A beautiful morning well spent

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a gorgeous morning for what my son and my wife had conspired to do. The project itself was both practical and uncomplicated.

Of course, they needed me as the gopher, as in go for this and go for that. As it turned out, I will remember that beautiful morning for a long, long time.

Our son came to help build a pair of tomato trellises, since we will share the eventual bounty with him and his wife. My wife had found a magazine picture of just what was needed for our heirloom tomatoes.

Last year, the heirlooms flourished. But as the blossoms turned into baby tomatoes then plump fruit, the plants gave way to gravity even though they had been staked. If we didn’t get the tomatoes before they hit the ground, the dry rot did.

The main problem was that the tomato patch quickly became a vegetative jungle. It was difficult finding the ripe ones that hung hidden in the leafy overlap. That problem needed to be remedied if our two families were to fully enjoy the fruits of our labors.

readying the site
My son and my wife readied the site for the tomato trellises.

The proactive plan seemed simple enough. The growing tomato plants would be safely tied to the wooden trellises, which would better distribute the weight than the previous individual supports had. We had the perfect place to erect them, the south-facing plot next to our bricked garage wall, the scene of last year’s prolific patch.

The needed materials as shown in the picture were easy enough to come by. My wife had already obtained the sturdy oak stakes. I retreated to the neighbor’s farm for baling twine.

Using a measuring tape and a container of flour, the experts measured and marked where the supporting sets of three stakes each would go. Our energetic son climbed the stepladder with sledgehammer in hand, and the seven-foot posts were pounded into the fertile ground at an angle so they crossed near the top. Not wanting to look too professional, we just eyeballed the angles.

After each set of stakes was thumped into place, we attached the crossbars, again three on each side. We secured them to the stakes by crisscrossing lengths of twine around and around and tying them off. I think I can tie square knots in my sleep now.

tying twine around the stakes
Baling twine was used to secure the horizontal and vertical stakes.

Each bar was leveled in place. A top bar, which according to our son was purely for looks, was laid in the cradle of where the angled stakes intersected.

pounding in the trellis stakes
Our son pounded in the stakes that formed the trellises.

Once the first trellis was completed, one would think the second would go easier. Somehow that didn’t really happen. Still, it turned out all right, just a little off skew. The tomatoes won’t care.

In the process of all this measuring, climbing, pounding, angling, leveling and tying, we threw in a little kibitzing as well. You know how mother, father and son, and husband and wife can be. Personal, profound, picky, sarcastic, vulnerable, venerable, loved.

This constructing trio was all that and then some on this lovely morning. While we worked beneath a cerulean sky, robins, nuthatches, house wrens and blue birds called and fed and gathered nesting materials all around us.

Building anything isn’t exactly my strong suit, unless it’s memories. Indeed, this morning well spent fit that definition like a gardener’s glove. In truth, we had built more than tomato trellises.

Creating productive, valued, lasting recollections with family seemed a most appropriate way to prepare for Memorial Day. Come late summer, when the heirlooms are heavy laden but securely ripening, memories of a different flavor will be made.

the tomato trellises
The completed tomato trellises stand against the garage wall.

A talented but modest handyman

Zack and Rachel Miller showed off the Living Acts house they helped remodel in Millersburg, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Zack Miller, 26, never thought he would consider being called a handyman. He still doesn’t for that matter.

“If you asked anyone in my family, they would all say I would be the last person to be considered a handyman,” Zack shared modestly. Yet, when Zack described what he had done, it was pretty evident he fit the definition.

“I enjoy working with my hands,” Zack said. “I like to get things done.”

Over the past nine months, Zack got a lot done. Zack headed up the refurbishing of the house where he and his wife, Rachel, 25, live on East Jackson Street in Millersburg, Ohio. Their church, Millersburg Mennonite, purchased the house last summer. The house sits adjacent to the church’s parking lot east of the church.

The congregation bought the property last summer, and soon came up with a novel if not bold idea. The church decided to create a safe haven for young adults who wanted to deepen their own spiritual faith and find direction for their lives. The house was named Living Acts.

The Living Acts house was in need of some serious updating, according to Zack and Rachel. As the host couple for the house, leadership to remodel the home fell to them, with some able and needed assistance from their parents and the church.

“Most of my skills were in refinishing,” Zack said. He had some previous experience working on two different construction crews.

To get Living Acts house updated, Zack ventured into remodeling areas he had never done before, like electrical and plumbing. Zack had to do some plumbing in bathrooms and redo lighting fixtures.

“Zack removed and replaced a faucet and toilet,” Rachel said. “Mostly though we did a lot of stripping of wall-paper, sometimes seven layers.”

