Category Archives: rural life

Taking time to appreciate my wife

canning, Neva Stambaugh

Neva doing her thing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The pungent smell of ammonia tickled my nose as I sat on the living room couch reading my morning devotions. My energetic wife was already hard at work cleaning the house.

In our 46 years of marriage, I had seen this scenario unfold many, many times. Of course, I do my part to help, which is to say that I mostly stay out of the way at her request. I willingly comply.

I empty the wastebaskets and take out the garbage. I run and unload the dishwasher. After another tasty home-cooked meal, I make it my responsibility to clean up the kitchen. It’s the least I can do after Neva has done more than her share in planning, preparing, and serving the food.

Obviously, cleaning smells aren’t the only fragrances that have wafted through our house. Neva’s gift of hospitality is multifaceted.

I’m blessed by the aromas of other Neva orchestrated domestic activities like pumpkin pie baking in the oven, butternut squash soup simmering on the stove, and the spicy smell of savory tomato sauces boiling down like mini volcanoes.

canned peaches, home canning

Beauty in jars.

We both smile with contentment when we hear the satisfying pops of lids sealing on the freshly canned peaches. I could paint a long laundry list of sensory-stimulated pictures Neva creates in our household. To put it simply, Neva gets things done.

Speaking of laundry, Neva keeps on top of that, too. I help, of course, from time to time. After all of these years, I’ve learned to dance without the caller singing out her instructions. My efforts still have to pass muster, however.

But I’m no fool. When it comes to household chores, I know not to interfere with Neva’s main domain.

canned tomato sauce, home canning

Savory sauce.

Her gift of hospitality hasn’t been confined to our home either. Neva still finds time to help others.

From birthday cards to sympathy cards to comfort food casseroles, Neva puts her faith into practice for others. She has served the church in multiple positions, locally and statewide.

Our lives wouldn’t quite be the same without her devotion to volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. The friendships she has made and nurtured over the years at the thrift store have enriched us individually and as a couple.

Her commitment to community doesn’t stop there. She has also served with Habitat for Humanity, the annual Christmas Church Walk in Millersburg, and with volunteer fire department auxiliaries to name a few.

Then there are our adult children and the grandchildren. Even 350 miles away, Neva watches over them as she can, too. With our son’s blessings, they are a big part of the reason we are moving to Virginia. We want to be closer to them to help whenever and wherever we can. As retirees and grandparents, it’s our primary task now as we enter the winter of our lives.

Bruce and Neva Stambaugh

Neva and me.

Career educator by profession, Neva always has taken her role as mother, wife, and domestic engineer as her chief duties. She has done so impeccably.

Why am I pontificating about my wife? It’s easy for me to take her and all that she does for granted, for me, the family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Neva has enough Mennonite stock in her DNA to deny my praise of her. But she shouldn’t.

Our wedding anniversary is upon us. I want to publicly acknowledge how much I appreciate Neva and all that she does for me and for all those she has touched in our lifetime together.

Happy Anniversary dear!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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On the hunt

American Robin, birds, spring

On the hunt.

It happens every year. The American Robins come out of seclusion in dense Ohio woodlots or return from a regional migration only to be greeted by a snowstorm. This year was no exception.

With no worms available due to the snow cover and cold temperatures, the Robins looked for other forms of food. The bright red holly berries fit the bill for a few of them. This male robin especially enjoyed flitting in and out of the bush next to our house. I was fortunate to be able to capture a few shots of him on the hunt for the round red delights. He would sit on a small branch in the snow, look around for a berry, then pounce on it as if it were going to make a getaway.

“On the hunt” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, weather

Spring is just around the corner, I hope

By Bruce Stambaugh

If you live in northern Ohio, you know there is one sure way to tell that spring is just around the corner. Snow has covered the freshly opened daffodil blossoms. Snow never smelled so fragrant.

blooming daffodils

From this…

Those of us who have grown up in northeastern Ohio aren’t surprised by this meteorological conundrum. Snow-blanketed flowers in Holmes Co., Ohio in March is as common as horses and buggies.

daffodils in snow

…to this.

