Plumbago

ground cover by Bruce Stambaugh
Plumbago. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the fall, we are often mesmerised by the colorful leaves of the changing deciduous trees all around us. In our observations, we sometimes forget to look down. I recently spied this lovely groundcover, Plumbago, on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. In the spring and summer, the dainty emerald leaves highlight the petite indigo flowers.

As you can see, as I did, the leaves have turned russet, red and burgundy, while the little flowers continue to bloom. Wouldn’t this make a great jigsaw puzzle?

“Plumbago” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Never stop running

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Erik Kratz, right, when he played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Erik Kratz is a catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. My wife and I like to watch him play whenever we can.

We cheer for the Cleveland Indians of course. We follow Erik for a selfish reason. He and his family are friends with our daughter and her family. Our grandson and Erik’s son were in preschool together, and they played on the same baseball team.

We have spoken with Erik a few times while visiting our grandkids in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where both families live. Like our daughter and son-in-law, Erik is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University.

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The only time we got to see Erik in action was when he came out to warm up the pitcher between innings.
It would be a stretch for me to say that I know Erik. We know who he is, and watched his son and our grandson play. But because of the close connection to our daughter and her family, we like to watch when the Blue Jays are on television and Erik is playing, which isn’t all that often. It’s the price of being a backup player.

Recently, a game between the Blue Jays and the Twins was broadcast nationally. Erik got to start the game. On his first at bat, he popped the ball high in the air behind second base.

Both the shortstop and second baseman sprinted to catch the ball while the centerfielder, who was playing deep, ran in, too. The infielders arrived at the ball at the same time, and collided. The ball dropped, and Erik was safe at second, credited with a double.

Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik's father.
Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik’s father.
My wife, who really knows the game of baseball, said enthusiastically, “That just goes to show that you never give up running.” Neva was right on.

Too many times I’ve seen Major League players hit a sure double-play grounder, or a pop-up like Erik’s, and the batter assumes the fielder will cleanly make the play. He gives up running hard, only to discover that the ball was bobbled or thrown away or, like in Erik’s case, dropped.

But because the runner assumed the ball would be caught, the fielders had a second chance. Many times the batter was thrown out despite the miscue because he had quit running.

I thought a lot about what Neva said. Never quit running, not in baseball, not in any sport, not in a business, not in relationships, not in life. Regardless of the odds, keep on running.

My brother-in-law, who is my age, has gone through some traumatic physical issues in his lifetime, some even life threatening. But Bob has never given up. He always, always has kept a positive attitude no matter how serious the situation.

His determination, along with excellent medical care and a strong support group of wife, family and friends, have kept him running, metaphorically speaking. If he had given up, he likely wouldn’t still be with us. But he is.

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Erik Kratz.
I admire that in people. No matter the odds, they keep plugging on. Determination, goals, grit, desire, love, moxie, patience, encouragement all are ingredients in living a fulfilling, meaningful, useful life.

I’m glad my brother-in-law has survived another medical episode. His faith and determination surely helped him through, and will continue to do so during his rehab sessions.

I’m glad Erik kept running, too. As it turned out, he didn’t score a run. But that really wasn’t the point. He put himself in position to score. It was up to his teammates to bring him home.

So keep on running, just like Bob and Erik. Isn’t that what life is really all about anyhow?

A game-winning hit by Erik Kratz

(June 23, 2014 update: The Blue Jays sent Erik Kratz to their AAA-minor league team, Buffalo, today.)

© 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

It’s a small world after all

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The SPI Conflict Analysis Class of last May at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Imagine the odds.

Last May I took a graduate school course on conflict analysis in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) held at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The 16 students in the class represented several countries, ethnic backgrounds and religions from around the world. Each day we sat at tables in groups of four or five with a different mix of students. We collaborated on dissecting some aspect of human discord, usually in preparation for a class presentation.

We were all in the class for the same reason. We had a strong interest in understanding and resolving conflict by peaceful means.

