Tag Archives: gratitude

When everything falls into place

Ohio's Amish Country sunrise

The beauty we left.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Moving is not an easy process. No matter how much you plan for it, some unknown event usually happens. We kept waiting for that shoe to drop when we moved from Holmes County, Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

There are many variables in making any move, whether down the street, across town, or across the country. We moved 350 miles southeast, beyond the Ohio River, across several mountain gaps to spend our retirement years near our grandchildren.

That process began almost on a whim. On an exploratory search to see what our money could buy in Harrisonburg’s tight housing market, we found a place that fit most of our living needs. We quickly and unexpectedly reached a fair agreement with the sellers. And we were off and running.

Holmes Co. OH, bilevel home

Where memories were made.

My wife and I are not spontaneous buyers, especially on big-ticket items like a house. We recognized, however, that if we were serious about being close to our grandchildren during their formative years, we needed to move. So we did.

It’s no easy decision to leave the place you have called home for the best part of your lives. So the way we found both a new house and sold our one in Amish country played out flawlessly. We reached an amicable deal with our Amish neighbors to purchase our home.

The transition smoothness continued with the transfers of the standard utilities, insurance, and other household necessities. The easy flow and friendly folks astounded us once again.

We slowed down the pace a bit by deciding to rent the Virginia house during our transition time. We put our daughter in charge since she lives in Harrisonburg. The house was rented in less than a day.

We took our time moving, 18 months to be exact. The renters moved out in the fall, giving us the winter months to put our own touches on the house that would be our new home. That timeline worked just fine for the contractor and landscaper, who needed a smaller project during the slower winter months. And that’s just how it worked out. That also gave us the time we needed to declutter our lives of items that we either no longer needed or could not fit into our smaller ranch home.

Where new memories await.

Friends recommended a local mover, who also offered to pack all our items going to Virginia. You should have seen the smile on my wife’s face. It was the best $800 I ever spent.

Everything was packed and loaded in one day and delivered, unloaded, and set in place two days later. Nothing was broken, though a few items were left in Ohio. Wouldn’t you know, friends from Harrisonburg offered to pick them up on a trip to Ohio? See what I mean?

Given that the entire process took a year and a half, there was plenty of opportunity for a surprise to jump up and bit us. It never happened. My wife and I are very grateful that everything, the purchase, the renting, the moving, the remodeling, the landscaping, the settling in, fell into place that way.

As I reflected on all of this, however, I was mindful of those who have had life experiences where not everything worked out for the best. A surgery that went horribly wrong; an unexpected death; a traumatic separation of family members. The list is endless.

I am exceedingly grateful that everything fell into place for us. I’ll try to use that gratitude as a reminder to be considerate and charitable to those who can’t say the same thing.

Shenandoah Valley, Rockingham Co. VA

New pastoral views.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Grateful for a creative mother

Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late mother was very creative. She expressed it so many ways in the long life that she led. She did so through her versatility as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, and an artist.

When Mom died five years ago, Alzheimer’s disease had removed her far from the woman I remember as a youngster and as an adult son. Her eyes no longer had that sparkle of awareness of the beauty she had seen in everyday life, the joy she recreated in her vibrant landscape and still life paintings.

Marian Stambaugh, Mother's Day

Mom.

Those paintings reflected her very being and the beauty she brought to life. Mom painted hundreds, perhaps thousands of renderings, mostly watercolors. But many of those paintings were left unfinished.

Mom was a perfectionist when it came to her paintings. If she felt she couldn’t get it right, she left the picture partially finished, hidden away. Going through her things, the family found stacks of incomplete paintings. To others, the paintings looked fine. Mom only saw the flaws.

Mom was too self-critical when it came to her paintings. She felt they just didn’t measure up to the works of her peers. The attitude of Mom’s dominating father perhaps influenced that lack of confidence at a young age. Mom wanted to go to art school. Instead, she was sent to business school to help her prepare for a job should one be needed.

In those pre-World War II days, women were to work until they married and then raise any and all children that came along. That’s just the way it was, and in many respects, still is in today’s global society.

Our father, himself a controlling man in his own right, saw both Mom’s physical comeliness and the beauty within. He loved almost to a fault this kind, generous, creative woman who was our mother. And he saw her talent in recreating the beauty all around her through her early drawings and paintings.

