April is a character

In a family of months

Redbuds in full bloom.

I’ve known a few characters in my lifetime. I bet you have, too.

By character, I mean a unique individual who enjoys life outside the expected societal norms. Every family, workplace, and even church seems to have at least one individual who fits the profile.

I’ve learned that you don’t have to be human to be a character either. Our long-departed rat terrier Bill fit that category.

Bill’s personality far outsized his small frame. He once jumped up to try a catch a Canada goose that flew low over our Ohio home.

Other non-human characters include our backyard blonde squirrel and a pair of mallard ducks that frequent our neighborhood.

Just being blonde and a squirrel is character enough. When other squirrels approach, Blonde rapidly flips her beautiful golden tail to defend her territory. Satisfied that all is clear, she stretches out on the cool grass in the shadow of the maple, relishing in her most recent victory.

The ducks are a different story. Even though our suburban home’s closest water sources are swimming pools, this pair flies around the neighborhood, landing on rooftops. From there, they scout out nearby birdfeeders and go house to house foraging for breakfast, lunch, and supper.

Characters, however, don’t have to be living beings or animals.

Take our Julian calendar, for example. Months have dynamic personalities, too. April earns head of the class and not necessarily for alphabetical reasons.

Among her 11 siblings, April can often be a bit obnoxious. That’s especially true when it comes to weather.

April showers bring much more than May flowers. April’s repertoire dishes out tornadoes, snow, frost, floods, 80 degree days, and more. Sometimes only hours separate those diverse conditions.

No matter where you live in the United States or Canada, April can be a stinker. She doesn’t rely only on April 1 to fool you. One day, it’s 15 degrees above average. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky, while songbirds fill the warm air with luxurious melodies. The sound of lawnmowers echoes far and wide.

The next day the fog is so thick the sun can’t even breakthrough. Soon the wind picks up, and storm clouds race across the landscape, pelting rain, hail, and producing winds that exceed the speed limit. It would be justifiable if the weather service issued an arrest warrant for April for perpetrating days like this.

It’s not that we don’t expect variety in the weather. It is spring, after all. But it would be pure pleasure to know it’s safe to store the ice scrapers and snow shovels for at least a few months.

I have anecdotal evidence of such events. One early April day, 20 inches of heavy, wet snow brought much of Ohio to a halt. Volunteer fire departments ferried medical workers to and from hospitals.

On April 3 and 4, 1974, massive and deadly tornados hit Xenia, Ohio, and many other locations in more than a dozen states. Holmes County was in the path of the storm, too.

The sky turned pea green, and everything grew still. The tornado never touched down, but instead, tattered and torn objects from Xenia drifted to earth. People found checks and personal effects from 150 miles southwest.

April continues to be a Jekyll and Hyde. Just as our redbuds were about to bloom pink and bold, back-to-back days of 20-degree mornings deadened their potential pink beauty. I hope they can recover from their frigid encounters.

April is a character, all right. She still has time to repent, however.

Creeping phlox and a lone blue anemone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Phlox on the Rocks

Please excuse the pun

My wife and I participated in a guided spring wildflower walk at the local arboretum yesterday in Harrisonburg, Virginia. While other participants eyed some other floral beauties, I spotted this clump of wild blue phlox, phlox divaricata, growing hard against a bolder of the area’s noted blue limestone. I thought the rock and the bouquet make a nice couple.

“Phlox on the Rocks” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Baseball is back!

And I’m not excited.

Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio.

Major League Baseball is back! I should be excited as that exclamation point, but I’m not.

This year I’m a bit ambivalent about the baseball season beginning. The pandemic heads the hesitancy list, but other dynamics come into play, too.

Baseball has always been my favorite sport. It’s in my DNA, going back to my father’s father.

Now, our oldest grandson is headlong into the game, too. I couldn’t be prouder. Nana and I attended as many pre-pandemic games as possible. We’re hopeful that we can watch his high school games this spring. If not, then we’ll aim to follow his summer traveling league team.

Our grandson takes his pitching seriously.

I still love the game, or I wouldn’t have bought the MLB package on my satellite TV subscription. I watched parts of several games on Opening Day, April 1, including the Cleveland Indians’ loss to the Detroit Tigers.

Given all of the goofy stuff that happened, April 1 turned out to be the most appropriate day to start the season. Cleveland’s Shane Bieber struck out 12 Tiger batters and still lost the game. Snow squalls peppered the first few innings of the contest.

