The weather we have waited for is here

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The summer weather in Ohio’s Amish country has been superb so far. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If you’re like me, you’ve been enjoying this wonderful summer weather. It’s the weather we longed for last winter when the wind howled, snow slanted sideways, and the temperatures were ridiculous.

After the long winter came a cool, wet spring, and torrential rains in June. I’m glad the weather has changed for the better. We are grateful for the abundant rain. By the looks of it, so are the crops.

Most corn was well beyond “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Its deep green, leafy stalks are soaring in most places. A soft breeze enhances that vibrant corn aroma after a summer shower.

Where water from June’s heavy rains pooled in depressions, crops are struggling, or non-existent. Weather can be cruel after all. Weather can be magnanimous, too, like recent days.

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Rainbow following flash flooding. © Craig Stambaugh 2014.
After horrible lightning and flash flooding, the loveliest of rainbows appears just at sunset. Nature always has her way with us. Fortunately, she has been kind to us here. Historically, the hottest days of summer are already behind us.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be unusually warm again. But the chances for a long heat wave or extended dry period are pretty slim. It would be nice if the same could be said for the parched western states.

We rejoice here for the many white, puffy cloud days we have enjoyed with perfect temperatures day and night. After the persistent rains of spring and early summer, contractors, excavators, farmers, and any other outdoor workers dependent on fair weather have had their prayers answered.

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A typical summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Fields of oats turned from lime to gray-green to golden right on cue. Now squadrons of shocks stand guard for the showy corn against any unwanted predators. In other fields, combined oat stubble serves as a russet reminder of where the wind recently played with amber waves of grain.

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Rainbows appear in flowerbeds, too. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Summer’s hues, natural and human-induced, have been simply amazing. Besides the ripening crops, the flowerbeds seem to have invented new color combinations. Splashed against a blue, blue sky, they seem brighter still.

Foggy mornings wet the grass that has grown inches again overnight. The weather has been so nice that lawn care people can hardly keep up. Lush doesn’t even properly define our blessed verdant conditions.

The heirloom tomatoes flourished to the point of having to be trimmed back, least they topple their cages. The pleasant weather encourages them to counter attack by growing even bushier.

Evenings have been extraordinary. Friends ring campfires to rest, relax and celebrate nothing more than the fine company they are with. Families and friends picnic. Children and adults play ball, or just rock away the time on the front porch. That’s the way summer evenings should be shared.

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Another blazing summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I can think of only one word to describe recent sunsets, spectacular. One evening’s fiery show outdoes the next. And when I think the rich, warm colors will cool, they blush all the more.

Whenever I venture outside on these blissful days, my mind wanders back when the neighborhood kids spent the entire day outside, save returning to home base for sustenance.

After supper, we were back at it. If we didn’t have a ball game, we’d play hide and seek or rode our bicycles until dark. Then we’d lie on our backs in the cool grass and watch the stars.

It’s glorious not to have to rely on dreamy memories this summer. The weather we have longed for is here. Let’s enjoy it to the max.

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Tan oats contrast nicely against a rich, green field of corn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Red barn

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Red barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I had just finished photographing some early evening scenes along the Lake Erie shore in Lakeside, Ohio, when I came upon this brilliant red barn right next to the Historic Lakeside Hotel. Its beauty stunned me. How the sun highlighted the barn’s red color and white trim also grabbed my attention. I loved how the green leaves of the tree limb intersected and nicely contrasted with the bright red. More than that, my wife and I have vacationed every summer at Lakeside Chautauqua since 1987, and I couldn’t recall ever seeing this barn.

I have thousands of photos from this beautiful gem of a town. The surprise of finding this barn, once seemingly hidden, but revealed by the combination of fresh paint and good timing made it my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Enjoying summer’s homegrown bounty

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Black raspberries. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Is there a healthier, more palatable compound word in the English language than homegrown? Not when it comes to fruits and vegetables there isn’t.

For someone whose daily diet requires at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, summer’s bounty is heaven on a plate. When most of what you eat is homegrown, it tastes even better.