It’s March. It’s Ohio. It’s just a matter of when and how much snow we will have.

March snows are notorious for being heavy, wet, and timed to dampen our spirits along with the countryside. That’s especially true after a relatively mild winter like we’ve experienced this year.

With the temperatures balmy, the sun shining, people get antsy to get out and about to shake off any remnants of cabin fever they may have contracted. And so they do.

Bicycles are dusted off, tires pumped up, and excursions on the Holmes Co. Trail begin. Gardeners are anxious to ready their truck patches and flowerbeds for the soon-to-begin growing season.

That’s when the excitement rises. Coaxed awake by the unseasonably warm winter weather, luscious green shoots emerge from the bulbs through the moist, loamy soil, through the woody mulch, and into the light.

blooming crocuses

Rejoicing in the sun.

Crocuses and a few spring beauties join the trumpeting daffodils to happily announce spring’s debut. In some areas, trilliums even dot forest floors. Of course, they are all premature thanks in part to the warmest February on record globally.

The early taste of warmth spoiled us. So when the weather returns to more seasonal conditions, we go into shock along with the blooming flowers.

Other signs of spring unaltered by the weather also appear to whet our warm weather enthusiasm. College’s annual March Madness basketball tournaments fill TV screens in the quest for men and women’s champions. High school basketball and wrestling tournaments are drawing to a close, signaling the end of winter and the birth of spring.

For me, no other sport says spring more than Major League Baseball. After all, the boys of summer are in the midst of spring training in Arizona and Florida. So it must be spring, right?

Not so fast. Even in the southern United States, where azaleas, hibiscus, iris, lantana, and poinsettias bloomed brightly, caution was the word. Citizens had to be weary of frosts and late winter storms of ice and snow, too.

Those events are rare but all too real. It’s different in Ohio and neighboring states. March sometimes delivers the season’s heaviest snowfall. The problem is the storms often arrive just in time to douse any anticipation of spring’s benefits, like being outdoors, throwing open the windows and doors to replace winter’s staleness with spring’s freshness.

After a few days of airing things out, breathing in warm, fresh air, working in the yard, it’s rather hard to return to winter’s harshness. Nevertheless, that always seems to be our plight. Only we’re back outside covering those tender plants from hard frosts, inches of snow, and biting winds.

Backyard bird feeders get restocked. We tote in more firewood to replenish the supply for the wood burner or fireplace. The hard truth is that there’s just no turning down the damper on the fickle force of nature.

Spring is just around the corner. We just don’t know how long it will be until we reach that particular junction to fondly welcome spring’s return.

Amish farmer, plowing in the snow

Plowing dirt and snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, weather, writing

March in Ohio

Ohio snow, Amish farm

March in Ohio.

When my wife and I arrived home in Ohio’s Amish country recently, we were surprised to see that fields around our home had all been plowed while we were away for a couple of months to avoid winter’s harshness. Usually, plowing extends well into spring. But this year the farmers, especially those using horses to pull the plows, were able to turn the soil during this winter’s mild weather.

That all changed a couple of days ago. We were on the western-most side of the latest nor’easter storm that pounded the East Coast with blizzard conditions. Our share of the snowstorm was more typical of a March snow in Ohio. Most of our snow was lake effect snow driven by strong northerly winds. I was contented to observe the radiant beauty of the snow-covered furrows from the comfort of our home.

“March in Ohio” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, weather

Sharing life stories created a watershed moment

snowbirds, ocean view

Our ocean view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were four snowbird couples, all in our 60s and 70s, gathered for dessert and discussion. We all vacationed in the same Florida condominium building. We had a lot of tales to tell, and plenty of time and opportunity to relate them.

I wasn’t quite sure how the evening would go, given that not all of the couples knew one another. I need not have worried. The ubiquitous congeniality and spontaneity to share kept the conversation moving smoothly, freely, flawlessly. Amtrak never ran so well.

These had been lives well lived, not arrogantly or haughtily, but for family, community, with purpose and genuine, earthy pleasure. Farming does that to you. Most had some rooted connection, directly or indirectly, to the land in their upbringing.

Holmes Co. OH farm

Farming roots.