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Rana and me in the SPI classroom at Eastern Mennonite University.
I couldn’t have imagined how meaningful the class would be. Nor could I have anticipated the events that would unfold long after the course work was finished.

Keep in mind that most of the students were intensely involved in some aspect of peace building in their respective countries. Dangerous conflict was a daily occurrence for many of them. Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Somalia, Syria, Miramar, and Haiti were a few of those places.

Back home the official duties of class participants varied as much as their backgrounds. Some engaged in peace building through non-governmental agencies. Others were pastors, teachers and even politicians.

The goal was to learn how to analyze conflict, and apply appropriate peace building skills constructively. Upon returning to their home country, they would instruct others in what they had learned or directly apply peace aspects in their vocations.

Meeting with new classmates each day provided a global perspective on the too many conflicts around the world. My problems paled when compared to some of the survival stories told to me privately. Their personal, troublesome stories humbled me.

I was especially impressed with Rana, an energetic young woman from Syria. The news out of that country was not good. Aggressive conflict was wreaking havoc on her homeland. Yet she remained upbeat and actively engaged in class projects.

When the course was completed, I tried to gather any contact information that I could. I wanted to stay connected to my new friends. I knew that I would be unable to communicate with some of them simply for security reasons. I certainly didn’t want to compound the risks they already faced.

Once home I did manage to communicate with a few of the students, mostly via Facebook, a popular social media website. Even in the midst of the fighting, I was able to share periodically with Rana. But I kept the messages to mostly short well wishes.

When the fighting in Syria escalated, including the use of chemical weapons, I became rather concerned. Then the last Sunday morning of 2013, I received a message from Rana that she was fine.

I felt relieved as my wife and I headed to church. I knew we had a special speaker that morning, but I didn’t know who or from what organization.

Prior to the service, I was introduced to the guest speaker, Sarah Adams, who was the Mennonite Central Committee country representative to Lebanon and Syria. I recounted my SPI experience, and asked Sarah if she happened to know Rana.

Before I could say Rana’s last name, Sarah happily replied, “Oh, yes. I know Rana well.” She assured me that Rana was safe and still working for peace whenever and wherever she could. I was thrilled.

Imagine the odds of the three of us interconnecting via Virginia, Syria and Ohio. It really is a small world after all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Viewing the world through different lenses

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The Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We have it pretty nice here in the Greater Holmes County, Ohio area. I have known that ever since I moved to the area just after the historic July 1969 flood.

Ask locals, and they’ll tell you that it’s the best place in the world to live. I wouldn’t begin to argue otherwise.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this is the only place to call home. Clearly, if it were, the countryside wouldn’t be the same. Pastoral settings would give way to a jagged urban scape and all the trappings that accompany it.

For those who never venture afar from our comparatively protected environs, there is a danger with our self-satisfaction. Seeing the world with only our particular glasses can give us a distorted viewpoint on other cultures, socially, politically, economically and any other way you want to look at life.

At times it can be good to change lenses. That means we sometimes have to get well out of our comfort zone to do so. We have to let go of what we know, and learn anew.

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Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offers incredible views, like the morning mist rising out of the valleys.

Recently I took an intensive graduate school course at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. It’s a place as pretty as home, only old age mountains backdrop rolling, fertile foothills.

Of the 16 participants in the class, I was one of only three North American students. The others came from places like Azerbaijan, Thailand, Iraq, Kurdistan, Belgium, Ghana, Nigeria, Syria and Haiti. I would have struggled to find some of these countries on a globe.

The students ranged from young adults to grandparents like me. Their given names were Amstrong, Yvon, Nurana, Carlos, Rana, Aunt, Ray, James, Oscar, Henry, Nameer, Ernest, Amina, Khant and Salar. They were pastors, government leaders, workers for non-governmental aid agencies, interpreters and teachers.

Though our cultures, races and geographic origins varied greatly, we were there to learn about the various ways to analyze and understand conflict. Given the current situations in the countries represented, much useful information was certain to be shared back home.

