How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country
In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL
Pretty but cold.
With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography
Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Sunrises deserve our attention and praise

sunrise, Amish farm
A winter sunrise in Holmes Co., OH.

I’m a sunrise junkie. Spending most of my life in bucolic Holmes County, Ohio hooked me.

Sunsets can be gorgeous, too, but there is just something special about watching the blackness of night slowly transform into an explosion of shimmering radiance.

Sunrises usher in a new day, every day. No two are alike. Sunrises paint the horizon in majesty, no artificial coloring, chemicals, or preservatives added. Mornings can be brilliant, sometimes dull, and often obscured by clouds or our personal negligence. Nevertheless, sunrises persist.

Sunrises are free. They literally edify people, whether they realize it or not.

I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the power and gift of a peaceful, awe-inspiring sunrise. Living in pastoral Holmes County quickly instilled a resounding admiration for the daily occurrence. The rural settings east and west accounted for that.

Sunrises, however, enhanced those inspiring countryside scenes. I thrilled at watching a winter’s dawn filter through the little woods behind our Killbuck home. Yesterday’s snow morphed from white to pink to purple and back to fields of sparkling diamonds in a matter of minutes.

rural sunrise
Rural sunrise.

That silent, reverent beauty astounded me, readied me for the day ahead, and fortified me to proceed with whatever I encountered. Naturally, some days were better than others. If I remembered the sunrise, my burden often lightened enough to sustain me.

That existentialism increased along with my responsibilities when I became an administrator, and we moved to East Holmes. Our home was built on an Amish farm with incredible views east, north, and west. Spectacular sunrises made them more so.

I rose each day to arrive at school by 7 a.m. More often than not, a sunrise greeted me on my way. In the winter, the sun appeared as the young scholars arrived. The already rosy-cheeked faces became even more so.

Likely, I am romanticizing those long ago moments. No matter. Like the rising sun’s universal effect, the memories whitewash the darker times of anyone’s career that involves daily interacting with people of various ages, traditions, and beliefs. That doesn’t negate nor diminish the recollections.

For something so brief, sunrises serve as powerful reminders of what was, is, and can be. It’s up to the eye of the beholder to discern and employ the light’s soothing warmth with all those we encounter through justice, mercy, and humility. That’s the potential of a single sunrise.

I found it ironic then that all these ardent thoughts tumbled through my mind like crashing waves as dazzling daylight washed over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s the mysterious point of life’s cosmic magic, isn’t it?

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At first, a hint of paleness divided the dark sky from the sea as billions of celestial jewels sparkled in the heavens above. Soon a thin orange line stretched clear across the distant horizon. Cottony clouds sprinkled high and low caught invisible rays and turned them into a surreal light show that out shown any Disney artificial production.

Black skimmers winged by, flying silhouettes scooping their fishy breakfast from the salt water surface. Forster’s terns hovered, dived, and plopped into the sea for theirs, briefly breaking the glassy waters.

Everything, the sand, the water, the sky turned some shade of purple, lavender, and then pink, orange, and red. I stood frozen and silent on the shore. Awed, I observed, appreciated, absorbed, and offered unspoken words of praise.

My school days have long since passed. Yet, another day was at hand. With each sunrise, I aspire to share the light with anyone anytime I can.

I hope sunrises do the same for you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Old Truck, Old Tree

rusty truck, giant sugar maple

When I saw this scene near Mt. Storm, WV, a multitude of questions zipped through my mind. Why was this old farm truck parked under this giant sugar maple tree? What stories could it tell? What had it hauled during all those years of service? Did the farmer have a special place in his heart for this faithful old truck? Did he park it under the tree for protection? Did he park it close to the highway for others to enjoy?

I don’t know any of the answers to those questions. However, I do know that the truck and the tree caught my attention. There was something poetic about the ancient tree sheltering the old vehicle like a hen protecting its chick. Whatever the reasons, “Old Truck, Old Tree” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Remembering the goodness of my mother

mother and children
This photo of my our mother and my siblings and me was taken at Christmas 2011.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My four siblings and I were spoiled. We were very fortunate to have a loving, devoted mother. Unfortunately, not everyone can say that.

