betsy Byers, William H. Armstrong, Madeline L’Engle, and others to the students after their noon recesses.

Times have changed. Access to reading is literally at your fingertips in today’s electronic world. I mention to my wife a book that I’d like to read, and a few minutes later she has it downloaded on her iPad from the library.

Since I’m a news nut, I prefer online reading based on stories gleaned from those multiple daily email newsletters. One click and I’m reading some marvelous stuff.

Still, there is just something about holding a book or magazine or newspaper that seems more appealing than the screen-time perusing. Maybe it’s just the physical satisfaction of turning a page in anticipation of what is ahead.

Either way, reading is reading regardless of your preferred style. It’s June already, time to get serious about reading, summer lists not required.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Blue Moon Eclipse

blue moon, eclipse, Amelia Island FL

Blue Moon Eclipse.

Sometimes the stars do line up for you. In this case, it was the moon and the sun. On the morning of January 31 precisely at sunrise, the first blue moon of 2018 began a total lunar eclipse. You can see the beginning of the eclipse at about 11 on the moon’s face. The moon sank below the horizon before the eclipse was total.

I was fortunate to be able to capture the extended but broken reflection of the moon in the Amelia River at Fernandina Beach, FL. Dawn’s first light illuminated the sailboat moored in the river.

“Blue Moon Eclipse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Good Friday Church

Good Friday, Amish, Amish church

Good Friday Church.

My wife and I had the privilege of living among the largest Amish population in the world for most of our adult lives in Holmes Co., Ohio. Scenes like this one were common. The Amish take their religious holidays seriously. Good Friday is one of the most solemn for them. They gather for church, often holding communion that would include foot-washing.

Amish churches are divided by districts and size. Since the Amish meet in homes or barns for their church services, the congregational size is usually kept at a manageable size for the hosting families. That is, each church group is about 100 to 120 people, including children.

Since the Amish rely on horse and buggy for their chief means of transportation, the distance to church is also an important consideration in forming each church district. As the buggies arrive at the home where the church is being held, Amish men will park the buggies, unhitch the horses, and put them in a pasture or barn depending on the weather. The service usually begins at 9 and lasts until 11:30 with a light lunch that follows.

“Good Friday Church” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Thanks for the award

I am both happy and honored to announce that this blog has been named one of the Top 50 Amish blogs. The award was bestowed upon me by Blog.FeedSpot.com, a content reader website.

When I viewed the other winners, I was pleased to be included in the list. After all, many folks blog about the Amish. The faithful followers of Roadkill Crossing recognize that I do indeed write about the Amish since my wife and I lived for all of our adult lives among the largest Amish population in the world. However, out of respect to the Amish, I have never claimed to write an Amish blog. I write about them and my experiences with the Amish.

Still, I much appreciated the recognition and am happy to share the award with my readers.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under Amish, article, news, Ohio's Amish country, writing

Be the good in life

Florida sunrise, rays of hope

Morning rays of hope.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our lives are filled with bad news almost daily. Much of it is minor, insignificant. Too much, however, is horrific. News of flooding, earthquake, or another school shooting dominates the feeds on our electronic devices all too often.

Every now and then, however, a piece of good news manages to appear. It’s not always in the headlines of newspapers or featured on the trending social media of the day. Good news occurs nonetheless.

I believe that humans are still good by nature. A few prove me wrong, sometimes in a big way. However, adverse events can generate the best in people, often times spontaneously.

When two New York State Police officers working curbside at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport noticed a young woman sobbing after exiting her ride, they asked if she needed help. That’s when the good news story began to unfold.

Jordana Judson headed to the airport when she heard that a good family friend, Meadow Pollack, had been one of the 17 victims at the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Judson had graduated from that same school.

nature walk, mother and son

A mother hugs her son.

Judson wanted to fly home to attend a vigil for her friend. Only she was so distraught that she could hardly talk when the two officers, Thomas Karasinski and Robert Troy, approached her. Together they directed Judson to the proper counter to purchase her airline ticket.

When Judson was told that the one-way ticket would cost $700, she broke down again, exclaiming that she didn’t have that much money. Still crying, she tried to call her mother. In the process, Karasinski and Troy, who had never worked together before, each reached for their credit cards.

