Tag Archives: Bruce Stambaugh

Angry sunset

sunset in Ohio's Amish country

April sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each evening around sunset, I usually look out the kitchen window to the west to gauge whether the sunset will be colorful or not. After yet another of our cloudy, wet and chilly days here in Ohio’s Amish country, I wasn’t expecting much of a sunset. That was until I took a peek out the window. I grabbed my camera and captured this fast-moving cloud blocking the setting sun.

The deflected rays shooting up, the light and dark contrasts in the cloud made it almost appear to have an angry look about it. Throw in the hill, the windmill, and treeline, all nearly in silhouette, and the cloud seemed to radiate its own personality.

“Angry Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, Ohio, Photo of the Week, photography

Farewell to the backyard garden pond

backyard garden pond

In its prime. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our backyard looks and sounds a little different than it has in a long time.

We recently bid a fond farewell to our little backyard garden pond. She served us well all these years. It was time to let her go, and allow others to embrace her captivating charm.

I didn’t relish removing the little pond and all its accessories. The artificial pond brought us many genuine joys, far beyond any expectations we could have imagined.

When I retired as elementary principal in 1999, my faithful staff, amiable students and supportive parents presented me with a very special gift. They gave me a hand-hewn birdbath and a gift certificate for a garden pond, something I had wanted for a long time.

I brought the weighty birdbath home and plopped it where the sidewalk curves to the front porch. Surrounded by luscious bubblegum petunias, it enticed many a bird to sip and bathe in the summer sunshine.

I located the pond just steps away from our back porch. It was also easily visible from the windows at the rear of our home.

I’ve had two different ponds over the years. The first was a rubber lining placed in a shallow hole that I had dug out. I added a miniature waterfall constructed out of an assortment of rocks I collected from farm fields and local creeks.

I added goldfish, oxygenating plants, water lilies, snails and non-toxic chemicals to kill the algae and keep the water as clean as possible. Of course, I had to feed the fish and regularly clean the pond pump filters.

Unfortunately, destructive varmints also were drawn to the water feature. Several years ago, I awoke to find that the pond had been nearly drained.

I discovered that some ground moles had created shortcuts to quench their thirst. To prevent a reoccurrence, I switched to a hard plastic pond. In the end, it turned out to be a better option for everybody, pond critters included.

The waterfalls provided practical and esthetic pleasures. The birds loved it, bathing and drinking the refreshing water. The sound of water falling mesmerized anyone who graced our porch.

I enjoyed watching American Goldfinches bringing young to the pond for the first time. I added a heater to keep the falls going in the wintertime. A variety of birds took advantage of the much-needed water when their normal sources froze.

Birds weren’t the only animals attracted to the little pond. Over the years, raccoons, garter snakes, groundhogs, squirrels and even deer came to the pond.

The grandchildren loved the pond, too. They couldn’t wait to feed the fish and count the frogs hiding among the lily pads and their pure white blossoms each time the grandkids visited. My wife and I will always cherish those fine memories.

As much as we loved the pond and its amenities, we needed to give it up. Given our situation, we simply couldn’t maintain the pond properly. A friend’s family is already enjoying its alluring magical sounds. It’s nice to know that another generation will continue the gratification that we received from the little water feature.

To keep a water source for the animals and birds, I relocated the sandstone birdbath from the front to the back and added a couple of others to keep it company. We transplanted hostas and placed several of the rocks leftover from the falls for some natural texture.

The birds have already discovered the water. I only hope the snakes and groundhogs don’t find it as desirable.

garden pond, birth baths

The new “pond.” © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under birding, column, family, Ohio, photography, writing

The Grass is Greener

Amish country, horses,

The Grass is Greener. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I am fortunate to live among the largest Amish population in the world. A photo opportunity is seemingly around every curve. On a recent nice day, I was out and about taking some photos of spring emerging. As I topped a small hill, I saw this pastoral scene and just happened to catch this horse reaching across the fence to munch the same lush grass it was standing on.

Apparently, the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. “The Grass is Greener” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Writing is as hard as it is easy

colorful sunset, Ohio's Amish country

Inspiring sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I attended a writing conference recently, an opportunity I always enjoy. Mingling with a group of fellow writers has its definite rewards.

The assembled participants and workshop presenters represented a typical cross section of the global populous. That’s as it should be.

The attendees ranged from teens to octogenarians. Men and women, short and tall, round and thin, assertive and shy, professional and novice, poets and novelists, suits and dresses, jeans and leggings, dreads and bald like me gathered for one purpose. They wanted to learn about writing.

