Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting
Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

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Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In search of a sunset, I found serenity, too

City sunset
View from the city.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I drove away from the city to get a country view of a Shenandoah sunset. I came away with so much more than picturesque photos.

I had taken several sunset shots near our daughter’s home in the Virginia valley that is the result of ancient geologic folding. I wanted a different backdrop. I decided to head for a friend’s childhood home.

After I had dropped off my oldest grandson at baseball practice, I drove a few miles south and west of the city that is rapidly sprawling far beyond it’s historic downtown. My friend, Ava, had moved to Ohio last year. She said she remembered people stopping to take pictures of the views opposite her home.

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On Ava’s family farm.
Ava had given me perfect directions to her old place. I found it well before sundown, which gave me time to check out the area, and take a few photos first.

Ava was right. The panorama alone was stunning. This high spot on a gently rolling ridge opened up nicely to the west. The sun glowed above the Alleghenies miles away.

I sent her a text with a photo of the evening’s western landscape. Ava’s reply caught me by surprise.

Despite all the years she had lived there, Ava didn’t have a sunset photo from that perspective. Her family’s religion forbade owning a camera. I didn’t know that, however.

In her words, Ava said it was a precious vista that hemmed the western range of her formative years. It was the scene she saw as she walked to the school bus, gather the mail and drove the buggy to church. The foothills, valleys, and mountains served as a geographic security blanket for her.

Ava profusely thanked me for the photos that brought back so many poignant memories. Capturing and sharing that setting generated a heartwarming story that dearly warmed me far more than the fiery sunset.

Tractors whizzed in and out the long lane of the family farm. Wagonload after wagonload of chicken manure got spread on the sloping fields while the sun blazed away behind the distant foothills and aged mountains.

My senses were conflicted. What I saw thrilled me. What I smelled I just endured until dark.

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Dancing rays.
As I was about to leave, a young man on one of the tractors stopped on his return trip to the barn. A young boy and younger girl flanked the ruddy driver. The farmer wanted to know if I was taking the photos for my own use.

I nodded in the affirmative. He seemed startled when I asked him if this was the old Shank place. He confirmed what I already knew.

We chatted some more, and I told him that I knew Ava. Likely cautious of a stranger, he just smiled broadly and nodded in return without saying that Ava was his aunt. She told me that later. Ava was as thrilled that I had met one of her kin as she was with the photos I had sent.

I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.

Every sunset is different of course. By making these unexpected, long distant connections between an aunt and her nephew, this sundown dazzled me with more than shimmering red and orange rays.

This serendipitous interaction brought me a personal, soothing satisfaction. It was a moving encounter no camera could ever capture.

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Ava’s evening view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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.

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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

A detour of no inconvenience

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Snow on the Appalachian Mountains.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This winter’s wicked weather altered many well-laid plans, especially for travelers. My wife and I were no exception.

We delayed our trip south by a day due to a winter storm in the Appalachian Mountains. The extreme cold air followed us all the way to northern Florida.

As we readied to return home at vacation’s end, yet another major winter storm was chugging up the Ohio Valley. We weighed our options about our return trip. It would have been delightful to remain in place. But we needed to return home. It was time.

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Game night.
South Carolina and North Carolina were still recovering from one-two punches of unusually extreme wintry weather that downed thousands of trees and caused massive power outages. We didn’t want to risk being stranded there either.

Fortunately, we had an attractive option that would take us well out of the way home. We decided to visit our grandchildren in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a year-round scenic place. It was a big sacrifice, I know.

We hadn’t seen our grandkids since Christmas. It was only logical that we should avoid the storm by detouring to Harrisonburg. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Oh, we had a lovely two-day drive to their hillside home near the university where their daddy, our son-in-law, works. But the storm detoured, too. The morning after we arrived we awakened to three inches of snow overtop a quarter inch of ice.

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The heavy snow even cancelled class at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA.
It snowed all day, doubling the snowy accumulation. Of course, schools were closed, giving us bonus time with our three grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren. It was a vacation within a vacation, like finding a diamond ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.

The backyard where our daughter and her family live is perfect for sled riding. The day we left Ohio a month earlier, it was 15 degrees below zero. So I had plenty of warm clothes to wear, including the pair of waterproof shoes I wore while walking on the beach.

