Tag Archives: birthdays

This birthday is a big one and I’ll enjoy it just like all the others

birthday, birthday cake

A previous birthday with the grandkids.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster, I never liked having a birthday in December. From my perspective, my day always seemed to get caught up in the hubbub of the holidays. I suspect that was just my juvenile selfishness surfacing.

Fortunately, I eventually got over that attitude. Unlike others I know I thoroughly enjoy birthdays. If they get hidden in the holiday hoopla, so be it. I’m still determined to embrace each and every one. That wasn’t always my attitude even far beyond youthful facetiousness.

I remember when I turned 30. It wasn’t pretty. I got depressed. I couldn’t believe I was that old. I look back at that experience and chuckle. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’d trade that day for this one in a heartbeat if I could.

Christmas tree

The tree went up right in time for my birthday.

After that, birthdays became more or less routine celebrations unless someone pulled a surprise on me like some teachers did once. They thought it would be cute to post a larger than life sign in the front yard of the school announcing the principal’s 39th birthday. I played along and tried to be as good-natured about Jack Benny’s perpetual birthdate as I could.

Based on the comments of others older than me, it was turning 50 that I really dreaded. As it turned out, the watershed date proved a dud. I had already lost most of my hair by then anyhow.

It was turning 60 that really got me. It was as if a switch had been flipped and my body suddenly screamed at me to slow down, take a rest. My knees ached. What muscles I still had disappeared just like my hair had long before that. It was my body’s way of saying I really wasn’t 39.

There was one ironic quality about hitting the big 6 0. It bothered my son more than me. He had turned 30 seven months earlier. Nathan rightly recognized that he was exactly half my age and that would never happen again. That thought alone agonized him and energized me.

Now that I’m about to turn 70, I recognize and accept that I’m heading down the homestretch. I look back on my life with smiles aplenty. I’ve enjoyed this long ride and have many wonderful folks to thank for getting me to this point.

My wife leads that pack. Behind her are my son and daughter, their significant others, our three grandkids, my siblings, and a host of other family, friends, and coworkers. I’d be remiss to forget my late parents and in-laws. Regardless of our achievements, none of us passes through life alone.

birthday celebrations

Celebrating birthdays on a recent visit to Ohio.

As I look back, of course, I also recognize a few of my imperfections and mistakes. Others are better suited to identify those faults. Thank goodness that heartfelt apologies can create lasting lifetime friendships.

I’ve tried to learn from my errors. Now that I’m 70, I want to keep that learning process moving so that my old brain remains sharp and curious for as long as possible.

I recall much that has happened in my seven decades of walking this marvelous planet of ours. Both personal and universal, joyous and calamitous events have filled those years.

Birthdays are hallmarks of individual lives no matter the age or when they occur. I’m just grateful to be 70. That said I’ll aim to redouble my daily efforts to serve as wisely and productively as I can. At my age, that’s all that can be expected.

70th birthday, rosy sunset

Hoping for a rosy road ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Past and present meet at the strangest places

By Bruce Stambaugh

The past and present sometimes intersect in the strangest places.

I had lazily let scores of previously read email messages in my inbox pile up for much too long. Never mind how many there were. Let’s just say it was the equivalent of a very messy desk.

rainy day, Shenandoah Valley

Rainy day.

While waiting for the chilly rain to quit in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I took action to remedy the situation born of my procrastination. I spent several hours over parts of two days, but I finally cleared all the old emails away.

What took so long? Well, I had to read some of them of course.

The variety of clutter I discovered I had left shocked me. Messages from sales people, church folks, friends, family, businesses, and people I didn’t even remember tickled my brain cells.

I deleted most of the emails. A few were rather important, and I was surprised that I had just left them hanging there like those infamous Florida chads. Rereading several of the messages reawakened good and bad emotions long.

newborn baby

At the hospital.

When I reached the ones from early October 2009, I was pleasantly transported back in time. Long forgotten electronic correspondence between family members and myself got my old heart racing.