Writers attend conferences to grasp new ideas, to share their stories, to gain confidence, courage, and knowledge about the craft. Presenters enable that to happen.

Rushing water. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Rushing water. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Often at conferences like this one, papers are presented, and awards proclaimed for various categories. There appeared to be no sore losers, only happy winners, and supportive family, friends and audience.

I marvel at how many people both write and want to write. I feel honored to be among them.

Now and then when I am out and about, someone thanks me for a piece I have written. They mention how much the column or article meant to them. I kindly thank them and walk away fulfilled. It doesn’t take much to make a writer’s day.

It happened at this conference, too. Two different ladies thanked me for my writing. One even said she cuts out each column and saves them. I smiled as humbly as I could.

I am also often asked how I come up with something to write about week in and week out. I always answer, “It’s easy really. Every day is a new day full of astonishing moments and opportunities.” It’s my charge to note and share in words what I uncover.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

As a writer, I look for things, for activities and experiences that interest me, that I think might interest my readers. The truth is, though, that the process is much, much harder than that.

It’s difficult because I can be selfish, stubborn, silly, serious, prone to mistakes, omissions, too attuned to other sensory activities as I interact with others, with nature, and with myself. I am human. Just ask my loving wife and family.

However, I sometimes miss the obvious. Then I obsess.

I strive to write what is on my heart or what I have observed or experienced, hoping that at least some of my readers might identify with my subject. I do so because I know not everyone can or cares to write.

I am not the best writer in the world. I just want to write the best I can. I know I am not always successful in that endeavor.

A writer friend of mine, a nationally syndicated columnist, once gave me some excellent advice when I struggled to find my written voice. She said, “Write what finds you.” And so I try.

I wait and watch and pray for what finds me. When the words do come, I write for me. I write for you.

Writing is both easy and hard. I hope you find both joy and hope in the words you read. Nothing satisfies a writer more than knowing their written words have touched someone in a personal way.

I am grateful to be published. I am grateful for faithful readers, too. That’s the deep, dark secret in making a hard task easy.

inspiring scene, Amish children

Scenes like this one inspire me to write.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Warm Whispers

spring sunset, orange sunset

Warm Whispers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

At first glance, this photo appears to be a sunset somewhere in the western United States. In fact, I shot this sunset from my backyard in Holmes County, Ohio. From there, I have a clear view of the pastured hillside on our Amish neighbor’s farm. The windmill, bare trees and fencerow created a wonderful silhouette against the warm, whispery clouds of the multi-hued sunset.

“Warm Whispers” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Pippi Longstocking comes to life on Amelia Island, Florida

Villa Vilekulla, Pippi Longstocking

The real Villa Villekulla. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Art often imitates life. It’s more unusual to have it happen the other way around.

On Amelia Island, Florida, art and life have harmonized, especially for one particular children’s fictional character, Pippi Longstocking.

Pippi Longstocking was the brainchild of Swedish children’s author, Astrid Lindgren. She wrote a series of adventures about Pippi that have been read and reread by adoring youngsters around the world. The books have been translated into 64 languages.

Pippi books have been so popular that Hollywood had to join in the fun, too. Several versions of Pippi Longstocking movies have been made.

In 1988, an Americanized version of the original Swedish story was made into a movie, which was filmed entirely on Amelia Island. Island tour guides like to point out various locales where scenes from “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking” were shot.

Lighthouse cottage, Pippi Longstocking, Fernandina Beach FL

The lighthouse cottage where Pippi threw the bottle into the ocean.

Most of the scenes were filmed in or near Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island’s only city. The only seashore scene, which was very brief, was filmed just down the beach from where we have stayed on vacation.

When our three grandchildren visited us in Florida near the end of January, they wanted to see some of the locations as depicted in the movie. They had seen the movie, thanks to Nana, who had it on videotape from her teaching days.

Nana packed the tape so the kids could review the various locations in the movie. They watched the light-hearted film, and we were off on our Pippi tour.

Since the setting of much of the book and movie was in Pippi’s dilapidated house, the Villa Villekulla, we headed there first. In previous years, the house looked much the way it appeared in the movie, unkempt, disheveled, and badly in need of a fresh coat of white paint.

Imagine our surprise, and the grandkids’ disappointment, when we found the house being remodeled. A distasteful olive green siding replaced the weathered white clapboards so prominently featured in the film.

