Year-end Shadows

shadows, snow, bird feeder
The end of 2018 is in sight. Given the state of the world today, perhaps we all need a fresh start in life, no matter our age, our situation, our status. A new year brings new hope.

I reflected on all of that during a recent snowstorm that blanketed much of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Shadows of the tree, its limbs, and the bird feeder they held played upon the newly fallen snow in our front yard. The contemplative scene gave pause to my birdwatching, to my reading, to my writing, to all that was happening near and far.

The long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun that had finally broken through gave hope that neither the winter’s frostiness nor the world’s cold calamities could keep us down long. For in the abrupt transition between the snowy brightness and shadowy darkness, light prevails.

Here’s hoping that light will shine warmly for the approaching New Year. “Year-end Shadows” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

In 2016, embrace the joy of laughter in your life

transposition, funny sign
Mixed marketing?

By Bruce Stambaugh

As we approach Epiphany, the Advent season of hope, love, joy and peace comes to an end. The challenge for us, however, is to keep that quartet of ideals alive in the New Year.

The Amish celebrate Jan. 6 as Old Christmas, a time of gathering with family and friends, reflecting on what has been and what may yet be. In reality, it is more solemnity than celebration. Still, they gather to commemorate and converse, glad for another year of life.

Knowing some of my ornery Amish friends, I doubt the day will pass without a few light-hearted ribbings and laughs. Everything in moderation as the saying goes.

Just like music, laughter can bind folks together so long as the merriment doesn’t ridicule anyone. Coming out of the holidays into the New Year, we had plenty of opportunities to laugh with friends and family.

humorous sign
The 11th Commandment.

My six-year-old granddaughter led the way. When visiting our home over the holidays, I asked her one evening if she wanted anything. Her reply made me laugh.

“A glass of cranberry juice and a large carrot,” was Maren’s reply. I complied with a grin on my face. She was happy, and so was I but for a very different reason.

I wondered why the rest of the world’s entreaties couldn’t be so simple. We live in a fearsome, troubled world. Here was a kindergartner who only made a simple request, and in the process innocently made the seasonal celebration even more joyful.

Her comment wasn’t the only one that made me chuckle. Given my circle of family and friends, we laughed a lot.

A gathering of the cancer support group I belong to was one such setting. The six of us met with our spouses, and given the mix of characters among the couples, laughs were guaranteed. It’s always good to face down cancer with a group snicker or two.

At a friend’s open house for his new baby, the small congregate laughed and laughed at story after story. Good-natured chiding made for one lively evening. All the while, the baby slept and slept, apparently comforted by our genuine regard.

We hosted a long-standing Christmas Eve tradition of breakfast with lifetime friends. You should have seen my friend smile when he opened his gift of a travel mug from our 50th high school reunion that neither of us attended.

reunion items, smiles
All smiles.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” he said. I know. But I did. It was fun.

Grandchildren at Christmas can be as antsy as any time of year. Determined to keep things moving, I challenged my granddaughter to play the board game Candyland. She got bored at winning. I adored being her patsy.

At our son’s place, the nine-year-old grandson stole the act. Prompted by his uncle, Davis’ timing was perfect when he disrupted an adult guest’s soliloquy with the man’s own conversational trick, “Sorry to interrupt you, but…” Davis brought down the house.

Other cheery times are less visible but just as productive. I put my car keys where I’m sure to find them instead of their usual location, and then I can’t remember where the surefire spot was. It’s good to go easy on yourself.

Like beads on a bracelet, each moment of laughter is strung together to brighten and lighten life. In 2016, I hope your world is filled with lots of laughter, even if it is only a cup of cranberry juice and one large carrot.

funny sign, laughing
May 2016 bring lots of laughs.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Don’t let the gray skies get you down

gray day, dreary day, Bruce Stambaugh
Gray day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s not easy living in the third cloudiest location in the nation. Like it or not, that’s just what the residents of Northeast Ohio have to do.

That’s not good for people with Seasonal Affective Disease (SAD). Recurrent gray days negatively affect their daily outlook. Folks with SAD have to suffer through as best they can. I can’t imagine how they do it. It’s hard enough to wake to one gray day after the other without that affliction.

I speak from experience having been a Buckeye all my life. Strung together like a necklace of discolored pearls, these series of overcast, dull days, can get us all down if we let them. We shouldn’t.