The birth of our granddaughter, Maren, was the main topic. How timely I thought. We were in the midst of preparing for her sixth birthday party. Reading those notes from friends and family brought back fond memories.

I found updates from my wife about how our daughter felt as she approached delivery, and what Nana was doing to entertain the grandsons in Texas, where they lived then. I was still in Ohio.

Now our daughter and her family live in this sprawling valley cradled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghenies to the west. They have settled in nicely. Texas is but a memory, much like my uncovering the orphaned emails.

Occasionally it’s good to look back, to remember, to recollect the past, to resurrect old feelings of joy. The birth of a baby is always a celebration, especially if it’s your granddaughter.

I was glad Nana was there to help with the grandsons, Evan and Davis. They were only five and three at the time. They needed her.

newborn baby

One week old.

I arrived a few days later to hold my newborn granddaughter. Maren was as beautiful as her name, a derivative of Marian, which was my mother’s name.

As I revisited those old emails, Maren’s birth seemed like yesterday. Here we were celebrating her sixth birthday. Where in the world had the time gone?

One day she is swaddled in diapers surrounded by stuffed animals and curious brothers. Today she is an active, self-assured kindergartner learning to speak Spanish.

I chuckle at her impressive English vocabulary alone. Maren rattles off words like “actually,” “random,” “responsibility,” and “unrecognizable” in the proper contexts. The days of cooing are long over.

Next thing you know, she’ll be going out on her first date. But let’s not rush it.

Nana and I enjoyed Maren’s little birthday party. She just reminds us of her mother when she was six, only Maren persists with all things pink.

For now, Nana and I enjoy watching our three grandchildren grow, mature, fight, play ball, do gymnastics, and interact with their peers, parents and friends.

I’ll cherish these moments as best I can. Keeping a clean inbox is a good way to start.

birthday presents

Ready for presents.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Birthdays are too important not to celebrate

cake and ice cream, birthday party

Cake and ice cream are the traditional birthday party favorites. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Some people cringe when their birthday rolls around. They look at the annual demarcation as making them one year older. Indeed, it does. Conversely, I prefer to think of birthdays as the beginning of another new year of opportunities and wonder.

birthday candles, birthday cakes, cream sticks

Sometimes birthday cakes are not always “cakes.” © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

That approach may have come naturally. Ever since I can remember, birthdays have always been important in our family. My brothers, sisters and I joyfully anticipated our special day.

Our poor, already overworked mother would bake the cake we wanted. Even though chocolate was my favorite, I always asked for pineapple upside down cake. I had my reasons.

I loved pineapple. I also loved maraschino cherries. The citrus and syrupy sweet flavors melted into an irresistible caramelized topping that made the yellow cake extra moist and pleasing.

I have to confess that I also had a secret reason for requesting that cake. My other brothers and sisters didn’t like it as well as I did. You know what that meant? I downed more than my fair share of my cake all by myself.

Though our family was never rich, that didn’t mean we didn’t celebrate. It took love, not money, to make birthdays special. Every once in a while, each of us five kids was allowed to have a real birthday party. That meant a bunch of rapscallions whooping it up until the cake and ice cream were served.

birthday presents, celebration, Bruce Stambaugh

Birthday presents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Usually, though the parties were confined to the immediate family. The cake naturally served as dessert for the evening meal. After dinner, came the present.

What should have been an exciting time didn’t always turn out that way. For my 16th birthday, my folks got me a car, a toy car. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

That may have been the consequence of having a birthday sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always suspected that my parents bought what they could afford and thought I needed, needing to save for Christmas.

On the other hand, having been born in December made the birthday tradition at my elementary school pretty easy. Students were expected to bring a treat on their special day. I often handed out store bought Christmas sugar cookies, stars, wreathes, and candy canes sprinkled with red and green sugar, to the joy of my classmates.

Birthdays were equally greeted with cake and occasional parties in the home in which my wife was raised. One year a neighbor made her a cake so pretty the family froze it instead of eating it.