We bundled up, grabbed the day glow orange toboggans, and went out into it. We had a riot. Little Maren, the daring four year-old, really isn’t so little anymore. She laid supine in one of the sleds and zipped down the gentle slope and slid right into the neighbor’s backyard.

The boys whooped, and Maren immediately recognized her amazing accomplishment. She jumped up and screeched with glee, “That was just like a rocket booster.”

That’s pretty much how our two and a half days with them went. We would play outside until the cold drove us inside. As soon as his jacket was off, Evan was setting up the game boards, or dealing the playing cards. He loves table games, not only because he is competitive, but mostly because he usually wins.

Davis was content to unwind and warm up on his own, playing his creative, imaginary games with his Lego people and assembled utilitarian pieces. I hope I’m alive when he is awarded the Noble prize in the sciences.

If she’s not playing with Davis, Maren knows all the buttons to touch on the screens of the iPad or laptop whichever is available to her. When I get over my pride, I’ll have to have her show me how to operate them.

My wife and I may have arrived home a week later than we expected. But in this case, the delay was no inconvenience at all.

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Deer at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Viewing the world through different lenses

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The Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We have it pretty nice here in the Greater Holmes County, Ohio area. I have known that ever since I moved to the area just after the historic July 1969 flood.

Ask locals, and they’ll tell you that it’s the best place in the world to live. I wouldn’t begin to argue otherwise.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this is the only place to call home. Clearly, if it were, the countryside wouldn’t be the same. Pastoral settings would give way to a jagged urban scape and all the trappings that accompany it.

For those who never venture afar from our comparatively protected environs, there is a danger with our self-satisfaction. Seeing the world with only our particular glasses can give us a distorted viewpoint on other cultures, socially, politically, economically and any other way you want to look at life.

At times it can be good to change lenses. That means we sometimes have to get well out of our comfort zone to do so. We have to let go of what we know, and learn anew.

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Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offers incredible views, like the morning mist rising out of the valleys.

Recently I took an intensive graduate school course at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. It’s a place as pretty as home, only old age mountains backdrop rolling, fertile foothills.

Of the 16 participants in the class, I was one of only three North American students. The others came from places like Azerbaijan, Thailand, Iraq, Kurdistan, Belgium, Ghana, Nigeria, Syria and Haiti. I would have struggled to find some of these countries on a globe.

The students ranged from young adults to grandparents like me. Their given names were Amstrong, Yvon, Nurana, Carlos, Rana, Aunt, Ray, James, Oscar, Henry, Nameer, Ernest, Amina, Khant and Salar. They were pastors, government leaders, workers for non-governmental aid agencies, interpreters and teachers.

Though our cultures, races and geographic origins varied greatly, we were there to learn about the various ways to analyze and understand conflict. Given the current situations in the countries represented, much useful information was certain to be shared back home.

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Much of the class time was spent in small group discussions and activities.

In the classroom, we sat in groups of three or four, each day a different configuration, each day new and fascinating stories intertwined with the professor’s lessons. Their personal stories, shared privately, were compelling, if not fearsome.

A pastor from Haiti called his wife every night and spoke to her from midnight until nearly dawn just to ensure his family’s safety. The consequences of war had destroyed the home of a young woman from Syria. Yet reconciliation, not retribution, was the aim of these devoted, considerate, inquisitive community leaders striving to promote peace.

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The dynamic women of the Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Instead of focusing on how bad it was in their country or blaming other governments, these men and women were glad for the opportunity to learn how to dissect and resolve conflict. They would take what they had learned and apply it as best they could. Their goal was to improve the world around them, even if it was one person at a time. Where there was despair, they saw hope.

When the Haitian pastor asked me if my home was safe, I hesitated before answering. I looked deep into his dark, wondering eyes, and simply said, “Yes, I live in a very safe place.”

“You are very fortunate,” he replied softly. I was humbled.

All of us who live in our lush, agrarian area are fortunate. Occasionally it takes looking through other life lenses to fully appreciate our own home view.

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A typical springtime view in Holmes Co., Ohio.

© 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.

Over the river and through the woods to a basketball game

Youth basketball by Bruce Stambaugh
Youth basketball in Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s time for March Madness again. As much as my wife and I enjoy watching the college games on television, we had other basketball priorities. That’s the way it is with grandparents.