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Dad must have also sensed Mom’s lack of confidence in revealing this creative side. So Dad encouraged Mom to take private painting lessons given by established, prominent artists, and at the Canton Art Institute.

Thanks to her cohorts and mentors, Mom painted prolifically. Using mostly the medium of watercolor, her still life and landscape scenes were usually vivid, real, inspiring, eye-catching.

Again prodded by Dad, Mom entered art contests. She did so reluctantly, but also successfully. Mom won several awards, including the Peoples’ Choice Award on more than one occasion. Mom modestly accepted the accolades.

Mom’s creativity extended beyond brush and easel. She dressed splendidly but not opulently. She couldn’t afford to do that if she had wanted. Mom simply made do with the wardrobe she had.

wedding photo

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 15, 1942. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Stylish wouldn’t begin to describe my mother. Even late in her battle with Alzheimer’s, Mom continued to dress herself, always in a color-coordinated outfit. Residents and staff at the retirement community where she lived her last days often complimented Mom on her stunning look. In her typical modesty, Mom just smiled or returned a pleasant “thank you.”

Mom’s creativity remains alive through her realistic paintings and in our pleasant memories of her loving motherhood. More than that, the artistic genes of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will continue to contribute to life’s magnificence in various means, manner, and places.

Mom’s passion for painting taught us all to appreciate our surroundings, look for the beauty in everything, and generously share that splendor. That is Marian Stambaugh’s legacy of creativity.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Staying healthy in the throes of winter

shoveling snow, Ohio

Finished shoveling.

By Bruce Stambaugh

February is upon us. Hopefully, winter in northeast Ohio is nearing its peak.

We don’t know what that means regarding the weather ahead. We simply long for milder days when we can be outdoors without the clumsiness of thick coats.

Most of us senior citizens avoid the nasty weather by staying inside or fleeing to warmer locales. In the process, we tend to overfeed February’s cabin fever. That’s not good for our health at any age.

I have a rather restricted diet due to some inherited genes I’d rather trade away. Of course, I can’t, so I am careful about what I eat. My loving wife goes out of her way to create the food that my body can handle.

For me, though, eating has never been a top priority. I’d rather be out and about, even in the harshest weather. After a measurable snow, you’ll likely find me outside pushing and shoveling the white stuff from the sidewalk and parking pad.

When I was younger, I’d take it as a personal challenge to shovel the entire driveway out to the county road. If the snow was heavy and wet, I took my time. Neva often joined me, along with our daughter and son, if they weren’t already off sledding with friends.

Amish buggy, snowy day

At rest.

Those days are long over. After this winter’s first measurable snowfall, I was out in it as usual. I bundled up in my typical fashion, hoodie, stocking cap, insulated coveralls, warm gloves and gumboots.

Snow removal isn’t a fashion show. It’s hard work, especially for someone pushing 70. For whatever reason, that thought blew into my head like the cold north wind. I remembered to take plenty of breaks and to pace myself.

During my frequent breathers, I observed crows sail through the still falling snow, and heard a state plow truck’s discordant rumble echo in the frosty air from a mile away. I stopped shoveling after I had cleared the sidewalk and turnaround.

I didn’t want to be a statistic, a seasonal casualty to stubbornness. I knew my limits and decided not to push them. When the snow is too deep, my good neighbor rescues me with his pickup’s snowplow.

The amount he charges is a whole lot cheaper than the negative consequences if I try to exert myself beyond my physical capacities. No one needs that heartache.

northern cardinal, snow, bird feeder

Beauty in the snow.

I’d rather pay the pittance charged than incur the repercussions. My inflated male ego has to take a backseat to my bodily well-being. It’s that simple.

I know I need the exercise, but braving winter’s harsh elements at my age can prove counterproductive. I look for other options to stay physically fit though some would question whether I have ever been in that condition.

I like to walk when I can, but that isn’t always a year-round option in northern climes. Other exercise options are easy to find.

My wife and I enjoy doing yoga regularly either in our home or at class. We have found it both physically and spiritually healing. The good Lord knows I need both.

I do simple stretches daily to ease my tennis elbow pain and to loosen my tight hamstrings. Those simple practices do wonders for me.

I’ll continue to be mindful of both what I eat and the portions I consume. I’ll continue to intentionally workout my body and mind daily.