We tried to make our own children’s birthdays special, too. Neva pulled out all the stops to make or buy special cakes, often in the shapes of baby dolls or baseballs or whatever our son and daughter fancied. Of course, they had parties with friends, neighbors and relatives some years, too.

first birthday, birthday party

There is only one first birthday. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

This year I get to celebrate my birthday, never mind which one, with my three grandchildren. They live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a place that is lovely any season of the year.

I’m really looking forward to the time with the grandkids since my wife and I don’t get to see them regularly. Our home is west of the Appalachians, and theirs is set on the mountains’ eastern foothills.

I’m sure they will enjoy watching me blow out all those candles. I just have two birthday wishes though.

I hope my array of burning birthday candles doesn’t set off their fire alarm. And I hope they don’t like pineapple upside down cake.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Cold weather can’t cool the warmth of a birthday party

Lego Dolphin cruise boat, grandkids

Ready to launch. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We wouldn’t have missed this birthday bash for the world. As Maren’s grandparents, we were among the chosen few to attend her fifth birthday party.

Like we needed an excuse to visit. Nana and I would gladly traverse the 350 miles across eight mountain passes between our home and our daughter’s in Virginia’s always-lovely Shenandoah Valley to attend this special event.

Unfortunately, a dubious hitchhiker volunteered to accompany us on our trip. The nice Virginia weather changed to the stuff we had left in Ohio not long after our arrival in the valley.

We weren’t going to let a little discomforting inclemency spoil our celebrative spirits, however. The blue-eyed towhead Maren would turn five regardless of the climatological elements.

The party was just what Maren ordered. You would think a five-year-old girl who loves pink would go glitzy when given the chance to help plan her own party. But no, Maren only wanted family, plus a few close neighbors.

That is exactly what she got. She was the youngest in the cozy crowd.

Surrounded by her parents, her two ornery older brothers, and her MawMaw and Nana and Poppy, a festive evening of fun began with the opening of gifts and cards. What does a preschool girl get for her birthday? Why, jewelry of course, and books, and the one gift Maren hoped to receive, a Lego Dolphin Cruise liner.

The wet weather did postpone the only outside activity planned. The breaking of the piñata had to wait until the next morning.

While the kids went to a room to assemble the multitude of plastic pieces to create the boat, the table was set, and dinner prepared. Dessert was a delicious and preciously decorated cake done by a family friend. Of course, multicolored sprinkles, including pink, speckled the creamy white icing.

A candle in the shape of the number five topped the tiered, sparkly cake. A lone, perfect flame danced atop the crooked candle until one strong puff from the five-year-old snuffed it out.

Maren and her parents posed for a photo, and then it was back to the dry dock for the kids to complete the boat building. With three young engineers, the cruise ship was assembled in record time, encouraged on by teenage neighbors. The youngsters were all smiles when the last piece snapped into place.

birthday party, birthday cake, girl and parents

The Birthday Girl and her parents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

However, there was one remaining meaningful gift for the birthday girl. The graduate school tenant who occupies the apartment in the basement of our daughter’s home brought a rather special surprise. It seems earlier in the year Miss Maren had secretly negotiated a contract with the tenant, who wanted to raise a garden, including watermelons.

Since Maren loves watermelon, she took it upon herself to wrangle a deal that had her receiving a portion of the ripe melons. Being a good sport, the tenant, majoring in peace studies, put her lessons into practice.

As the crops grew, however, nothing more was said about sharing the watermelons. Apparently, Maren was more satisfied with sealing the deal than cashing in on it.

Maren may have forgotten about the compact, but the tenant hadn’t. The last gift presented to Maren was a miniature watermelon saved just for her.

The watermelon gift was a cool idea that warmed the congenial birthday gathering all the more. Unless it was a stowaway, I don’t think the fruity cargo made the maiden voyage of the Dolphin, however.

birthday party, watermelon, gift

Watermelon surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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A generation of giants and rock stars

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Betty Findley and her two sons, Bill and Dave, at Betty’s 100th birthday party. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood in the background with my camera capturing the unfolding, tender moments. I did so out of appreciation and gratitude for this gracious, gregarious family.

