Watching the grandkids grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids being kids.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Seeing my baseball dreams come true

Grandson at bat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe at third.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

The older I get, the faster the days go

sunrise, Harrisonburg VA
A new day begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Just the other day I remarked to my daughter about how fast the days seem to go. I didn’t have to wonder why.

Logic would dictate that just the opposite would be the case in retirement. Weren’t the golden years meant to be slower, more relaxed than when we were younger?

I thought back to my full-time working life when days started early and ran late. Whether in my first career as an educator for 30 years or in my second gig in marketing, a wide variety of activities filled the days.

Add in the agenda of our active, growing children, community commitments, recreation, organizational meetings, and each day just disappeared. There never seemed to be enough time to complete all that was on my daily plate.

As you might imagine, teaching was demanding. I was bone tired by the time Friday rolled around. When I became an administrator, the routines changed, but my duties often extended long after school had been dismissed both for the day and for the year. Mindless meetings had much to do with that dynamic.

Not much changed in my marketing career. I could always count on surprises that suddenly altered my plans for the day.

When I said goodbye to all of that a couple of years ago, I figured my pace would slow down. Instead, life’s speed seems to have accelerated in retirement.

youth soccer, Harrisonburg VA
Goal by our granddaughter.

My daughter concurred with me about the quickness of the days. I had to wonder, however, about the look she gave me. Was it a sympathetic gaze into what the future held for her, or was it a look of astonishment at my declaration?

Perhaps there was a third option, one of appreciation for the assistance her mother and I provide to her family. We were in the heart of the volleyball season, and Nana and I do our parts to help make our daughter’s household run as smoothly as possible.

Carrie is the women’s coach at Eastern Mennonite University, and her husband is the chief financial officer for a rapidly growing start-up company. Professional duties pack their daily schedules.

So we do what we can to help. Nana makes meals, tidies up our house and theirs, and does laundry, shopping, and so much more. I have my honey-do lists.

sproodle, dogs
Our granddog.

Sometimes I care for our granddog. Sometimes I pick up a grandchild at school and transport them to another venue. Sometimes I serve as the landscaper, and sometimes I help with homework, even if it is math and in Spanish.

All of this interaction helps make the days disappear one right after the other. Of course, it could be that our energy level at this age isn’t what it was in our younger years. Then we chauffeured our son and daughter from school to soccer and piano practices to church youth group in addition to all of our other responsibilities.

Whatever the reasons for time flying, Nana and I prioritize our time and efforts into doing the tasks at hand. In between, we rest, relax, exercise, have lunch on the porch together, pray and meditate each in our individual way.

In truth, we expected all the busyness. We moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for just such assignments. It’s our new life calling.

We didn’t realize how very fast these golden times would go, however. In these autumn days of our lives, the time just seems to evaporate. I for one couldn’t be happier.

valley, Ohio's Amish country
In the evening of our lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Living in the moment has its rewards

Harrisonburg VA
A bad day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day hadn’t gone well for either my wife or me. You would think that people our age would know enough not to let circumstances negatively influence our attitudes. But, hey, we’re human after all. We each succumbed to separate and sundry annoyances.

My wife had more reason to be upset than me. But I didn’t know that at the time. I was too consumed with my own pettiness. Men tend to do that, at least I do.

Neva volunteers at a local thrift store as a manager. While the store’s full-time managers were away on vacation, the credit card machine malfunctioned. Once Neva realized there was a significant issue regarding recording sales, she scrambled to correct the problem.

I was at home oblivious to all of this. The world was falling apart again, and I foolishly allowed myself to absorb too much of the toxic news.

Despite our individual funks, we each still had our usual grand-parenting duties to fulfill. I was responsible for transporting Neva’s premade, delicious casserole to our daughter’s place, putting it in the oven at the prescribed time and at the predetermined temperature. Neva would be there to ensure the meal got served.

I completed my assigned, simple duties and retreated to the sunroom. I sat on the couch still miffed. I stewed in my own self-made misery, absorbing more and more discouraging news. You would think a retired volunteer firefighter would know better than to throw gasoline onto a smoldering campfire.

Harrisonburg VA
Maren was pleased with the shoes she got for her birthday.
Right after Neva arrived, an amazing thing happened. Our nine-year-old granddaughter entered the room, donned a pair of headsets and started to sing. Maren ignored everything else, focusing solely on getting each note just right, just the way she was hearing it sung through her headset. She was practicing for her children’s choir.

Her cheerful, innocent voice buoyed me. I threw all of my attention into admiring her determination, her concentration, her ambition, her appreciation for each tune, the lyrics, the opportunity to merely sing.

I resisted the urge to photograph and record the impromptu mini-concert. Instead, I just sat in admiration and joy, breathing and smiling. It was then that I realized something critical. I had forgotten about “my problems.” I realized they weren’t problems. I also understood the importance of what I was witnessing. This young lady singing her heart out was all that I needed, all that mattered.

Maren sang and sang until Neva couldn’t contain herself any longer. She interrupted the spontaneous concert to compliment Maren. Besides, suppertime was near.

I felt fortunate to have been witness to this spontaneous musical interlude of Maren’s. It was a heavenly reprieve from the messy noise of today’s world. I wish you could have been there, too.

