The time of my life isn’t always fun

By Bruce Stambaugh

As I push into my 60s, I’m having the time of my life. At home, at work, at social and church functions, community gatherings, I enjoy the people I’m with.

But as I take advantage of the senior citizen discounts, I am also more than cognizant of my current station in life. Being an active member of the Sandwich Generation, I never know what any particular day will bring.

Some days are filled with excitement and anticipation. Like when our daughter informed us that her family will be leaving Texas and moving to the Commonwealth of Virginia. My wife and I were thrilled.

Come June, we will be just a short six-hour drive away from our precious grandchildren and their equally precious parents. It will be a whole lot handier to spoil the grandkids in Virginia than Texas.

However, there are days when I really don’t want to answer the phone, fearful that a relative or friend has incurred some catastrophe. I consider myself to be a positive thinker and an equally positive person. But as life’s varying circumstances unfold, the chances for bad news seem to increase the older I get.

My mother and mother-in-law both live in the same assisted living facility. When its phone number appears on the caller ID, ambivalent thoughts race through my mind.

Is a nurse calling to say that my mother is ill or my mother-in-law has taken a tumble? Both have happened. However, more often than not, it’s simply my mother-in-law calling with an inconsequential question or to share some special news.

Too much unpleasantness has happened to family and friends that has trained me to be cautious. I know I am not alone in having these apprehensions. My peers have confessed the same fleeting fears.

The unpleasantry can be as variable as the wind. You never know what direction or with what force it will hit you.

My older brother and his family had looked forward to a tour of Italy. They had to cancel it last year when both my brother and his wife each had their separate, serious health issues.

They rescheduled the trip and were anticipating a sunny and fun-filled time together. Then the volcano in Iceland let loose, and like thousands of others, their flight was canceled due to the huge ash plume that covered Europe. They returned home doubly disappointed.

About the same time and only hours after her husband had left for his new job in Virginia, our daughter had emailed us that their neighbor, a man I considered their surrogate Texas grandfather, had died. I truly wanted to jump on a jet and parachute into their backyard.

In actuality, I knew there was little I could do in the flesh. We asked how we could help, but some things in life are beyond human intervention and control. That is both the reality and mystery of life, not just for my family or people I know. It is the way of all creatures great and small.

Some days are glorious and exhilarating. Others are dark and perplexing. They are devoid of anything even resembling fun, although the sun may be shining brightly.

As I enjoy the benefits and honor of being a husband, father, son, brother, grandfather and friend, I am aware that life has both its alphas and its omegas. At this point in my life, I try to remember that every time the phone rings.

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.

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 painful truth of reality

By Bruce Stambaugh

The scene seemed a little surreal if not downright incongruous. If it didn’t hurt so much, I might have been laughing. You can if you want.

Even though it was still early April, outside it was like summer, warm, sunny, and balmy. But I wasn’t able to enjoy it.

Instead, I was forced to remain inside. I sat in my favorite overstuffed chair, television remote control by my side, heating pad on my back, and chunk of ice on my left foot. As my friend Steve would say, “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not seeking sympathy for my ills, mostly because I probably wouldn’t deserve any. A little common sense might have prevented my mostly self-inflicted problems. But man that I am, I was either too stubborn or too proud or both to pay attention to the messages my body was sending me.

Maybe that was the real issue. The signals were just too simple to heed. Or perhaps I subconsciously heard them and tried to deny the obvious. My 20th century Baby Boomer brain was trapped inside my 21st century grandfatherly body.

Because I didn’t listen or didn’t believe what my body was telling me, I kept my usual pace when I shouldn’t have. I just wasn’t careful. I shoveled too much snow. I lifted too many heavy items too many times. I strayed from my exercise routine.

Finally, the consequences of my actions caught up to me. And there I sat warming my back, while freezing my foot, and surfing the channels like I was on a safari.

If there was an upside to this conundrum, it was that I had no choice but to come to terms with my physical situation. I realized that I simply had to accept the fact that I am aging, and that I must take better care of myself if I ever wanted to someday achieve my dream of driving the staff at the local nursing home absolutely crazy.

