Fun with the grandkids

grandkidsbybrucestambaugh
Trying to get three grandchildren to cooperative in the same picture can sometimes be a challenge. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Time was running out. We had already visited with our daughter and her family in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley a month earlier.

With sport seasons and the school year both winding down, it was time to return if we wanted to see our two grandsons and our granddaughter play some ball games. We got our wish and then some.

All three of our grandchildren enjoy sports. Evan the 10-year-old, Davis, almost eight, and Maren, four and a half, all play baseball, and Evan and Maren also participate in soccer.

Games and practices were held after school of course. The weekends were wide open. Oftentimes the games for all three were played back-to-back or sometimes they even overlapped. Fortunately, both sports generally used the same field complexes.

Nevertheless, it still took much planning and preparation to ready three youngsters for their games. Baseball required them to bring their own bat and batting helmet. Mom had to have their uniforms clean, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When granddaughter Maren played, her team, the Buttercups, had all of three players. The boys’ team they played only had two show up. It was tee-ball after all. This late in the season the coaches did throw a few pitches for the hitters before having to resort to the batting tee.

The coaches kept the players on their toes, although with so few players, that really wasn’t necessary. There was no time for playing in the dirt or lounging on the outfield grass, which according to our daughter were not uncommon occurrences when the games dragged on. Young attention spans can be as short as the players.

I’m happy to report that Maren got a hit with her pink bat and her pink helmet, and she scored a run as well. Defensively, she literally had first base covered.

Lefty Davis usually jumped on the first pitch thrown to him. In one game, he batted four times and saw only five pitches in tallying four hits. It was fun watching both the youngsters field the balls that came their way, and the throws they made. Their play reminded me of a few Major League teams I’ve seen this year.

Evan is a real sports enthusiast. Tall and solid for his age, he did a fine job of pitching. I won’t mention that he hit the first batter in the head. Besides his competitive drive, Evan has excellent form both on the mound and at the plate, and often makes all-star teams.

We spent much of a Saturday morning watching Maren learn soccer skills at different stations using several creative interactive games, like Stuck in the Mud. Players had to stand with their legs wide apart and a soccer ball above their head. They could only move if another player kicked a ball through their leggy wicket.

The activities served their purpose well. Valuable and essential skills were taught without the kiddos going away winners or losers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Evan’s soccer game was more aggressive, and the older players’ skills were most evident. It’s nice to win, but it’s nicer still to see the emphasis based on the game’s fundamentals.

Of course, we didn’t spend all of our time at the kids’ sporting events. They played board games, and electronic games, too. I’m not sure where they were when we were pulling weeds around their house though.

Spending time with the grandkids is always special for us. For Nana and Poppy it was time splendidly spent, and always a win-win proposition.

nanaandmarenbybrucestambaugh
Maren took time out from a game on an iPad to explain to Nana a painting she had done for us.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Photo of the Week

blackonblacktopbybrucestambaugh
Black on Blacktop. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Living among the world’s largest Amish population, it’s not too difficult to find contrasting images in everyday life. When I pulled into a local furniture store’s parking lot, I thought this captured that contrast perfectly. The image of this Old Order Amish buggy parked beside the SUV spoke for itself. The fact that they both happened to be black enhanced the comparison that we who live here too often take for granted.

Black on Blacktop is my photo of the week.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Never stop running

inthedugoutbybrucestambaugh
Erik Kratz, right, when he played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Erik Kratz is a catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. My wife and I like to watch him play whenever we can.

We cheer for the Cleveland Indians of course. We follow Erik for a selfish reason. He and his family are friends with our daughter and her family. Our grandson and Erik’s son were in preschool together, and they played on the same baseball team.

We have spoken with Erik a few times while visiting our grandkids in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where both families live. Like our daughter and son-in-law, Erik is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University.

warmingupbybrucestambaugh
The only time we got to see Erik in action was when he came out to warm up the pitcher between innings.
It would be a stretch for me to say that I know Erik. We know who he is, and watched his son and our grandson play. But because of the close connection to our daughter and her family, we like to watch when the Blue Jays are on television and Erik is playing, which isn’t all that often. It’s the price of being a backup player.