The group was geographically diverse, too. Bermuda, England, Ontario, North Carolina, and Ohio were each well represented.

After dessert, the stories just flowed. We all sat around a plain rectangular table. The chatter rolled as naturally as the crashing waves on the beach that served as our winter front yard.

Despite our various backgrounds, we had a lot in common. We were all grandparents, each with two children. Surprisingly, the conversation centered on subjects other than the grandchildren and their parents.

Rather, reminiscing of careers, successes, failures, misadventures, heroics, and pure silliness filled the evening. I marveled at the wisdom that surrounded me. Not once did the current global politics enter the confab. That was an unspoken blessing.

morel mushroom

Morel mushroom.

Instead, true stories of hidden treasures, broken dreams, personal confrontations, changing priorities, and even morel mushrooms dominated the banter. Of course, smartphones did fact checking.

The comfort level with one another was sublime, not altogether surprising given the characters in the room. Years of experience from office managers, teachers, cooks, explorers, antique enthusiasts, carpenters, and community volunteers were present and accounted for.

Unfettered wisdom oozed from each participant. Despite some of the type A personalities in attendance, no braggadocios emerged. It was an equal-opportunity session, and all took advantage of the necessary give and take of listening and responding. I felt honored to be a member of this temporary social club.

We had originated from backgrounds that spanned rural, tropical, transient, suburban. That only enriched our camaraderie and the conversation. One refreshing tale led to another.

colorful parasail

An uplifting and colorful conversation.

Though no clergy was among us, it was pretty clear we were in the midst of a sacred moment that lasted more than three hours. There was no agenda, no order of service, no liturgy, no sermon, only immediate trust, mutual respect, adamant admiration, and unending inquisitiveness. The gathering was church defined.

Amid all the world’s problems, I found peace and hope in these kind folks and their faithfulness despite humanity’s all too frequent calamitous interactions. Our friends’ faith rang loud and clear, always, always in humble, gentle, kind voices.

Some of these individuals had just met, and yet here they were affirming and absorbing and encouraging one another without bias or inquisition. I was grateful to be counted among them. I felt safe, secure, sure, loved, appreciated, and appreciative.

In truth, the beachfront location was the magnet that drew us all together in this pleasant place. The genuine fellowship was the glue that cemented our budding friendships.

Humanity too often measures historical events in earth-shattering happenings. For me, this evening of pure, pleasurable fellowship instead modeled the way we all should go. It was a moving watershed moment that pulled me into this new, transformative year.

dawn, colorful sunrise

The dawning of a new day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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What’s retirement? I guess I’ll find out

Amish boys, harvesting corn

Working in the township that I love.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I started out the New Year the best way possible. I retired.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved working. I love working. Given that we are moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley next spring, it’s time for me to shift into a lower gear.

The transition from work to non-work has been a gradual one to be sure, much like how I transitioned my way into the wonderful world of work. Altogether, I’ve been working for more than 60 years.

cooper's hawk

I’m a hawk about work.

I started out at age eight selling seed packets door-to-door. I’ve been working ever since.

I delivered newspapers for two different urban publishers. Profits from those ventures were invested at the new McDonald’s built at the end of my route. A quarter bought me a cheeseburger and a Coke.

In high school, I pumped gas at Carl’s Garage in Canton, Ohio. Gasoline was 27 cents a gallon when I started, 31 cents when I graduated.

I was a Fuller Brush salesperson. That experience convinced me to go to college.

I attended night school for my first two years at university studying to be a journalist. During the day, I worked at a huge corporation where my father and grandfather spent most of their employment years. I learned from that experience not to work at a huge corporation unless I absolutely had to do so. I’m glad I never did.

I wove being a stringer for The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, in between my high school years and my college days. A stringer is a person who writes stories freelance. Ambitious stringers like me wrote for pennies on the word.

That connection, fortunately, led to an internship at The Plain Dealer. Remember what I said about working for a large corporation? I learned the same was true for a major metropolitan newspaper.

That’s how I ended up in Holmes Co., Ohio. First, I taught for nine years at Killbuck Elementary School. That saved my life, or maybe better stated, made my life. Folks welcomed me with open arms. I felt right at home.