That’s probably due in part to the freshness. There’s also great gratification in keeping a vegetable garden. Gardening takes patience and faith, along with the joy of hard work and the hope of happy harvests. A little gardening wisdom doesn’t hurt either.

Since the 1988 drought, we gave up general gardening, and have specialized in growing heirloom tomatoes. Once they begin to ripen, I relish the chance of picking a plump, juicy tomato from the sinewy vines. I can eat it right there or enjoy a plate of fresh slices drizzled in olive oil, and sprinkled with basil and a little salt and pepper.

Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy the many seasonal options available to us from local produce markets selling fresh-picked offerings. We’ve already marched through the strawberry fields together, enjoying the succulent berries. They seemed extra sweet this year.

Early sweet corn is already beginning to show up. I’ll wait for August’s Incredible cobs myself. It’s a culinary delight to hold a steaming, tender ear of cooked or grilled sweet corn, melted butter dripping onto the plate. I savor that first corn taste of the season, lightly salted of course.

Summer has many other garden gifts to give. Plump, sweet-tart black raspberries add rich color, pleasing texture, and tangy taste whether plopped on cereal, eaten with milk or enjoyed right off the bush.

Crisp green beans and glossy ivory onions beg to be adored and ready to accent any main dinner course. Huge heads of lettuce, spinach, cabbage and leafy Swiss chard boldly display different shades of green.

Red beets, radishes with bity white centers, prickly pickles, yellowy summer squash, and purple plums enhance the fruitful paint pallet. Redskin potatoes, luscious watermelons, yummy cantaloupe, peppers that run the complete color chart can’t be forgotten either.

I guess I gained this vegetarian affection for all things homegrown early in life. My folks kept a large garden a couple of miles from our suburban home. We children helped till, hoe, plant and pick the wide variety of veggies Mom and Dad chose to grow.

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Colorful cauliflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
I enjoy the rainbow of colors of the fruits and vegetables as much as their wondrous tastes, whether eaten raw, grilled, cooked, steamed or baked. It’s all good, as long as the onions and peaches don’t co-mingle on the grill.

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide healthy and nutritional meals, along with a natural dose of flavorful fiber. Those old enough to appreciate a 1957 Chevy will understand what I mean by that.

Fruit and veggie colors, aromas, and flavors brighten up our lives right through October or the first frost here in Ohio. Of course, Ohioans aren’t the only folks invigorated by produce.

People all around the world, rural, suburban and urban alike, appreciate the many benefits of homegrown food. I’ve seen productive gardens on the mountainsides of Honduras, and in the front yards of brownstones in Brooklyn, New York.

Whether you grow or buy homegrown, the multi-sensory rewards are the same. I’m grateful the fruit and vegetable harvests have begun in earnest.

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My wife works hard to keep her flower gardens vibrant and beautiful. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

A generation of giants and rock stars

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Betty Findley and her two sons, Bill and Dave, at Betty’s 100th birthday party. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood in the background with my camera capturing the unfolding, tender moments. I did so out of appreciation and gratitude for this gracious, gregarious family.

I had known Betty Findley and her late husband, Bud, for a long time. We lived just blocks away from one another when we were all much younger. Now here we were celebrating her 100th birthday in a different place and century.

Her son, Dave, shared a timeline of his mother’s life with the assembled friends and family. It was ironic that her birth came as World War I, the war to end all wars, began.

If ever there was a peaceable woman, it was Betty. She loved her family, community and church, and expressed that love in faithful graciousness. Betty was and is equally loved and respected in return.

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Maren, left, and her two brothers came 350 miles to celebrate with Betty. Quinn and Elise, two of Betty’s great grandchildren, joined in the fun. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
When our granddaughter heard that our friend was turning 100-years old, Maren asked my wife if Betty was a giant. Her four-year-old logic reckoned that the older you get, the bigger you become physically.

There is a kernel of metaphoric truth in that innocent comparison. If you hit your 100th birthday, you most certainly are a giant. Not too many people live that long and get to see the world change the way Betty has.

