Birds bring me peace

Why I enjoy birds.

A male Northern Cardinal chows down on safflower seeds.

I’m thankful for birds. That’s one reason I spend the money, time, and effort to keep them happy most of the year-round. That’s never been truer than now.

Usually, my wife and I would be on Amelia Island, Florida, right now, enjoying the birds, wildlife, and strolls on the beach. The coronavirus, of course, changed all of that. We decided to continue to stay close to home. We also didn’t want to miss out on getting the vaccines to protect us from the virus.

So, instead of searching for great egrets, little blue herons, American white pelicans, willets, sanderlings, and black skimmers, I’m settling for mostly seedeaters this winter. I’m just as happy.

Watching the various birds interact, feed at the different stations I have set up in the front and back yards, and at the heated birdbaths helps the time pass. Like humans, food and water are essential ingredients for the birds and too many aggressive squirrels during the cold and dark days of winter.

I have the feeders placed where I can watch them from where I spend most of my time. I can observe the comings and goings from my office window facing the street or enjoy the multiple feeders in the backyard from the bathroom window. Those who know me well will clearly understand that logic.

Three feeders dangle from the front yard red maple, and cracked corn is spread around its trunk. In the back, a suet feeder attracts members of the woodpecker family, the neighborhood northern mockingbird, and Carolina wrens, to name a few.

A squirrel-proof tube feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds draws in northern cardinals, house finches, Carolina chickadees, a few tufted titmice, and white-throated nuthatches. Dark-eyed juncos peck the ground for what other birds drop or miss.

Most of these birds are relatively regular to the feeders. The more elusive birds, like the purple finches and pine siskins, are inconsistent with their visits. Still, I am delighted when they arrive, even if it is only for a brief time.

Of course, I miss heading to Spoonbill Pond on Big Talbot Island to see an everchanging variety of shorebirds, waterfowl species, and raptors. But an occasional strafe of a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk or a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead helps keep my mind focused.

Last year was a universally challenging year in nearly every aspect of life. A year into the virus, hope for relief grows closer by the day. The virus, however, has likely yet to peak.

In the meantime, my wife and I will continue to stay close to home and enjoy whatever birds come our way. I like watching the different habits and behaviors of the birds and their wildlife counterparts.

One particular white-throated sparrow prefers the confines of a hanging feeder made of a hollowed-out limb. This sparrow jumps and kicks at the safflower and black oil sunflower seeds as if it were on the ground scratching for food. That’s what the rest of the white-throated do.

Recently, a lone American crow began visiting. It feeds on the cracked corn spread beneath the red maple. I know it’s the same bird because of its persistent limp.

Despite their bossiness, I even enjoy the squadron of blue jays that loudly announce their arrival as a warning to the other birds. Then they divebomb onto the feeders and ground and gulp down dozens of seeds.

I miss Florida’s birds, but I enjoy the birds that fill each day here at home. They salve my soul.

Brown Pelicans arrive to roast for the evening along the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Splish, Splash!

Northern Cardinals in a birdbath.

I was fortunate to catch this pair of Northern Cardinals making good use of the birdbath in our backyard. A heater keeps the water from freezing so the backyard birds have access to water year-rouncd.

If you are not familiar with Bobby Darin’s hit rock and roll song, “Splish Splash,” click the link.

“Splish, Splash” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Zooming through the pandemic

Zooming with cousins.

Because of the needed health restrictions, we stayed close to home for much of 2020. That didn’t keep us from visiting with family and friends, however.

We recognized that the issued restrictions were and continue to be for our own safety. So, we faithfully followed them.

Like everyone else, we missed our everyday human interactions with friends and family most of all. Then we discovered a satisfactory no contact substitute.

We Zoomed.

Zoom is a program that works on devices like laptops, smartphones, and iPads to share face-to-face. Many businesses and educational institutions use it to operate during the pandemic.

We enjoyed being able to interact with folks and see them, too. We attended lectures, joined college classes, and watched concerts remotely on our computers.

Impressed, I downloaded Zoom onto my laptop, figured out how to set up a meeting, and off we went. Of course, Zoom isn’t the only remote option around. It just seemed the most logical and straightforward to use, especially with groups.

The executives of Zoom are no dummies. Your first session is free with no time limit. After that, the program shuts down after 40 minutes.

I’m no dummy, either. I bought a subscription when it was on sale, of course, and we haven’t looked back.

Zoom helped save our social life without violating the physical distancing requirements. We set up meetings with friends and family far and wide, and we Zoomed away.

We Zoomed at Thanksgiving with our son and his wife in New York. Our daughter and her family were with us, and we managed a holiday family photo with our granddaughter holding her uncle and aunt on her lap. That’s what laptops are for, right?

Before the COVID-19 travel restrictions, we had scheduled a reunion with my wife’s cousins and spouses. We kept the date and met remotely via Zoom.

Everyone liked it so well that we met again two weeks later. We’ve kept that up ever since, with everyone making it a priority. One cousin remarked that we have met together more via Zoom than we had in-person all the years previous. Technology transcends state boundaries or mountain ranges or hundreds of miles.

