Watching the grandkids grow

Times have changed, and so have the grandkids.
Our grandkids are growing in so many ways. The most apparent transformations, of course, are their physical changes.

On their last visit to Nana and Poppy’s Ohio home, we had family photos taken. That was April 2017. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was taller than all three grandchildren. Not anymore.

When we returned from a recent trip to Alaska, I could no longer make that claim. Both Evan and Davis have outgrown me. Two years makes a big difference when you are growing youngsters.

In fact, Davis is challenging his older brother for tallest sibling bragging rights. At 15 and 13, they both likely have some growing yet to do.

When Nana asked Davis if he was the tallest in his middle school, he said not by a long shot. One classmate is already 6 foot 3 inches.

When I asked what sports the tall teen plays, Davis quickly replied with one defining word: “Guitar!” That’s what I get for stereotyping.

We took the sprouting trio out for our annual before-school-begins breakfast at their favorite eatery. Since it was already going on 10 a.m. by the time we arrived, the outing was more like brunch. Growing youngsters need their sleep.

The discussion around the breakfast table revealed other sorts of growth. They each shared about their recent trip to the west coast.

Back in Ohio.
The highlights they named surprised both Nana and me. They all liked the Chihuly Art glass garden in Seattle. Riding motorbikes and four-wheelers in Oregon was a close second, followed by watching surfers at Huntington Beach, California with cousins they got to meet for the first time.

We talked about the upcoming school year. When asked about the classes they would be taking in high school and middle school, each boy pulled out a smartphone and read off their schedules. Little sister, who isn’t so little anymore, is excited to have her best friend in her fourth-grade class.

As they chattered on and we waited on the food, I couldn’t help but reflect on their younger years in Texas, where all three were born. We enjoyed those infrequent visits, although the hot Lone Star summers often kept us inside playing with Matchbox toys and changing diapers.

Now they live in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and so do we. They are the primary reasons we moved here from the beloved Buckeye State more than two years ago. Living five miles apart is much more convenient than five hours by airplane.

Watching the grandkids change so quickly is both gratifying and a bit scary. We relish each moment, even the predictable squabbles of youth and siblings. I’m thankful that the role of grandparent is less harried than that of the parent.

Evan, Davis, and Maren all have their various likes and dislikes, gifts and abilities. It is both a joy and a challenge to keep up with their busy, young lives.

We bundle up and watch Even pitch even if it’s 40 degrees with a stiff northwest wind. I marvel at Davis’ preference for quiet, personal time, whether on a solo bike ride or being in his room. I shake my head in disbelief at Maren’s packed after-school schedule. How she manages soccer and choir practices, and piano lessons that sometimes follow one another is a mystery to me.

The grandchildren are growing. Nana and I relish the rapid changes that seem to occur daily. We anticipate with wonder all that is yet to come, thankful we’re here to help and take it all in.

Kids being kids.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

There’s always a pleasant surprise at Lakeside, Ohio

Cottages in early morning light along Ohio’s most beautiful mile in Lakeside, OH.

Upon our return from our most recent stay at Lakeside, Ohio, a friend who had never been there asked me what we liked. “Everything!” I replied immediately. I wasn’t facetious either.

We go for the wholesomeness of the Chautauqua town on Lake Erie. We love the renewal of friendships, the happy buzz of children playing, generations of adults relaxing on front porches of quaint cottages, inspiring sunrises and sunsets, informative presentations, and a variety of nightly entertainment that touches multiple genres in a week.

We stay in the same hospitality house every year, often with some of the same guests, who have become friends over the years. We quickly settle into the same routines.

A two-mile walk around the gated community’s parameter precedes breakfast on the spacious wrap-around front porch. As we enjoy coffee, cereal, and friendly conversation, we people watch. Many folks make donut runs to a restaurant a block away.

The OH Pops stand at the farmers market.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the farmers’ market vendors assemble and set up their offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables, scrumptious homemade pies, and even doggie treats. The streets fill with customers from 9 a.m. to noon.