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Much of the class time was spent in small group discussions and activities.

In the classroom, we sat in groups of three or four, each day a different configuration, each day new and fascinating stories intertwined with the professor’s lessons. Their personal stories, shared privately, were compelling, if not fearsome.

A pastor from Haiti called his wife every night and spoke to her from midnight until nearly dawn just to ensure his family’s safety. The consequences of war had destroyed the home of a young woman from Syria. Yet reconciliation, not retribution, was the aim of these devoted, considerate, inquisitive community leaders striving to promote peace.

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The dynamic women of the Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Instead of focusing on how bad it was in their country or blaming other governments, these men and women were glad for the opportunity to learn how to dissect and resolve conflict. They would take what they had learned and apply it as best they could. Their goal was to improve the world around them, even if it was one person at a time. Where there was despair, they saw hope.

When the Haitian pastor asked me if my home was safe, I hesitated before answering. I looked deep into his dark, wondering eyes, and simply said, “Yes, I live in a very safe place.”

“You are very fortunate,” he replied softly. I was humbled.

All of us who live in our lush, agrarian area are fortunate. Occasionally it takes looking through other life lenses to fully appreciate our own home view.

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A typical springtime view in Holmes Co., Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

A change of venue for the grandkids

By Bruce Stambaugh

When our daughter told us that her husband had accepted a new job in Harrisonburg, Virginia, we were ecstatic. Although we enjoyed our visits to Texas with our family and their neighbors and friends, we found the flights from Ohio tedious.

With the move to Virginia, our grandchildren would be a quick six-hour drive away. I mean quick in the most liberal sense.

We enjoyed flying but to fly three hours to Texas without a direct flight really consumed an entire day. Add together the drive time to the airport, check-in, security navigations, waiting at the gates, and flight connections and a good day was gone.

Driving to Virginia would be a whole lot easier. To be sure, we knew the route by heart. We drove it often to visit our daughter in college in Harrisonburg. She had met our son-in-law at Eastern Mennonite University, and they had lived and worked in the city for a couple of years after their graduation and marriage. Now he works for the school.

There were multiple ways for us to get to Harrisonburg, an expanding city in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. As long as the weather was good, our favorite route was also the most demanding, climbing and descending eight mountain passes. It was a scenic, curvy drive.

Last week, we made our first trip to Harrisonburg in a decade. Our daughter and her family had moved from Texas, but settling in with three youngsters and a husband who works full-time isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Our excuse was to help our daughter and her husband unpack and to get organized in their Virginia home. Our motive was to see the grandkids. The ever-thoughtful Nana packed up containers of frozen sweet corn and applesauce and we headed southeast.

It was fun to travel again through familiar towns like Elkins, Harman, Franklin and Seneca Rocks, all in West Virginia. Not surprisingly, little had changed in those 10 years. But once we hit the mountains, the road seemed windier than I had remembered, even though it was clear some of the curves had been softened and widened.

I would have gladly crossed 18 mountain passes for the chance to see our two grandsons and granddaughter again. I last saw them in Texas at the end of February.

I was amazed at how much they had matured, if indeed you can say a six-year old, a four-year old and a nine-month old mature. But there were definite differences. The two boys, Evan and Davis, played together well, yet were equally content to play independently, too.

Evan surprised me with how well he could read, even though he had just finished kindergarten. Davis, too, showed his inquisitive prowess with delving questions. When we weren’t watching the World Cup on television, we played soccer on their expansive wooden deck.

Maren cuddled right up to me. She seemed more intrigued with my beard than my conversation, however. When the discussion went sour, Nana was the designated diaper changer.

Maren is crawling, curious and exercising her best operatic voice, although not always in harmony with her energetic brothers. She is one adorable little girl, and has saucers for eyes that match the same Paul Newman blueness of her brothers.

Our stay was much too short. You can be sure that now that they are only hours away, there will be many more visits to come. After all, we have the drive down pat.