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It was evident that the remodeling project was a work in process. The owner had replaced some of the windows of the Victorian-style home. Others were boarded up.

We later learned that the beloved house had been vandalized, purchased, and was being restored with the purpose of giving tours. In the movie, the villain tried repeatedly to obtain the home by deceit so the old house could be demolished and replaced with a moneymaking scheme.

The grandkids were disappointed to learn that the big tree in the side yard where Pippi and her neighbor friends so often played was the convenience of the producer’s imagination. They discovered how movies are produced.

We visited Centre St. in the quaint downtown area, where most of the movie was filmed. The ice cream shop was actually the oldest saloon in Florida. The building Pippi flew her bicycle by just happens to house a toy store named “Villa Villekulla.”

One puzzle remained, however. Where were the orphanage scenes shot? I found the answer after the kids left. Those scenes were filmed at a private school just north of Centre St. Ironically the old brick building originally had been a home for orphans.

When the sun broke through, and the temperatures warmed, our grandchildren’s attention turned from fantasy to reality. They played on the seashore in front of the lighthouse-shaped home where Pippi threw the bottle with a message in it for her father.

Imagination and reality met on the beach. Our grandkids couldn’t have been happier.

Pippi Longstocking, pink sunset

A sunset just the way Pippi would have liked it. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Tall ship angles

tall ship, peacemaker, abstract photography

Tall ship angles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I had a chance to board and tour a tall ship docked at St. Marys, GA earlier this year. I enjoyed the tour and took several photos of interesting subjects and objects onboard the ship. However, I thought this photo, with its many shapes and angles, was the most interesting. The patterned sky of white and blue provided a distinctive background for the ship’s main mast.

“Tall ship angles” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Spring’s arrival doesn’t guarantee spring weather

Amish buggy, first day of spring

First day of Spring 2014. © Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Spring has arrived, finally. Didn’t we say the same thing last year at this time?

A year ago after a long, cold, snowy winter, we looked forward to spring’s promise. It was long in coming.

Well, here we are a year later, virtually in the same situation. We’ve endured an even more brutal winter with record-breaking extreme temperatures, dangerous wind chills, and snowstorm after snowstorm.

East of the Mississippi River, it was a winter of biblical proportions. Where three or more gathered, complaints, exasperations, and unmentionable utterances about the lousy weather could be heard far and wide, even in church.

Amish farm, early spring

Waiting on spring. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Schools closed or delayed opening for a multitude of reasons a multitude of times. Local businesses suffered financially.

Even when it wasn’t snowing, the long string of gray days coupled with the dark, frigid ones weighed heavy on people’s spirits. It got so bad that rumors circulated in the statehouse that the all-knowing and all-seeing state legislature was ready to adopt a new motto for Ohio. “I can’t take it anymore” had its second committee reading when Old Man Winter’s grip finally loosened.

Thanks to the second consecutive polar vortex, snow, ice, cold and stinging winds affected folks not used to such stuff. Winter reached far into the southeastern United States.

Snowbirds got their feathers frosted a time or two. Wind chill advisories reached all the way to the southern tip of Florida. Even Key West wasn’t spared.

Amish farmer, plowing

Plowing the snow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

With the air temperature in the 40s and the winds blowing off of the ocean at gale force, it was cold. Floridians aren’t asking for or expecting any sympathy cards, however.

It is prudent to focus on the passing of the vernal equinox and hope upon hope that the spring weather of 2014 will not repeat this year. My farmer friends need no reminder.

Spring a year ago lasted as long as the frigid winter had. Fields were unapproachable, and crops couldn’t be planted on schedule, not even by horse drawn machinery.

The first cutting of hay for some farmers didn’t happen until early June. I think that was when the last of the snowplow glacial piles finally melted. That’s how cold and wet April and May were a year ago.

Keep calm sign

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Let’s hope that there is no replication of that weather pattern this year. Everywhere this winter’s weather pounded, good people are ready for a regular, normal springtime. Nobody can blame them.

It’s nice to see sunrises and sunsets straight east and west morning and evening. I’ll enjoy their slow inch north, and hope that clouds, precipitation, and cold fronts don’t weaken the sun’s warming influence.

Spring will arrive. Forsythias and azaleas have already reached their peak where frost and ice briefly ruled in the south. Crocuses have already bloomed in southern Ohio. Our turn will come.

crocuses

Crocuses. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I’ll keep my excitement subdued when the buttery daffodils trumpet their glory. I have too many memories of enjoying their sunny spirit one day, and watching them droop from the weight of heavy, wet snow the next.