When I saw people browsing the various vendors while eating popsicles, I had to wonder where they got them. Friend Jeanne informed me that a new stand offered the cool treats for the hot weather.

Visions of creamsicles from my youth danced in my head. I went to find the source.

Beneath a rainbow-colored umbrella, a thin young man operated a stand that was nothing more than an icebox on wheels designed to be towed behind a bicycle. The young entrepreneur greeted everyone with a welcoming smile.

A sandwich chalkboard listed the luscious and unique flavors available for the day. I bought two different varieties, banana split, and apricot lavender. Of course, I shared with my wife.

One bite of the banana split pop, and I was hooked. The taste and texture of the mini-chocolate chips convinced my taste buds. I had to get the story on these OH Pops, the appropriate and official name of the young man’s business.

Storm clouds reflect sunset colors on the Lakeside dock.
I dashed back down the street and waited until other customers were served. I introduced myself and learned his name was Derek.

I identified myself as a journalist and wanted to know his story. When he told me, I was in near disbelief.

Derek was 30-years-old. His two nieces, ages seven and 12, live with him. A judge gave him custody of the girls when their mother sadly fell victim to the pandemic opioid crisis. The court decided Derek, their uncle, was the best suitable relative to care for the young girls.

The pair helps Derek make the icy treats, and even suggest the unusual flavors and ingredients. In addition to farmers markets, Derek is hired for special events and wedding receptions.

Derek got the mobile icy pop idea from seeing similar operations in large cities that he visited. He thought, “Why not here?”

Besides his business, Derek works two other jobs to make ends meet.

His vision for both the business and for the welfare of his nieces much impressed me. The combination of this young man’s work ethic and dedication shines as a model for all of us.

If this wasn’t a lesson in humility and compassion, I don’t know what is. Meeting Derek and hearing his heartwarming story was just the latest reason we love to visit Lakeside, Ohio every summer.

Dawn breaks at Lakeside Chautauqua in Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Half empty and half full’s juncture

An iconic mid-summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

It’s July, and you know what that means. We are already halfway through the year. How can that be?

It seems like only yesterday that it was cold and rainy, and folks from Florida to Ontario were all tired of wearing winter jackets. But here we are at the beginning of July, the year half spent like a jar half full, or is it half empty?

I suppose the answer is a matter of personal perspective. Given all that has happened in 2019 so far, I could respond either way. It’s been that kind of year.

Sometimes life is a question mark.
The half emptiness comes from the loss of long-time friends, people who lived productive, generous lives of service. They meant so much to not only me but to so many others that they also touched so tenderly. Others who have passed on were much too young. Their deaths caused heavy, burdensome grief, and raised imploring questions and inquiries of the Almighty about life’s fairness.

The unruly weather caused miseries more disastrous than prolonged cold spells. Extensive record flooding indiscriminately inundated homes, businesses, fields, and overflowed the largest lakes.

Ohioans came to the aid of their waterlogged Nebraska compatriots. Weeks later, it would be the Buckeyes who watched and waited for their fields to drain. Crops that managed to be planted risked rotting in the soggy soil. Other ground may simply go fallow.

My wife and I have found that the half-fullness overflows with bounteous joys of exploring new places, meeting new people, having others reach out in friendly ways. To say we are grateful would be insufficient in expressing our appreciation for what life in the first half of 2019 has brought us.

In mid-January, a sun pillar brightened the already gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean outside our snowbird rental. The ever-changing scene served as a reminder to breathe deeply and to embrace each moment as 2019 unfolded.

After a light late February snow, the sun strained through trailing clouds and turned the rolling Shenandoah Valley landscapes into a spectacular sparkling winter wonderland.

A pastel March sunset bid us farewell as we said our last goodbyes to the family cottage in Ohio. Generations of family and friends helped fulfill the dreams that my folks had had for their quaint lakeside-gathering place. But as that chilly sunset waned, we shed tears of gratitude and appreciation for the memories made and wished the new owners the very same.