I had known Betty Findley and her late husband, Bud, for a long time. We lived just blocks away from one another when we were all much younger. Now here we were celebrating her 100th birthday in a different place and century.

Her son, Dave, shared a timeline of his mother’s life with the assembled friends and family. It was ironic that her birth came as World War I, the war to end all wars, began.

If ever there was a peaceable woman, it was Betty. She loved her family, community and church, and expressed that love in faithful graciousness. Betty was and is equally loved and respected in return.

youngergeneration.jpg

Maren, left, and her two brothers came 350 miles to celebrate with Betty. Quinn and Elise, two of Betty’s great grandchildren, joined in the fun. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

When our granddaughter heard that our friend was turning 100-years old, Maren asked my wife if Betty was a giant. Her four-year-old logic reckoned that the older you get, the bigger you become physically.

There is a kernel of metaphoric truth in that innocent comparison. If you hit your 100th birthday, you most certainly are a giant. Not too many people live that long and get to see the world change the way Betty has.

In reality, age has a way of humbling you physically. Notwithstanding, Betty may not be a Goliath in stature, but she sure has been by nature. Her son tearfully ticked off her fruitful lifelong achievements.

Betty canned and baked and sewed, and was a favorite room mother in my elementary school days. She made the best heart-shaped sugar cookies a kid could conjure.

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Surrounded by family, Betty readied to blow out the birthday candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Betty does exhibit one minor flaw, however. She has always been a faithful follower of the Cleveland Indians, and still watches them on television.

The morning of Betty’s birthday bash, I heard another shocking descriptor. The speaker at church called Paul Roth, another senior citizen friend, a rock star. Everyone in attendance chuckled, but nodded their heads in agreement. I think modest Paul enjoyed the flattering hyperbole, too.

The speaker said her two sons referred to him that way out of admiration and reverence. After all, he was the doctor who brought them into the world and treated them for childhood illnesses and bumps and bruises. It was most appropriate that this kind, humble country doctor be elevated to Mick Jagger status.

I concurred with that assessment. Dr. Roth, as he was most commonly addressed, had brought our daughter and son into the world as well. He treated patients of all ages kindly and compassionately, even making house calls. He usually charged less than he should have, too.

drpaulroth.jpg

Paul Roth shared with a friend at his church. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

He was the consummate small town doctor. In his many years of service to the community, Paul, too, was and is a gentle giant.

Our granddaughter’s literal pronouncement spoke volumes. Persons born early in the 20th Century have experienced major transformations in their lifetime, the wars, the Great Depression, the herculean jumps in communications and transportation, the advances in medicine, and so much more.

To honor these two titans is to also celebrate all other productive individuals of what Tom Brokaw has labeled “The Greatest Generation.” Their work ethic, devotion to family, friends, community and country set the solid foundation for society to advance, as it never had before.

I bet you know genuine giants and rock stars, too. Let’s celebrate their magnanimous contributions to the world while we can.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Celebrating more than a birthday

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Our birthday gathering.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we all were. The five Stambaugh “kids” gathered around a common table, celebrating another birthday. This wasn’t any old birthday either. Wait. I better rephrase that.

We were gathered to celebrate the oldest sibling’s very special day, his 70th birthday. All but one of our spouses joined in the merrymaking, too.

We met in a nice restaurant that the birthday boy chose. It was centrally located, which made it easy for us to assemble. Given our ages, stations in life, and individual schedules, it was a rare treat to gather together.

The food was excellent. The fellowship was better.

Despite the din in the open, high ceiling eatery, the conversation around the table was lively and animated. It reminded me of meals at dinnertime at the little brick bungalow where we all grew up in the suburbs of Canton, Ohio.

Craig was the only pre-World War II child in our immediate family. The rest of us were all of the Baby Boomer generation. Consequently, there was never a dull moment in the Stambaugh household. That’s what always made for lively interaction at mealtime in our younger years.

Take the time my older brother bet me a nickel that I couldn’t eat a spoonful of mustard. As I recall, I got the nickel, but Craig really won the wager.

