It pays to be flexible in retirement

I thought retirement was going to be peaceful and calm. I was dreaming.

Take two recent back-to-back days, for instance. My wife and I could have gotten ulcers from our on-again, off-again schedules. Instead, we merely went with the flow as we have learned to do.

This particular Tuesday was packed. We skipped our morning Zoom yoga session in favor of hosting Neva’s first cousin and his wife for breakfast before they headed back to Ohio. Of course, Neva did her usual over-the-top hospitality thing.

We looked forward to their long-awaited in-person visit, their first in two years. But there was a problem. I host a Zoom writing group on the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. I knew the lively conversation would last well beyond the Zoom meeting’s starting time. I had no choice but to excuse myself from the enjoyable party.

When I started the Zoom writing meeting, a couple of folks were already waiting to get in. Others arrived late. Since we were in three different states, we spent the waiting time catching up until everyone was present.

The meeting went well with lots of excellent readings and constructive comments. Though the two hours flew by, I was exhausted. Zoom tends to do that to me.

After a light lunch on the porch, I decided to mow the yard since the grass was tall and my afternoon was open. I had to finish by 3:30 p.m., though, so that I could go with my wife to pick up our middle grandchild at the middle school at 4 p.m. Nana was to drop me off at our daughter’s house on the way to taking the youngest grandchild to soccer practice.

From there, I was to ride with our daughter and her husband to watch their oldest play baseball in a neighboring town. However, that plan got altered and then totally scrapped when the home team changed the game start time to 7:30, not 6. It was one big “Never Mind.”

The next day wasn’t much better. All the hustle and bustle activities got squeezed into a late afternoon-early evening time frame. The plan was to host our daughter and whatever family members could attend for dinner.

Nana had made beef stew, and they would all eat and go to the high school for the first live band concert in more than a year. The middle grandchild would play the French horn with the high school band.

Because I had a previously scheduled appointment in town, I was to join them for the 6 p.m. concert after rushing home to enjoy the stew. The high school is just a five-minute drive from our home.

Of course, that all changed when we learned that the band concert started a half-hour later than initially scheduled. Consequently, Nana made a stew run to our daughters, and she and I ate a quick supper on the back porch.

We arrived at the football stadium just as the wind began to pick up. Band members, including our grandson, struggled to keep their sheet music from blowing into Pennsylvania.

To comply with school rules for large gatherings, each musician wore a face mask. So did audience members. Those playing wind instruments, like our grandson, tucked the mouthpiece underneath their masks and played on. Somehow, someway, they pulled it off.

My wife and I were duly impressed with the performance. Given the conditions, the students sounded great.

No matter the circumstances, we wouldn’t have missed any of those activities. In retirement, being flexible pays big dividends despite life’s frenzy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

This June is a Gateway for All

We have all been waiting to exhale, especially this year, once June arrived. We had that same perspective a year ago, but we were wrong.

Last year the estimation was that summer’s warmth would lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Just the opposite happened. People gathered, and the virus spread.

This June appears to be different. The fact that nearly two-thirds of American adults have received at least one vaccination makes it so. That has resulted in the waning of the virus here in the U.S. However, other countries continue to struggle as new variants emerge, spread, sicken, and kill.

But in June 2021, a different feeling is in the air. June is that stepping stone into sunshine, smiles, and satisfaction. People in the U.S. are once again getting together, though some are doing so cautiously.

June is the gateway to summer. The summer solstice late on June 20 merely anoints the welcomed season.

June means longer and generally warmer days than previous months. With health restrictions significantly reduced or altogether eliminated, life in June just might help us all feel “normal” again.

Graduations, vacations, weddings, reunions, picnics, and Little League baseball games are a much better bet to occur with June’s arrival. Church congregations that met remotely are beginning to hold in-person services, some outside, others with controlled numbers assembled indoors.

I’ve always welcomed June from adolescence to this day. School often finished around Memorial Day, which turned us outdoor lovers loose. I still feel that way all those decades later.

But there is something sacred about this particular June. It’s more than just the freedom to move about, go swimming, fishing, hiking, or wearing T-shirts and shorts.

The pandemic isn’t over, but here in the U.S., it seems to be subsiding. Still, we are approaching 600,000 deaths in our great country and 3.5 million globally. Those are sobering figures.

I recall the wise advice of a farmer friend from the weeks-long drought that began in June 1988. Local hay crops had failed, and shipments of baled hay arrived from the Midwest. Many farmers bought the imported bales at exorbitant prices.

When they got it home, they discovered that the hay bales that looked good from the outside had more weeds than nourishment on the inside. I asked my friend if he had purchased any of the high-priced, weedy fodder.

I have never forgotten his reply. “My father once told me that when you see others running for something, you should walk.” So, no, he hadn’t.

Consequently, my wife and I will welcome June without much fanfare. We’ll follow our grandson’s traveling baseball team when we can. We will continue to be cautious about eating inside public places, preferring to dine at establishments that offer outside seating.

We have and will continue to visit vaccinated friends. We’ll use June to ease into renewing our travels, including seeing our son and his wife for the first time in two years.