Each spring, I had enjoyed the showy lavender blooms of redbud trees that adorned still barren forests and neighborhood landscapes. However, I had never noticed how each individual blossom so closely resembled tiny hummingbirds on the wing until a kind neighbor showed me in April.

A state bridge engineer directed us to a cascading waterfall we would have surely missed had we stayed on the main highway. In the quintessential New England town of Jackson, New Hampshire, Jackson Falls became one of the many highlights of our May vacation.

The same kind neighbor who pointed out the redbud hummingbirds brought over a couple of puffy pastries she had made using the sour cherries she had recently picked. Her tasty treats made this June day even better than it already was.

You likely have a comparable list. What challenges and surprise blessings are in store for us the rest of 2019? We really don’t know.

Like July is to the calendar, we encounter life’s happenstance experiences at the juncture of our half empty and half fullness. Our job is to be alert to explore and savor those serendipitous, joyous moments.

An end of June sunset marks a fitting demarkation for any year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Why I never learned to swim


I don’t remember the trauma I experienced nearly 70 years ago. And yet, I can recall it as if it had happened yesterday.

I was two, four years younger than my older brother. We lived on a channel that connected two glacial lakes southwest of Akron, Ohio. Our father was supposed to be watching us while our mother was away for a while. Dad being Dad, he was preoccupied with something else. I still recall the disdain and anger that our usually gentile mother expressed toward our father as this family story was told and retold over the years.

It was this dramatic retelling that etched a lifetime of fear of water into my psyche. Consequently, I never learned to swim. Shoot, I even take showers just to stay safe. It is my only logical explanation of this unfounded, yet realistic phobia.

It was a lovely summer day, warm but not too warm. So Dad sent my brother and me unattended outside to play. Of course, the first place we headed was to the wooden dock that jutted into the canal that connected North Reservoir with Turkeyfoot Lake. The magnetic dock drew my brother and me as if we were steel ingots, not flesh and bones.

We loved to feed the ducks that frequented the waterway that lazily flowed only a few feet behind our waterfront bungalow. This time, however, my brother and I didn’t have any bread to feed the ducks that swam over to the dock where we stood. We must have bent over to get a closer look at them.

Though I was too young to remember it, the next thing that happened was a plop, plop. My brother and I each fell into the water like rocks. The dock wasn’t magnetic after all.

I know these specifics and this sequence of events because our next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Nussbaum, was outside hanging up her wash on the laundry line. She had heard Craig and me talking but could not see us because of the strings of clothes. But she knew what the double-barrelled splashing sounds meant.

Without knowing exactly where we had fallen into the water, Mrs. Nussbaum rushed to the channel and jumped in, her dress flying up like an umbrella. My brother surfaced just as she entered the water, which made it easy for her to rescue Craig. She placed him safely on the shoreline and returned to search for me in the now murky water.

Mrs. Nussbaum quickly found me. She told my father that I was lying dead still on my back at the bottom of the channel, eyes wide open staring straight ahead. She scooped me up and put me on the shore beside my brother.

The conversation between Mrs. Nussbaum and our father was never revealed to me, or if it was, I didn’t understand the meaning of some of the words. However, without knowing the verbal details, the emotion evoked when our mother arrived back home, and Dad had to confess the nearly tragic accident to her remains with me still.

If only for brevity, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Mom, of course, was furious and that fury lasted every time the story was told. As the years passed, a little humor was added, but as I recall, very little. Mom was still upset, and Dad, well, he was still irresponsible when it came to domestic duties.

My brother learned to swim. I never did. To this day, swimming means staying alive while I’m in the water because that long-ago trauma still floats in my head.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Reflections on being a father

As I reflect on my seven decades of living, it is only now that I realize just how much I have enjoyed the role of helping to raise a son and a daughter. I recognize that I made many mistakes as a father. I also believe my wife and I got a few things right.

Being a father is a huge responsibility. For me, I didn’t fully appreciate parenting’s magnitude. I flew by the seat of my pants, using others as models. For good or ill, my father was my chief influencer.

Dr. Benjamin Spock aside, us baby boomers basically were on our own when it came to being parents. After all, neither the Internet nor Google had been born.