Growing up, Mom cared for us in every way imaginable. She fed us, clothed us, nurtured us, played with us, corrected us, loved us, and so much more. Those were the roles and expectations of a post-World War II wife and mother.

In those days, careers for females were pretty much limited to secretary, nurse, or teacher. Mothers were expected to be at home to care for their children. It’s just the way it was.

Marion Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh.
My brothers and sisters and I were the beneficiaries of Mom’s time, effort, skills, and wisdom. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Life couldn’t have been easy for her. We weren’t wealthy by anyone’s standards, but we weren’t poor either. We grew up in the suburbs of a blue-collar town in northeast Ohio’s mid-20th-century industrialization.

Mom reassured us when we were scared, nursed us when we were sick, and encouraged us in our schoolwork. How she did all that and kept her sanity, I have no idea. We were five active kids, all with different needs, wants, and interests.

Somehow Mom made time for each one of us, though I remember plenty of times when we wore her patience thin. “Wait until your father gets home” was a familiar tune in our household. Usually, that comment was directed at one of my siblings, not me.

Children of every age filled our close-knit neighborhood. Many times the number of youngsters in our household doubled in number as friends came and went. If we got too loud or rowdy, however, Mom lowered the boom. She not only modeled justice, but she also instilled it in us.

Most likely I am romanticizing those fond memories. Not everything always went smoothly of course. We had personal, relational problems just like every other family.

As much as we admired our father, he wasn’t the most helpful or responsible husband when it came to household chores or repairs. Later in her life, I told my mother that she had raised six children, not five. With no explanation needed, her hardy laugh affirmed my comment.

Mom was a string bean of a woman. She cooked us nourishing meals but seldom ate much herself.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.
Mom could speak her mind, however. She let Dad have it in no uncertain terms when he arrived home from a fishing trip without my older brother, a cousin, and me. Having been left in a raging thunderstorm frightened us. Dad had to weather a storm of his own with Mom.

Mom was a multi-talented person. Besides her homemaking skills, she was an accomplished artist, loved to play cards, bowl, and shop for antiques. In their retirement years, she and Dad relaxed at the cottage they had built on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio.

Not only was our mother talented, but she was also a looker. Some folks actually wondered what Mom saw in Dad. Their 68 years of marriage answered that question.

I don’t mean to paint her as a saint. Mom wouldn’t want that, and she would be the first to say that she made mistakes in her motherhood. I just remember feeling really safe around her. That was no small matter.

In my youthful naiveté, I thought everyone had a mother like the late Marian Stambaugh. My lifetime experiences unfortunately proved otherwise. I wished for their sake that they had. Now, I am forever grateful for my loving mother.

One of Mom’s many watercolors.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

With the past in mind, decorating for the holidays took on a new look

holiday lights,
Our modest outdoor light display.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Decorating for the holidays is a given at our house. My wife and I have modestly festooned our places of residence ever since we were married.

Before that, we both grew up in homes that embraced the holidays with tinsel and trees, colorful lights and holiday wreaths, Christmas cookies and stockings hung with care. We carried over some of those traditions but also created new ones with our own family.

This year nothing changed, and yet, everything changed. We still decorated, just in a new location. Old traditions, long-held and revered, came to an end.

old ice skates, old wooden sleds
Holiday nostalgia.
We will miss our annual Christmas Eve morning gathering with dear friends and extended families for that meaningful and nutritious breakfast. Those warm memories are still held alive in our hearts.

With the move from Ohio to Virginia, we knew that preciousness would be left behind. We also anticipated new activities, new celebrations, and new gatherings with our daughter’s family and old friends who had relocated here, too. And one by one, those are happening.

With decent weather in late November, my energetic wife got a head start on the celebratory decorating inside and out. I had no choice but to join in. With a smaller house and fewer shrubs, our exterior lighting display lessened, too.

