Women who influenced my life

A Mother’s Day tribute

One of my mother’s watercolors that she gave to me.

My four siblings and I were most fortunate. We had a loving, caring, creative, dependable mother. We will miss her always.

Though our dear mother died nine years ago, I can still hear her soothing voice. I can also hear her sterner vocalization, to put it delicately. We weren’t perfect children, after all.

She did her best to discipline us appropriately when we needed it. Unlike my ornery younger brother, I never tasted a bar of soap, however.

Mom’s lovely paintings showed her creative side. But she was a perfectionist. My brothers, sisters, and I discovered piles of both finished and unfinished paintings that Mom thought were less than her best. Many of those watercolors now accent walls in our homes and those of our adult children.

Mom’s self-esteem matured as she aged. She learned to drive at age 40 and loved her grandchildren with matronly devotion.

Mom also had no hesitation about putting Dad in his place when it was appropriate. The specific inflective tone that Mom used always got Dad’s attention. Unfortunately, like most males, it didn’t register in his memory bank.

Mom was a near mirror image of her mother, Birdie Pearl. Grandma Frith’s kind and gentle lilt revealed her Virginia roots every time she spoke. We loved to visit her on the job at a local bakeshop, where each lucky grandchild left with a yummy sugar cookie.

Grandma Frith enjoying a boat ride.

Grandma Frith visited us for Sunday lunch every third week. We had to share her with Mom’s two sisters and their families, who lived nearby. Grandma Frith sat quietly at family gatherings, contented to watch her 17 grandchildren run wild. She was a stately woman indeed.

I also remember my grandfather’s mother, whom we called Mom. Like Grandma Frith, her curly silvery hair bespoke simple eloquence. The yellowy square homemade noodles of her chicken potpie were positively delicious. The chickens and eggs came right out of the coop behind the old rickety house.

Nostalgia, though, can’t rule my admiration for caring, gracious mothers. My wife and my daughter serve as prime examples, though I likely am prejudiced. These are two energetic women on missions. They leave no stone unturned in their quest for truth, justice, and their energy to get things done. Others often are the beneficiaries of their drive, desire, and creativity.

It’s been four years since we moved to the Shenandoah Valley to be close to the grandkids. We have enjoyed watching them grow. And grow they have. All three will soon be taller than Nana.

I have equally enjoyed observing the interaction between their mother and father. I am glad that our dynamic, expressive daughter has adopted and implemented different parenting approaches than what my wife and I used.

Ours weren’t wrong. I just wish we had been more patient and took more time to ask and listen to our children when they were children. Our daughter and her husband have a good handle on that with their active trio.

I also see new life and vibrancy in the mother that I love most, my wife. It took us a little while to settle into our Virginia setting, but Neva took her magic gift of hospitality to a new level once we did.

Neva smoothly shifted into high gear during the pandemic. She sewed, cooked, fed, washed, ironed, drove, delivered, and brightened the lives of grandkids, old friends, strangers, family, and neighbors.

I am grateful for caring mothers everywhere who have helped mold lives young and old, including mine. Faith poured into loving action does that.

Nana and our granddaughter icing cookies.

Arboretums equal beauty

Now is the time to enjoy them

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Now is the time to get outdoors. Nature is in all of her rejuvenated glory.

No matter where you live, there are likely plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy the blossoming beauty. It could be the mauve of your neighbor’s crabapple tree. It could be a local park, where multiple options abound. Maybe it’s your own backyard.

The location is insignificant. All of nature is coming alive right now in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the daffodils have shown, this beauty won’t last. Enjoy it while it’s here.

When a friend invited my wife and me to see their magic garden in full bloom, we didn’t hesitate. We had been there before and knew what a treat it would be.

Our friend Mary guided us through the glorious garden filled with various vibrant flowers, all native to the Shenandoah Valley. A pastel pallet of creeping phlox that lined the sidewalk and driveway served as our greeters.

As we wound our way around the house and down into a lovely shaded area, blooming azaleas and cultivated wildflowers popped into view. Mary’s husband Glenn sat on a bench surrounded by Virginia bluebells and their smaller imitators lungworts. Their spangled leaves accented the dainty pink and blue blossoms.

