How social networking works

By Bruce Stambaugh

A siren woke me from my deep sleep. Even though I didn’t see it, the quickened rumble told me it was a fire truck.

I arose, and soon a second fire truck went by heading south, lights flashing in the dense morning fog. Several minutes later, a third fire truck from a station 12 miles away roared by. It was obvious there was a big fire somewhere.

Of course, I was curious about the location of the blaze. My curiosity was soon cured. My wife announced that our daughter in Virginia had emailed to ask what we knew about the fire at Martins Creek Mennonite Church.

I was stunned. I asked how Carrie knew about the fire. “She saw it on Kim Kellogg’s Facebook page” came the swift answer.

Since Kim is a mutual friend, both in real life and on Facebook, I immediately went to my Facebook page, clicked on Kim’s posting, and sure enough, there were pictures of the old church burning and the firefighters working diligently to extinguish the flames.

The scene saddened me. I could see that the blaze was serious, and I knew that the historic structure was a tinderbox.

I kept up with the progress of the fire by following Kim’s postings. I was glad our daughter had let us know. I was appreciative of Kim’s timely updates. It had to be hard on him. It was his church.

But I also had to simultaneously absorb the bang-bang way in which we had found out about the blaze. Our daughter, 350 miles away, had notified us electronically of a fire less than three miles from our house.

An ironic pall clouded my thoughts. It wasn’t that it was wrong. But there was a certain ambivalence to the entire process. It felt like the same uncertainty that had kept me from originally joining the social network craze.

What I was experiencing was one of the new ways to communicate in today’s technologically driven world. I had long resisted enrolling in any of the online social networks like Facebook or MySpace. I thought they were mainly for young people. I don’t text either.

I also thought they would be too intrusive into my life, would reveal too much information that would and could be used by unscrupulous schemers. Neither did I see the sense in it. After all, all one had to do was pick up the phone and call, or email, or even write a letter, or better yet, come over and visit.

What made me change my mind? Why my sociable daughter of course. Once I realized that I was missing postings of the latest happenings with her and her family, I decided to open my own Facebook account so I could keep up with the grandkids.

I soon learned that I wasn’t the only old person on Facebook. And when friends, relatives and former students from long past began to connect with me, I felt better about the whole idea of sharing on the Internet. I still try to be both careful and practical with what I post for others to read and view.

That morning’s emotional events still seem surreal. Our daughter in Virginia knew about the fire close to us before we did. But therein lies the justification for social networking. It’s just another method for staying in touch.

Even in catastrophes like fires, social networking can instantaneously bring geographically separated people together. When used properly, that is a very good thing.

Retreating to Lakeside again and again

Lakeside view by Bruce Stambaugh
The view of the dock and Lake Erie from Hotel Lakeside's front lawn. Kelley's Island is in the distance.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are lots of places I would love to visit in the world. But every Fourth of July, you can find me with my wife at Lakeside, Ohio.

Fountain in front of Hotel Lakeside by Bruce Stambaugh
Wind blew the fountain's water in front of Hotel Lakeside.

Why do we keep going back? I’ll be a typical man and answer that question with another question. How can we not return?

We find the summer resort a respite from our busy schedule. A random survey of Lakesiders would likely reflect that common answer.

You could argue that respite can be found in plenty of other locales, too. But there is only one Lakeside, and the best way to appreciate it is to visit there.

The quaint town on the shores of Lake Erie mushrooms from 600 year-round residents to 3,000 summer vacationers. Gate fees are required from mid-June through Labor Day weekend.

I could list 100 reasons why we savor Lakeside each summer. But I’ll pare it down to a pertinent few pleasures we experienced during our latest stay.

Friends gather on the porch by Bruce Stambaugh
The porch at Maxwell's Hospitality House in Lakeside, Ohio is an inviting, relaxing place.

First and foremost has to be the renewal of relationships with friends, some who we only see at Lakeside. Of course, we stay in touch via email or phone. But we only see most fellow Lakesiders while we are actually at the Chautauqua on Lake Erie

We enjoy where we stay, and we always board at the same hospitality house. We like our hosts and their guests, most of who return the same week annually. We have a lot in common, share food, stories and values.

The Patio Restaurant at Lakeside OH by Bruce Stambaugh
The signs said it all.

We cherish the familiarity and ambiance that Lakeside affords. Doughnuts at The Patio Restaurant, ice cream from Coffee and Cream and pizza from Sloopy’s are all part of the Lakeside experience if we so choose

But we value the special surprises that always seem to plop in our laps. We run into friends from home or people we know that we had no idea even knew about Lakeside. It’s always fun to reconnect and discover how each found the resort town.

P.A. Dunfee of Lakeside, Ohio piloted his 1968 restored Lyman. by Bruce Stambaugh
P.A. Dunfee, Lakeside, Ohio, piloted his restored 1968 Lyman boat.