Just like all those years in Holmes County, Ohio, artificial greenery loaded with colored lights still got wound around the welcoming light pole that shines on the sidewalk and driveway.

Artificial evergreen wreaths adorned with burgundy and purple ribbons hang from each window. Below them, battery-powered candles offer soft reminders of the reason for the season. Strings of white lights brighten the porch and a unique old bench we recently purchased at an antique store.

Strings of cheery white lights twinkle from our little concolor fir tree we planted in honor of a dear friend, who died much too soon. Our “Jenny tree” shines brightly, just like our late friend did with everyone she met.

Christmas decorations, holiday decorations
Ready for the holidays.

Inside, we splurged and purchased a new artificial tree and hung trinkets and ornaments that hold personal memories. The same angel as previous years hovers at the top of the tree, blessing all who enter. Neva received it years ago as a gift from one of her students.

My creative wife has a magical touch in making the mundane shine with holiday cheer. A grapevine wreath wrapped with strings of little white lights bedecks the top of an old oak ironing board that Helen Youngs, our Holmes County grandmother, gave us.

The stockings hang from door pulls on the bookshelf instead of the old barn beam mantel on the brick fireplace in our former Ohio home. I’m sure Santa will find them just as quickly.

We do miss that fireplace. Its radiant heat and sweet-smelling goodness just seemed to say Happy Holidays each time I fired it up. Now, we take extra effort to share similar warmth in the season’s greetings we offer others however and wherever we can. After all, the Christmastime fire must always burn from within to ensure its joy is seen and felt by all.

Christmas decorations
Lighting up the ironing board.
The chances for a white Christmas in Virginia aren’t the best. I recall many an Ohio Christmas where that was also true. We joyously celebrated anyhow, and we will do so again this year.

At the darkest time of year, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas all are celebrated with lights. That is most appropriate.

All is well here in the lovely Shenandoah Valley. May the season’s joyous light bless you and yours whatever your holiday situation may be.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

This birthday is a big one and I’ll enjoy it just like all the others

birthday, birthday cake
A previous birthday with the grandkids.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster, I never liked having a birthday in December. From my perspective, my day always seemed to get caught up in the hubbub of the holidays. I suspect that was just my juvenile selfishness surfacing.

Fortunately, I eventually got over that attitude. Unlike others I know I thoroughly enjoy birthdays. If they get hidden in the holiday hoopla, so be it. I’m still determined to embrace each and every one. That wasn’t always my attitude even far beyond youthful facetiousness.

I remember when I turned 30. It wasn’t pretty. I got depressed. I couldn’t believe I was that old. I look back at that experience and chuckle. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’d trade that day for this one in a heartbeat if I could.

Christmas tree
The tree went up right in time for my birthday.
After that, birthdays became more or less routine celebrations unless someone pulled a surprise on me like some teachers did once. They thought it would be cute to post a larger than life sign in the front yard of the school announcing the principal’s 39th birthday. I played along and tried to be as good-natured about Jack Benny’s perpetual birthdate as I could.

Based on the comments of others older than me, it was turning 50 that I really dreaded. As it turned out, the watershed date proved a dud. I had already lost most of my hair by then anyhow.

It was turning 60 that really got me. It was as if a switch had been flipped and my body suddenly screamed at me to slow down, take a rest. My knees ached. What muscles I still had disappeared just like my hair had long before that. It was my body’s way of saying I really wasn’t 39.

There was one ironic quality about hitting the big 6 0. It bothered my son more than me. He had turned 30 seven months earlier. Nathan rightly recognized that he was exactly half my age and that would never happen again. That thought alone agonized him and energized me.

Now that I’m about to turn 70, I recognize and accept that I’m heading down the homestretch. I look back on my life with smiles aplenty. I’ve enjoyed this long ride and have many wonderful folks to thank for getting me to this point.

