How college basketball has helped see us through this long, pandemic winter

We watch a lot of games.

The epitome of how my wife watches college basketball. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I married the right woman. There are many lofty reasons that I can cite. But during this long pandemic winter, there is one that stands out—college basketball.

I am truly fortunate that my wife enjoys sports as much as I do. In the winter, pandemic or no pandemic, basketball has always been our preferred entertainment.

I’m not sure what we thought when we picked the day for our wedding, however. It indeed wasn’t chosen around basketball. We were married on the night of Ohio’s annual state high school basketball tournament finals and the NCAA tournament’s regional games. Despite that, our fathers still attended the ceremony and not the games.

Over our 50 years of marriage, our basketball cravings evolved. When we were first married, we bounced from local high school games to college and even an occasional pro game.

When our daughter and son played in junior high and high school, those games became priority number one. We plowed our way through snowstorms to tiny crackerjacks box gyms in the middle of nowhere to holler our lungs out.

Before the pandemic, we watched our grandsons play basketball.

As empty-nesters, we settled in on snowy evenings and watched college basketball on TV. We’ve kept that habit to this day.

We were all geared up for another round of March Madness last year when officials abruptly canceled the tournament. We were a bit baffled then, but now we know it was the right decision.

We had no idea a year ago what the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic would be. We do now. Experience and knowledge tend to clear your vision and shake your doubts.

My wife and I have appreciated the NCAA and the college sports administrators’ approach to keeping this basketball season alive. It’s been a struggle at times, with teams canceling games and even halting practices for days on end due to the virus.

Limiting the number of fans in the stands ranging from zero to family members only to a few hundred has helped college basketball continue dribbling. That doesn’t count the multitude of cardboard cutouts of people and former players filling the seats. Even play-by-play announcers are often broadcasting remotely.

Nevertheless, college teams are playing basketball, and we couldn’t be happier. Watching the teams compete has helped shorten the long winter nights for us old folks.

After dinner, Neva and I plant ourselves in front of the television and watch our choice of games. She claims the love seat while I wear out the recliner. We’ll have an evening snack of tea and cookies or ice cream at halftime.

Neva multi-tasks, of course. She can assemble a jigsaw puzzle, read on her iPad, and watch the game simultaneously. However, my eyes are strictly glued to the TV, with the remote firmly in hand, ready to channel surf at commercial breaks.

Even after 50 years, I marvel at Neva’s knowledge of the game. She knows a charge from a block better than the referees.

Saturdays are even better than weeknights, with games often scheduled from noon to midnight. We pick and choose the ones we want to watch, of course. We’re basketball fans, not fanatics. I hope there is a difference.

We happily anticipate the start of March Madness this year. We’re hoping that the tourney will indeed go as scheduled. We’ll be cheering for our favorite teams. But if they don’t win, we’ll keep watching.

Following college basketball helps our evenings pass, and we don’t even have to leave the house or buy a ticket. Best of all, my wife is right there with me.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Tufted Titmouse

A most attractive and affable bird.

Tufted Titmice are some of the cutest, most personable birds around. Their fairly plain coloration belies their personalities. These acrobatic birds are welcome at any backyard bird feeder. You can often hear them coming before you see them. Their variety of clarion calls are music to my ears. They whistle and call in a variety of ways, sometimes sounding as if they are scolding. Tufted Titmice are often accompanied by the local Chickadee patch.

Seen across much of the eastern United States, these active birds devour black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts. They are fun to watch and seldom sit still. I felt fortunate to be able to snap this profile of this Tufted Titmouse. It enables you to see all the bird’s identifying features: its stubby black bill, black forehead, pointy crest, its dominant gray color with rusty sides. The bird’s beady black eyes against its pale face make it easy to see where it gets its name.

“Tufted Titmouse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

It’s an old-fashioned Ohio winter

Except we live in Virginia.

Just another snowstorm in northeast Ohio.

So far, this certainly has been an old-fashioned Ohio winter. The only problem with that statement is that we live in Virginia.

I was afraid this might happen since my wife and I decided to forgo our usual weeks-long hiatus to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. It wasn’t always warm in our snowbird retreat there either, but at least it never snowed.

My preferred winter morning scene.

I don’t mind the snow so much. It’s the cold that gets to me. The older I get, the colder I get. My doctor blames that phenomenon on some of the medications that I take. Still, the results are the same.

My wife and I determined it best for us to stay close to home here in the Shenandoah Valley during the pandemic. We didn’t want to miss our chance at getting our virus vaccines since we were in a priority category to receive the shots.

We decided that it was better to endure the usually milder winters of Virginia than those of the Buckeye State we knew so well. This year there’s hardly been a difference.

Scenes from Ohio winters.

We have had cold, windy, wet, snowy, and often gray winter days. It hasn’t been as bad as living in the northeast Ohio Snowbelt. But we still feel those cold Arctic northwest winds nevertheless.