“Besides the wall-coverings, we did a lot of painting,” Zack said. “We also did dry walling, some plastering, and refinished the wood floors on the first floor, which included sanding, staining and varnishing.”

One of the first things Zack did though was to remove the extensive latticework that nearly enclosed the back porch.

“I wanted to make the house as open as possible,” he said. “That’s the idea of Living

Acts, to be open to people, inviting them in.”
Zack seemed most pleased with a cubbyhole closet he built in the finished attic of the home. He tore out part of a wall, cut off studs, and built storage shelves and installed rods for clothing.

They also removed a lot of outdated carpet, and replaced a counter top. They even replaced some kitchen cupboards. They also bought furniture and area rugs.

Altogether, the cost of the remodeling was $2,000, with most of that cost covered from the proceeds of a garage sale and a bake sale. Zack said the only two rooms in the house that weren’t worked on were their bedroom and the upstairs kitchen.

The remodeling wasn’t confined to the inside of the home either. Besides the back porch, Zack improved the landscaping, built raised flowerbeds, removed some stumps and planted berry bushes.

“Zack kept a running list of things to do in his head,” Rachel said. She and her mother, Arlene Yoder, decorated the house together.

“I have gained a lot of experience working on this project,” Zack said. “No project was as easy as I had hoped it would be.”

Zack works on the maintenance crew at Walnut Hills Retirement Community in Walnut Creek. Rachel is a registered nurse at Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg. Both graduated from Hesston College in Kansas, and Hiland High School.

They wanted the remodeling project to be completed before others joined the Living Acts house. They reached that goal.

Rachel’s twin sisters, Carrie and Annie Yoder, and Kevin Roth all moved in the first week in April, when Living Acts officially began. Each of the group has committed to being a part of Living Acts through August. An advisory committee from the church oversees the residents of the house.

“We share the household duties,” Rachel said. “We are each responsible for our own living areas, but we share in the cleaning and cooking.”

The Living Acts house is designed for up to seven people.

“But five would be an ideal number,” Rachel said with a smile.

(This article first appeared in the Holmes County Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH)

The winter that wouldn’t end

By Bruce Stambaugh

The winter that seemingly would not end finally has. I hope.

Spring is now within sight. The vernal equinox officially arrives on Saturday, March 20 at exactly 1:32 p.m.

That milestone won’t guarantee that winter won’t quit. But it’s nice to know that if it does show its frosty face again, the odds are in our favor that a late winter sting won’t hurt us like the series of heavy snows we incurred in January and February.

For a while there, it seemed like everything had come to a freezing halt. It would snow. The road crews worked hard to free the highways of their slippery burden, and just when you thought it was safe to travel again, it snowed again.

During a normal winter in the western Appalachian foothills of Holmes County, Ohio, a couple of feet of snow are spread over several months. This winter we recorded more than three feet of snow in February alone.

With the weight of this winter still upon us, it seems spring has been a long time in coming. It was magnificent to get an early peek at what lies ahead with the recent string of sunny, warm weather here in Ohio’s Amish country.

It’s truly amazing what warmer weather does. I only had to step outside to fully appreciate the preview of spring.

The backyard birds filled the air with their choruses. Robins came out of hiding in the thick woods to begin scouting out their nesting territories. The resident Song Sparrow, which became reclusive in winter and played it low to the ground, perched high in a crimson maple, tilted its head back and cut loose.

Over the course of just a couple of days, the blanket of snow vanished altogether. Even the huge piles of plowed snow were greatly humbled by the bright sun and balmy temperatures.

If ever there were a perfect example of cause and effect, the melting snow would be it. The ground was so saturated from the abundant moisture that Mallards swam the temporary pond in my neighbor’s grain field.

Flower petals pushed through the mushy earth, as if reaching for the inviting sun. The daffodil heads swelled, readying for their brilliant birth. In our flower gardens, Johnny Jump Ups were the first to bloom.

Life stirred in my little garden pond, too. The mountain of snow that once surrounded the poor pool did a glacial retreat. The caretaker pair of bullfrogs ventured out in search of any wayward insects, and to bask in the sunshine’s warmth.

The school of goldfish revived. The largest broke water as I cleaned out the gunk from the pump. I don’t know if it was showing off or begging for food. The pump filters were so clogged with slime it was a wonder water still flowed over the little waterfalls.

I couldn’t help but notice doors and windows open in homes, shops and cars alike as I ran errands. Shoot, those with convertibles were driving around like it was July. After this cold, snowy winter, I couldn’t blame them. It felt like it.

People personally expressed their relief that an end to this nonstop winter seemingly had arrived. They appeared more congenial to the point of being jovial.

For those who longed for an old-fashioned winter, you got your wish. Let’s hope those that hunger for a perfect spring get theirs, too.