In Colorado, the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger hit a home run with Justin Turner on first. However, he only got credit for a single and was called out when Turner, thinking the outfielder caught the ball, retreated past Bellinger to first base. Bellinger got credit for a single, scoring Turner, but was called out for passing his teammate on the base path.

Rain canceled the Baltimore at Boston game, while the league postponed the entire opening series between the Mets and Nationals due to players testing positive for the coronavirus. I’m fearful that was a pitch high and tight to the rest of the season.

Young superstar Francisco Lindor recently “agreed” to a 10-year contract extension with the New York Mets for $341 million. And people wondered why Cleveland traded him.

I’m exceedingly glad for Frankie, but should any player make that much money for playing a kid’s game? The Mets think so.

Opening Day in baseball is a big deal. Most home openers conditionally “sold out” since most major league clubs limited attendance to allow for proper physical distancing due to the pandemic. The Texas Rangers weren’t one of them. Real fans filled the entire 40,300 seat stadium. Can you say “super-spreader?”

It’s great to have actual human beings in attendance watching and cheering for their favorite teams. It sure beats looking at those life-size cardboard cutouts of people that populated seats in last year’s shortened season. Still, health safeguards should prevail.

Besides the pandemic precautions, even politics has negatively influenced the game. MLB pulled the All-Star Game scheduled for Atlanta this summer and moved it to Denver, Colorado. The baseball commissioner cited the voter suppression laws recently approved in Georgia.

Perhaps my less than enthusiastic response to professional baseball’s return is proof of my evolving senility. I hope that’s not the case.

I remember taking my son to a New York Mets game 11 days after the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. It was the start of filing through metal detectors to enter ballgames, but once in, it was back to hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks while watching baseball.

Now 20 years later, the world is in another tough spot with the pandemic. Even baseball’s return doesn’t stir me. A balm is needed over Gilead and baseball, too.

Maybe if my favorite team wins the World Series, I’ll perk up. It’s a very long shot, but the world needs a blessed miracle right now.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Bloodroot

An aptly named wildflower

Look quickly, or you might miss this lovely spring wildflower. Bloodroot blooms March to mid-April here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

There is much to like about this aptly named wildflower. This lovely perennial herb with a simple leaf formation blooms across much of the midwest and eastern United States and into several Canadian provinces. As this photo shows, however, the blooms are short-lived. Some are at their peak, while others are beginning to wither, while still others are beginning to unfurl in the full sun. The flowers close at night.

Look for these beautiful wildflowers in the leaf litter of deciduous forests. Their buttery centers are surrounded by multiple frilly white pedals. Native Americans used the blood-red juices produced by their root stems to dye baskets and clothing. They used the coloration for war paint and insect repellent. The juice, however, is poisonous if ingested. The generic name, from Latin sanguinarius, means bleeding.

“Bloodroot” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Holy Week memories and diverging emotions

I must have been about 10 or 11 when I first visited a synagogue. Our Sunday school teacher had arranged the tour, and the rabbi graciously welcomed our wide-eyed gaggle of juveniles.

Simply by entering, we knew this was a sacred place. We were all eyes and ears taking in the unfamiliar surroundings as the kind rabbi explained the various symbols. I wish I could remember his words. I can never forget the awe that overwhelmed me.

There is no better time than Holy Week to recall those memories, especially this year. Passover and Holy Week overlap, as they often do. It’s an excellent time to remember our Judeo/Christian heritage.

From Palm Sunday to Easter morning, we experience the whole gamut of human emotions, actions, and reactions. The historical and spiritual significance of humanity’s triumphs and failures are on full display. Jewish and Christian roots run deep into humankind’s evolution.

Easter Morning Worship

Passover, a major Jewish holiday, began at sundown, March 27, and ends the evening of April 4, Easter Sunday. The miracle of Passover commemorated the Israelites exodus from Egypt and began their transition from slavery to freedom.

The seder is the central ritual of Passover, occurring the first two nights. The retelling of the Exodus story accompanied by psalms and songs highlight a festive meal of traditional foods.

With Jerusalem teaming with people, Jesus rode into the city on the day we now call Palm Sunday. By Maunday Thursday, the scene had turned more solemn at the last supper. Good Friday, Jesus’ crucifixion and death occurred to the great horror of his followers.

On the third day, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection occurred. Today, we call it Easter morning.