The Allegheny Mountains to our west help block some of the storms, and their western upslopes receive much more snow than we do here in the valley. However, if a storm tracks east of the mountains, we get our fair share of the white stuff, too. Snow and cold have been the rule, not the exception this winter for us.

So far this winter, we have had multiple measurable snowstorms. Some even lasted for a couple of days. We are used to seeing more sunny days here than we did in Ohio. Not this winter. I miss my frequent doses of vitamin D.

There is one good thing about snow in Virginia. It shuts everything down, significantly decreasing the number of drivers trying to test their macho mettle.

In Ohio, severe winter storms also closed schools, businesses, and highways. But that didn’t stop hardy souls from enjoying the snow. In extreme storms, snowmobiles ruled the roads until the snowplows ruined the fun.

Friends have teased us about all the winter storms we’ve had so far this year. “I thought you moved south,” they jest. My rational reply always is, “Yes, just not far enough south.” For the record, we are at the same latitude as Cincinnati.

Of course, we moved here for the grandkids. I’m pleased that they also have sledding hills to conquer and snow forts to build, as we did as youngsters. I’m contented to hear about their fun rather than join in.

Scenes for Virginia winters.

Snow brings more than recreation, though. The aesthetic results of valley snowstorms are a marvel. Like our former home, rolling farms dot the landscape of our expansive county. When blanketed with inches of snow, the already pastoral scenes turn majestic.

The mountainous landscapes become black and white panoramas of steeply sloped woods sprouting from white forest floors. Old Order Mennonites in buggies and on bikes don’t let the slippery stuff stop their endeavors. In that regard, it feels just like Holmes County, too.

The nice thing is that we don’t have to leave our home to enjoy the snow-sculpted scenery. Frosted branches of the neighbors’ evergreens bend low from the wet, white weight. We miss the Florida sunshine, but Neva and I are enjoying the beauty of wintertime in Virginia just as much as we did in Ohio.

Snow-covered Old Order Mennonite farms at the base of the Allegheny Mountains.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Dessert!

A Valentine’s Day surprise.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. My wonderful wife served up a delicious noon meal. She saved the best for later. At halftime of a basketball game we were watching on TV, Neva brought out this amazing dessert: a gluten-free brownie sundae with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, topped with fresh red raspberries. It tasted even better than it looks. The flavors perfectly blended together.

I knew I had to photograph this lovely dish. The fire engine red table cloth as the backdrop made the red raspberries pop. It was a great way to finish off our Valentine’s Day dinner.

“Dessert!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The helpfulness of neighbors

When it is least expected and most appreciated

What is it about a snowstorm that brings out the best in people? Is it the commonality of being snowed-in?

Is it the down-deep desire to be helpful in any way possible? Is it the freshness of the pure white landscape plastered with inches of snow? Or is it the clean, cold, wholesome air?

Or maybe it’s out of the genuine goodness of people’s hearts, the opportunity and ability to help where help is needed that stirs folks into action. Perhaps it is all of these things rolled into one.

Whatever the motivation, the results are the same. Neighbors come together for the common good of all simply because there is a job to do.

In this case, it was to clear driveways and sidewalks.

Our National Weather Service office did an excellent job of warning the good people of the Commonwealth that a winter storm was imminent. Just the mention of snow in the forecast in Virginia, and schools, factories, and offices close.

Even if you had missed the winter storm warning announcement, the crowds at every grocery store should have raised an internal alarm. Supermarkets become jammed the day before, with folks buying enough supplies to last for weeks. I figured for this storm that the only milk left in the county belonged to the dairy cows still in the milking parlor stanchions.

So, yes, we were ready for snow, and when we woke the next morning, we weren’t disappointed. A beautiful five-inches blanketed everything animate and inanimate all around our suburban neighborhood.

The forecast was for the quick burst of heavy snow followed by a lull with more snow once the low hit the east coast. The wrap-around snow later from the nor’easter provided another three inches over a much more extended period.

After I had measured the snow depth at 7 a.m., I shoveled our front sidewalk and a path out to the street. I came back in to send in my snow report via email to the National Weather Service and eat breakfast.

Before I could return to the shoveling, Neva hollered that our neighbor Frank was snow-blowing our driveway. I hurriedly dressed for the elements and headed back outside. I thanked Frank but told him that he didn’t need to be doing our driveway.

A beautiful early morning snow.

Frank chuckled and modestly said that his snowblower needed the dust blown out of it. Given how little snow we usually receive in the Shenandoah Valley, I understood his comment. However, this winter has been different, and this was Frank’s first opportunity to use his machine.

Frank had already cleaned his driveway and that of another neighbor before doing ours. When he finished at our place, he went to Janice’s across the street.