Every new day is a gift. I must do my part to welcome another tomorrow.

farm lane, winter in Ohio

I’m glad my drive isn’t this long!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Communication and relationships create vignettes of thankfulness

farm lane, farm field

Long lane.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.

The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.

When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.

This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.

“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.

Amish farmstead

Amish homestead.

Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.

I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.

The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.

I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.

crane, moving a cement wall

Relocating the wall.

My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.

“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.

granddaughter, homework

Homework help.

While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.

With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.

After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.

Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?

cottage, family cottage

Our cottage.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Being grateful extends far beyond a Thanksgiving meal

prostate cancer support group, Bluemen

The Bluemen’s Group and spouses. © Martha Stutzman

By Bruce Stambaugh

The five of us men sat around the breakfast table enjoying the tasty food and each other’s company. As much as I cherished knowing these friends, and the nutritious breakfast, it was the conversation that captured my attention.

Half way through the hour-long gathering, I realized I was smiling, grateful to be included in this forthright discussion about what really matters in life. The hard, direct questions about life and death enthralled me. The frank, honest, heartfelt answers fueled the no-frills banter.

fall sunset, landscape photography, Bruce Stambaugh

November sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

This was a Thursday morning, the usual bi-weekly get-together of our cancer support group, affectionately known as the Bluemen. Blue is the color for prostate cancer, and that was a common denominator of the group, save for one member.

Our host, normally a reserved, contemplative man, was passionately engaged in the meaningful discussion. By early Monday morning, he had died.

When I learned of his death, I wasn’t shocked. Deeply saddened yes, but not surprised given that intense interaction I had witnessed regarding life and preparing to die.

That precious morning, I sat and listened mostly, participating only when absolutely necessary. I was too absorbed to interrupt the flow of the dialogue’s stream.

Our friend, Bill, had joined our cancer support group for just that kind of interaction. This diminutive but gentile giant of a man wanted our companionship in his journey with prostate cancer. We gladly welcomed him.

fall colors, red tree, Bruce Stambaugh

Red tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Bill immediately felt at home with us. One of the most humble individuals I had ever met, Bill easily joined in the group’s chitchat. He, like the rest of us, shared intimate details that only those with prostate cancer unashamedly reveal, even over breakfast.

At times, this quiet, simple man talked our ears off. Once he even tried to introduce politics, a violation of our unwritten protocol. We all laughed.

Though not a prostate cancer victim, Kurt joined our group because there are no living members to offer comfort for his kind of cancer. Just like Bill, Kurt held nothing back either.

Our table talk revolved around what it’s like to die, are we afraid to die, what will we miss, what will we look forward to in the afterlife? And so it went, at first monthly, then every other week when Bill had a set back a few months ago.

Bill wanted to continue to meet, so this affable man and his amazing wife invited us into their home. We ate, talked, and laughed some more. Sometimes we even shed a few tears.

barn in snow, Holmes County Ohio, Bruce Stambaugh, landscape photography

Barn in snow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Besides cancer, the group members were bound as one by two other mutual traits. Our common faith, and our gratitude for the life opportunities we had had, and would have made us brothers.

We had no idea of what was about to play out with Bill following that marvelous Thursday morning gathering. I was glad for the multitude of thanks expressed then for all that had come our way in life. The good far outweighed the bad, even including cancer.

Each in our close-knit group was appreciative of life, to live, to love, to be loved. That was enough, more than any of us could ever have desired.

The turkey and all the trimmings of Thanksgiving are nice. Our group’s regular sharing affirmed that being grateful means so much more than a holiday spread. The Bluemen were most thankful for the immeasurable joy, love and fellowship of devoted families and friends.

Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really all about?

snow, black and white photo, snowy woods

Snowy woods. © Bruce Stambaaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Lean into the wind in 2014

Damage left by an EF2 tornado that hit Wooster, Ohio on Sept. 16, 2010.

Damage left by an EF2 tornado that hit Wooster, Ohio on Sept. 16, 2010.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never believed much in New Year’s resolutions. I prefer to view the big picture. Besides, by now, I may have already broken half my resolves.

This year, rather than aim to lose five pounds in a month, I want to lean into the wind. That should be easy for me. I’m known to be a little windy from time to time.

