The shortest month packs a punch

reading, reading to grandkids
Even in Leap Year, February is still 2020’s shortest month. That doesn’t deter it from packing a lot into its 29-day effort.

The mini month has so many designated days that I’ve had to pick and choose which ones to highlight. I apologize in advance if I fail to mention your favorite.

February 1 is Read Aloud Day. I highly support this idea, especially if you happen to have young grandchildren.

I’m pretty confident that day will be overshadowed by the events of February 2, however. February 2 just wouldn’t be complete without the human-induced appearance of Punxsutawney Phil on Ground Hog Day.

The good citizens of the little Pennsylvania town know how marketing works. The organizers get more than their 15 minutes of fame out of the annual silliness of speculating on winter’s dallying.

This year, however, Super Bowl LIV will give old Phil a run for his money since it’s on the same day. Phil will have to be exceptionally creative to grandstand the pregame football ballyhoo hoopla.

I’m not sure if there is a connection or not, but February 3 is the first primary election of the 2020 presidential campaign. Iowans take to their caucuses to express their personal preferences. The next day is World Cancer Day, an international effort to save lives and raise awareness.

I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t mention that February 5 is the annual National Weatherperson Day. It’s designed to recognize all of the professionals who forecast the weather in this crazy climate era in which we find ourselves.

Friday, February 7 is National Wear Red Day. You would think this should be a week later. However, this day is dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease, indeed a worthy reason to don the supportive color.

Sunday, February 9, marks three different occasions. Tu Bishvat is the Jewish New Year for trees and marks the day to set aside tithes for the poor. For movie buffs, it’s also Academy Awards night and conveniently National Pizza Day.

February 13 is International Friends Day and National Cheddar Day. That sounds like an opportunity to invite your friends over for toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

No reminder is needed for February 14, Valentine’s Day. But just in case, consider this your cue to order the candy and flowers and make those dinner reservations.


Of course, Monday, February 17, is Presidents Day, the day to honor our first president George Washington. His birthday was actually February 22, while Abe Lincoln’s was February 12. Once again, the madmen of marketing persuaded Congress to squish the two birthdays together into one countrywide sale event on everything from mowers to mattresses.

February 18 is National Drink Wine Day. We need a day for that?

February 20 hosts two designations: National Love Your Pet Day and World Day of Social Justice. Both are worthy causes.

International Mother Language Day is Friday, February 21. It rightly promotes linguistic and cultural diversity, along with quality education, unity, and international understanding.

It’s no coincidence that Mardi Gras falls on February 25, also known as Fat Tuesday. The day also recognizes Strove or Pancake Day, which honors the world’s oldest widespread food.

Ash Wednesday is February 26. For Christians, it marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent in preparation for Easter.

The shortest month is stuffed with a variety of celebrations, some fanciful, others sedate. Given that, February serves as a metaphor for life. It makes each day count. So should we.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Orange on Yellow


Here’s some color to brighten any winter dullness that might be fogging your mind as January comes to an end. I spotted this Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach, Florida, where we spend our snowbirding days.

“Orange on Yellow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

January dreaming


As a youngster, I remember those cold, blustery January days of sitting as close to the living room heat register as possible. I would grab the latest seed catalog that had arrived in the mail, and while myself away with luscious visions of warmer days ahead, corn on the cob, and fresh lima beans.

My brothers and sisters would sometimes join me in this communal dreaminess. We couldn’t wait to be harvesting our own fresh-picked pickles, ripe red tomatoes, and those buttery-colored ears of sweet corn. Of course, a lot of time, hard work, and patience would have to pass before all that deliciousness happened.

grandkids sled ridingBesides, we would often get interrupted when one of the neighbor kids arrived at our doorstep to ask us to go sledding. Kids being kids, we usually traded future pleasantries for present ones.

With the advent of technology and electronic interconnection, emails seem to have replaced those slick, thick printed advertisements. The contents have changed, too.

Smart marketers know most baby boomers now prefer discovery to husbandry, although I have plenty of peers who still love to get their hands dirty. It’s usually on a much smaller scale than 30 years ago, however.

My wife and I gave up gardening for the most part when we moved to Virginia. For a woman who loved her flower gardens, Neva furrows her forehead at any mention of planting a patch of wildflowers on our little slice of America.