The vivid colors of our friends’ personal arboretum.

Mary and Glenn made us feel at home in their little slice of paradise on earth. I’m sure that’s the case for everyone who visits. They are as welcoming as their heavenly arboretum.

The previous day Neva and I had visited the noted Edith J. Carrier Arboretum on the James Madison University campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A free wildflower tour happens every Wednesday when the wildflowers bloom.

Our guide led us around the pond into the woods, frequently stopping to point out the various wildflowers and blooming trees. Of course, the Virginia bluebells stole the show.

Not to be outdone, the deep burgundy of the toad trillium nicely contrasted with their white cousins nearby. Redbuds, both pink and white, provided a pretty umbrella for the gentle, steady rain.

Late-blooming spring beauties and buttery daffodils with orange trumpets caught our attention. The last of the white-petaled bloodroots had to be impressed with the Dutchman’s britches dancing in the raindrops.

The deep red pawpaw buds were still tight, waiting for warmer and sunnier days to open. Several in the group told stories of the delicious pawpaw fruit. Others had their doubts.

Wild blue phlox and lungwort tried their best to distract the visitors from admiring the rose azaleas. Warblers and woodpeckers achieved that goal for me.

We saw and learned about scores of other flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees in the conservatory. Something is always blooming there in the springtime. You can drown in wildflowers.

Back in Ohio, the Wilderness Center at Wilmot and the Secrest Arboretum at the OARDC in Wooster were always my favorite places to visit, especially in the spring. Wildflowers, ornamental trees, and birds and butterflies kept me busy for hours.

Of course, just traveling hiking and biking trails this time of year is a real treat. Different flowers seem to appear daily, along with the migrating and resident songbirds.

My friend and author Julie Zickefoose said it succinctly, “There is so much living to be done in spring when everything is so beautiful.” I couldn’t agree more.

You likely have your favorite places to visit in the spring to view the wildflowers and enjoy the colorful birds. Even if it’s your own backyard, get out and enjoy the glorious show.

A springtime floral display in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

© 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

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

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

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

Why March is a favorite month

March has always been one of my favorite months for several reasons. Mind you, I don’t get as excited as youngsters on Christmas morning, but it’s close.

March is a transitional month, especially for those who live in the northern realms of the northern hemisphere. That’s especially true for March weather, though I don’t give much credence to the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” folklore.

March serves up a meteorological smorgasbord. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine, and severe weather can all appear in the month’s 31 days.

A March day in Ohio’s Amish country.

The day I cherish most is the vernal equinox, which is March 20 this year. Let’s hope that the green of St. Patrick’s Day carries on over into April. I won’t hold my breath, however.

March marks the official transition from winter to spring. If the ground isn’t too soggy, planting vegetables and flower gardens commences, and farmers prepare their fields for sowing crops.

When we lived in Holmes County, Ohio, I always marveled at the hardiness of farmers, usually teenagers and young men, who braved the elements to plow and disk the fields. It may have been sunny when they left the barn, but somehow it always seemed to snow or rain when they hit the fields. Still, their teams of beautiful workhorses plodded on.

Here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, it’s giant-sized tractors and the consequences of zipping in and out of fields that drivers have to watch out for on the ubiquitous narrow, winding roads. Unfortunately, the sticky, red mud is difficult to clean off of your vehicles.

Speaking of mud, I never knew about schools closing for mud days until I moved to Holmes County. Curiosity cured me on the first trip down a rural gravel road. When I became a township trustee, I positively hated when gravel roads turned to mush or hard surface roads disintegrated.

Sandhill Cranes.

March usually means the end of sugaring time. By month’s end, the tempo of warm days and cold nights that encouraged the sap to flow has ended.

Birders live for spring, and March often provides the first rush of migrants returning to nest or passing through to destinations farther north. Is there anything more exciting than hearing a flock of sandhill cranes honking overhead in the twilight?

