Virginia House

Orkney Springs VA, VA resort

Virginia House.

I came upon this incredible building on a recent foray into the Virginia countryside exploring with my wife and another couple. I had seen it on Google Earth. It wasn’t until I stood in front of this historic hotel that I could fully appreciate its beauty and grandeur.

The Virginia House is the main building of the Orkney Springs Hotel complex. Built between 1873 and 1876, the Virginia House is on the National Registry of Historic Places. To say it is impressive would be an understatement.

The hotel was built around natural mineral springs that were first frequented by Native Americans. The resort is owned and operated by the Episcopal Dioceses of Virginia. The church uses it for retreats, but it is also open to the public.

Given its setting and beautiful architecture, the Virginia House would be a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature.

“Virginia House” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, history, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Being a father brings lots of lessons

biking, Holmes Co. OH trail

A family bike ride.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago a small army of children caused a raucous in a restaurant. My only son leaned in, and half in jest asked, “Why do couples bother to have kids?”

I saw my chance and took it. “I’ve wondered that a few times myself,” I retorted. A wry smile was the only evidence that my adult son got my point.

My wife and I felt fortunate to raise two beautiful children, a girl, and a boy. Like any other kids, they caused us grief and moments of angst of course. But in the bigger and better picture, they were both great kids. I’ll relinquish bragging rights to simply say I have immensely enjoyed being their father.

As young adults in our late 20s, Neva and I were raw at parenting. We didn’t have the infinite resources parents do today. We did have a strong support team. Besides our parents, siblings and friends who were also raising children helped steer us in the right direction.

be nice to people

Like the sign says.

Our own parents served as our most positive role models. They taught us to be polite, respectful, truthful, and fair. We tried to do the same with Carrie and Nathan. Not that what we did or said was perfect or absolutist in approach. We just believed in letting our children explore the world, allowing them to make mistakes as long as their actions didn’t endanger themselves or others.

We loved and love our daughter and son. We wanted the best for them. But we were realistic, too. Living on teacher salaries, we weren’t rich. But we weren’t poor either. Our wealth came not in dollars and cents or stocks and bonds but in enjoying as many life experiences together as we could. Often that meant relating to other human beings and to nature. We traveled, worked, worshiped, and played together.

We tried to teach our son and daughter the essential elements required for a successful life. We emphasized the formula of our parents. Develop a strong work ethic, be actively engaged in the community, participate in a faith family, and embrace the family circle no matter how crazy. To that end, we stressed being kind, generous, considerate, curious, questioning, creative, helpful, compassionate, mindful, and honest.

That being said, I’m pretty sure my own children have taught me more than I actually taught them, however. As adults, both son and daughter now offer unsolicited advice for personal improvement. I weigh their opinions seriously. Do I have any other choice?

infant, grandfather, grandchild

Holding a grandchild for the first time was just as rewarding as cuddling your own child.

Fatherhood has taught me to be patient with others and myself. It has taught me to laugh at the silliest mistakes and move on. It has taught me to always part with an “I love you.”

Fatherhood has taught me to celebrate both the joys and disappointments that life brings. The good Lord knows there are plenty of both. The pleasures of parenthood go far beyond the first time holding your newborn baby. The sorrows speak for themselves.

I know I wasn’t the perfect father. Neither was my dad or any father for that matter. But mistakes and all, I just tried to do my very best to guide my children from birth into adulthood.

That is the purpose of being a parent. Raise your children to be interdependent adults who productively contribute to society. Isn’t that all a father should really expect as a measure of parental success?

muskie fishing

I never caught a fish this big. My son was one happy camper.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life

Past Meets Present

utility lines, old sign pole

Past Meets Present.

My wife and I were walking with friends in downtown Harrisonburg, VA one afternoon when we happened upon this scene. This old, rusty signpost still stood in front off a remodeled office building. We wondered why they didn’t either restore the pole as well or just take it down.

Then I looked up. This pair of display lights stared back at me. I wondered what sign they had once illuminated with their soft, incandescent bulbs blazing away in the night sky. This rusty light pole stood as both a testament to the past and as a work of urban art to the present. In a way, the pole with its twin lights, long dormant, stood in stark contrast to the ugly utility pole and wires that now overshadowed this relic from yesteryear.

