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

Watching the grandkids grow from afar

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The grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

We love our grandchildren. No headline news in that statement, I know.

But since the oldest of the three was born 11 years ago, Nana and Poppy have watched the trio, Evan, Davis and Maren, grow up from afar. All three of our grandchildren were born in Austin, Texas. Nana made sure she was on scene to help at each birth. Poppy arrived once the excitement had waned.

It wasn’t easy having your grandchildren 1,450 miles away. But we managed. We visited as often as we could.

We went for birthday parties at fire stations, helped carve pumpkins at Halloween, and any other time we could manage. The physical changes in the kids between visits were visible.

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The Texans. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
When our daughter announced five years ago that they were moving to Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, we were elated. Now they were only 350 miles away. The overland trip still took six and a half hours.

We visit as often as we can, and we still marvel at how all three change, even if it has only been a few weeks since we last saw them. A recent visit drove home that stark reality for me.

Evan is now nearly as tall as Nana. As you might guess, he is as active as any 11-year-old can be. He is a sports fanatic, with baseball his first love. That should be no surprise. From little on up, Evan enjoyed anything that would roll, or he could throw.

Davis is a very inquisitive youngster. You can tell he’s left-handed. Now nine, Davis has a gift to explore and imagine. He’s as happy playing with a stick as he is with an electronic game. How can you not like a boy like that?

At five, Maren is our pink tomboy. She is a girly girl if there ever was one. She enjoys helping Nana bake cookies. She hustles at soccer and baseball, too, even if her long, golden locks occasionally block her vision.

I remember as a youngster how much I loved being around grandparents. Though he had little, Grandpa Merle often brought us candy. Our dentist loved him, too.

I can still hear the hint of that soft, lovely southern Virginia accent in my Grandma Frith’s voice. My lips still smack at the tart taste of her made from scratch lemon meringue pies.

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Making memories. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Nana and I want to create those same memories with and for our grandkids, too. It’s just a bit harder with all those old age mountains between us. Still we do what we can.

I’ve always played a guessing game with all three of them. I hide an object in one of my fists, and the kids have to find which hand it’s in. During a recent visit, Maren guessed with such accuracy that I encouraged her to go buy a lottery ticket. Her response? “What’s that?”

It’s been a joy to see each gain confidence. Davis fearlessly dove off a swimming pool diving board. He asks more questions than even I have answers. To me, it seems just yesterday that he was poking holes in Texas fire ant hills.

As the oldest, Evan strives to ensure that he is not usurped of that position as if that were even possible. Still, he’s one smart kid when it comes to mathematics and board games.

It’s nice to see our grandkids progress from diapers to where they are today. I just wish those eight mountain passes weren’t in the way.

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On vacation. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Making an all too obvious discovery

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The overlook on U.S. 33 near Gap, WV, is one of our usual stretch stops on the way to VA from OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know why my wife and I couldn’t see it. It took the wisdom of our daughter to realize what was happening with her trio of kids, our three grandchildren.

My wife and I live in Ohio. Our grandchildren live in Virginia. We visit them when we can, and they return the favor when their schedule allows, which isn’t nearly often enough from Nana and Poppy’s point of view.

We understand their situation. At ages nine, seven and four, Evan, Davis and Maren are busy, busy, busy. This time of year, of course, their days are mostly filled with attending school.

Their summers are nearly as clogged, only with Little League baseball for the boys. The season seems to last and last, especially when it is extended with tournaments.

Along with their other grandmother, we did do a beach vacation with them in June, which we greatly enjoyed. But that’s not quite the same as being at their home or they being at ours.

Let’s just say that the ability to pile into the van with their parents and head northeast to visit us is rather limited. Which leaves us with one option. If we want to see our grandchildren other than in summer and at Christmas, we have to go visit them.

It only makes sense after all. Our schedules are much more flexible than theirs are. So we go when we can or when we are needed. Lately, it’s been more of the latter than the former.

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The grandkids’ home in VA.
What a year it has been for our daughter and her family, too. After a three-year search for a new home, they finally found a lovely place that mostly suited their family’s needs. It is located in the same general area of town as where they had rented.

What a plus that was for them, too. The boys didn’t have to change schools, and there was no major adjustment to a new neighborhood. The new neighbors might have to adjust to them, however. They are one of the few families with young children in their stable neighborhood.