We were offspring of the silent generation. Even with other parents as role models, not counting Ward and June Cleaver, I heavily relied on common sense and practicality in being a father.

I understand that we didn’t parent alone or in isolation. My wife and I had much help from friends, family, teachers, and the very organizations in which we served.

My wife and I tried to be on the same page when it came to parental decisions, though we weren’t always consistent. Still, together, we managed to raise two healthy youngsters from diapers to diplomas into adulthood, and then let them fly on their own.

As parents, we tried not to alter our lifestyles significantly once our children arrived. We took them to concerts, calling hours, museums, baseball games, and family picnics. We visited cities, state and national parks, hiked and fished, and generally enjoyed showing them the breadth and depths of life, as we knew it.

Being the father of adult children is a whole different ballgame than when they were youngsters. It is difficult to watch them make decisions similar to what their mother and I had done and not say anything unless asked.

However, being a grandfather has given me a clearer perspective on fatherhood. We live in a global world today, just as we always have. Only I didn’t connect those dots then. I do now, and I am so glad to see that both our son and daughter comprehend how interconnected the world in which we live is.

As mother and father, we imperfectly tried to teach and model the precepts of service, humility, fairness, justice, and mercy. Now, as a senior citizen, I am so grateful for the opportunities to observe our “children” in their daily, imperfect walk to make this rough and tumble world a better place.

I have cherished my role as a father. Now I find great joy in listening, observing, and reflecting as I watch our grandchildren grow all too quickly. It’s like being a parent all over again, only without the direct primary responsibility or the tax deductions.

If I had it to do over again, I would work diligently to explore far beyond my own life space, beyond my own comfort zone. I realize, too, the duplicity of my community involvement. Frequently other activities took precedence over that of my family. I also know that participation set examples of service to others for them.

It is gratifying to watch your adult children successfully employ the precepts you labored to teach them. It is equally uplifting to be there when they need assistance in doing so.

I am grateful that our daughter and son have developed into successful, productive, and caring adults. What more could a father want?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

At long last, summer!

Breaking through the morning fog.

Summer! Having endured this seemingly eternal winter, that sunny, heart-warming word just rolls off of your tongue with glee and jubilation. It’s June, after all.

The official start of summer is still a couple of weeks away. But North American society can’t wait. Summer it is! As proof, many schools have already dismissed for the year or soon will. Family vacations are being planned.

After a long, damp spring, the weather warmed up rather quickly over a large geographic area in the U.S. In fact, the National Weather Service in two New England states issued weather statements cautioning the public about swimming in streams and ponds with water 20 degrees colder than the air temperature. Hypothermia was the primary concern.

Lawn mowing has become a regular task.
Summer’s fresh fragrances have already caressed most of us. Not only that, it looks like summer, too. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, the deciduous trees are all leafed out, their tender new shoots having turned from their infant lime green to a more vibrant, darker fullness. Shade trees can once again shelter hammocks.

Despite the wet spring, the first big round bales of hay stand rolled up in fields and ready to be hauled to storage. Farmers and suburbanites alike are planting crops and backyard gardens. We’ve already enjoyed fresh, crisp lettuce courtesy of our kind neighbors.

Given the warm days and nights and the frequent rains, lawn mowing has become a full-time profession. The grass is growing that fast.

People walking their dogs have exchanged their coats and stocking caps for shorts and t-shirts. Instead of leading their masters, the canines are lagging behind, tongues dangling.

Anglers have begun to ply their skills in rivers, ponds, lakes, and the oceans wherever and whenever they can. Don’t forget the sunscreen and mosquito spray.

The Knockouts.
Daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs have all had their show. Gaillardia, larkspur, coral-bells, and blue sage have taken their places. Loaded with bright, showy blossoms, the knockout roses really are knockouts.

American robin, eastern bluebird, common grackle, song sparrow, pileated woodpecker, and bald eagle chicks have all fledged their nests while other bird species are just now building theirs. The adults are doing their absolute best to protect the youngsters.