“Past Meets Present” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography

Living beyond our own routines

granddog

Millie claimed my chair.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on our screened-in back porch eating a light lunch with my wife and our granddog, Millie. Neva and I were dog sitting while our daughter and her family were away for the weekend. The dog duty was in the fine print of our moving contract.

As I nibbled at the delicious egg salad Neva had prepared, a mockingbird called from the crest of a roof three houses away. Not to be outdone, a northern cardinal sang its springtime repertoire from a neighbor’s lilac bush.

As I picked at my lunch offerings, I thought about a comment I had heard a couple of hours earlier. “It’s been a long week,” the man said. That caught my attention.

Anticipating a bit of bad news or perhaps a string of events that bore him negative consequences, he instead spoke far beyond himself and his own life experiences. He mentioned those in the world who lacked basic human needs, food, shelter, water, love. Every week is a long week for them.

I marveled at his keen sense of compassion, his devotion to looking and living outside his own situation, his own desires, his own problems no matter how big or small. Instead, his concern was for those in dire straits. His urging was to be observant, considerate, and helpful to those we meet in our daily comings and goings.

That hit home for me. Here we were, only a month in our new home, still trying to establish some semblance of a new routine in our new state.

Not surprisingly, Neva was ahead of me in that regard. She had already begun to volunteer once a week at a local thrift store doing what she loves. Helping others regardless of their station in life or their background or their creed is in her DNA. She had also already helped pack groceries at a local food pantry.

I’ve been slower to engage in such activities. After spending my entire adult life in the public eye one way or another, I wanted my new routine to be more personal, more private. I want my actions to continue to be purposeful, useful, and productive for others in this new life we have chosen for ourselves.

soccer

Granddaughter on the move.

Participating in the lives of our active grandchildren and their parents tops our lists. We’ve already begun to do that, Millie being Exhibit A.

My intentions are to cultivate the activities that I love besides my family of course. I’ll find some birding buddies. I’ll go hiking and biking. I have books to write and photographs to publish. But as the man mentioned, I needed to reach beyond myself, too.

I’ll have plenty of opportunities with three universities nearby, the community’s focus on arts, the multi-cultural demographics, and the rich historical and natural geographical features the Shenandoah Valley offers.

But as I sat on our porch with Neva and Millie, lazily eating, listening, pondering, I considered those in the world who have long weeks every week. I need to incorporate the lame, the lost, the least into my newly unfolding routine as well.

I’m not exactly sure how that will play out. I just want to step outside my comfort zone, my familiarities. It seems the right thing to do, especially given the horrors in today’s complex and interconnected world.

I’ll begin by meeting people right where they are. Spontaneous or planned, it must be done. Perhaps then their week and mine will feel a little shorter than their previous one.

When I saw this man setting up his flag for Memorial Day, I stopped and asked to take his photo. He gladly obliged.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, human interest, rural life, writing

Silver on Green

glowing dew drops

Silver on Green.

One of the great joys of being a photographer is finding unexpected beauty in the simplest things. I went out one recent morning to capture the fog rising out of the hollows of the Shenandoah Valley. I rounded a curve on a narrow country road and found this scene. The bright morning sun illuminated thousands of dew drops congregated on weedy grass stems growing from an embankment. I thought the silvery effect was gorgeous.

“Silver on Green” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, weather

Simple writing prompt mentally sends me back in time to the classroom

By Bruce Stambaugh

The assignment was to write about an object of our choosing located in this sterile college classroom. Typical for a writing workshop, the prompt was designed to get the participants to use sensory descriptors to illustrate the object.

I chose the pencil sharpener affixed to the wall by the only doorway in this institutional setting. The sharpener stood out for me because it seemed so out of place in this 21st century technologically driven global society of ours.

manual pencil sharpener

An old pencil sharpener.

I wondered what in the world an old-fashioned pencil sharpener was doing in this classroom in 2017? Did anyone even use pencils anymore? I thought college students recorded everything on smartphones, iPads and laptop computers.

The answer to my silent wondering became evident as I scanned this bland environment. Everything in this classroom screamed 1977.

Boring blue-gray paint covered the cement block walls on three sides. Strange, random circular insets pockmarked the poured cement west wall. Front and back white boards with telltale scribbling from previous lessons served as classroom bookends. Parallel rows of the old-style fluorescent lights emitted a familiar faint buzzing sound. The textured tile of the suspended ceiling held the lights captive. The well-worn Formica tabletops told their age. I wiggled in the uncomfortable hard plastic molded seats riveted to shiny steel supports that were the student chairs.