I marveled at the table talk that evening. You would have thought we were all children again by the enthusiasm and joyous chatter. I liked that a lot. Our late parents taught us well.

There was one main difference, however. Instead of acting like children, we talked about our children and grandchildren. They are scattered from New York City to Orlando, Florida and many places in between.

brickbungalowbybrucestambaugh

The house that our father built and where all of us “kids” grew up.

Growing up, it wasn’t always so lovey dovey. We quibbled and quarreled and played together throughout our childhood. But being four years or more ahead of the rest of the clan, Craig’s recollection of times gone by enjoins a wider view of our family history. I’m trying to be kind here.

Take the time when I was a toddler, and Craig was charged with watching me while Mom focused on other agenda. Craig was specifically told to make sure that I didn’t step into our yet to be seeded front yard, which was one giant mud hole.

When our mother heard the wailing from the front yard, she rushed to my rescue. My shoes were stuck fast smack in the middle of the mud, and Craig was nowhere to be found.

I was much too young to remember that traumatic experience. Craig was not, however. To his credit, Craig is the one who told the story.

We always teased Craig that as the oldest he was the favorite in the family. In fact, I bribed the preacher at our mother’s funeral to say that Mom had had an only child and then four children. Mischief sometimes masquerades for love.

Craig may have hit 70, but the rest of us are right on his heels. Our celebrative gathering was far more than a birthday bash. It was recognition of the kinship we all share, and the unspoken affection we all have for one another.

Though it wasn’t a surprise party, I know my big brother thoroughly enjoyed the time. One of his daughters told me that being together was the best gift we could have given him.

Growing up, birthdays were always special days in the Stambaugh household. I’m glad they still are.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Heading down Route 66

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The Grand Canyon, one of the many destinations made more accessible by U.S. Route 66.

By Bruce Stambaugh

U.S. Route 66 is legendary. Built in 1926, the highway that connected Chicago with Los Angeles helped to open up the western United States, especially after World War II.

Officially tabbed “The Will Rogers Highway,” the concreted, two-lane road became so popular that it quickly took on another moniker, “the Mother Road.” The highway enabled many Americans to access locales they had only heard of or dreamed about.

Many took to the famous road to visit historic sites, national parks, or tickle their toes in the southern California surf. Hundreds of service oriented businesses, restaurants, gas stations, motels and the like, grew once sleepy towns into expanding cities.

After Bobby Troup took a trip from Pennsylvania to the west coast on the road, he penned a now iconic song about his experience. “Route 66” is still a familiar song.

Today tourists from around the world travel as much of the original route that remains, too. They want to relive what life was like before the road was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985. The establishment of the Interstate Highway System spelled doom for the romanticized route and the cities and businesses through which U.S. 66 traversed. Radiator Springs, the fictional town in the movie “Cars,” is used as an example of how the Interstate Highway System affected so many small towns across the southwest.

I have traveled on only a few sections of the famous route. My late father, however, had a very personal and memorable connection to U.S. 66. It was the road he and two other sailors drove home following their discharge from the Navy at the close of World War II.

I remember Dad telling me about a restaurant owner in Texas who helped them out. As they drove east along U.S. 66, Dad and his traveling companions kept seeing billboards for a restaurant that advertised serving “the largest steak in Texas.”

Of course the trio decided to check out the claim. Still dressed in their Navy whites, they had little money. Glad for their service to country, business owners often gave them discounts or even free food at places where they stopped.

This restaurateur was no exception. Never one to be bashful, my father approached the restaurant’s owner, and told him they had seen his many billboards along the road. Dad point blank asked him if his largest steak claim was true.

Impressed with their enthusiasm and their military service, the owner gave all three men a free steak dinner. Dad said it was indeed the largest steak he had ever eaten.

So why am I telling you all this about a road that doesn’t exist anymore? I blatantly used this nostalgia to make a simple, metaphoric point. I’m beginning my own journey on 66. I’ll soon be that age. Our birthdays are important after all. We only have them once a year.