My wife leads that pack. Behind her are my son and daughter, their significant others, our three grandkids, my siblings, and a host of other family, friends, and coworkers. I’d be remiss to forget my late parents and in-laws. Regardless of our achievements, none of us passes through life alone.

birthday celebrations
Celebrating birthdays on a recent visit to Ohio.

As I look back, of course, I also recognize a few of my imperfections and mistakes. Others are better suited to identify those faults. Thank goodness that heartfelt apologies can create lasting lifetime friendships.

I’ve tried to learn from my errors. Now that I’m 70, I want to keep that learning process moving so that my old brain remains sharp and curious for as long as possible.

I recall much that has happened in my seven decades of walking this marvelous planet of ours. Both personal and universal, joyous and calamitous events have filled those years.

Birthdays are hallmarks of individual lives no matter the age or when they occur. I’m just grateful to be 70. That said I’ll aim to redouble my daily efforts to serve as wisely and productively as I can. At my age, that’s all that can be expected.

70th birthday, rosy sunset
Hoping for a rosy road ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Losing a friend who was a friend to all

Raymond Buckland
A few of Buck’s books.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The news of my friend’s death fell heavy upon me as if all of Autumn’s trees had simultaneously shed their rainbow of colors in one smothering, leafy avalanche. Raymond Buckland meant that much to me.

I wasn’t alone. As word spread of Buck’s death, other friends who knew him began sharing words of praise on social media. All lauded his kindness, generosity, and love for life. He was truly a caring and gentle soul who touched many people around the globe.

Buck’s spiritual heart was full of love and light. His human heart had finally failed him.

Raymond Buckland
Raymond Buckland.
I met Buck through our weekly writing group, the Killbuck Valley Writers Guild. We met every Sunday afternoon for three hours at Jitters Coffee House in Millersburg, Ohio. I think Buck picked that venue as much for the yummy pastries as the central location. At the writers’ group, we called him Buck. To others, he was Raymond or Ray.

Born in London, England, his alluring British accent enhanced his magic words that he loved to read aloud. Buck was facetious about details, extracting them from his broad life experiences and incorporating them into his informative, vivid, and descriptive writing. He often used the settings of his formative years as the scenes for his many books. When asked, Buck didn’t really know how many books he had written in his lifetime. It must have been at least one for each of his 83 years of dynamic living.

Buck never bragged about his accomplishments or his awards. He would share the good news of course, but always in ways that encouraged and motivated his beloved writing troupe. Through living, reading, and research, Buck became an expert in a wide variety of subjects ranging from mystery writing to witchcraft. His preferred mode of transport, however, was a Corvette, not a broom.

Buck never foisted his beliefs onto others. Nor did he judge others for theirs even though they may have differed. Writing came first and foremost for Buck. It’s how he made his living. It’s how he connected with the world. It’s why he formed and nurtured the writing group.

Raymond Buckland
My last shot of Buck.
The genre of writing didn’t matter to Buck, just so long as you wrote. We had song lyrics, poems, allegories, newspaper columns, essays, narratives, short stories, science fiction, non-fiction, and novels both written and read in our little collection of scribes.

We had lots of laughs in our writing group thanks to Buck’s good sense of humor. He put that jovial approach into supportive action for the good of the community. Buck helped organize and sponsor comedy night benefits as fundraisers for the Holmes County District Public Library.

Buck showed his generosity in various forms. If he knew you were serious about writing, Buck would gladly spend his valuable time advising and encouraging writers, novice and experienced alike. He also freely gave away computers, books, and various writing resources.

He was a realist and idealist, a visionary and a professor all rolled into one loveable and likable human being. Buck’s generosity was a byproduct of his gracious living.

Buck believed in using descriptive, sensory words efficiently. As he would remind us, one word is better than two. “Show, don’t tell” was another essential writing reminder. Showing is precisely how Buck lived his storied, charitable life.

Buck loved music, both playing instruments and singing. He was as engaging as he was creative. In part, that’s what attracted so many readers and writers to him. It’s also why he will be missed so very much by so very many.

Buck enjoyed participating in the benefit comedy nights.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017