We heard stories new and old. We laughed and laughed, especially at the play-by-play of a herd of wayward dairy cows. In these dark times, we need as much laughter as we can get.

I even took free Zoom classes to sharpen my hosting skills. I was one of the hundreds in the remote classroom, yet I never left home to learn. I didn’t have to raise my hand to use the restroom, either.

We Zoomed with friends and family in Ohio, North Carolina, and locally, too. My wife contacted some college friends and set up a Zoom meeting. The ladies enjoyed it so much that they also now regularly met.

They chat as if they were in a dorm room. After the classmates’ last Zoom gathering, their laughter carried out of my office clear to the great room.

We have also Zoomed for doctor appointments, church meetings, small groups, worship, and community service meetings. We have visited history museums and taken virtual field trips via Zoom.

Though we use other options to communicate remotely, Zoom is our go-to tool. For the record, I don’t own Zoom stock, and Zoom didn’t endorse my commentary.

Pandemic or no pandemic, we are glad technology has permitted us to continue our lives and personal connections and still stay safe and sound.

Our Thanksgiving Day Zoom.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Horses in the snow

Horses in the snow.

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

Seeing horses was an everyday occurrence when my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio. We would see horses pass by our home on the busy county road daily pulling carts, buggies, and wagons.

The Amish still use workhorses, like the ones shown here, for their field work. Mechanical power was shunned in order to literally ground and keep the Amish connected to their earthy roots.

This photo shows a pair of workhorses amidst a wicked snowstorm in bitterly cold conditions. Since they could not find grass on which to graze, their owners would bring hay and feed to sustain them. In the distance at the bottom of the hill, the fallen snow had already been started to be cleared so Amish youngsters could skate on the thick ice.

“Horses in the Snow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

We’re leaving the lights on for you

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I are leaving the lights on for you. And, no, we’re not Motel 6.

The year-end holidays may be over, but our modest festive light display is still burning brightly. We began our celebrative decorating early and are letting our lights shine well into the New Year.

We are not crazy, nor do we own stock in our electricity company. We have our altruistic reasons for letting the lights continue to shine.

Lighting up our homes inside and out runs deep in our linage. My wife’s family always brightened their cozy farmhouse with tactful holiday flare. Her frugal farmer parents wanted to share their holiday spirit, too.

Although my exuberant father sometimes got a bit too flashy for my taste, my family was no different. Nevertheless, Dad’s heart was in the right place. He wanted to bring joy to all who passed by our little brick bungalow on our busy suburban corner.

Dad’s enthusiasm seemed to progress with each passing year, however. He loaded the corner evergreen with strings of those big-bulbed multi-colored lights. Later, he outlined the front porch, then still later erected dangly white lights that imitated icicles around the roof’s edges.

Fortunately, our mother, the artist, had control over the creative interior decorating. The decked-out Christmas tree always stood in front of the living room’s picture window. Christmas cards covered the inside of the old wooden front door, and the fireplace mantel always said Happy Holidays!

My wife and I have a 49-year tradition of lighting up our home inside and out for the holidays. We credit our parents for that creative itch.

Given the world’s state in 2020, Neva and I decided to get a jumpstart on our holiday decorating. We had the time and opportunity since we tried to follow the stay close to home pandemic guidelines. So, that precisely is what we did.

We didn’t try to imitate my late father by any stretch of the imagination. We simply did our usual holiday festooning, only jumpstarted the holiday decorating just before Thanksgiving. The traditional commencement for our holiday decorating was the day after.

Our Jenny tree, a memorial for a friend gone too soon.

Now with Christmas come and gone, we packed away most of the interior decorations. But drive by our modest ranch home at night, and you’ll discover the exterior lights still brightly burning. They will continue to do so for a while.

What is our motivation? We are taking the idea of letting your light shine seriously. And why not? With the pandemic and continued social polarization, society is still bewildered and dismayed nationally and globally. The recent coup attempt in our nation’s capital only added to the nationwide angst.

Some might view our extended light display as simple-minded. We’re alright with that. It’s just our way of expressing gratitude for a new year and new opportunities to make things right in the world.

We also know that some might think our actions foolish. Our lights will shine nevertheless.

The multiple strings of little white lights combined won’t generate much real warmth. Instead, by letting the lights continue to glow, we hope that their presence, their shining on, countering the cold darkness of the world, will, in some small ways, warm a few hearts.

Like our late parents, our sincere hope is that this humble display simply helps brighten any passersby’s souls on any given chilly winter’s eve. We’ve noticed that we aren’t alone. Others continue to keep their holiday lights on, too.

Whether it’s a single glowing candle in the front window or a lighting extravaganza, that light radiates joy. That’s a commodity all of us need now and always.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Evening Grosbeaks

I had heard that flocks of Evening Grosbeaks were in the Rockingham Co., Virginia area. However, I could never discover where they were showing up on a regular basis. Then a friend from Ohio, where we used to live, sent me a text with a photo of Evening Grosbeaks that were regular visitors at her brother’s feeders. He lived a little more than 10 miles from our home.