There was a lesson there, not just for me, but all of us caught up in the heat of the moment, in the avalanche of information that streams from our televisions, radios, computers, cell phones, laptops, and any other electronic device to which we are tethered.

In the beginning, I had allowed hopelessness and despair to rule the moment. In the end, a time of earnest, uplifting singing transformed my heart and soul. I live for moments like these.

My granddaughter’s singing reminded me to live in the moment, breathe, and listen. Those are the ingredients for a beautiful day every day no matter the nature of the news.

Harrisonburg VA

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Being Themselves

grandchildren, spontaneous poses
Being Themselves.

Being the photography nerd that I am, I always like to document family gatherings. That’s especially true when we gather for special occasions like birthdays.

Our oldest grandson recently turned 14, as you can surmise by the numerical candles in his marble birthday cake. I asked his siblings to join Evan at the table for a quick photo before the cake was cut. Knowing from past experiences that all three like to ham it up, I specifically asked Evan, Davis, and Maren for a decent shot. This is what they gave me. It was the only shot I took because their poses perfectly reflect their individual personalities. I couldn’t have asked for a more candid shot if I had wanted it. Welcome to the new definition of “decent shot.”

“Being Themselves” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Moving to The Valley for the most important reason

Shenandoah Valley, sunset
The beautiful Shenandoah Valley at dusk.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I loved where we lived. We had spent our entire adult lives among the world’s largest Amish population in Holmes County, Ohio. Why would anyone want to leave that serene setting for the Shenandoah Valley?

Since we had visited The Valley several times in the last two decades, we could have provided numerous viable answers to that question. The picturesque mountains, the agrarian culture, the abundant natural beauty and recreational options, the rich history, the lively arts and educational opportunities all would have sufficed as legitimate reasons for new retirees to live in The Valley.

To us, however, those were all secondary benefits. Our move to Rockingham County was inevitable for one perfect, personal reason. Like so many retiring baby boomers, we wanted to be near our grandchildren in our senior years. We wanted to be close to them in their active formative years, and assist their busy household however we could.

little league baseball, grandson
Our grandson the pitcher.
We observed that we weren’t alone in relocating for that familial reason. We discovered many others either already had moved to the area or were going to do so. Grandchildren were important to them, too. That alone affirmed our decision to move.

Ironically, my older brother and his wife did the same thing for the same reason only in reverse. One month later, they moved from Williamsburg, Virginia to the exact same county we left in Ohio.

Before we pulled up roots, however, our daughter and her husband assured us that The Valley would remain their home no matter what path their careers took. With that, we moved to The Valley last May.

However, the planning and preparations began long before that. Before the move, we delved into the possibility of living in or near Harrisonburg. We spoke with friends who had already done so. Their advice was not to wait too long. The grandchildren grow up fast.

We researched the cost of valley living and discovered it was a bit higher than what we had experienced in Ohio. Housing was especially a concern. Our ever-alert daughter found a house in our price range that looked promising. Our real estate agent set up an appointment.

We liked the house and the location. We quickly agreed on a price with the owners. My wife signed the papers in a parking lot on the trunk of the realtor’s car late at night. Having gone home for some required monthly meetings, I signed electronically online, a new experience for me.

canning peaches, granddaughter
Our granddaughter helped with the canning.
We were in shock though. In our 46 years of marriage, my wife and I never had been spontaneous buyers. Here we were making the largest purchase of our lives only 48 hours after having seen the home.
Moving wasn’t an easy decision by any means. We thought long and hard about it. All the rest of our immediate family lives in Ohio, including our son. He gave us his blessing to move.

My wife and I were born and raised in Ohio. We spent our careers in public education there. We both served with several community organizations over the years. It wasn’t easy to let go of all of that.
To soften the change, we decided to deliberately take our time moving to the Shenandoah Valley. As quickly as we bought the house, we didn’t move in until 18 months later. My wife and I worked diligently for a year and a half to prepare for the move.

I’m glad it took us that long to transition from one place to the other. We didn’t want to merely cut and run from the people and place we loved. That interlude gave us the opportunity and space we needed to adjust to this major, life-changing decision.

Shenandoah NP, hiking
The exploring grandson.
We met with the local mover that we hired. A sincere young man, he clearly knew his business. We found the combination of his expertise and experience immensely helpful in deciding what to take and what to leave. Our Harrisonburg home was considerably smaller than the one in Ohio. We were downsizing after all.

We spent much effort sorting and packing clothing, furniture, and household goods. We found homes for family heirlooms that wouldn’t fit in our smaller Virginia home. We donated many items to a local thrift store. We also met with family members and close friends before we exited, often over meals. Relationships are worth more than any material item.

Between purchasing the house and moving in, we rented it to a family for a few months. After they left, we hired contractors to update the landscaping and the house. We wanted to put our own personal touches on the place to make it our own. The contractors were glad to have these small jobs during their usually slower winter season.

We’ve more than enjoyed our time in The Valley so far. We’re pleased that we took our time. Not everyone has the luxury of a slower moving transition like my wife and I did. But if you can, the benefits of taking your time can make it more than worthwhile. That’s especially true if you get to regularly enjoy your grandchildren.

grandkids, breakfast
Breakfast out with the grandkids.

This story appears in the current edition of Valley Living.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Neva is my wife

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