Recently, a game between the Blue Jays and the Twins was broadcast nationally. Erik got to start the game. On his first at bat, he popped the ball high in the air behind second base.

Both the shortstop and second baseman sprinted to catch the ball while the centerfielder, who was playing deep, ran in, too. The infielders arrived at the ball at the same time, and collided. The ball dropped, and Erik was safe at second, credited with a double.

Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik's father.
Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik’s father.
My wife, who really knows the game of baseball, said enthusiastically, “That just goes to show that you never give up running.” Neva was right on.

Too many times I’ve seen Major League players hit a sure double-play grounder, or a pop-up like Erik’s, and the batter assumes the fielder will cleanly make the play. He gives up running hard, only to discover that the ball was bobbled or thrown away or, like in Erik’s case, dropped.

But because the runner assumed the ball would be caught, the fielders had a second chance. Many times the batter was thrown out despite the miscue because he had quit running.

I thought a lot about what Neva said. Never quit running, not in baseball, not in any sport, not in a business, not in relationships, not in life. Regardless of the odds, keep on running.

My brother-in-law, who is my age, has gone through some traumatic physical issues in his lifetime, some even life threatening. But Bob has never given up. He always, always has kept a positive attitude no matter how serious the situation.

His determination, along with excellent medical care and a strong support group of wife, family and friends, have kept him running, metaphorically speaking. If he had given up, he likely wouldn’t still be with us. But he is.

erikkratzbybrucestambaugh
Erik Kratz.
I admire that in people. No matter the odds, they keep plugging on. Determination, goals, grit, desire, love, moxie, patience, encouragement all are ingredients in living a fulfilling, meaningful, useful life.

I’m glad my brother-in-law has survived another medical episode. His faith and determination surely helped him through, and will continue to do so during his rehab sessions.

I’m glad Erik kept running, too. As it turned out, he didn’t score a run. But that really wasn’t the point. He put himself in position to score. It was up to his teammates to bring him home.

So keep on running, just like Bob and Erik. Isn’t that what life is really all about anyhow?

A game-winning hit by Erik Kratz

(June 23, 2014 update: The Blue Jays sent Erik Kratz to their AAA-minor league team, Buffalo, today.)

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Photo of the Week

junefullmoonbybrucestambaugh
June’s Hot Full Moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Because of the sun’s high location in the Northern Hemisphere’s sky, and the moon’s southeastern proximity, reports had indicated that June’s Hot Full Moon would be orange. When the moon slipped above the horizon at 10:24 p.m. on June 14, it was even more orange than I had anticipated.

With the dark sky and the pumpkin colored hue, the moon favored more Halloween than almost summer. I captured this hand-held shot as it rose above an Amish farmstead east of Berlin, Ohio in Holmes County. It is my photo of the week.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

© Bruce Stambaugh

A glorious evening proved silence is still golden

sunsetbybrucestambaugh
Sunset in Amish country. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recently my wife and I watched the International Space Station (ISS) glide stealthily, swiftly and brilliantly through the night sky. As big and bright as it was, it didn’t make a sound.

I instantly thought of my folks, especially Dad, who was an aerospace engineer. Mom and Dad taught my siblings and me to embrace the silence, although I’m not sure we appropriately applied that concept inside our active household.

With my wife by my side, I stood transfixed beneath the emerging sparkling of the heavenly canopy above us. The day’s blustery wind had subsided, allowing the evening’s coolness to further settle the already quiet evening. We focused on the unfolding cosmic concert.

Though we knew when and where to look, the ISS seemed to magically appear out of the gilded southwestern twilight. Its trajectory brought it straight overhead. We followed it far to the northeast until it disappeared close to the eastern horizon.

This wasn’t the first time we had seen the ISS, and it likely won’t be the last. I never tire of scanning the heavens for all things bright and beautiful, natural or humanly contrived.

Even if you didn’t know the schedule, you would recognize the space station if you saw it. There is nothing else in the night sky quite like it. The ISS zips along in a low arch at 17,500 miles per hour. No blinking lights spoil its natural reflective hue.