My eyes kept returning to the pencil sharpener. It engaged my mind, generating pleasant, personal flashbacks to my teaching days now long past. Nostalgia washed over me as I studied the sharpener and rapidly scrawled my notes. I pictured my classroom setting.

Keen, evocative thoughts flooded my brain bringing a smile to my face. This pencil sharpener was situated exactly where all of the others in my elementary classrooms had been, right by the door and hung conveniently above a wastebasket.

The sights, sounds, smell, and textures associated with sharpening a pencil mentally filled my senses. I fixated on the circular dial with holes on the sharpener’s face. It accommodated various pencil sizes, the bulbous container that held the shavings, and the crank handle. The sharpener possessed me.

elementary school

Where I was principal for 21 years.

To keep the custodian happy, I often emptied the pencil sharpeners of their spent contents myself. Students occasionally managed to somehow miss the wastebasket, spilling the shredded pencil shavings and pulverized lead and graphite residue onto the floor.

The pencil sharpener was the office water cooler of the elementary classroom. If a line formed, I instinctively knew students had more than pencil sharpening in mind.

Some students made a game out of it. They would stand quietly and crank the sharpener’s handle, grinding the poor pencil to a pulp.

Despite my obsession, the sharpener’s reservoir often overflowed its ground up contents. The intermingled woody, metallic scent of the shavings invigorated my senses. That pungent freshness helped compromise the curious blend of 30 human body odors. I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

black and white photo of students

Some of my first students.

With the students studying at their desks, I quietly emptied the sharpener’s mutilated remains into the wastebasket with several quick shakes back-and-forth to ensure all the grindings found their mark. I replaced the sharpener’s rounded case with a metal-against-metal clink and returned to my instructional duties.

I was both surprised and elated by how this unique, unsophisticated classroom mechanism had spawned such poignant recollections for me. This writing assignment triggered treasures long forgotten, aromas and delightful textures resurrected from my 30-year career as a public school educator.

I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even an electric pencil sharpener.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under human interest, Ohio, photography, writing

Welcome to Virginia!

red ripe strawberries, Virginia

Welcome to Virginia!

My wife didn’t hesitate when our daughter asked if she wanted to go pick strawberries. Like most folks, we love just-picked berries. If we still lived in Ohio, the berries likely would need several more days before they would ripen.

Having the opportunity to pick and enjoy red, ripe strawberries this early in the season was a reality check for us. We really were in Virginia! And for the record, the berries were delicious.

“Welcome to Virginia” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under food photography, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life

Settling into our new home is settling

Mole Hill, Harrisonburg VA

Our new view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Moving is said to be one of life’s most stressful events. It hasn’t turned out to be that way for my wife and me. Taking a year and a half to make the transition from Ohio to Virginia likely took some of the pressure off of us. We are so glad we took our time.

We love everything about our new home, our new setting, and our situation so far. Please don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t easy leaving home, community, church, relatives, and friends that we were so attached to for all of our adult lives. Tears were shed to be sure.

For now, Neva and I have been busy arranging our new household inside and out. It’s been both a chore and a joy. Others who had experience moving advised us to take our time.

moving day

Moving in.

Sort one box at a time they said. And for the most part, that’s about the pace we have gone. Our expert movers helped make that happen by carrying and setting up all of the weighty and cumbersome furniture.

Our daughter’s family visited us a lot, helping us to unpack and put things away. Our IT son-in-law got us up and running with the internet, email, and the new smart TV he so kindly purchased for us with our money of course. I’m sure he’ll be over often to ensure that it’s working.

Most of our close neighbors introduced themselves, too. They all are as friendly as can be. One even brought homemade rolls and the best strawberry jam I ever tasted. That alone almost made the move worthwhile.

Of course, we moved to be near our grandchildren. Besides visiting us several times already, we’ve jumped right into their activities, too, sometimes simultaneously. Like when we attended our granddaughter’s violin recital. Her big brother was playing baseball two hours away. We covertly watched the action in animation on a smartphone.

We arrived in time to help our daughter celebrate another birthday. That’s something we haven’t had a chance to do in a long, long time.

We kept the unpacked boxes in the garage so as not to clutter the house. And did I mention that we love our downsized, one-story retirement home? We do, very much.

new home, transplating

Help with transplanting.