The problem was that our arriving always seemed to signal a red flag for the grandkids. The sign was plain as day to them. When Nana and Poppy, or one or the other arrived, a new wind blew. Mom or Dad or both were about to exit the scene.

The kids saw the consequences and reacted as children do. For whatever reasons, we didn’t get it. We do now.

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Our grandkids watch most home volleyball games and few away games like this one at nearby Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, VA.
Our daughter and her husband are as busy as their children. Our son-in-law has his professional career with the nearby university, and our daughter helped coach the university women’s volleyball team, not to mention her many duties at church.

On top of all of that was the unexpected purchase and remodel of the house. Throw in the transition of the youngsters, and the arrival of the senior division of the Ohio cavalry for babysitting appearances, and you get the picture.

So there it was. When Nana and Poppy arrived, something drastic was in the works in the lives of our three grandchildren. Kids being kids, they each showed their youthful angst through various bold behaviors. Nothing serious, mind you, just disconcerting.

The solution is straightforward. Nana and Poppy simply need to visit and enjoy time with the entire family, no babysitting, no rule changing, just plain family fun.

That’s the ideal role for Nana and Poppy for which all can be thankful.

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Granddaughter Maren helped Nana make baked oatmeal for the volleyball team.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Miss Maren doesn’t miss a beat in Amish country

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Aunt Meena and Miss Maren playing a game of tag.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As we headed down the last of eight mountain passes toward her home in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, my three-year old granddaughter, Maren, asked a gem of a question.

We were listening to a child’s musical CD when she picked up on the words “miss you.” Typical of inquisitive three-year olds, Maren asked a profound question. “Does ‘miss you’ mean you will be glad to see him again?” she asked. As I glanced in the rearview mirror, her expressive eyes twinkled the answer. I smiled, and simply replied, “Exactly, Maren!”

That type of interaction had occurred several times in the four days my wife and I had hosted Maren. It was her first time away from her parents and her two older brothers. She passed the separation test with flying colors.

Neva and I had planned several activities that would keep her and her very active mind occupied while away from her familiar surroundings. As it turned out, we need not have worried about filling in the time.

It’s not that Maren didn’t miss her family. It was more like discovering the freedom of being an only child with no one to interrupt her magical control over Nana and Poppy.

From the time she left her home with Nana, Maren knew what she was doing and soaked up every minute of her trip. She was in such a hurry to get to our place that she preferred to snack instead of taking the time to stop for lunch.

When she arrived at our home, Maren insisted on getting her own suitcase out and rolling it into her bedroom. Maren smiled and laughed and played the entire time. There wasn’t a hint of homesickness.

Maren decided to sleep in her little bed with a multitude of stuffed animals. Now this is the same bed and room where Maren refuses to sleep when she visits with her parents. Maren has a reputation for not sleeping through the night. She did at our house, one night for nearly 12 hours.

Besides the various activities we had in mind for her, Maren had her own plans. She enjoyed several swinging sessions on the hammock sans her brothers, and helped Nana make apple sauce.

Maren’s favorite pastime was to feed the goldfish in our little garden pond and to look for the lone green frog. Maren equally relished filling the many birdfeeders I have hanging in the backyard.

While dining on the back porch one evening, Maren said, “You have a lot of bird feeders,” and proceeded to count the five that she saw. I reminded her of the small suet feeder on the other side of the porch. She said matter-of-factly, “Oh yes. That makes six.”

Maren also enjoyed her own private playtime. She did puzzles, rode her scooter and looked at books.

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Photo of our garden shed taken by Maren.
Maren was fascinated with my cameras, and asked if she could take some pictures. How could I say no? Most of her shots were spot on.

Like her brothers when they were her age, Maren loved the horse and buggies that clopped by our home. She especially enjoyed the one with the blaring boom box.

Too soon, however, it was time to head home. As much fun as she had had, Maren was glad to see her mommy and daddy, and her brothers again.

The lyrics of the song we had heard coming down that last mountain resonated. We miss you, Maren, very much.

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Although she really enjoyed her stay with us, Maren was happy to be home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Walking with the grandsons generates more than exercise

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Grandsons Davis and Evan posed for a photo along the way.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Unlike their little sister, my grandsons, Evan, age nine, and Davis, now seven, wake early. No matter how late they stay up the previous night, they always rise with the cows.

On a recent visit from their city-situated home in Virginia to our Ohio rural one, I found the boys quietly playing in the living room as I prepared for my morning stroll.