I called and received persmission to photograph the birds. The home owner, also a birder, said the birds usually fed in the morning between 7 and 9. My wife and I arrived around 8 a.m., and I drove slowly up the farm’s long driveway. As soon as I reached the back of the house where the feeders were, about 30 Evening Grosbeaks flew to trees not far away. I lowered the van windows and waited for them to return.

And return they did! I had both of my cameras along, and I clicked away. I had seen Evening Grosbeaks before, but never this close or this many. Normally, Evening Grosbeaks don’t venture this far south in the winter. But during irruption years, they appear almost randomly at various locations in the east and midwest. It is thought that an irruption occurs when the hatch rate of birds is high, but their usual food supplies can’t match the demand. Other species, like Snow Owls, also appear in irruptions. The Evening Grosbeaks were feeding on black oil sunflower seeds.

“Evening Grosbeaks” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Make 2021 a year full of grace

The sun rises on a new year. (Photo by R. Craig Stambaugh, used by permission.)

It’s a new year, and I couldn’t be happier. I imagine you are right there with me.

It’s all too easy to remember the bad of 2020. Canceled vacations. Remote learning. Lockdowns, unfamiliar yet necessary health recommendations. Ubiquitous death and illness. Record global temperatures, wildfires, and hurricanes. Street weddings, street violence, racial prejudice, delayed funerals, and sports without fans in the stands. Those were but a few examples of last year’s upside-down waywardness.

A pair of intertwining events dominated nearly every aspect of our lives here in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic enwrapped presidential election news as if it were kudzu strangling a forest. You know the caustic results.

We can remember the good of 2020. Puzzle swaps, mask-making, thank you parades, individual acts of random kindness, curbside pickup, quilting, contemplation, prayer, silence, self-reflection.

However, as nostalgic as I can be, I have no desire to even look back on 2020. Learn from it? Yes. Reminisce, regurgitate, or even reflect, no!

An empty Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH.

Still, we will need to start this new year right where we left off. The wane of 2020 doesn’t mean dropping the safety standards instituted to quell the pandemic. If anything, we will need to be even more diligent and obedient to health officials’ directives.

We cannot afford to repeat the interpersonal degradations that occurred all too often last year. If we are to put this horrific human behavior behind us, we must be better than that as individuals, families, communities, and as a nation. Vaccines can’t inoculate us against hate.

We all will be better off as individuals, families, communities, and society to spend our efforts, energies, and opportunities by looking ahead and looking around us. We all need to put aside our prejudices, preferences, and prerogatives and be better citizens than we were last year.

Approaching the new year with a new attitude is the only way all of our lives will improve. There are no exceptions.

A bouquet of grace shows caring and compassion.

It won’t be easy, but if we grant each other even a sliver of grace, the world will improve for you and me. We need to silence our shouting and institute our listening.

We need to put our egos aside and truly hear what others are saying. If we disagree with the words, tone, and content, we need to ask for clarification, understanding, and sometimes forgiveness.

Looking inside our souls, our own beliefs, our priorities are always the right places to start each day. Be gracious toward yourself, and then offer the same measure of mercy toward others. You might be surprised by both the results and the rewards.

That is how we live in grace. Grace requires that we move with elegance and live with courteous goodwill towards all, including ourselves. Being gracious toward others makes you vulnerable. Nevertheless, vulnerability is the highway to change.

The responsibility to be compassionate and resilient resides in all of us. Vulnerability drives both of those human qualities.

Vulnerability requires courage, patience, and strength. In the words of author Brene Brown, vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up, be seen, and have no control over winning or losing.

So in 2021, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be patient. Be generous, and the only way to do that is to be gracious and vulnerable. Do so in the right way at the right time with the right persons. When is that? Right now!

Can we be so bold, so humble, so passionate about compassion to answer in the affirmative? If we can, then 2021 will be a better year in every way than the previous one.

Quality family time serves as positive example of grace and compassion.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Happy New Year!

I chose this photo of two women watching the sunset on July 3, 2020 to represent the relief of 2020 finally coming to an end. We are universally happy to see this horrific year end. In my 73 years of living, I can’t remember a worse one. Let’s let the sun go down on 2020, and hope upon hope that 2021 will be a better year in every way.

I suspect, however, as President-elect Biden has already stated, that things will get worse before they get better. Of course, he was referring to the pandemic, but that may also play out in other aspects of our lives.

I hope and pray that the New Year will, in the long-run, indeed bring a better life for all of God’s global children. Enjoy the sunset, but cherish the sunrise.

“Happy New Year!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! Whether you gather in person or remotely or in some combination of both, may this Season of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring purpose, meaning, and grace to each of you.

Thank you so much for following along all these years. Christmas Blessings to one and all!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Make this COVID Christmas a reflective one

An Ohio Christmas past.

I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.

Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.

I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.

My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.

My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.

Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.

It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.

Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.

Christmas 1956.

As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.

Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.

When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.

The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.

Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.

However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020