I’ll continue to hike, but I will be careful to choose the days, watch the weather, and avoid weekends. I’m not a snob or prude. Crowded trails are not my thing.

When we do get out and about in June, we need to be cautious for practical reasons. Reports from many eastern states indicate that ticks are thick this year. Once back inside, check yourself, your children, and your pets. The physical effects of tick bites are devastating.

We can rightfully celebrate June’s arrival. But let’s continue to be alert and careful every step of the way.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Memorial Day is for remembering

A Virginia man prepares his Memorial Day decorations.

Memorial Day is for remembering. As a septuagenarian, the bulk of my life is behind me. Memories fill my daily life, but especially so on this solemn weekend.

In the years between ages 21 and 51, I started my career as a public school educator. I met and married my energetic and valiant wife. Our daughter and son were born. I simultaneously served 27 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.

I consider those the best years of my life. That is true, not because of anything I did, but because of the people I met and interacted with in the communities where I lived, worked, and served.

To list all the folks would surely be impossible. So, I’ll share a few meaningful examples of those who helped me along life’s way.

Of course, I have to start with my parents, Dick and Marian. In the post-World War II era, men were the breadwinners, and women were for the most part housewives, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. That’s just how it was, and I am exceedingly glad those societal expectations are no longer the norm.

Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding celebration.

At 6 foot 2 inches, Dad cut an imposing figure for that era. But he lived like a child turned loose in the world. He loved our mother dearly, but he never saw the need to help much around the house.

Mom always had supper ready when Dad came home from work. After we ate, Dad would often go on some adventure, whether to tend the garden we had on a friend’s property two miles away or to a church softball game.

Mom took things in stride as best she could. None of us five kids ever doubted her love, but we sure tested her limits. Mom was as kind and sweet as she was stalwart and unafraid to have a necessary word or two with Dad or us when needed.

Dad served in World War II on the U.S.S. San Diego, a Navy light cruiser that saw action in 16 major Pacific battles. They never lost a man. Dad was proud of his service but seldom talked much about it. His father, Merle, served in the Army in France in World War I.

Grandpa was gassed by German forces and treated in a field hospital that kept no medical records. He suffered from those damaged lungs until he died at age 72. He never received the financial or medical help that he needed and consequently lived a hard life.

My wife’s parents, Wayne and Esther, took me in like the son they never had. I knew Wayne liked me right away because he ushered me to the barn to see the pigs on my first visit to the farm. My wife said it usually took suitors three trips before they got that introduction.

Family members weren’t my only influencers. I boarded with Helen, a kindly woman, the first year that I taught. We became lifelong friends. Never married, Helen graciously adopted our family as her own. Our daughter and son were the grandchildren she never had.

Many others guided me through life, too: teachers, friends, other family members, even strangers. I cherish the times they spent with me. They all revered the past, never feared the future but sensibly lived in and for the moment at hand. So should we.

You have your saints, too. Remember them we must, for that is what they would want us to do. It is what we all want once we are gone. It’s why we have Memorial Day.

Dad at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2009 as part of an Honor Flight.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Mole Hill Sunset

Mole Hill is a landmark in Shenandoah Valley’s Rockingham County. The forested nob is actually the remnants of a volcano’s core. That hasn’t deterred locals from farming and living around its base.

Mole Hill is properly named. The Allegheny Mountains in the western background dwarf it in comparison. Still, Mole Hill attracts birders, bikers, and sunset gazers alike.

This photo was taken about two miles east of Mole Hill near Harrisonburg, Virginia. With evening fog setting in, the fiery sky looked as if it had recently erupted from this local favorite hotspot.

“Mole Hill Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Reward at the Summit

Lunch with a view

Hiking has its rewards. Reaching the summit of a peak is one of them. Hikers often celebrate with some cool water and a light lunch to refresh their body’s energy. This hiker is doing just that while also enjoying the gorgeous view from Hawksbill Summit, the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. New Market Gap in the Massanutten Range is in the distance.

“Reward at the Summit” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Mountain to Mountain

I live in one of the prettiest places in the world. I can be atop the Allegheny Mountains in less than half an hour. They are the mountains in the far distance, center to left in the photo.

In less than an hour, I can be driving on the enchanting Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, which runs 105 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. This photo was taken less than a month ago from Rockytop Overlook on Skyline Drive.

The peak in the center of the photo is the southern tip of the Massanutten Mountains east of Harrisonburg, Virginia. These old age mountain ranges can’t compare in beauty to the younger, sharper, snow-covered Rocky Mountains. Nonetheless, I find beauty in the mountains that border and bisect the Shenandoah Valley even on a mostly cloudy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The Bridge to Willow Grove Mill

Just south of the quaint village of Luray, Virginia, Willow Grove Mill stands between the east and west branches of the Hawksbills Creek. As interesting as the old mill was, it was the old, one-lane bridge that crossed the creek that intrigued me. The bridge was straight as an arrow, but as soon as you crossed it, the road took a sharp left turn.

“The Bridge to Willow Grove Mill” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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

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

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