To our surprise, our good-neighbor assistance continued. Frank had no sooner left when our next-door neighbor Wayne showed up and started shoveling the remaining snow. I tried to wave him off, but he was determined.

Then out of nowhere popped Jonathan and his mother, Deb, our across-the-street friends. They joined Wayne in clearing all the leftover snow. Of course, Neva and I helped, too.

I could hear snowblowers on other streets in our nearly 500-home development. We weren’t the only recipients of neighbors helping neighbors.

Neva and I were both thankful and humbled by the spontaneous actions of generosity. It would have taken me much longer than the few minutes that Frank and his impromptu crew needed to clear our drive.

But where were we going to go? Virginia was closed for the day and, just for good measure, the next day, too.   

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Fly Me to the Moon

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Standing at the kitchen sink yesterday morning, I happened to notice the crescent moon hanging in the southeastern morning sky. I grabbed my camera and headed out to the patio to shoot the moon so to speak before the sun blinded it from view.

I took the photo and turned to go back inside since it was 15 degrees outside. I happened to notice a jet streaking through the sky to the left of the moon. I braced myself against the frame of our porch door and took this handheld shot just as the jet crossed in front of the moon. Immediately, the lyrics of Count Basie filled my mind. Of course, it was Frank Sinatra’s voice singing this iconic song.

“Fly Me to the Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Look for February’s hopeful signs

Amanda Gorman recites “The Hill We Climb” at the recent inauguration.

I have always had a thing for February. Perhaps it’s my penchant for the underdog.

After all, February is the shortest month of every year, even if it’s a leap year. Still, there is a charm about the second month that casts a spell on me.

As a youngster, I marveled at the array of holidays that February offered up. In elementary school, we drew and colored log cabins in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. I’m so old that Congress hadn’t yet invented a Monday President’s Day holiday.

For inspiration for our amateurish creations, all we had to do was look up from our slanted-top wooden desks. A reproduced painting of Old Abe gazed down at us from above the slate blackboard.

Right beside him was the father of our country, George Washington. They both seemed rather grim and stern. But we were taught the romantic legends of these great men. They held my attention and respect for their leadership to the country.

The next art lesson was always preparing for Valentine’s Day. We all did our best to create and decorate our Valentine boxes to collect classmates’ Valentine’s. The expectations were that everyone gave a valentine to every other classmate. If I remember correctly, we even had contests for the prettiest, funniest, and most creative.

I don’t remember ever winning any awards, but that was insignificant. I looked forward to the Valentine’s parties with fruit punch and delicious homemade cookies that room mothers hosted. Besides, it got us out of class time.

We also cut out red, pink, and white hearts to plaster on the old single-pane, iron-framed windows that let in plenty of cold air even when they were closed. Thank goodness for the old silver-painted steam radiators that kept us cozy all through the winter.

Up next was George’s birthday on the 22nd. Black and brown axes and miniature cherry trees replaced the construction paper hearts on the windows. I often wonder if our teachers knew that that tale of chopping down the cherry tree was false even as they told it. If so, the irony itself makes my point.

Today, of course, we know better. Or at least we should. However, it astounds me that it has taken all these years to expose the uncomfortable facts. It is incumbent upon us all to learn about the ill-treatment of generations of people of color. History is only accurate when the truth is told.

Frederick Douglas grave, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

February is Black History Month for a good reason. It expanded from Black History Week in honor of the birthday of both Lincoln and abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglas, who was born on the 20th.

I like February for other reasons, too. Despite the potential for additional cold temperatures and snow, signs of spring are emerging regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil predicts. We just have to pay attention.

A plant pushes through the mulch in early February. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

The days are growing longer. The sap is running, and maple sugaring is in full swing. Look closely, and you’ll discover shoots of green pushing their way ever so slowly through loamy soil and mulch. The promise of colorful blossoms emerges.

Migratory birds have already begun their trek north again. Those that dull their feathers for winter protection have started to molt into their mating regalia.

If a February thaw happens, our appetites for spring are wetted. However, let’s not be too anxious and get ahead of ourselves. There is still plenty of winter to come.

It may be the year’s shortest month, but February always has a lot to offer.

Mountain View Private School in a recent February snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Inside Out

Always look up. You might be surprised by what you see.

I debated about how to title my Photo of the Week. Posting an apparent abstract photo is unusual for me. I even thought about holding a contest as to what the content of this photo actually is. But, I decided against it, and instead gave you a hint in the title as to where this photo was taken, which was inside my house.

I also considered titling the photograph “Winter Abstract,” but settled on “Inside Out.” Any guesses as to what this photo shows?

This my friends is actually a shot of the skylight in our great room. The crinkly pattern in the center of the photo is six-inches of snow atop the curved glass. It drew my attention when my wife and I noticed how dark it was in that portion of the room. When I investigated, I knew I had to share this beauty.

“Inside Out” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021.