This year we had an extra special treat. A resident of Lakeside that we got to know through our hosts at Maxwell’s Hospitality House invited my wife and I for a ride on his restored 1968 Lyman inboard motorboat.

With the temperatures and humidity at the wilting stage, we leaped at the opportunity. The wooden boat, originally built in nearby Sandusky, glided through the slightly wavy water with ease. We cruised past Lakeside just beyond the dock.

Lakeside cottages by Bruce Stambaugh
Steamboat style cottages, typical of some of the older homes in Lakeside, Ohio, were decorated for the Fourth of July.

During out week’s stay, we also took in some of the evening entertainment that comes with the price of admission. Workshops, museums, tours and worship are also available for children through adults

Running at Lakeside by Bruce Stambaugh
The path along Lake Erie in Lakeside, Ohio is a popular place for exercise or just strolling.

Each morning I stretched my legs by walking the two-mile parameter of the lovely village. Walkers, runners, bikers and dog-walkers alike bid each other a friendly Lakeside hello or a nod

Besides the exercise and human interaction, I got to absorb beautiful gardens, charming restored cottages from Lakeside’s beginning in 1873, watch night hawks glide, stroll along where old trolley tracks once ran and glimpse tennis matches on both asphalt and clay courts.

Round porch at Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
Inviting round porches can be found attached to many homes in Lakeside, Ohio.

I enjoyed a personal Lakeside moment, too. I found a lakeside bench under the generous shade from the large stand of old growth trees and watched the ferries shuttle between Marblehead and Kelley’s Island.

In that Norman Rockwell setting, time seemed to simply stand still. That alone is reason enough to treasure our annual Lakeside vacation.

Concert in the park by Bruce Stambaugh
Concerts in the park are always popular at Lakeside, Ohio.

That’s what friends are for

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sky was clear blue, the morning’s puffy cumulous clouds having moved on. The north wind discouraged any humidity, and helped keep the temperatures tolerable.

Earlier my Amish neighbor had tethered the hay he had mown the evening before, fluffing it up for the breeze to blow away any remnant moisture. The barn swallows that had circled his horse drawn machine still skimmed the ocean of cut hay for insects.

I imagined the next day my neighbor, his family and his circle of friends would follow their given routine of making hay. I have marveled at their consistency each and every harvest of hay, oats and wheat. Their combined labor is as affable as it is proficient.

But isn’t that what friends are for? Like the classic Dionne Warwick/Stevie Wonder song belted out, “For good times, for bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for.”

That pretty well sums it up. Friends want the best for you no matter what. They sympathize with you, empathize with you, are honest with you and you them. That friendly formula leads to trust, understanding and compassion.

As humans, we all need that. We are social beings, and unless you are Ted Kaczynski or Lizzie Borden, friends mean the world to you.

Sitting on the porch alone, I had to think about my circle of friends. I was humbled and honored to recall how many times others had come to my rescue or reassured me or celebrated with me or mourned with me or just took time for a visit.

These may seem like ordinary occurrences. But to me, they are extraordinary events, given that they all involved friends.

Food seems to be an important ingredient in friendship. We have enjoyed many a meal around a table with friends, meaning family, neighbors and acquaintances. No matter how tasty the entrées, the fellowship is always the dessert.

A home in Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
A home in Lakeside, Ohio. - Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago when we moved from the home we built in the western part of the county to our current home in the east end, friends clamored to help us. Thanks to them, the difficult task was made simple.

Each time we visit our beloved Lakeside, Ohio we are greeted with hugs and kisses from people we may only see there. They are our vacation friends, but from the reactions you would never know it.

When I pushed my grandsons on side-by-side swings so high they bounced out of their seats, they giggled and laughed like little girls. The bright sun wasn’t the only thing warming me that morning.

Reading the blog by the parents of a special newborn child helped me better understand their critical situation. I marveled at how calm and objective their writings were, especially given their uncertain situation.

A birder friend called to tell me about a very rare bird in the neighborhood. Without his kind gesture, I would have missed the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Butterfy on cornflower by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoyed the wildflowers in our backyard. - Bruce Stambaugh

Which reminds me that friends are not confined to human beings either. Pets, sunsets, thousands of blinking fireflies rising from the flowering alfalfa and ripening oats, robins chirping their contentment with the day all qualify as friends by my definition.

All these people and creatures and natural events have abundantly blessed me. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Holmes County sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A recent sunset taken from our back porch. - Bruce Stambaugh

Sleeping in after the big day

By Bruce Stambaugh

I normally don’t sleep in, especially until 8:30 a.m. But this morning, I had good reason to do just that.

I had filled the previous day with a tightly packed set of eclectic but necessary events. I had played father, son and holy terror all in the same 24 hours. All of which wore me out enough to sleep like a baby for once.

Ironically, my busy day started earlier than I had planned. I had a fitful sleep that startled me wide-awake at 4 a.m. Consequently, I awoke for my big day tired before it had officially begun. That’s not a good way to start.