That was always a day that I anticipated as a child, more for the secular celebrative goodies than the mystical resurrection story. That always fascinated me, but being a child, I was more interested in more tangible traditions.

I wasn’t alone. My four siblings joined in the fun. We cherished the challenge to find our woven Easter baskets chocked full of chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and the hard-boiled eggs that we had colored the day before.

The over-sized Easter Bunny (our father was six-foot, two-inches tall) didn’t make it easy on us. If we accidentally found a brother or sister’s basket, we kept quiet, not wanting to spoil their fun.

We always knew that the baskets were somewhere in the house, usually on the main floor. However, I once found my Easter basket in the basement in the washing machine.

Once that fun was over, we hurriedly dressed up for Easter Sunday worship service. We often took a family photo before heading to the always-packed sanctuary.

After church, we couldn’t wait to return home, where our saintly mother had fixed an Easter ham with all the trimmings. An Easter egg hunt outside often followed the noontime meal.

My wife and I continued those traditions with our children. They enjoyed the searching as much as I had in my childhood.

Of course, age, life experiences, and maturity appropriately alter one’s perspective on holidays, along with many other life events. That’s as it should be.

As a grandfather, I am more focused on the more meaningful reasons for Passover and Easter. We still enjoy hiding the decorated eggs for the grandkids while I can still maneuver to hide them in a downspout or reach high into a redbud tree.

Perhaps that has been part of my spiritual resurrection. I still relish the fun stuff of holidays while contemplating the more profound, personal satisfaction of celebrating another Easter morning.

Easter Sunday Service.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

April Fools!

Imagine my surprise when I opened this tightly secured trash bin in Okefenokee National Wildlife Reserve. I certainly didn’t expect a greeter, especially a dead one.

This poor mouse had somehow found its way into the steel container, but couldn’t get back out. It got wedged in the latch to the lid, and that was that.

I’ver never been a big fan of April Fools jokes, but I simply couldn’t resist this opportunity.

“April Fools” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Subtly celebrating 50 years together

We couldn’t have done it alone

Our family in Covid pandemic times.

My wife and I had big plans to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. The pandemic significantly altered them.

In that regard, we know we are not alone. Scores of folks have postponed anniversary celebrations, weddings, vacations, reunions, bucket list trips because of the coronavirus.

Even with having received our second vaccine, we plan to mark our momentous occasion in a much more subtle way than initially planned. Staying safe is paramount.

Instead of an exciting vacation-like shindig with family and friends for our Golden Anniversary, we will overnight at a local bed and breakfast. It’s the prudent thing to do.

Like most couples, we have taken plenty of risks in our life together. Now is not the time to do a highwire act.

Our risk-taking lifestyle began when we married less than a year after we had met. We haven’t let up one iota in all those 50 years, until now.

We were so young then.

Our unified approach to life was a simple one. Neva and I have tried to put our faith into action in service to others. We recognized that doing so meant taking risks, but we were game. That has always fueled our marriage as a couple and as individuals.

After our March ceremony, we spent the summer of 1971 operating a hikers camp halfway up Pikes Peak in Colorado. It was a voluntary service assignment through the Mennonite Church that set the tone and tempo of our life together.

Our marriage has been and continues to be about relationships and service. It’s why we spent careers in public education. It’s why we participated in community non-profit boards and organizations like thrift stores and volunteer fire departments.

Doing so took time away from our family, which was a sacrifice unto itself. Even at a young age, our daughter and son understood. Consequently, they have grown to be creative, productive adults with successful, service-minded careers. We couldn’t have asked for more.

It’s a no-brainer that grandchildren are the long-term rewards of parenting. They were the main reasons we pulled up stakes from our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, to move to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

We wanted to be near the grandkids to watch them grow, participate in extra-curricular activities, and help in any way we could. Evan, Davis, and Maren have been risk-free blessings beyond measure.

The pandemic, however, made it challenging to shift to infrequent interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and church members. We are grateful for the new friendships and renewed friendships we have made since we settled here nearly four years ago.

We were thrilled to find circles of friends, like those in Ohio, who mirrored our shared values. Trusting in one another and graciously encouraging each other to use our gifts for others has been the loving ingredient that has bound us together for half a century.

I was surprised to learn that violets are the 50th anniversary flower. So, I got one for each decade.

Neva and I both know that we could not have made it this far on our own. Family and friends, some now departed, have served as both models and encouragers, especially in trying times.