You can blame my young pastor for this idea. He’s young because he’s half my age. Pastor Patrick recently preached a sermon about making yourself available and vulnerable to lean into life’s daily situations, good and bad, the way you would brace yourself against a good gale.

bluebirdbybrucestambaughI liked that image a lot. I’ll share a few ways I plan to apply the concept. I want to challenge myself to embrace all that swirls around me, positive or negative, this year. We learn from either perspective.

Despite my loss of dexterity, I will lean into the wind and hold a child’s hand, steadying her wobbling stroll across a room. Though my hearing is diminished, I will listen attentively to what others have to say, even though I may vehemently disagree with their opinion or decision.

Though my eyesight is aided with bifocal glasses, I will look for the simplest pleasure nature has to offer. A breathtaking sunrise, a singular drop of water hanging perilously at the end a leaf, a brilliant wood warbler migrating north will all be part of my leaning into the wind.

doubletrunkbybrucestambaughEven though my cranky knees limit my mobility, I will do my absolute best to bend low to pick up trash thoughtlessly discarded by others. If someone else is leaning into the wind nearby, maybe they’ll help me back to my feet.

Leaning is an active verb, not passive. Life is a series of winds of various velocities that shift daily. We can only feel the wind. We measure it by the effects on everything the wind touches, whether it does so fiercely or persistently.

Regardless of the velocity, life’s winds affect us all. Leaning in enables us to practice gratitude and joy, the byproducts of vulnerability.

Life offers no guarantees. It is full of pitfalls and mistakes as well as abundant joy and beauty. I want to discard the rose-colored glasses, and recognize the good from the bad. I want to accept them for what they are, and lean into 2014 accordingly.

The blizzard winds of January will eventually subside. Before we know it, invigorating breezes of May, with their warm, sweet fragrances and life-giving rains, will arrive as a blessed balance for us all.

A friend of mine shared a picture of an old apple tree, trunk bent from age and time, some limbs broken and sagging. The caption beneath the old tree defined what I mean by leaning into the wind.

It read, “A little bent by time, shaped by the wind and the seasons, a few branches broken. Today I feel like that old apple tree. But I’m still reaching for the sky, and doing my best to take in what the world gives me and turn it into something good and useful.”

By leaning into the wind, I can anticipate enduring, absorbing and embracing all of the various breezes that life blows my way in 2014.

Who knows? I might even lose five pounds in a month.

brownongoldbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Finding gratitude from on high

fromjeffersonrockbybrucestambaugh

The view from Jefferson Rock of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are times when a life experience far exceeds our expectations.

I had just such an encounter recently on a junket my wife and I made to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in extreme eastern West Virginia. This tiny, old town had played a small but important part in our country’s big history.

On a precipice 800 feet above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, more flowed together for me than two charming waterways. I had previously seen scenic shots of historic Harpers Ferry from this vantage point in Maryland, and had fancied a few of my own. I departed with more than picturesque photos.

The beauty of the bright morning itself was stunning. I basked in the warmth of the morning sunshine looking down on history. The strengthening sun drenched the charming village in a golden wash. It was a map come alive where famous Americans had all made important imprints on our country’s checkered history.

confluencebybrucestambaugh

A Great Blue Heron preened in the morning light at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

The three-mile hike from Harpers Ferry to the overlook was exhilarating. A hint of haze hung above the surface of the churning rivers on the cool morning.

My goal was to arrive at the scenic overlook opposite the town as the day’s sun rose above the Appalachian foothills. I crossed the footbridge, a part of the Appalachian Trail, which paralleled the bridge of the railroad tracks. The tracks split at the town and followed the two majestic rivers, one south, the other west.

Once across the Potomac, its melodious rapids singing all the while, the Appalachian Trail followed the river and the old C & O Canal east. I walked west along the towpath to the trailhead that led up the rocky, forested hillside.

I couldn’t imagine how soldiers, Confederate and Union alike, had muscled heavy artillery up these steep slopes. Massive rock outcroppings protruded everywhere beneath the hardwood forest. The rich greens of mountain laurel and cedars complemented the coloring leaves of the mixed deciduous trees.

I arrived at the overlook in less than an hour. The view, as Thomas Jefferson once declared, “was perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.”