Fortunately the evening before I had set out some of the items I needed for a morning presentation. I had also made one of my dreaded “to do” lists with each of the places to be and times to be there. Unfortunately, I lost the list after the first stop.

That really was inconsequential since I had the day’s string of activities etched in my brain. I just hoped that no major unforeseen circumstances would derail my day. None did.

At 9 a.m. I met with the genial senior group from my church that gathers monthly. I had been asked to co-present about the Honor Flight on which I had accompanied my father as his guardian last fall. Another veteran and his guardian shared about their recent, extra-special Honor Flight that HBO had sponsored for World War II veterans from the Pacific campaign.

The emotional sharing went well, and I was off to an 11:15 a.m. doctor’s appointment 15-miles away. I got in and out of there in time to meet my mother for lunch at her assisted living facility.

I enjoyed both the good food and conversation with Mom and the other ladies at her table and then was off to my next appointment. But first I had to play like Superman. Only instead of ducking into a phone booth and donning a cape and leotards, I changed into sweats and a T-shirt in a bathroom for my physical therapy session five miles away.

Careful not to exceed the speed limit too much, I made it just in time and the painful but productive half an hour went by quickly. Next I zipped to the pharmacy to pick up some prescription renewals. I arrived home right on schedule, which allowed me some unexpected down time. In preparation for the evening ahead, I took a catnap, something not on my lost list.

At 4:30, I headed to Cleveland to attend my first ballgame of the season. On the way, I picked up my son and a long-time friend. Thanks to a combination of light traffic and my heavy foot, we were inside the ballpark with time enough to chow down before the first pitch.

The camaraderie among us was marvelous. My son and my friend reconnected, discovering mutual interests and acquaintances. Other than the outcome of the game, it was a most pleasurable evening all around.

However, after dropping them both off, I realized just how exhausted I was as midnight approached. I fended off drowsiness down the homestretch and silently rejoiced when I pulled in the driveway. I finally hit the hay long past my regular bedtime.

I was exceedingly glad I had slept in, but not half as glad as I was for the day’s gracious people and smorgasbord of events that had worn me out.

Turning thoughts into actions

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of thinking while I’m shoveling snow. Given the amazing amounts of snow that have fallen this winter, my brain is about as strained as my back.

With two feet of snow on the ground, the most logical thought was obvious. Where would I put it all? The sidewalk already looked like the Grand Canyon, and the piles that lined the cement parking pad and limestone driveway were even higher.

As I shoveled my way around the house, making access to bird feeders easier, I realized my thinking strayed far from my physical task. My thoughts were so meandering that I absent-mindedly pitched the snow upwind.

Even with that rude awakening, my mind continued to wander. Is this a symptom of cabin fever or old age or am I just a typical man? Since I am not really expecting answers, we’ll go with all of the above.

I found Mourning Dove feathers in a couple of places. I wondered what predator dined on this prevalent and apparently delectable bird. Was it an owl, a hawk, a cat? I brushed the feathers aside and kept shoveling.

I thought about my friend, Jose, a coffee farmer who lived near San Marcos, Honduras where I visit occasionally. Jose, a tall, quiet, generous man, was killed recently in an accident while trimming a tree on his farm.

Jose was such a hard worker, a family man, dedicated to representing his little community the best he knew how. I’ll never forget the day I rode in the cab of his old, dented pickup truck, up the switch-backed, bumpy, one lane road to his two acre stand of vibrant coffee bushes growing on a steep mountain slope.

Though Jose knew no English, and I little Spanish, his non-verbal communication oozed hospitality. He turned our small group loose on those poor coffee plants and enjoyed the show, his welcoming smile continually flashing.

Several cardinals took flight as I rounded the house to the backyard. I had interrupted their lunch of cracked corn and oil sunflower seeds.

I thought about the Sunday morning service at the little church we attended while vacationing in Florida. I had already enjoyed some local birding opportunities, but never expected to be able to do so while at church.

The service was held in a room with large windows that faced a broad stream that met the Gulf a mile away. The faithful pastor had his back to what was happening outside.

While he preached, Black and White Warblers and Phoebes played in the banyan trees, live oaks and palms. Beyond the lush banks, Buffleheads scurried through the stream’s shallow water. Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons waded, too.

I had just about completed my shoveling when I thought about my new friend, Fritz. He and his family had survived the catastrophic earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and had miraculously found their way to our little corner of the world in Ohio’s Amish country.

I remembered Fritz staring straight ahead while he related his harrowing story as if he were reliving each horrific moment. All I could do was listen. I felt for Fritz and his family. They had lost everything, including close relatives.

Amid the natural beauty around me, in Sarasota, in the mountains of Honduras, even in ravaged Haiti, my contemplative jigsaw puzzle reminded that life wasn’t always pretty. My efforts resulted in much more than snow removal.

Long after this deep snow has melted, opportunities to help others in need will abound. That conclusion doesn’t take much thought.