In reality, age has a way of humbling you physically. Notwithstanding, Betty may not be a Goliath in stature, but she sure has been by nature. Her son tearfully ticked off her fruitful lifelong achievements.

Betty canned and baked and sewed, and was a favorite room mother in my elementary school days. She made the best heart-shaped sugar cookies a kid could conjure.

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Surrounded by family, Betty readied to blow out the birthday candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Betty does exhibit one minor flaw, however. She has always been a faithful follower of the Cleveland Indians, and still watches them on television.

The morning of Betty’s birthday bash, I heard another shocking descriptor. The speaker at church called Paul Roth, another senior citizen friend, a rock star. Everyone in attendance chuckled, but nodded their heads in agreement. I think modest Paul enjoyed the flattering hyperbole, too.

The speaker said her two sons referred to him that way out of admiration and reverence. After all, he was the doctor who brought them into the world and treated them for childhood illnesses and bumps and bruises. It was most appropriate that this kind, humble country doctor be elevated to Mick Jagger status.

I concurred with that assessment. Dr. Roth, as he was most commonly addressed, had brought our daughter and son into the world as well. He treated patients of all ages kindly and compassionately, even making house calls. He usually charged less than he should have, too.

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Paul Roth shared with a friend at his church. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
He was the consummate small town doctor. In his many years of service to the community, Paul, too, was and is a gentle giant.

Our granddaughter’s literal pronouncement spoke volumes. Persons born early in the 20th Century have experienced major transformations in their lifetime, the wars, the Great Depression, the herculean jumps in communications and transportation, the advances in medicine, and so much more.

To honor these two titans is to also celebrate all other productive individuals of what Tom Brokaw has labeled “The Greatest Generation.” Their work ethic, devotion to family, friends, community and country set the solid foundation for society to advance, as it never had before.

I bet you know genuine giants and rock stars, too. Let’s celebrate their magnanimous contributions to the world while we can.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Photo of the Week

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Ebony Jewelwing © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the spring and summer when you’re out birding in a woods, with every tree fully leafed out, you have to stay alert for any movement at all if you want to see birds. Sometimes you get to view other creatures, like this lovely Ebony Jewelwing damselfly. It landed about 10 feet from me in a patch of light that illuminated a few leaves. Fortunately, I was already standing still. I used my zoom lens to get this up close view of this beauty.

I saw and heard some wonderful birds. But this beauty earned the title of Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Photo of the Week

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Black on Blacktop. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Living among the world’s largest Amish population, it’s not too difficult to find contrasting images in everyday life. When I pulled into a local furniture store’s parking lot, I thought this captured that contrast perfectly. The image of this Old Order Amish buggy parked beside the SUV spoke for itself. The fact that they both happened to be black enhanced the comparison that we who live here too often take for granted.

Black on Blacktop is my photo of the week.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Photo of the Week

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June’s Hot Full Moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Because of the sun’s high location in the Northern Hemisphere’s sky, and the moon’s southeastern proximity, reports had indicated that June’s Hot Full Moon would be orange. When the moon slipped above the horizon at 10:24 p.m. on June 14, it was even more orange than I had anticipated.

With the dark sky and the pumpkin colored hue, the moon favored more Halloween than almost summer. I captured this hand-held shot as it rose above an Amish farmstead east of Berlin, Ohio in Holmes County. It is my photo of the week.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

© Bruce Stambaugh

Sweetness found in more than maple syrup

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Elmer’s sugar shack.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I left a voicemail message for Elmer, a former elementary student of mine. I told him that I would arrive at his sugar shack between 9 and 10 on Saturday morning.

No longer the fourth grader I fondly remembered, Elmer was now a husband, father, grandfather and entrepreneur. I considered it a privilege to be invited into this unpretentious but productive workplace.

The process of making maple syrup has to be done in a timely fashion. When the sap’s running, it’s time to get busy.