As I sat on the cool rocks I looked down on the spot where John Brown had made his ill-fated raid in 1859. I envisioned Jefferson, George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and all the others who had made their lasting marks there striding along the slanting, narrow streets.

Harpers Ferry was a strategic town in the Civil War since it housed the federal arsenal. Both armies occupied the town intermittently during the war. It was the sight of the largest surrender of United States troops in the Civil War.

Behind me birds of the forest searched for breakfast amid golden, backlit leaves. Carolina Wrens, chickadees, cardinals, robins, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Creepers scavenged the forest floor and trees.

A Black Vulture sailed west above the Potomac just off of the cliff. A Red-shouldered Hawk, its black and white striped tail fanned out, glided east. Beneath me a freight train rumbled through the tunnel, across the bridge and whistled past the old station.

I had gone up to the sheer cliff for some pictures. I came down with a renewed spirit of gratitude for all that has transpired and will transpire in my life, in our lives.

Together we have a lot for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving.

harpersferrywvbybrucestambaugh

Harpers Ferry, WV from the Maryland Heights overlook.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Fall is upon us in every way

Pumpkins and buggies by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Officially it’s still summer for a few more days. Reality says otherwise.

Fall is upon us. The signs are everywhere. They have been for sometime now.

Warm, pleasant days give way to cooler, quiet evenings. Only a few remaining crickets and an occasional Screech Owl break the night’s silence.

The morning wake up call suddenly switched from a chorus of American Robins to cheery Carolina Wrens. The effect is still the same.

Morning fog by Bruce Stambaugh

Dense fog quickly lifts from valleys, giving way to white cottony clouds highlighted pink, peach, gold and gray by the strengthening sun. Morning mists betray the garden spiders’ artsy trap. The miniature droplets soon yield to the day’s brightening warmth.

While most show a slight tinge, some entire trees have already had their leaves turn a dull orange or dirty yellow. No doubt the stress of this summer’s oppressive heat and extreme dryness forced this premature metamorphosis. Some leaves seemed to go green to brown overnight. The deepening blue sky offsets these anomalies, making them almost acceptable.

Tinted tree by Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is not a time to quibble. It’s a time to appreciate, to work and to reorient yourself and the world as we have come to know it.

Dewy web by Bruce StambaughScholars head to school, each in their own way. Young boys, red and white lunch buckets swaying by their sides, walk in groups, tan straw hats bobbing rhythmically. Smart girls wearing pastel dresses glide by on mute bicycles. They left home later than yet arrived simultaneously with the boys.

Bumblebee painted buses inch past the pedestrians until the next stop. Somewhere behind sheer curtains, home-schooled children take it all in.

The hum of school seems to settle society, put it back in sync. Family vacations end. The students, though not likely to admit it, enjoy the familiar routine, save for a handful of frequent flyers who already know the path to the principal’s office.

At the produce market, giant pumpkins now outnumber the red, plump tomatoes and the ubiquitous zucchini. Despite the protests of the regal morning glories, crimson and gilded mums are the flowers of choice and the season.

Field corn by Bruce Stambaugh

Despite the drought, farmers are smiling, assuming they indeed have crops to gather. They live for the harvest. It’s their bread and butter, their paycheck, their livelihood. They relish the work and consider comparing their bushels per acre numbers as an exercise in status. If their neighbor needs help, however, they’ll be the first to respond.

Kitchens fill with the aromas of snappy salsa, and pickles and vinegar. Canning shelves are replenished with jars of winking peaches and cherries, sandwiched by rows of golden corn and tart applesauce.
Peach salsa by Bruce Stambaugh
Life in the fall in the rural Midwest in mid-September is as fulfilling as it gets. Pride and gratitude are the human harvest for rural folks. No blue ribbons, even if bestowed, can provide the same satisfaction. Those ancillary awards politely confirm what we already believe.

Where coloring stands of hardwoods mingle with fencerows and cornrows, life is good. We acknowledge our connection to creation and to one another. We also sense the real and urgent necessity to care for mother earth as we prepare for whatever winter brings our way.

Fall is upon us. Stop, look, listen, inhale and enjoy. The rest of life will take care of itself. It is an equal opportunity seasonal transition we all need whether we know it or not. I humbly thank autumn for the abundant and timely cues.

Amish scholars by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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