I asked them if they wanted to walk with me. Davis said he would. Evan said not. So Davis changed his mind. As I headed for the front door, they both reevaluated the situation, likely based on previous walks with Poppy. They joined me after all.

Both are smart, observant boys, full of vim and vinegar. At their age, you never know what’s going to pop into their brains and tumble out of their mouths. They know that the saunter down the chip and sealed country road can resemble an amble in a zoo, with both domestic and wild animals appearing at various spots along the way.

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The boys carefully checked out the dead Screech Owl along the roadway.
Practicing good safety habits, we walked single file. I took the lead on the initial stretch of the stroll along our busy county road. Most motorized vehicles seem to seldom adhere to the posted 45 m.p.h. speed limit.

That is particularly true of cars, vans and trucks heading north toward us down what we affectionately call the Number Ten Hill ski slope. Fortunately, in the quiet countryside, you can generally hear the acceleration approaching well before you see it. We stepped to the side until the traffic passed.

As we did so, we discovered a dead Screech Owl in the neighbor’s grass. It most likely had been hit overnight as it hunted for food. On the way home, I picked up the bird, placed it in a plastic sack and put it in the freezer until delivery could be made to the Wilderness Center in Wilmot where it would be preserved as a hands on educational tool for children like my grandchildren.

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A family of Purple Martins perched high on the snag of a dead decidious tree at the beginning of our walk
We turned east on the township road and soon spied a family of Purple Martins perched high in the limbs of an old snag. Upon our arrival to their station, the gregarious birds greeted us by circling and chattering overhead.

Boys being boys, all things gross always intrigue them. The flattened brownish-green plops of horse manure left on the roadway drew their attention. Davis, the more scientific one of the two, wanted specific details of how it got there. I encouraged him to be patient, that maybe he would learn first-hand how that particular organic operation functioned.

At one homestead, I praised a meticulously manicured vegetable garden. Apparently too tame, the exploring boys barely gave it a glance.

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Always the exacting young man, Evan had to point to the wagonload of firewood to be sure that was the wood that would be delivered to the house.

Further down the road at our neighbor’s farm, I showed them the wagonload of chopped firewood that awaited delivery to our house. Their eyebrows shot up at the bulging cargo.

The mention of home seemed to trigger the fact that we had walked far enough, though we still had a quarter of a mile to go to complete my usual route. Not wanting to disturb the morning’s peacefulness, I relented. Knowing that breakfast awaited, the boys kept a steadier pace on the return trip, virtually ignoring the chestnut mares and Holstein heifers.

Though a horse drawn buggy did pass us, Davis must have forgotten his question, negating having to describe the unappetizing depositing process to their admiring sister. She’s a dainty enough eater as it is.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Who knew being grandparents would be so much fun?

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Nana engaged our grandsons while our granddaughter entertained herself.

By Bruce Stambaugh

“Who knew it would be so much fun?” That was an email reply to me from a grandparent friend. Indeed, who knew?

Though we have always lived many miles apart, we have tried to be involved with our three grandchildren as much as time and distance allowed. First it was Texas, and now Virginia.

Our daughter, whose husband works for a university in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, asked if we would care for her trio of children while they spent the school’s spring break in Florida. We didn’t hesitate. We rearranged our schedules and headed 350 miles southeast.

Like her mother, our daughter is extremely organized. She had the week’s agenda outlined day by day. Of course, life has a way of upsetting the best of plans.

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Even little Maren wanted to help shovel snow.
The upheaval began not long after our daughter and her husband headed south. During the night Davis, the six year old, got sick. Monday it was his big brother’s turn. At first we thought Evan just missed his parents. When the school called to say Evan was ill, we realized he wasn’t just being overly sensitive. The next night little sister, Maren, woke up sick, too.

With the weather cooler than norm for The Valley, we kept the woodstove stoked overnight. Once, though, the smoke detector suddenly screamed. The woodstove apparently was a little too stoked, its temperature needle reaching the danger zone.

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Garbage trucks were converted into snowplows to help clear the roadways.
Halfway through our weeklong mission a major winter storm stirred. Harrisonburg became the bull’s eye on the official snow accumulation chart. A total of 15 inches of heavy, wet snow piled up, cancelling school for two days, with a delay the third. Retrofitted garbage trucks morphed into snowplows to help clear the roads.