Above the sugar shack, a billowy blend of steam and smoke filtered through barren branches and into the morning’s overcast, and signaled that Elmer and his crew were already hard at work. The smoke meant the wood-fired boiler was stoked. The steam said the sap was boiling.

Strands of thin blue tubing zigzagged downhill from maple tree to maple tree, converging at the weathered wood building. Lid-covered buckets marked the taps on the trees and served as junctions for the plastic tubing.

A lazy, little stream split the handsome, steep hillside farm fields on either side of the hollow. Even after all of the moisture we had had, the creek just trickled softly as if it didn’t want to disturb the bucolic setting. Near the entrance a small sign welcomed one and all to the Yoder’s sugar camp.

The annual effort clearly was a family affair, too. With my arrival, the close quarters of Elmer’s operation soon filled with curious family members. Some were there to work and visit, others, mainly to scope me out.

When he’s not making maple syrup, Elmer has his fingers in several other operations. He makes wooden slats for the interiors of utility trucks as well as nylon pockets for tools and electronic parts.

In addition, Elmer makes wood clocks in the shape of Ohio with each of the state’s 88 counties a different wood. Elmer has developed his own variety of sweet, tart apple. I can attest that they are delicious. Elmer is a multi-talented man.

As Elmer showed me the various aspects of his sugaring operation, I marveled at his ingenuity, and his acute knowledge. He talked while he worked, once using the hydrometer to check the percentage of brix in the bubbling solution.

Outside large stainless steel tanks captured the sweet liquid until it was pumped into the reverse osmosis system that made his sugaring operation so efficient and kept the finished product consistent.

All the while young sons and pretty daughters scurried about their tasks, too. They stoked the fire frequently to maintain the proper temperature to keep the boiling sap boiling.

Elmer demonstrated how syrup is graded by both flavor and color. Apparently, lovers of maple syrup have their preferences.

Soon more family members entered, including two that I should have recognized but did not. Sister Fannie, and younger brother, Harry, arrived just minutes apart. Like Elmer, I had taught them, too. I had no idea they were coming.

That’s when the stories really started to flow faster than the maple sap. They reminded me of events and interactions I had long forgotten. Their smiles told me they had waited a long time for this opportunity.

Teachers live for moments like this. To have former students chatter on and on in heart-felt contentment overwhelmed me with abundant joy.

The apples and syrup each had their own special sweetness. No instrument, however, has yet been made to gauge the sweetness of the hospitality shown to me.

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The signs said it all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Spring’s first day: Winter coat to no coat

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Spring’s sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Winter just wouldn’t let go, even on the first full day of spring.

The day dawned with glorious anticipation. A rosy sunrise filtered through the cumulous clouds hanging low on the eastern horizon. It was down hill from there for much of the rest of the morning.

After the welcoming daybreak came the discovery of a horseshoe nail in the sidewall of a relatively new tire. It’s just one of the hazards of living in Holmes County, Ohio.

Next came the snow, which the weather forecast seemed to have overlooked. By the time my wife and I had reached our morning’s destination, nearly an inch had fallen.

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Plowing in the snow.

A former student of mine had invited us to view his maple sugaring operation at the southern end of the county. It had been a long time since I had seen Elmer, a quiet, studious youngster when I taught him in fourth grade. That was 44 years ago.

Elmer had called earlier in the week to tell me he’d be boiling sap. Unfortunately, this day wasn’t one of them. Instead, we had a very nice visit with Elmer and his wife, reminiscing about those long ago school days.

After a while, Elmer’s mother joined us shortly before we needed to leave. By then an overcast sky had replaced the springtime squalls.

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Thinning sky.

Up hill, down dale, around curves left and right, the further north we drove towards home, the stronger the sun became. At lunchtime, with the heavens still hazy, the sun hung overhead like a bare light bulb trying to illuminate an entire gymnasium.

I had a couple of appointments to keep in the afternoon, which required further driving. I enjoyed my visits, and was pleased to see no line at the usually busy carwash. I needed to clean off the mud from the morning’s foray.