Strawberries have come and gone already in the Shenandoah Valley. Further north, folks are just now beginning to stuff themselves with the luscious redness. They are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside. My resourceful wife even made a strawberry pie for her birthday topped with real whipped cream.

Summer’s emergence doesn’t necessarily guarantee smooth sailing. Witness the frequent severe storms that have already brought death and destruction via tornadoes and flooding.

Cutting fresh strawberry pie.
Another negative is the abundant pollen filling the air from oaks, cottonwoods, and maples. Those with grass allergies have had a tough time of it as well. That being said, I can endure fits of sneezing for those rosy summer sunrises and sunsets.

Road construction zones are more numerous than dandelions. Having just driven nearly 2,700 miles on vacation, my wife and I can affirm that U.S. infrastructure definitely needs the repairs.

Summer picnics and reunions will soon occur along with organized and pickup baseball games for young and old. I can satisfyingly attest to the fact that grilling season has definitely begun.

Soon fireflies will begin their annual light display. Small town festivals and big city extravaganzas with outdoor concerts will commence. Festive parades and fundraising races have already started.

Relax on the back porch with a refreshing glass of mint tea and the first of several captivating reads. It’s summer, after all. Let’s all enjoy it together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Seeing my baseball dreams come true

Grandson at bat.

As a kid, I always wanted to play third base for the Cleveland Indians. Bubba Phillips was my hero.

I know. I could have picked a more respectable team like the dreaded New York Yankees. But I was born in a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio. Cheering for any other team was tantamount to treason.

I began playing baseball at age seven. Right away I had a strong inclination that I wasn’t major league baseball material. A one-hopper hit me square in the mouth loosening a few front teeth.

Still, I kept at it until my college days where I watched the Kent State University baseball team. A couple of years later the team’s catcher, the late, great Thurman Munson and fellow Cantonian, would become an all-star backstop for the Yankees.

Thurman lived my dream, just in a different position, although I spent most of my Little League and Hot Stove baseball days behind the plate as well. I never took one in the mouth though. Wearing a catcher’s mask helped with that.

Before the pitch.
Imagine my joy when our oldest grandchild took to baseball like a duck to water. He was a natural from little on up. Now he’s 15, a high school freshman, and pitching for the varsity baseball team. Did I mention that he also plays third base, and shortstop, too?

Like other youngsters, Evan started with t-ball and kept playing until he progressed to the varsity squad. Nana and I couldn’t be more proud.

I try to let the coaches do the instruction. I do share stories with Evan from my playing days, usually some of my own baseball bloopers. With my talent, what else do I have to say? Evan always politely listens, often without comment. His parents have taught him well.

At the games, I focus on capturing photos of Evan pitching, hitting, and fielding. It’s harder to yell at the umpires with a camera in your face.

My wife and I have enjoyed this baseball journey with Evan and his family so far. We take in as many games as possible. That means huddled up in winter coats and blankets in the spring to keep warm. In the summer’s scorching Virginia sunshine, we share any available shade and try to stay hydrated.

And the pitch.
Evan goes all out in the sport he loves, sometimes much to his mother’s chagrin. I feel her pain when he slides headfirst into a base. A cloud of red dust rises around him from the powdery Virginia infields.

But the uniform always is ready for the next game, just like the young man who wears it. Win or lose, it is pure joy to watch him play. I don’t mind sharing my dreamy baseball romanticism with Evan at all.

I’m overjoyed that our grandson shares my passion for the game. I am even more grateful that he has had many opportunities to play and performs well, whether in the field, on the mound, or at bat. Sure he makes errors, gives up hits, or strikes out. But he is improving, gaining confidence, learning the game, and living his dream and mine.

Even as a grandfather, I still envision playing third base or perhaps pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Lord knows they could use some decent pitchers right now.

My dream is and was a fantasy. I knew that from the time the ball bloodied my lip decades ago. My grandson’s aspiration, however, is just now unfolding. I’ll let you know when he takes the mound for the Cleveland Indians.

Safe at third.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019