In fact, neither Neva nor I can stop smiling we are so pleased with how everything seems to be fitting into place. We rightly purged our belongings before we left. We are also glad we made the physical changes to our place that we did. It’s still a work in progress, especially the landscaping.

Most importantly, our new house feels like home. I didn’t think I would say that this soon after the move. But I did, and it does.

The day after we moved in we took a break to attend a May Day event at the elementary school where the two younger grandkids are students. It was a fun time even if it was a bit chilly.

Our creative daughter helped arrange a design for our new landscaping. We had the old, overgrown shrubs pulled for more palatable, harmonious plants. Spring rains made them easier to plant in the thick, sticky Virginia clay they call topsoil.

After the house was nearly put together, I set up my bird feeders. It didn’t take long for the usual suspects to find the free food. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and the ubiquitous House Sparrows are some of the species so far.

Our feathered friends appear to be settling in much the way we are. It’s good to be at home this far away from home.

backyard birds, Virginia

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Contemplation

female rose-breasted grosbeak

Contemplation.

The Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak usually gets all of the attention for its stunning coloration. I think the female is attractive in her own right. The blended browns and creamy whites form an incredible pattern to help her hide from predators.

I captured this photo of a Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as she appeared to contemplate when and how to approach the black oil sunflower feeder in the backyard of our new home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I was pleasantly surprised to have this species arrive at the feeder not long after I had hung it in the Mountain Maple tree.

“Contemplation” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life

Grateful for a creative mother

Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late mother was very creative. She expressed it so many ways in the long life that she led. She did so through her versatility as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, and an artist.

When Mom died five years ago, Alzheimer’s disease had removed her far from the woman I remember as a youngster and as an adult son. Her eyes no longer had that sparkle of awareness of the beauty she had seen in everyday life, the joy she recreated in her vibrant landscape and still life paintings.

Marian Stambaugh, Mother's Day

Mom.

Those paintings reflected her very being and the beauty she brought to life. Mom painted hundreds, perhaps thousands of renderings, mostly watercolors. But many of those paintings were left unfinished.

Mom was a perfectionist when it came to her paintings. If she felt she couldn’t get it right, she left the picture partially finished, hidden away. Going through her things, the family found stacks of incomplete paintings. To others, the paintings looked fine. Mom only saw the flaws.

Mom was too self-critical when it came to her paintings. She felt they just didn’t measure up to the works of her peers. The attitude of Mom’s dominating father perhaps influenced that lack of confidence at a young age. Mom wanted to go to art school. Instead, she was sent to business school to help her prepare for a job should one be needed.

In those pre-World War II days, women were to work until they married and then raise any and all children that came along. That’s just the way it was, and in many respects, still is in today’s global society.

Our father, himself a controlling man in his own right, saw both Mom’s physical comeliness and the beauty within. He loved almost to a fault this kind, generous, creative woman who was our mother. And he saw her talent in recreating the beauty all around her through her early drawings and paintings.

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Dad must have also sensed Mom’s lack of confidence in revealing this creative side. So Dad encouraged Mom to take private painting lessons given by established, prominent artists, and at the Canton Art Institute.

Thanks to her cohorts and mentors, Mom painted prolifically. Using mostly the medium of watercolor, her still life and landscape scenes were usually vivid, real, inspiring, eye-catching.

Again prodded by Dad, Mom entered art contests. She did so reluctantly, but also successfully. Mom won several awards, including the Peoples’ Choice Award on more than one occasion. Mom modestly accepted the accolades.

Mom’s creativity extended beyond brush and easel. She dressed splendidly but not opulently. She couldn’t afford to do that if she had wanted. Mom simply made do with the wardrobe she had.

wedding photo

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 15, 1942. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Stylish wouldn’t begin to describe my mother. Even late in her battle with Alzheimer’s, Mom continued to dress herself, always in a color-coordinated outfit. Residents and staff at the retirement community where she lived her last days often complimented Mom on her stunning look. In her typical modesty, Mom just smiled or returned a pleasant “thank you.”

Mom’s creativity remains alive through her realistic paintings and in our pleasant memories of her loving motherhood. More than that, the artistic genes of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will continue to contribute to life’s magnificence in various means, manner, and places.

Mom’s passion for painting taught us all to appreciate our surroundings, look for the beauty in everything, and generously share that splendor. That is Marian Stambaugh’s legacy of creativity.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, human interest, photography, writing