March means color returns to the deadened landscape. Green shoots of plants and flowers push through the barren soil, even if the majority are dandelions.

A walk in the woods reveals nature at work at many levels. Look down, and patches of spring beauties carpet the ground. Listen, and choirs of spring peepers fill the warm evening air. Look up, and you might find owlets staring you down, nervously jostling on a limb.

Crocuses are some of the first blooms in flower gardens.

Photos of royal crocuses, buttery daffodils, and perhaps the season’s first tulips fill social media pages. It’s society’s 21st-century expression of joy and relief.

Of course, March means work. Winter’s litter of sticks and last fall’s leaves piled in corners far from their mother tree get recycled. Folks are eager to get outside and fuss about the appearance of their yards. They crank up their mowers even though snow is in the forecast.

I put out my hummingbird and oriole feeders in the hope of attracting any early arrivals. While I wait, I am more than content with waking to a competing chorus of robins and cardinals each morning.

Of course, I’m partial to March for personal reasons, especially this year. It’s our anniversary month. Welcoming March for 50 years together is singularly reason enough to celebrate the third month’s arrival.      

The fertile farmland of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© 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

Routines dropped, added, and kept during the pandemic

Blooming Mountain Laurel in Shenandoah National Park, June 2020.

In one way, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we had to alter our daily routines drastically. In another, the time between then and now seems a blank.

One Sunday last March, I greeted people at the church door, welcoming them as they arrived for worship. A week later, state after state began issuing orders banning all large group assemblies, including church services. Officials directed additional guidelines as well, all for society’s well-being.

The coronavirus had instantly changed our lives. Since then, more than half a million have died of the virus in the U.S., and 2.5 million globally. That is the very definition of a pandemic. It has been an unwelcome global intrusion that affected all of us in one fashion or the other.

A change of regular routines became the norm universally. It was difficult to adjust so quickly, especially for those stricken with the virus. Given the circumstances, adjusting was all we could do to stay safe.

With our usual routines interrupted, the obvious choice was to develop new ones. So, that’s what my wife and I did.

If we went out, we wore masks that my industrious wife made. Throughout the pandemic, she sewed 1,200 and donated them to individuals, churches, non-profit organizations, schools, and medical facilities. She also knotted five comforts for a charity.

Instead of going inside to buy groceries, we ordered our staples online and picked them up curbside. We continue that process, along with ordering takeout from local restaurants. We like to support the mom-and-pop establishments as much as we can.

We took advantage of decent Virginia weather days in 2020 as much as possible, taking hikes, going birding, and meeting with family and friends in well-ventilated places. Of course, we always masked up and kept our physical distance.

Day trips to local, state, and national parks and arboretums replaced planned vacations. For the first time since 1987, we missed our annual respite at our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua.

My exercise program changed when gyms closed. I biked in the neighborhood, and I walked with Neva when the weather cooperated. We joined a twice-weekly yoga group via Zoom.

My wife and I started a new routine that we both enjoy. Nearly every morning, around 9:30, we take a coffee break and play cards. We’ve played hundreds of games, and I am exceedingly pleased that Neva hasn’t kept a running tally of wins and losses.

We loved hosting friends and family. With the necessary physical distancing guidelines still applicable, Neva magically transformed her gift of hospitality into taking food and meals to others.

Despite the sluggish snail mail, we have redoubled sending note cards to friends. We’ve also added more texts and actual phone calls to our repertoire of communication.

How we have attend church services for the last year.

Our church pastors and staff have done a yeoman’s job of keeping church services going via Zoom and YouTube. Thanks to them, we’ve only skipped that one Sunday.

We miss the joy of congregational singing. I have kept one custom, however. Despite worshiping remotely, I continue to dress for church. I felt compelled to continue that tradition if simply to confirm that it is Sunday.

When will we be able to return to our pre-pandemic routines? That question currently has no answer. Until then, we will continue to play it safe by maintaining our pandemic practices.

I do have a question about whenever we can return to worshiping safely in the church building again. Will I be allowed to take my recliner and drink my coffee during the service?

Neva made our Christmas masks.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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