I will be glib and say there is good news anyhow. Minute-by-minute, daylight is increasing. That’s little consolation to all those overcome by the seasonal dreariness.

Winter mornings in Ohio seem darker and colder than ever. A minute of daylight tacked on a day at a time isn’t all that inspiring, helpful or meaningful.

We can always hope for an Alberta Clipper to roll through with a few inches of snow and frigid temperatures. The passage of the front usually brings clear, crisp days.

eastern bluebird, songbirds, Bruce Stambaugh
Songbirds like this male Eastern Bluebird can help cheer up any dull day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.
In addition, the fresh coat of light, fluffy snow brightens the dull, dormant ground. A million diamonds sparkle day and night, as long as the moon shows its face. Even if it is cloudy, I find a certain joy in the crunch, crunch, crunch of each step to retrieve the mail or fill the bird feeders.

Indeed, these dreary, damp, cold days are what they are. They don’t have to keep us from keeping on. We have to remember that each day is a gem of a gift to treasure all unto itself.

For me, that is an important reminder. The start of a new year means we enter winter’s hardest times. The season’s coldest temperatures, harshest weather, and often the worst storms are likely yet to come.

All things considered worse scenarios than depressing weather abound in this world. Can we look beyond our personal life space to see them?

A friend of mine has terminal cancer. He unabashedly asks others what they think about each night before they go to sleep. Do they believe they’ll awake in the morning? Are they ready to pass on?

Those are blunt, but necessary questions for each of us at any age, healthy or ill. At the end of another day, what do we contemplate? Can we accept dismal skies or broken relationships, or unsatisfying vocations?

Will we wake in the morning to a new day or a new world? None of us, regardless of our situations, knows. I do know this, however. Time is fleeting, gloomy skies or clear skies.

How will we use each day we are given to the benefit of others no matter our personal station in life? Will we let the weather get us down, or will we radiate sunshine that warms and enlightens others?

Regardless of where we live, that is always a challenge, isn’t it? I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. But at this stage in my life, I only want to be helpful to others, those in my household, my family, my community, and even strangers I encounter in my daily duties.

My personal challenge this New Year is not to let the gloomiest weather dim the day at hand. What’s yours?

Amish farm, fresh snow, rural landscape
A fresh layer of snow helps brighten rural landscapes. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

© BruceStambaugh 2015

Morning Blues

Eastern Bluebird, bluebirds, birding
Morning Blues. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I was contemplating long and hard about what to do for my last Photo of the Week post for 2014. I thought about picking out the best photo I could find to cap off the year. When I looked out the window yesterday morning, I changed my mind. The small flock of Eastern Bluebirds that frequents the peanut butter suet feeder in my backyard had arrived. So had the bright sunshine, more a rarity in northeast Ohio than the secretive bluebirds.

I grabbed my camera and was fortunate to capture this stunning male sitting atop the feeder, basking in the morning’s sun rays. The sun illuminated the already beautiful bird all the more. I found the iridescent tail feathers incredible. I searched no more.

“Morning Blues” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Keeping goals practical for 2012

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s New Year’s resolution time, a media driven folly I deplore. Consequently, I don’t participate in the declaratory hyperbole of over-hype that usually dissolves faster than an ice cube in a frying pan.

Last year, I offered up a friendly alternative to the impractical practice of setting New Year’s resolutions. I posted a personal, grandiose bucket list that I wanted to accomplish in my life. A good friend thought the text too self-centered and exclusive.

I quickly realized my friend was right on. Knowing that resolutions again would be on the mainstream media’s New Year’s menu, I desired something more productive with which to counter publicly and apply personally.

Up side down by Bruce StambaughDuring my seemingly yearlong recovery last year, I had lots of opportunity for meditation and gratitude. At some point, I began including in my morning devotions a simple three part prompt that seemed all too obvious.

Whether I began or ended with the trilogy, I came away with a refreshing daily approach. The self-imposed, practical advice was both a reminder and a method of living that turned my bucket list on its head.

My little daily pep talk is about as simple and modest as I am. I desire to be nice, to be kind and to behave each day.

Given the fact that I will qualify for Medicare later this year, one would think I had that palpable trio already mastered. My friend, along with other contributions from my beloved wife, told me otherwise. I am human after all, and a man to boot.