I married, and my wife became a teacher, too. When our children arrived, Neva put her career on hold to do her very best at being both mom and wife. She got an A+ in both categories.

Winesburg Elementary School, Holmes Co. OH

Where I served as principal for 21 years.

After earning my Master’s degree, I became an elementary principal in the East Holmes Local School District. I also coordinated the district’s substantial federal programs. I learned to multi-task or else. Those were 21 marvelous years.

At age 51, I made yet another transition. I retired as an educator and served as a marketing and public relations guru for a few local businesses. Another job tied my education and marketing careers together.

I served as a Saltcreek Twp. Trustee for nearly 20 years, and with the impending move that community responsibility, too, has come to an end.

dog, granddaughter

Chasing the grandkids and the grand dogs will become my main job.

Now my work priorities have changed. The time has come to refocus my lagging energy and flagging memory to the top priorities in my life: my family and my writing. Retirement was necessary for that to occur. This blog will continue to feature my writing and photography, but will likely change name and format.

My wife and I will settle into our new setting near our grandkids in Virginia in May. I can let grandkids completely wear me out playing baseball, listening to concerts, and however else they choose to spend their time and parents’ money. We’ll be there cheering them on.

I’m looking forward to all the unknown adventures ahead. Just don’t wake me before 8 a.m.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, human interest, news, Ohio, photography, rural life, writing

Shunned

workhorse, Amish shunning

Shunned.

Shunning is a discipline method used by many of the Amish when a member of their church blatantly breaks with their established traditions. Leaving the church after having joined as an adult is the most common reason people are shunned. Shunning involves ignoring and avoiding the offending person.

I climbed a small embankment on this snowy day to photograph this beautiful workhorse. To my surprise, the horse turned its head away from me when it saw the camera. Now I know the Amish don’t want their faces photographed. However, I never had a horse do this to me. This beauty watched me exit my vehicle. The horse then assumed this position as I photographed it. Once I put the camera down, the horse bolted away to join another workhorse in the snow-covered pasture.

“Shunned” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Amish, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, weather, writing

Giving a gift that really matters

country road

Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m about to tell you the best possible Christmas story I could imagine. None of the usual animated characters play a part. No Grinch or Santa, no reindeer or elves, no extravagance or selfishness are involved.

The main characters are two ordinary, observant, wise, and caring women. I think that’s what makes this narrative so meaningful and beautiful. As soon as my wife told me this true story, I knew I had to share it with you. It’s that good. I hope you agree.

I don’t personally know nor have I met the women in this story. Maybe you have. I’m not even aware of their names. We’ll call them Alice and Betty.

Alice and Betty had never met before until recently. They had, however, seen each other daily on their way to work.

Alice lives in the Wooster, Ohio area and works in Millersburg, 16 miles to the south. Betty resides in Millersburg and works near Wooster. These two women travel the same county road to and from their jobs and apparently work similar hours.

Each day Alice and Betty passed one another driving in the opposite directions on their way to work. As they did so, they both began to notice the other. Alice and Betty likely passed near the same location since they kept comparable time schedules.

Amish children, Amish cart

Along the way.

Soon they began to wave to each other as they passed. It became something to look forward to on the routine drive to work.

Their waving became more and more vigorous as time went on. The women looked for one another, partly as a source of reassurance like a sailor seeks a lighthouse. Their mutual waves became bright beacons of familiarity.

One recent morning, Betty noticed that Alice had pulled off the road. Thinking she might need assistance, Betty turned around.

Alice was shocked when her waving buddy pulled in. That’s when the story gets surreal.

Alice couldn’t believe what had just happened. She told Betty it had to be a miracle, and then handed Betty a coffee mug filled with chocolates.

Alice had only stopped to flag down her unknown friend to give her the gift. In the process, she didn’t see that Betty had already gone by. Alice explained to Betty that she struggled at times with enjoying her job.

Amish farmstead

Amish farmstead.

Alice said Betty’s welcomed wave instilled a positive start to each day. Imagine that. Something as simple and easy as a friendly wave made her day, and gave her strength to see the day through even though Alice knew it might be tough.