Judson tried to wave them off from making the purchase but was too late. The officers handed her the ticket. Judson said she didn’t know what to say about the officers’ exceptional kindness, but gave them each a hug before boarding her plane. Their instinctive act of kindness enabled Judson to attend the service for her deceased friend.

A spark of hope amid all the despair flickered when I read this marvelous story of compassion by the two police officers towards the distraught Judson. The story was so much more than the purchase of a plane ticket. The officers modeled what it means to be the good in life.

We should follow their lead, and we need not wait for a major tragedy to show kindness. Plenty of opportunities to be the good await us every day. We just need to be alert and respond when they present themselves.

Volunteer at a food pantry. Give your neighbor some flowers. Bake cookies for a friend. Buy coffee for a stranger in line behind you. Hug your spouse, your children. Be kind to yourself.

I was in the midst of writing this when a photographer friend in Florida shared with much excitement how her new day had begun. An anonymous person left a note of appreciation on her car door. Every morning Lea makes a point of photographing the ocean and seashore at sunrise, even if it is cloudy. She posts the results on social media for all her friends to see. Lea was effusive about the unexpected note. She concluded, “The greatest joy is giving joy to others.”

Lea is right. If we want to ensure that virtue occurs in the world, the awareness and compassion have to begin with each one of us.

sunrise, shorebirds, photographer

My friend Lea in action.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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What the Olympic athletes can teach us

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I love watching the Winter Olympics on television.

We wonder wide-eyed at the participants bouncing down the mogul runs, throwing in a couple of showy back-flip jumps before zipping across the finish line. I’m always amazed that the skiers and snowboarders have any teeth left as they broadly grin at the in-your-face TV cameras.

Gold medal by Charles Deluvio.

We gasp at the speed of the bobsledders, especially if there is a crash careening the sled and riders down the slippery slope like ragdolls. The same is true with the downhill skiers. Curling is much more my style.

We marvel at the ability of the athletes to overcome mistakes and carry on. Figure ice-skating is a prime example.

Most of the skating athletes are young. I won’t pretend to understand or know the various requirements or vocabulary of the sport. I just know it takes incredible skill and practice to even qualify. The pressure has to be enormous being in the bright lights of the arena, cameras rolling, coaches, family, friends, teammates, and the rest of the electronically tuned-in world watching.

They synchronize their routines with the music the skaters chose. Each performance requires certain moves and skills to positively impress the judges and meet the necessary requirements.

The athletes have practiced and practiced and practiced. And then it happens. On a tricky maneuver, spinning like a human top, the landing is slightly imperfect. The skater falls or at the very least touches the ice with a hand that subtracts precious points.

And still, they carry on as best they can with their routines, desperately trying to regain the rhythm and pace of their choreographed performance. The adrenaline must be pumping. Their minds must be racing, yet they continue, either flawlessly or as too often happens, with further miscues.

Skier by Nicolai Berntsen

No matter what country they represent, my heart goes out to them. All that time, effort, money, and travel, previous competing, sacrificing, just for this moment. In an instant, with a slight stumble or inability to fulfill the required maneuvers, their moments in the spotlights dim.

The cameras zoom in as the performance ends. No forced smiles or automatic hand waves to the appreciative crowds can conceal their emotions. They know they have missed their chance. The despair can’t be hidden.

There is only one thing for them to do. These amateur athletes have to act like professionals. They accept the flowers and gifts that are affectionately showered on them from the audience in anticipation of perfection regardless of the real results.

No doubt their coaches will school their understudies on their errors, encourage them, remind them that they can do it. The athletes get themselves ready for the next event and try again.

Whether they are in the running for a medal or not, the contestants keep on competing. It’s that simple. Their next performance can only be improved upon if they learn from their mistakes, practice, and try, try, try again. Some competitors, however, may have to wait another four years for that opportunity.

Teenagers win gold medals. Veteran Olympian medalists fail to qualify to stand on the coveted awards podium. It indeed is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” to quote the late Jim McKay.

Failing is a part of life. It’s a way to learn, to improve, and to be a better person, to be resilient. It’s just one of the reasons I enjoy the Olympics as much as I do, especially curling.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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