Maybe the marketers have seen that expression, too. That could explain why we don’t get those tempting seed publications anymore. Travel brochures, invitations, emails, booklets, and yes, catalogs have replaced their agrarian counterparts, promoting fun-filled cruises, exciting explorations, and exotic destinations.

There’s a good reason for that. Since most boomers are retired or semi-retired, a majority of us apparently like to travel. Besides the printed and electronic information, television and computer pop up ads besiege us with romantic places to go.

That’s all right with us. Neva and I both like to travel, and since we fit the retired category, we try to visit as many places as we can as time and money allow.

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We also have to consider our age, our station in life, and our health, not necessarily in that order. We both know we are fortunate when it comes to our overall physical fitness. We also know that that may not last. So we must get in as much travel as possible while we still can.

Neva and I both enjoy learning about new places, cultures, languages, traditions, history, geography, and enticing locales. We also like familiarity, which is why we keep returning to our beloved Lakeside, Ohio, every summer.

Traveling allows us to enrich ourselves in all those subjects and much more. We know we aren’t alone because many of the offers we receive fill up quickly.

The land and ocean cruise we took to Alaska and the Yukon last summer was proof of that. Boomer-aged trekkers predominated at every stop and venue of the trip. In our group, only one young millennial couple dared to join our silver-haired entourage. Poor things, they were even on their honeymoon.

Because traveling is now so trendy and relatively easy, despite the security screening delays, cruises and group traveling are often planned a year or more in advance. You can dream in January, but if you don’t book right away, you may get shut out.

My touristy point comes full circle with personal disclosure. This January, I’m writing from Florida.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020.

Dappled Sunset


I had given up on this sunset. In fact, I was already heading back to my car from the dock when the sky suddenly changed. I hustled back onto the dock to get a few shots before the sky called it a night. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when an older man with a barking dog cruised into view in a dingy. Their presence added a human element to this painting-like scene.

Rather than wax poetic about all of the aspects and details of the photo, I’ll simply let you enjoy it from your own perspective.

“Dappled Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Basking in nature’s unexpected gifts

Raining over the ocean.

I stood on the shoreline alone in joyous disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, and yet, it was, it did.

“This” was no ordinary sunrise. Our snowbird rental on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, affords us striking views, especially at dawn.

The sea mirrored the sky as the celestial kaleidoscope slowly revolved from violets to pinks to oranges to gold to grays. I willingly allowed those siblings of earth and atmosphere to kidnap me.

My initial urge was to shout for joy, but that seemed irreverent, uncouth, and even sacrilegious. For once in my life, I stayed silent, sedated by the aura that engulfed me.

A renegade cumulonimbus cloud hovered miles offshore. Sheets of rain cascaded into the sea.

My eyes drew heavenward. The risen sun, hidden by clouds over the Gulf Stream, illuminated the universe, at least the part that I could see. It was heavenly, indeed.

With each degree that the sun rose into the clouds, the refracted rays altered the colors. As if someone had flipped a light switch, the violet hue transformed into orange, bathing everything it touched.

The scene was surreal. I felt like I had been pulled above the beach, the foamy waves no longer lapping at my feet.

It was then that I more fully appreciated the ocean’s contribution to this original, living painting. The gently swelling sea reflected both the water’s depth and the sky’s variable palate.

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Dabs of puffy clouds scalloped the sky. The ocean’s choppy undulating created a more linear composition. It was cottony above, corduroy below.

Though the consistencies remained the same, the colors continued to change. The wind scurried the dazzling clouds east while the ocean rolled west.

An instantaneous golden glow ensued when the sun finally peeked through the distant clouds hanging above the horizon. Overhead, the rain clouds just as suddenly converted the gold to gray unapologetically.

With the sky now spritzing droplets, I turned to retreat to the condo. And then I stopped to behold another divine marvel.

A brilliant double rainbow arched above our suntanned building complex. Once again, I was awestruck. I motioned for my wife to go look at the rainbow. She only waved back from the balcony. Desperate, I pointed to the sky, mimed a bow with my right hand, and pointed up.

This time Neva understood and rushed to the back of the condo. She returned before I could even begin to clean the sand from my shoes. Her radiance from seeing the double promise equaled that of the sky, which made me even happier.