The ISS can thank the earth’s sun for its golden glow. With the sun’s rays at optimum angle at dusk, they bounced off of the speeding space station during its entire trip across the sky.

ISS
Photo courtesy of NASA.
As the ISS silently glided through the crystal clear sky, a cow mooed from somewhere in the encroaching darkness. Later, a neighbor’s dog barked twice, then fell silent, too.

The sound of vehicles traveling nearby roads temporarily disrupted the evening’s tranquility. A lone horse and buggy clopped by just as the ISS vanished.

Planets and stars twinkled high above the ISS, which itself was an impressive 230 miles above the earth. Blissful peace surrounded us as we fixed our gaze on mankind’s miracle intersecting with creation’s stunning celestial beauty.

It was marvelous to inhale and enjoy the evening quiet under such an illuminating setting. Once again, my parents were spot on. Silence has its rewards.

This time of year, when the chorus of bird songs fill the air beginning at first light, it definitely is good to listen. Standing under that twinkling umbrella, I reveled in simply listening to the stillness, and observing the sky.

I stood in awe, silently smiling, and watched the ISS smoothly sail across the heavenly sea. Its silence was profound. Neither the noise of speeding traffic nor a mooing cow or a barking dog could mar the inspiring experience.

I learn so much by listening and absorbing. As my parents taught, listening shows respect for all of creation. I consider listening to others, to natural sounds, and the silent sounds as an investment that enriches my life. It costs only my time and attention.

As we viewed the ISS zoom through the magnificent night sky, a new, perhaps more pertinent meaning of the old maxim my folks instilled in me all those years ago literally shown forth. Silence really is golden.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

In honor of Father’s Day and catalpa trees

bloomingcatalpabybrucestambaugh
Blooming Catalpa Tree. © Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

I made a very revealing, personal discovery today. The 2014 calendar is identical to the 1947 calendar.

I know that’s not earth-shattering news. But it was for me. And it all started with me taking a photo of a blooming catalpa tree yesterday. I remember a story my late father once told me, one I have written about before, and will never forget.

Whenever the catalpa trees bloom in northern Ohio, Father’s Day is near. I had never paid much attention to that until Dad related his moving story.

On Sunday afternoons, my mother’s parents took turns visiting their three married daughters, all whom lived in Canton, Ohio. But on Father’s Day in 1947, Grandma and Grandpa Frith went to each of their daughter’s homes to visit. While sitting on our my parents’ front porch, Dad eyed a blooming tree down the street, and asked my grandfather if he knew what kind of tree it was. Grandpa Frith told Dad that it was a catalpa tree. Some people refer to it as the cigar tree, in reference to the tree’s long, green fruit pods.

The next day Grandpa Frith went to a job site where he was working as an electrician. He had turned off the power to do his electrical repairs when someone came along and turned the power back on. Grandpa Frith was killed instantly.

In retrospect, Dad said Mom, Aunt Gerry and Aunt Vivian were ever so grateful for that last visit they had with their father. They even wondered if it wasn’t simply meant to be.

I was born that December, never having met my grandfather.

Knowing that this Sunday, June 15 is Father’s Day, the exact same day as 67 years ago, seeing that blooming catalpa tree had even more meaning for me than ever before.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Photo of the Week

youngbarnowlsbybrucestambaugh
Young Barn Owls. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I recently served as a guide to a local Amish farm that had an active Barn Owl nest. It was one of several in the Holmes County, Ohio area. For the most part, the Amish are very respectful towards wildlife, especially birds. They fully understand what a gift it is to have Barn Owls around. The owls help control the rodent population.

Certified naturalist and speaker, Chuck Jakubchak, accompanied me on the field trip. After everyone had viewed the trio of young Barn Owls in their nesting box through a peephole, Chuck suggested I get a picture of the owls. I certainly didn’t want to stress the young birds, so he lifted the top of the box just enough for me to take this photograph. Of course, the owls hissed and bobbed, their natural defense mechanisms, for the few seconds that it took me to snap the shutter. We left the young owls in peace.

The morning sun streamed through the entrance to the nesting box, and an east breeze fluffed up their downy feathers. This was the only picture that I took, and I wanted to share it with all of you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.