I hope that doesn’t happen again this year. I also hope that spring behaves itself and brings us the weather we should get.

I realize that severe thunderstorms, hail, lightning, tornadoes, frost and flooding are all part of that package. I also know that daylight will linger longer, and temperatures will gradually warm to near normal.

To get there, however, we’ll simply have to be patient and hope that fairer weather will prevail.

rural sunrise, foggy sunrise

Foggy sunrise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A sign of spring

gulf fritillary butterfly, sign of spring

Gulf Fritillary butterfly. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

With spring set to arrive officially on Friday at 3:45 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, I thought a splash of natural color would only be appropriate. I captured this Gulf Fritillary butterfly flitting among sand dunes on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL in late January. The white spots on each wing indicate that it was a male.

“A sign of spring” is my photo of the week. Let’s hope we all see many more such signs in the days and weeks ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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In words and deeds, a President humbly true to his faith

Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter

With Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Humility, service, love, family and faith are vital pillars of any stable community. My wife and I enthusiastically witnessed these highest of human qualities at a little Baptist church in Plains, Georgia.

We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones who would want to hear Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school. When the former president is scheduled to teach, the tiny congregation of 30 swells to 10 times that amount, sometimes more.

The good folks at Maranatha Baptist Church know what to do. They are ready for the ensuing onslaught. So are the authorities.

When we arrived at 8:30 a.m. at the modest church that damp, gray Sunday morning, a police dog checked every vehicle entering the property for bombs. Though we were plenty early, a line of people already stretched from the front door, down the cement sidewalk to the parking lot.

By now, former President Carter has developed quite the reputation as a teacher, humanitarian, and world-renowned peacemaker. At age 90, he and his equally gracious wife, Rosalynn, are still putting their faith into action.

Noble Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize medal. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My wife and I joined the queue to enter the red brick building. A stern looking woman popped onto the church’s front porch to announce the procedures for entering. She spoke loudly and resolutely so everyone could plainly hear the specific instructions to make everything go as smoothly as possible.

Secret Service agents greeted us inside the door. We emptied our pockets onto a table and removed our coats. Another officer checked everyone with a wand for any suspicious objects.

We sat in a pew about two-thirds of the way back from the pulpit. Promptly at 9 a.m., the same drill sergeant like lady walked to the front of the church and introduced herself as “Miss Jan.”

Miss Jan spent the next 45 minutes kindly but firmly going over all the rules of conduct. Included were not standing or clapping for the president and no photography during the class or worship. We could take pictures during Jimmy’s brief introduction.

Miss Jan continued, “If you want your picture taken with the President and First Lady you must stay for both the Sunday school and the worship.”

After a brief break, Miss Jan, who had taught the Carter’s daughter, Amy, in elementary school, had us all bow our heads for a prayer. When she said, “Amen,” Jimmy Carter surprised the congregation when he rose and began addressing the crowd. He and his Secret Service guards had quietly sneaked in during the prayer. We hung on his every word.

Miss Jan kept watch over the assembled. She occasionally hugged or bent down to shake the hand of a Secret Service agent, as if she were welcoming them back to a family gathering. The affection they shared was for more than themselves. Their common assignment of protecting the president they loved and admired expressed their uniform devotion.

Jimmy Carter, Sunday school

Jimmy Carter was making a point during the introduction section of the class. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The topic was loving God and your neighbor. Jimmy humbly shared how organizations he supports, like the Lions Club, Habitat for Humanity, and The Carter Center in Atlanta, help him put this charitable concept into global deeds for peace and human rights.

Jimmy used the word “humble” several times, pronouncing it the old-fashioned way, without the beginning “H” sound. It modeled his southern, gentlemanly hospitable manner.

After the service, Miss Jan resumed command, dismissing us by rows to have our pictures taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn. When she came to our row, I told her she must have been an excellent teacher. Miss Jan winked, smiled, and quietly thanked me.

Miss Jan had instructed us not to either shake hands with the Carters or to talk to them so that everyone could get through the process as quickly and efficiently as possible. When the lady taking the photo with my camera clicked the shutter, Rosalynn whispered to Neva that the flash hadn’t gone off.

That was so thoughtful of her. The picture was fine, just like Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, and Miss Jan, too.

The communion cup of love, faith, family, humility, and service generously overflowed in Plains, Georgia. We were grateful to have been partaken.

Jimmy Carter quote, Bruce Stambaugh

A quote from Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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