Betty was stunned. She had no idea her energetic wave had such an affirming influence on this stranger, who in reality was no longer a stranger.

The two women exchanged names and numbers. I have a hunch they’ll be staying in touch with one another more than their friendly waves.

It’s hard to comprehend that such an uncomplicated gesture as a wave from a person you had never met could make such a significant impact on your life. But it did for Alice.

Wonderment and risk-taking flavor this Christmas story. Both women made themselves vulnerable for the benefit of the other.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that the purpose of Christmas? Those who believe in the Christmas story are charged with creating joy, not just for self, or for those we know and love, but for all.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas

Advent candles.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Christmas, holidays, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, writing

December’s Super Full Moon

super full moon, long night moon

December’s Super Full Moon.

After days and days of gray sky days here in northeastern Ohio, I wondered if we would actually get a chance to see December’s Super Full Moon. It is the third consecutive month for a super full moon, and October’s and November’s were both spectacular.

I got my answer in the middle of the night. After an all day snow, the skies cleared and the Long Night Full Moon reflected brightly off of the newly fallen snow. Just as the sun rose yesterday, the full moon was setting in the northwestern sky.

“December’s Super Full Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Life’s river flows in you and me

fall colors along mountain stream

Mountain stream.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The young woman beautifully played the piano her parents had purchased from us earlier in the year. As my friend Sharon Randall would say, I wish you could have been there to hear her.

The moment was so much more than marvelous. Never could I have anticipated being the audience for this impromptu recital.

A set of unusual and timely circumstances led me to this setting. It’s a tale of just how interconnected we all are.

My friend Ava hitched a ride to Virginia with my wife and me for a short visit with her family. When her friends in the Shenandoah Valley learned Ava would soon be returning to Ohio with us, she became the courier of a gift for an injured boy.

As we traveled home, Ava related to us who the recipient of the package was. The boy had been seriously hurt in an auto accident that had killed his mother. When Ava told us where the gift was to go, we were astonished. We knew the family, especially the father. I offered to deliver the gift personally.

Holmes Co. OH stream

Martins Creek.

All of this ran through my mind as the young woman caressed the keys that produced the mesmerizing song. Victoria passionately played “River Flows in You” as her mother and I stood silently admiring both the devotion and the soothing music while the pianist’s little sister quietly played with dolls in the background.

My wife and I had known Victoria’s father Lonnie since he was born two hours before our daughter four decades ago. Their cribs stood side-by-side in the hospital nursery. Our lives had overlapped in multiple ways we couldn’t even have imagined. This moment was the latest.

Lonnie was one of my former students. His friendly family had welcomed me into their home as principal and friend many times. I was the first responder to arrive at the scene of an industrial accident that took the fingers of Lonnie’s left hand. I responded to the house fire that badly burned Lonnie’s mother. I gladly served as a driver for family members during both hospitalizations.

This family had endured a lot. Still, Lonnie’s daughter played so passionately that I could not have wiped that broad smile of satisfaction off of my face if I had wanted to.

Tears flooded my eyes as Victoria tenderly tapped the last lingering note. The connected circumstantial dots wove a human tapestry of love that brought me to this cherished moment. Gratitude couldn’t begin to describe my emotions.

lost river, cows in stream

Lost River, WV.

I was so glad I had had the privilege of delivering this gift for this healing boy, and to hear Victoria’s playing. I could clearly see that our former piano was in the right hands.

I had made the gift’s delivery a priority, partly because I didn’t want to forget about it. I didn’t know, however, that the youngster was coming home from the hospital that same day. I’m sure that whatever was inside that brightly wrapped box would bring the young boy as much pleasure as I had just experienced.

I’ve told this story for both its face value and its intrinsic value, not for vanity’s sake or personal gratification. That came from listening to Victoria.

I’m certain you have similar tales to tell. It’s the way life was meant to be. A river flows in you and me. We need to ensure that the confluence of our individual streams creates a harmonious symphony for all to enjoy.

harpersferrywvbybrucestambaugh

Convergence.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under friends, human interest, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, rural life, writing