Since I was a kid, I have wistfully declared that I would live to be 100. I had no way of knowing that of course. It was just my way of saying I enjoy life, and want to live it as vibrantly, as long, as well, and as purposefully as possible.

I feel very fortunate indeed to have completed nearly two-thirds of the way to that century mark along life’s bumpy highway. I don’t know if I’ll reach that lofty milestone or not, but I am going to give it my all trying. I still have a lot of living to do.

This year I’ll travel down my own personal Route 66. For in the masterful words of the beloved American poet Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before I sleep.”

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Cathedral Rock from Oak Creek Crossing, Sedona, AZ.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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See how they grow, the grandchildren that is

The boys and Slider by Bruce Stambaugh

Slider pounced on Evan and Davis at a Cleveland Indians game in August.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Every time I see my three grandchildren, I marvel at how much they have grown. I used to think that a lot when they lived in Texas, and we only saw them three or four times a year.

Each time we visited, whether the venue was here or there, our Texan born grandchildren showed obvious changes. One would expect that given the infrequent gatherings.

Massanutten Mountain by Bruce Stambaugh

Massanutten Mountain dominates the Shenandoah Valley at Harrisonburg, VA.

But now that they live in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, I seem to find myself saying that to them and about them each time we see them. And compared to Texas, that’s been a lot more frequent.

Since they moved from Pflugerville to Harrisonburg in mid-June, we have been together with Evan, Davis and Maren several times already. They have been in Ohio twice, and we have driven the 350 miles southeast four times.

The visits included a couple of celebrations since two of those trips marked birthdays. In July, we finally got to party with Davis on his fourth birthday. The Texas heat always discouraged us from mid-July visits, other than when he was born of course. We wouldn’t have missed that no matter how hot it got.

On our most recent trip, we celebrated Maren’s first birthday with a host of family and friends. It was quite the party. They may be living in Virginia, but their Texas roots run deep. Maren’s daddy couldn’t forget the good things about Texas. He bought a smoker and we had ourselves some swell tasting Texas brisket with homemade barbecue sauce.

Texas Blue Bonnets by Bruce Stambaugh

A field of Texas Blue Bonnets in full bloom.

Joining in on Evan’s special day was never a problem. Flying to Texas in mid-April, when the gorgeous blue bonnets were often in full bloom, was always a pleasure.

Evan by Bruce Stambaugh

Grandson Evan on the move in a soccer game.

Now all of that has changed. Evan is enjoying first grade and is growing like a weed. He is athletic, inquisitive, assertive, and definitely knows he is the oldest of the three. In other words, he is a typical six-year old.

Davis by Bruce Stambaugh

Grandson Davis was all concentration in his soccer match.

Davis enjoys his pre-school three days a week. On our last visit, his bouncy, blonde curls had been trimmed back to manageable standards. That didn’t seem to deter getting the attention of the girls at his soccer match.

A true lefty, no lines can confine his creativity. That included drawing with red permanent marker on the new tan bedroom rug. He can be a bit moody like his Nana. Nevertheless, it is a joy to be the brunt of his silly jokes. Playing along is all a part of being a grandparent.

My favorite moment with the boys came when they spent time with us here in early August. Nana and I took them to an Indians game, where Slider, the Tribe’s fuzzy mascot, jumped the boys, much to their delight.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh

Granddaughter Maren was all dressed for the Eagles' game in her skinny jeans and jersey.

Maren is the happiest baby I have even seen, unless of course she wants her mommy and her mommy is unavailable. Modeling might be in her future. She already poses for the camera.

By definition, Maren is really a toddler now that she has passed her first birthday. Close to walking, Maren stands by herself and never tires of pushing around the toy cart Nana bought her.

With those sparkling baby blue eyes, that constant smile and gregarious demeanor, Maren is already a knock out. At the rate she is growing up, I may be called into Virginia guard duty sooner than I think.

Maren and cupcake by Bruce Stambaugh

Since it was her first birthday, Maren wasn't too sure what to do with her first cupcake.

Maren figured it out by Bruce Stambaugh

In the end, Maren figured out what partying was all about.

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