When I returned home, my workaholic wife was outside cleaning up the yard and flowerbeds. Out of chivalry and my own desire to enjoy the remainder of the day, I donned a light jacket and joined her.

I needed to do my part in collecting winter’s litter. When you propagate a mini-forest of various deciduous and evergreen species, a lot of dead leaves and windblown sticks need to be gathered.

This surge of warmth and sunshine had energized me. I decided to trim some of the wiry lower branches of the jumble of trees and scrubs I had planted over three decades.

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Afternoon shimmering.

I knew when I had snipped a sugar maple limb. The sap dripped like a leaky faucet. Right then and there I decided I would head back to Elmer’s sugar shack the next day. I definitely wanted to see his outfit in operation.

All the while, the afternoon sun grew stronger and stronger. It was good to be outside again enjoying the sights, sounds and odorous whiffs of the springtime countryside.

Every few minutes, the song sparrows let loose a few bars of their cheery chorus. Not to be outdone, the cardinals called, too, first from a fir tree, and then they flitted to the bare branches of the oaks and maples.

I was enjoying myself so much, I pitched my jacket altogether. In a matter of hours, it had gone from a winter coat day to a no coat day.

I was glad that winter had finally let go its hoary hold, even if it was only a brief interlude on spring’s first afternoon.

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Farver Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

A detour of no inconvenience

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Snow on the Appalachian Mountains.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This winter’s wicked weather altered many well-laid plans, especially for travelers. My wife and I were no exception.

We delayed our trip south by a day due to a winter storm in the Appalachian Mountains. The extreme cold air followed us all the way to northern Florida.

As we readied to return home at vacation’s end, yet another major winter storm was chugging up the Ohio Valley. We weighed our options about our return trip. It would have been delightful to remain in place. But we needed to return home. It was time.

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Game night.
South Carolina and North Carolina were still recovering from one-two punches of unusually extreme wintry weather that downed thousands of trees and caused massive power outages. We didn’t want to risk being stranded there either.

Fortunately, we had an attractive option that would take us well out of the way home. We decided to visit our grandchildren in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a year-round scenic place. It was a big sacrifice, I know.

We hadn’t seen our grandkids since Christmas. It was only logical that we should avoid the storm by detouring to Harrisonburg. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Oh, we had a lovely two-day drive to their hillside home near the university where their daddy, our son-in-law, works. But the storm detoured, too. The morning after we arrived we awakened to three inches of snow overtop a quarter inch of ice.

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The heavy snow even cancelled class at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA.
It snowed all day, doubling the snowy accumulation. Of course, schools were closed, giving us bonus time with our three grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren. It was a vacation within a vacation, like finding a diamond ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.

The backyard where our daughter and her family live is perfect for sled riding. The day we left Ohio a month earlier, it was 15 degrees below zero. So I had plenty of warm clothes to wear, including the pair of waterproof shoes I wore while walking on the beach.

We bundled up, grabbed the day glow orange toboggans, and went out into it. We had a riot. Little Maren, the daring four year-old, really isn’t so little anymore. She laid supine in one of the sleds and zipped down the gentle slope and slid right into the neighbor’s backyard.

The boys whooped, and Maren immediately recognized her amazing accomplishment. She jumped up and screeched with glee, “That was just like a rocket booster.”

That’s pretty much how our two and a half days with them went. We would play outside until the cold drove us inside. As soon as his jacket was off, Evan was setting up the game boards, or dealing the playing cards. He loves table games, not only because he is competitive, but mostly because he usually wins.

Davis was content to unwind and warm up on his own, playing his creative, imaginary games with his Lego people and assembled utilitarian pieces. I hope I’m alive when he is awarded the Noble prize in the sciences.

If she’s not playing with Davis, Maren knows all the buttons to touch on the screens of the iPad or laptop whichever is available to her. When I get over my pride, I’ll have to have her show me how to operate them.

My wife and I may have arrived home a week later than we expected. But in this case, the delay was no inconvenience at all.

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Deer at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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