Breathe in breathe out, a routine too easily forgotten

autumnafternoonbybrucestambaugh
Autumn afternoon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat in the warm sunshine on the back porch steps, eating my simple lunch, taking in all that transpired around me. I basked in the awesome day itself, one of several that we had as summer morphed into autumn.

Typical of fall days in northern Ohio, the day started cool, and took its time warming up. But thanks to skies bluer than my grandchildren’s eyes, the sunshine strengthened to enhance the day to beyond beautiful.

The air warmed, and the wind gently swirled in all directions. Compared to the quiet dawning of the day, everything seemed alive, moving, and vibrant. It was a glorious day, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Day of Awe.

Sunrays streaming by Bruce Stambaugh
Day of Awe. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
I’m not Jewish, but I certainly was in awe. I had just returned from my weekly yoga lesson, where the students were again reminded to breathe in, and breathe out. It’s a way to encourage each of us to be conscious of just how important breathing can be.

Given our hustle, bustle lifestyles fueled by instantaneous updates from the outside world through our addiction to our electronic gadgets, we sometimes forget life’s simplest lessons. Breathing is one of them.

So there I was, enjoying my wife’s homemade hummus with crunchy gluten free crackers, a homegrown tomato, homemade refrigerator pickles, some fresh turkey breast and locally made cheese, washed down with homemade mint tea, breathing in, breathing out the beauty of the day. I felt ecstatic, really.

Dogwood berries by Bruce Stambaugh
Dogwood arsenal. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
My presence had chased away the Starlings and the American Robins, who were at war over the bright red, ripe dogwood berries. Like most conflicts, it seemed neither side won. In the fracas, most of the berries dotted the ground beneath the trees, their leaves growing more and more crimson.

I breathed in, and saw a family of Chimney Swifts skimming the fields behind our home, and circling over and through our stand of trees. I exhaled with a smile, overjoyed to see the friendly birds again. The ones that occupied our chimney had gone missing a few days prior, likely on their way south, like these chattering brothers and sisters were as they devoured every airborne insect they could.

My solitary picnic didn’t bother the ever-present American Goldfinches, now in their duller decor. They ate right along with me as long as I didn’t breathe too hard.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
Clouded Sulpher. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
At the front of the house, I breathed in another pastoral scene. Clouded Sulphur butterflies and bumblebees flitted about the fall blossoms, especially enjoying the blue salvia and bubblegum petunias my good wife had planted in early June. I breathed out a hearty thanks to them and to her for these special, significant insignificancies.

That’s just one of the tenants that I have learned from six months of yoga. Yoga is much more than physical exercise. Your movements, your thoughts, and especially your breathing need to be congruent. I think the pros call it mindfulness.

I don’t know if it was my breathing, the gorgeous day, my tasty lunch, or that combination that put me in such a peaceful mood. I just know that I want to keep breathing in and breathing out as long as I can.

With that, my mind wandered to too many friends I know locally and globally who would love to love this day, yet who have little opportunity to do so. Illnesses and real wars prevent their abilities to breathe in and breathe out the way I was.

I’ll just have to do it for them.

Changing leaves by Bruce Stambaugh
Turning red. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Appreciating the daily gifts we are given

birdersatsunrisebybrucestambaugh
A beautiful sunrise greeted these birders in search of a Snowy Owl.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For much too long already we’ve been enduring an avalanche of cutesy commercials and gimmicky advertisements foisting an assortment of products from A to Z on us. Each one is pitched as the perfect Christmas gift to give.

snowyowlbybrucestambaugh
Snowy Owl.
Catalogues, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the Internet, even emails push various products for us to purchase for our loved ones. I do my best to ignore them. It’s a bold statement from someone who spent part of his career in marketing.

I understand why all the product promotions are done. Retailers often need productive holiday sales to ensure a profit for the year. I certainly don’t begrudge them for trying.

At my stage in life, I find greater joy in a brilliant but brief sunrise than a glitzy ad. Sometimes on the coldest rural Ohio mornings, the pinks and blues that quickly morph into warm oranges, reds and yellows stir me more than any new car wrapped in a big red bow could.

Joy comes in many packages if we just take the time to notice them, even on the grayest of days. Amid this entire holiday hullabaloo, I have to remind myself to stop and take a deep breath.

Advent is the perfect time to slow down our lives, not speed them up, rushing around trying to find just the proper gift. It might already be right in front of us.

I speak from experience.

When our daughter, now a mother with young children of her own, was two-years old, she would stand on the kitchen counter at our home in Killbuck, Ohio. Together we would watch the birds devour the birdseed we had put out for them. Young as she was, Carrie could correctly identify each species.

Teetering on the rim of the Grand Canyon is an awesome feeling. Sharing that incredible vista with a person who is viewing it for the first time is even better. When it’s your son, seeing his smile is priceless.

When my wife and I braved a frigid winter’s night with a dear couple to search the dark sky for a rare comet, I was cold but hopeful. We rejoiced when we found it, quietly celebrating the event together. No words were needed.

When you go in search of a Snowy Owl, a rare avian visitor to our area, your hopes are high. Even when the bird can’t be located, the camaraderie of other birders on the same search makes up for the whiff. There are no wild goose chases in birding.

When you receive a hand-made card that includes drawings of a cardinal, an eagle and a blue jay, all appropriately colored by your grandchild, you know you are loved. You keep and display that precious gift where you can see it daily.

lookingupbybrucestambaugh
The gifts of life are all around us. We just have to look for them.
When a long-lost relative unexpectedly contacts you, you rejoice and reconnect with someone you may have only ever met once or maybe never. Surprise gifts rule.

When you stand in line for an hour or more to offer your condolences to the family of someone you have never met, you are blessed by the grace and appreciation shown to you by the mourners. Even in grief, great gifts are exchanged.