It’s the little things that have enriched our marriage. After 50 years together, we have learned not to take ourselves so seriously.

Each marriage is different. It’s finding the comfort zones of those differences, sharing household responsibilities, as well as laughter and tears that have kept us forever holding hands.

We have learned that it’s the everyday moments together that truly matter. Being comfortable with extended quiet times, surprised by a tender touch, a smile, or word of appreciation are a few examples. Saying I was wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you became the icing on the wedding cake.

We have appreciated all of the well-wishes and congratulations that we have received from family and friends. It’s that sure foundation that has kept us loving and living for 50 years together.

A golden sky for our Golden Anniversary.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Sure Sign of Spring

When my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country, there was one sure sign of spring that I always relished. Our Amish neighbors plowing the first furrows of soil always said spring to me.

I never tired of the witnessing the annual tradition. Powerful and beautiful workhorses pulling the farmers seated upon one-bottom plows sealed the spring deal for me.

The jingle of the horses’ harnesses, the smell of freshly turned soil, the encouraging voices of the men calling the names of the horses to keep going created a reassuring feeling. Though the vernal equinox had already passed, this scene always invigorated me. Of course, the longer days, the chorus of songbirds, the pale blue sky, and the budding flowers didn’t hurt either.

“A Sure Sign of Spring” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Spring!

The vernal equinox is March 20

Crocuses are some of the very first flowers of spring. They are emerging all around our neighborhood here in the Shenandoah Valley. Of course, spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20. But we are glad for the floral showy expressions after this long, cold, wet winter.

“Spring!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The pandemic redefined patience

Vigilance is still required

Patience is a virtue. The exact origin of that proverb is hard to determine but about as straightforward in its meaning as can be.

In “Piers Plowman,” William Langland wrote about a man searching for faith in the 14th century. This work marked one of the earliest references to patience. A line in the poem reads, “patience is a fair virtue.”

What does that mean exactly? To me, it says that instead of rushing ahead on our own, we should pay attention to what is actually happening, no matter how weird or repulsive it may seem. The coronavirus fits that description.

In this case, patience requires us to depend on those who deal with such anomalies daily. Scientists, doctors, and researchers all belong in that category.

Throughout the pandemic, vigilance remains required. We continue to need to wear masks when we go out or visit others. We also need to keep our social distance and wash our hands. Those were and continue to be simple instructions that I embraced because they benefited others besides me.

Still, practicing patience is hard to do. The ongoing pandemic is proof positive.

Impatient people bolted ahead, behaving as if everything was as it had been in the world, when in fact, it wasn’t. Refusing to wear a mask, physically distance, or alter daily routines has prolonged the virus’s life.

Consequently, the pandemic is also a teacher, and we all are in the same classroom. Some pupils listen and learn, while others misbehave or fall asleep.

The pandemic has taught us a lot about people and their willingness to accept scientific facts, the reality of a new disease and the unknown, and realize the consequences of an infection run rampant.

It’s important to note that being patient has its benefits. The pandemic forced me to slow down, relax, notice, care, and listen. Since we were together even more than usual, my wife and I gave each other expanded personal space and time than we had previously.

First pitch of the 2016 World Series, Cubs vs. Indians.

It’s not like I didn’t know patience before the pandemic. After all, the Cleveland Indians are my favorite sports team. It’s been 73 years since they last won the World Series. If following that team doesn’t require patience, I don’t know what does. I learned early on the mantra of “wait until next year.”

Well, it’s next year. A new baseball season is upon us. Perhaps this is Cleveland’s year. Only time will tell. Like enduring the pandemic, patience will be an essential virtue with this team and every aspect of life.

Patience requires us to stop, breathe, observe, sense, and move slowly. Patience is and will continue to be essential for mental, physical, and spiritual survival during the pandemic.

Ephesians 4:2 reads: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” I learned that it’s critical to apply that to myself, too. I realized that it was okay to feel down with all that the pandemic brought and about activities that we couldn’t do, especially with those we love.

Patience modeled.

We have waited patiently for an effective vaccine, and now it is here. People are receiving inoculations against this deadly virus. Still, we will continue to follow the crucial guidelines of wearing a mask, physical distancing, and washing our hands for 20 seconds or more. As Yogi Berra famously mumbled, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

Patience became the watchword of the pandemic. It will continue to persevere until we all work together to conquer this unwanted virus. That will prove patience a valuable and vital virtue, indeed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021