Think of it as an offshoot of Kermit the Frog. Instead of “it’s not easy being green,” I submit that it’s not easy being Green frog by Bruce Stambaughnice, at least not all of the time. Nor is it always attainable to be kind, a close cousin to “nice.”

I don’t mean to be kind of nice either. I mean be nice. Be kind, and the end result will be that one will behave. Seems pretty logical to me.

I’ll give you that there isn’t much difference between being nice and being kind. I guess I see being nice as easy as holding a door open for someone. Being kind, on the other hand, is a compassionate extension of that precept.

Being kind equates with being generous. The way I see it, anyone can be nice. It takes extra effort to be kind. Kindness involves time, perseverance, patience, observation and action. I can be nice and hold a door for the next person through. I can be kind and anticipate that the person pushing their mother in a wheelchair will need to have the door held for them.
Face painting by Bruce Stambaugh
Putting nice and kind into play in my life forces me to look beyond my own immediate needs, and to watch for spontaneous opportunities to assist others, even in small ways. Other times, being nice and being kind come through planned events where I can make a difference in a positive manner.

By choosing positive, I am ensuring I am behaving. If I am behaving, I am being nice and hopefully kind, too. One begets the other with productive, positive consequences for all involved.

Be nice. Be kind. Behave. Those are constructive objectives I can live by everyday of the New Year. If I don’t, I’m sure my friend or my wife will remind me. I just hope they’ll be nice about it.

More than ready for a new year

By Bruce Stambaugh

On the last morning of 2009, the entire year seemed to flash before me as my car spun out of control on the icy road. When the car crunched against the utility pole, I was jolted back into reality.

That minor mishap seemed a microcosm of my 2009. I thought of Dickens’ opening line in his classic “A Tale of Two Cities.” Indeed, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.” In many ways, I would like to forget 2009. Instead, I can’t stop remembering it.

Still, with everything that had happened, 2009 is all a whirl to me. Too many times life seemed to abruptly spin out of control last year, much like my car before it hit the pole.

I do know many more good things happened than bad. Our first granddaughter was born, and Maren is as precious as her name. My wife and I enjoyed spring training in Arizona. We cherished our times with friends at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio and continued to refurbish the little cottage that my folks built on Dad’s favorite fishing lake.

Even so, I still lost all sense of time, which is very uncharacteristic of me. I couldn’t remember if an event occurred the previous day or the previous week. That was a direct consequence of dealing with my father’s extended illness and subsequent death. Of course, I joined other family members in reassuring and tending to our mother, too.

Early in the year, Dad and I spent hours on the road and in doctors’ offices, an agonizing journey through the medical maze that led to the dreaded diagnosis that his cancer had returned.

Dad loved history, sports, family, archeology, hunting and fishing. But more than that, he loved sharing those experiences with others, and hearing their stories, too. Dad was a storyteller extraordinaire. As the designated driver on our trips, I was the beneficiary of tales involving many of those subjects.

Dad loved life and went at it like he did everything else, with reckless abandon. Even at his advanced age, he chose to fight back with radiation, and gave it a valiant effort. There was still so much to learn and share, he reasoned.

After he stopped his torturous treatments in early August, Dad seemed a changed man. He accepted his situation with as much dignity as he could muster, yet carried on hovering over Mom and conversing with whomever he could anytime he could. Though he never taught, Dad was the consummate teacher.

Dad set goals. He aimed to participate in the September 12 Honor Flight from Akron, Ohio to Washington, D.C. and back in one day, and he did. In all of his life’s experiences, Dad ranked that day right behind his 67-year marriage to Mom.

Next up was Thanksgiving, and Dad again defied the odds and joined the family assembled around the traditional meal one more time. He loved family gatherings, making those a priority in his life. Christmas was his next objective.

Sadly, Dad died four days before his favorite holiday. But my siblings and I agreed that that if there was an appropriate time for Dad to die, Christmas was it. From Dad’s enthusiastic viewpoint, everyday was Christmas Day.

On December 31, I scrambled out of my car uninjured. I was thankful that 2009 was ending, even if it did so with a crash. Given the events of 2009, I resolved to live everyday in 2010 with hope and thanksgiving. It’s what Dick Stambaugh would expect.

Contact Bruce Stambaugh at brucestambaugh@gmail.com.