I recalled a conversation from Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith.” When quizzing his elderly rabbi about his advanced age, the rabbi wisely replied, “It’s not being old that is the problem. It’s getting old.”

I couldn’t agree more. If I want to get old, that is older than I am now, I have to take better care of myself daily. I also have to accept life’s realities and parcel out any physical work I do.

I have to look in the mirror and tell myself everyday that I need to get real if I want to enjoy whatever number of days I have left. I hope they are many, but there are no guarantees.
I don’t want to sound morbid about this. I just want to be honest with myself and with where I am at this point in my life.

Sitting there in the chair I also realized that it could be a whole lot worse. My situation pales in comparison to individuals and peoples in the world who suffer unimaginable hardships far beyond my temporary inconveniences.

Unlike my icy hot circumstance, no amount of rehab or exercise could rescue them from their agonizing plights. They could not extricate themselves from the inflictive pain of their illnesses or poverty or servitude. I could.

If I didn’t want to continue the folly of warming my back and icing my foot simultaneously, I had an easy out. I simply needed to slow down and listen to my body.

There is only one traffic cop that can make that happen. That’s me.

Spring’s multifaceted green abounds

horses and plowing
Horses frolic while others work.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Green is not my favorite color. But I’ll make an exception, especially now when every plant and animal seems to be greening up in some way.

The most obvious change is in the grasses. They all transitioned from bland dormancy to verve seemingly overnight. Once relieved of their heavy snow burden, then drenched with intermittent rains followed by warm, sunny days, the grasses grew emerald uniformly on natural cue.

Whether front yards or rolling pasture fields, the green on green effect is stunning. It may be the greenest green I have ever seen, or maybe the winter was simply so long and so hard, that I forgot what true green really looks like.

Nevertheless, it’s marvelous to see the countryside covered with such a luscious, vibrant carpet. Only problem is mowing will commence shortly, if it hasn’t already. But it will be nice to inhale that fresh cut fragrance again.

In preparation for that initial trimming of 2010, many of the yards in Amish country have already been rolled and fertilized. That was part out of necessity, and part out of relief that winter was finally over. Yes, we had one nasty, last snow that left the roads the slickest of the winter. But my bones say that ammunition has been spent.

Grass isn’t the only vegetation to go green. My wife’s tulips, daffodils, crocuses and lilies have all displayed their various leaves at different intervals. Of course, the crocuses have bloomed and faded, and the daffodils were primed for Easter.

In the woodlots, colts foot were the first to unfold. The giant hardwoods hovering over them have swelled their buds, anxious to let their leaves unfurl. They’ll wait until it’s safe from certain future frosts, unless coaxed open by an extended warming spell.

The evergreens have no such problem. They have already transformed from the deep, mature green of the hibernation months to a lighter, brighter green that mirrors that of the grasses.

Things are greening up around my little garden pond, too. The moss and lichens, long covered by two feet of snow, now look like splotches of paint and bristle brushes, respectively. Water lilies are shooting their first leaves to the surface.

Both the variegated water plant and the variegated reeds are coming to life, with the former having a huge head start. Its bulbs are pushing their pale green and russet pointy leaves profusely, fighting through some soft, velvety grass that somehow homesteaded over the winter.

I would eliminate the grass altogether, except that the pair of resident bullfrogs prefers its lush softness for their sunbathing and bug collection. The frogs’ color, too, has evolved from the mucky blackness of the bottom of the pond to more their natural camouflage.The male tries to woo his mate with his deep throated croaking both day and night. From nearby wetlands, choruses of spring peepers erupt. It’s all music to my ears.

High on the neighbor’s pasture where Holsteins and draft horses grazed earlier in the day, deer come out of hiding at dusk to nibble at fresh green sprouts. By night, they clean the corncobs at my birdfeeders.

Really, just airing out the house with open windows and doors that invite refreshing breezes brings you closer to mother earth. I also glory in the secondary benefits, the simultaneous serenading of birdsongs and echoes of children playing.

Spring doesn’t get any greener than that.