By the time I made it back to the condo, the sky had darkened, and the rain pelted down. The morning’s free art exhibit was now washed out.

Other than the rain, none of this was expected. The official forecast had called for precipitation to overrun the northern Florida east coast overnight. But with the rain’s delayed arrival, we were treated to this transformative experience.

This ecclesiastical event seemed to last an eternity. However, the timestamp on the scores of photographs that I took showed only 10 minutes had elapsed.

The magical scene had changed so rapidly that I couldn’t take in all of the finite details as they occurred. A review of my photos revealed the dramatic, atmospheric sequence of changes in that short window of opportunity.

Appreciative is too small of a word to describe my gratitude for having viewed the wondrous display. But most grateful I am.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

A Tangled Web


Birding and photography go hand-in-hand. Binoculars and a camera are essential tools for me to hone my dual hobbies. I heard the Red-winged Blackbird singing before I spotted it in this dead tree with its tangle of branches. I have always considered the blackbird’s song a harbinger of springtime. To hear its melodious song in January was music to my ears. Of course, it was a warm afternoon in Florida, not Virginia or Ohio. A look through the bins confirmed the pair of Eastern Bluebirds that sat silently behind the blackbird.

I knew full well that the photo would produce only silhouettes since I was shooting into the southern sky with the sun an hour from setting. The crisscross of dead limbs immediately brought to mind the Walter Scott quote of “Oh what tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive.”

Well, there is no deceit on my part with this photograph. “A Tangled Web” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Mowing snow while mulching leaves

Before the leaves fell.

This time it wasn’t my fault. Every time I went to mulch the accumulation of leaves that covered much of our yard, something or someone else thwarted my good intentions. We all know where that road leads.

First of all, I wanted to wait until all of the red maple leaves in the backyard had fallen. For some reason, they clung like flies to flypaper. The leaves of the front yard red maple had all tumbled weeks earlier.

When the weather was sunny and warmish, which wasn’t that often in the late fall of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we were gone. When we were home, it was too wet, or other commitments kept me from doing the job.

Even with a couple of gusty windstorms, the leaves clung fast to the tree. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood’s assortment of dead foliage swirled around and landed in our yard like it was a leaf magnet.

The turkey.
It was nearly Thanksgiving before the leaves finally succumbed. Even then, it took almost a week before most of them lay on the ground. The leafy blanket was so thick I could hardly see the grass in spots.

Finally, the timing and weather seemed just right. However, because of a heavy frost, I waited until after lunch to make my move. I shouldn’t have.

I had just started the leaf blower when our yardman arrived. Rain was forecast for the next day, and he wanted to get the year’s last organic fertilizer on the grass despite the carpet of leaves.

He assured me that the rain would wash the fertilizer off the leaves and into the ground. I yielded the yard to him. It rained for three days.

After the rain subsided, it turned cold, freezing the leaves in place. I continued to wait and watch the forecast. It was now early December.

A skiff of snow caused another delay. Most of it melted, except for the snow in the north-slanting shadows of our backyard neighbor’s evergreens and the front of our north-facing house.

A storm with freezing rains was approaching. It was now or never to mulch the leaves.

A few of the neighbor’s leaves.
I set the mower to its highest level so that only the tallest growth of grass would be clipped. I donned my insulated coveralls, put on my waterproof shoes, and cranked up the mulching mower.

Around and round I went, reversing course with each completed trip of the yard’s parameter. The piles of dried leaves that I had blown out of the flowerbeds and shrubbery into the grass easily shredded to bits. The backyard leaves were a different story.

A messy mix of chewed up leaves and dirt began to stick to the wheels. The messiness increased when I hit the patches of thin snow. The pulverized blend of icy moisture and leaves turned to sludge. I stubbornly mulched on.

By the time I had finally finished, the poor mower looked like it had endured a motocross mud run. Brown muck covered much of the mower’s bright red body. The wheels were caked in a sticky mixture of chopped leaves and residue of red clay that poses as Virginia topsoil.

Shreds of green grass clippings topped off the muddy mess like colorful sprinkles on an ice cream cone. It was so sad and ugly that I couldn’t even take a picture of it.

But the mulching was done, and I was a happy man. The unusually difficult task of mowing my lawn had become an existential saga. And then the sun came out.

Not this much snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020