Fortunately, the sicknesses lessened as the snow depth increased. Sledding and snowman building became the focus of activity. Neighbors loaned slippery sleds that zoomed the bundled up kids down the steep hill behind their father’s office building. They were fearless in their swooshing, especially the youngest.

During down times between sledding excursions Maren kept us busy with her favorite activity, playing a memory card game. No matter how many pairs of cards we laid out, she skunked us all. To watch her consistently recall where the matching cards were, and hear her glee at winning was worth the licking Nana and I took.

We also made good use of the snowy elements. Nana whipped up a yummy batch of snow ice cream using nothing more than vanilla, heavy cream, sugar and snow.

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Maren found “hiding” behind the sweeper.
Maren kept us all entertained playing hide and seek her way. She would tell us where she was going to hide, and then insist we close our eyes and count to 10 before beginning the imaginative search.

Sweet Maren had to keep track of her folks, too. At least three times a day she followed the route her parents took from their home to Sarasota on a Google map I had created on my computer. After a while, I merely pointed the curser, and she recited the travel log.

The grandkids enjoyed seeing their parents a few times via Face Time using Nana’s computer on our end and a smartphone in the Sunshine state. Those opportunities seemed to allay any apprehensions the grandkids had about their extended separation from

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Technology helped soothe the distance between the grandkids and their parents.
their loving parents.

For Nana and I, this was one more chance for quality time with our creative and energetic grandchildren. Who knew it would be so much fun?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Connecting the dots in unexpected ways

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life has a way of connecting dots in unexpected ways.

Nearly three weeks ago, our two-year-old granddaughter became ill. Her mother, our daughter, took her to the doctor on back-to-back days.

Maren by Bruce StambaughUnsure of the problem, the doctor thought it best if Maren were hospitalized for observation and tests. It was to be an overnight stay. When her fever didn’t subside, and the tests proved inconclusive, another night in the hospital was needed. Of course, we stayed in close contact with our daughter, albeit long distance via emails, text messages and occasional phone calls.

When Nana heard the news that Maren was to spend a second night in the hospital, her helper mode ratcheted into high gear. Nana hastily threw together her traveling items and headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where our daughter and her family reside.

I stayed behind. I had long-scheduled doctor appointments, meetings that convened only monthly, and other community commitments. Besides, I believe that too many adults in the same household at the same time can be, well, sometimes touchy, especially with youngsters.

The situation with Maren grew worse. She was transferred to a noted children’s hospital for further examination. Nana took care of our two grandsons while our daughter and her husband watched over sweet Maren.

Of course I was anxious to join them. We had previously planned on leaving for a weeklong visit with the grandkids anyhow. Maren’s illness just bumped up the trip’s urgency. But I didn’t necessarily want to have two vehicles 350 miles from home if we could help it.

Arriving home by Bruce Stambaugh
It was nice to have Maren arrive home, even though she was tired and peaked.
Being the workhorse that she is, Nana kept busy with household chores in Virginia. When the recycling piled up, she decided to take it to the recycling center. One other person was there, a middle-aged man who noticed Nana’s Ohio license plates.

The man said that he used to live in Ohio, Kidron to be exact, 12 miles from our house. The assertive person that she is, Nana asked this nice person if he happened to know of anyone coming down to Harrisonburg from Ohio on Sunday afternoon.

To her astonishment, and mine once she told me the story, the man replied that indeed he and his wife were visiting in Kidron, Ohio that very weekend and would be returning on Sunday afternoon, the exact time I had wanted to leave. He said he would be glad to have me ride along if I could find a way to Kidron.

As it turned out, my ride and I discovered we had mutual friends who lived near Kidron and who just happen to attend church with us. Our friends shuttled me to the rendezvous with this charitable couple. Like clockwork, we met up and transferred all my belongings I needed for the extended stay in Virginia from my friends’ car to my new friends’ car.

Given all the mental stress I was under, I was relieved to have someone else do the driving down the winding path to the

Feeling better by Bruce Stambaugh
Maren was glad to be home, playing and active as her strength would allow.
Shenandoah Valley. He proved an excellent driver, and delivered me right to my daughter’s door. It couldn’t have worked out better. The next day, Maren returned home, having been diagnosed with a perforated appendix, a difficult and unusual illness for a toddler.

Thanks to a common household errand and the interchange of two gregarious strangers, I got to welcome Maren and my daughter home. I am exceedingly glad those two divergent dots got connected.

This column appears weekly in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.