Advent is a time for reflection, renewing, remembering. It is a holy gift, freely given, gladly embraced.

The din of commercials not withstanding, Christmastime models what it means to give and to receive. I wonder what gifts will unwrap themselves for you and me today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Mixed emotions about joining the Medicare crowd

Sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

There is a difference between thinking young and thinking that you are young.

Despite what I see in the mirror every morning and my occasional childish behavior, I believe that I still think young. I readily acknowledge that I am no longer young. The baldhead, gray whiskers and skin creases are obvious hints.

My body reminds me I’m no longer a spring chicken as well. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I could count the ways. I am pretty sure, however, no one wants to hear about my aches and pains. Mine are insignificant compared to those of others.

Sun rays by Bruce StambaughNevertheless, with my 65th birthday on the horizon, I am now a certified, card-carrying member of Medicare. When the card came in the mail recently, I didn’t know whether to smile or cry. It was sobering to see my name boldly printed on that red, white and blue card. Reality, as difficult as it was to accept, hit hard.

Facts are facts. The truth is that I am entering the last quarter of my life, assuming the best. I have to be realistic about who I am and what possibly lies ahead. I know I could get hit crossing the road retrieving the mail. However, with longevity in my family, I expect to live another 20 to 30 years.

The key of course is how I live them, not how long I live them. Isn’t that the case for each and every one of us?

I try to take good care of myself in every aspect of my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. When the weather permits, I try to walk at least 30 minutes everyday. Walking not only exercises my body, but stirs my mind as well.

White-crowned sparrow by Bruce StambaughThe brisk stroll invigorates my muscles and gets my blood flowing. The soft, cheery call of the White-crowned Sparrows singing from the creek-side brush uplifts my mood.

Greeting the scholars gathering for another day of lessons at the one-room Amish school I pass brings back many fond memories of my own days in the classroom, both as a student and an educator. The hearty wave of my friend, Martha, reminds me how blessed I am and have been. Like a brilliant double rainbow, friends enrich my spirit.

Inspirations like those keep me going. I think back and recall the good times, allowing them to override any and all negative experiences, and there have been plenty. It is easy to come to a simple conclusion. I am grateful.

The secret to living a full, happy life is no secret at all. Bringing joy to others is really what it’s all about. In life’s daily clamor, it’s easy to lose sight of that basic fact.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh
Maren, 3.
If I have learned anything in my first 64 years, it is this: Blessing others by what I do, say and write blesses me. I know I have fallen short too many times. The key is to keep on trying. A simple kindness like holding the door for someone will suffice.

I didn’t expect signing up for Medicare to be so traumatic or reflective. I sighed to myself, accepted the card and tucked it away in the most appropriate place in my wallet, right behind the pictures of my grandchildren.

That way whenever I need to pull out the card that says I’m old, the shining eyes and effusive smiles of my grandchildren will keep me young.

Grandsons by Bruce Stambaugh
Davis, 6, and Evan, 8.

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

At my age, “old” is a relative term

Reflections by Bruce Stambaugh
Reflections in a farm pond near Benton, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Soon I’ll be 63. I used to think that age was ancient. I probably was 36 then.

Of course, there was a time when I viewed 36 as old. I was probably 18. When I was nine, 18 was old. You get the pattern. “Old” is a relative term.

I am not saying that I don’t feel my age. I do. I say that because whoever said 60 is the new 50 must have been 50. They sure weren’t 60.

Ever since I hit the big 6 0, an invisible physical switch seems to have been flipped. I eat less and gain more. I tire too easily, but find consistent restful sleep evasive. I have far less hair than five years ago, and what’s left is mostly gray.

My memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, my dexterity not as nimble. Aches and pains seem the rule rather than the exception they once were, even after only moderate exercise.

I might feel the various bodily effects of aging, but my mind says I’m still young at heart. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I sometimes act like I’m still 18. But after a half dozen tosses of the baseball to my grandson, my arm feels like it will fall off.

I recently spent an inspirational afternoon with a handful of young people, all in their 20’s. The outing was intended to be an opportunity for quiet reflection and introspection.

When it was time to share at the end of the retreat, I told those assembled that I really felt for them. Here they all were, young, talented, each one much smarter than me, and yet, they were struggling to find jobs that fit their training, experiences and dreams.

I shared how it was so much different for baby boomers like me when we were their age. We graduated from college, and we could basically name our price and place to work. They all laughed when I said, “And I chose Killbuck, Ohio.”

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Killbuck Elementary School was where I began my teaching career. I was 21, right out of college with a degree in journalism. The only education class I had had was driver education.

That didn’t matter. There was a teacher shortage, and since I had a bachelor’s degree and heartbeat, I was offered a contract 20 minutes into my interview. I made $6,000 that first year, and $186 more the second.

But like most educators, I clearly didn’t teach for the money. I taught because I loved the kids, the personal interaction, the daily battle between routines and spontaneous interruptions, the classroom characters, and the challenging instructional process. In all that, I felt welcomed with open arms and loving hearts.

Sure there were things I detested. Every job has that. That’s where age has an advantage. I have found it more convenient, healthier, and safer to let the good memories override the bad.

I told that crew of young people that I never ever expected that we would be in a situation where good jobs would be so scarce. In hindsight, I realize just how fortunate I was back then, salary not withstanding.

My birthday is my personal reminder that time is short. I want to be as productive, as positive, and as purposeful as possible. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

I want to get up everyday with a spring in my step, a song in my heart and an audacious hope that I will remain forever young regardless of how “old” I am or will be.

One room school by Bruce Stambaugh
The one room Beechvale School near Benton, Ohio has been abandoned for several years.