Our seven-year-old grandson’s basketball season was winding down, and we hadn’t seen him play yet. We used that as an excuse, as if we needed one, to drive the 350 miles south and east to Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley to see him play. Across the Ohio River and through forested West Virginia mountain passes we went to cheer him on.

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One of the mountain passess in West Virginia we cross each time we travel from Ohio to Harrisonburg, VA.

Unfortunately, Evan was ill when we arrived. His 103-plus fever kept him home from school for a couple of days. But sports nut that he is, Evan’s fever subsided and he was ready to roll by game time Saturday morning.

We all piled into our daughter’s van and headed a few miles down the road to an elementary school where the basketball games are held. Other parents and grandparents filled the meager bleachers, too, as you might expect.

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The coach gives instructions to the young players.

I was impressed with how the operation was run. After all, seven is a young age to be playing a contact sport. After the usual warm-ups were completed, the coaches gathered the players for instructions.

The main referee, a lanky teenager, also helped the players. He talked to them before each jump ball and as the game progressed. In fact, once the whistle had blown, he often demonstratively showed the players the correct way to guard or shoot.

Helping referee by Bruce Stambaugh
The young referee took time to instruct the young players, too.
Of course, as soon as play resumed, it was like nothing had been said. The kids were pretty young to grasp the full aspects of the game. They were mostly out to have fun, and win, even though no score was kept.

Another plus was that the baskets had been lowered to make it easier for the boys to shoot. In addition, they used a smaller sized ball, one that was much easier for their small hands to handle.

This game was a lot of fun to watch. A few parents and grandparents, who shall all remain nameless, hollered out instructions to their favorite player. But just like they did the coaches, the kids seemed to ignore the advice and played on, dismissed rules and guidance in favor of trying to make a bucket anyway they could.

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The youngsters emulated NBA players with their style of play.
In fact, the play of the youngsters, combined with the loose officiating, reminded me of an NBA game. Dribbling seemed to be an option, and shooting was far more common than passing the ball.

Back home, Evan practiced his skills with his younger brother, Davis, by playing an electronic game on the TV with the Wii. Davis tried his best to teach me, but I guess I was just too old to jump properly to make a basket. I seemed to be showing my age in both the virtual and real world.

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Our granddaughter, Maren.
Their baby sister, Maren, had tolerated Evan’s game just fine. She took along her baby doll for real entertainment. She didn’t have much interest in the Wii game either.

Maren was much too preoccupied with more important things, like playing quietly by herself until her brothers interrupted her privacy. Then another game began, which their lovely mother refereed, no whistle required.

Admittedly it was a long way to go to watch a basketball game, but well worth the time and effort. This grandfather can’t wait for youth baseball to begin.

Admiring children’s creativity, especially the grandchildren’s

Grandkids by Bruce Stambaugh
Our grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A painting hangs on a wall in my home office where I spend much of my workday. The artistry isn’t one of my mother’s rich landscape watercolors.

The painting is simple in content, perhaps even a bit juvenile in style. That’s why I like it so much. I purchased the watercolor from a former student.

The sixth-grade artist took a common setting and made it exquisite. She had captured perfectly the daily scene in her classroom. A row of colorful books lined the soldier brick windowsill. The black tattered blinds, cords hanging limp, covered the upper third of the old steel framed windows.

I wanted the painting as a memento. I also wanted to encourage her to keep painting. That was a long time ago, and I don’t know if the girl, now a young woman, still paints or not. I hope she does. She had a creative eye.

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Maren insisted that I take a picture of her with her mommy and their sunglasses.

My middle grandchild does, too. His older brother by two years, and his 2-year old sister also have their own individual flashes of creativity. But Davis is different for sure. He is left-handed after all.

For a 5-year old, he seems to see patterns that others, myself included, look right through or ignore altogether. Davis may have inherited some of his great-grandmother’s artistic ability.

My wife and I visited recently with our daughter and her family in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. During our stay, Davis’ creativeness burst forth on more than one occasion.

He showed me his rock collection, which is housed on the porch of an unused entrance to their home. Davis uses several characteristics to choose his rocks. Size, color, texture, shape, and weight are all his geologic requisites.

I was honored when he asked me to identify a rock he chose to take to preschool to share with the other students. I told him it was granite, and Nana chimed in that countertops are made of granite. This took us to the Internet for pictures of the coarse-grained igneous rock. Davis was fascinated with all the different types and colors.

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The grandsons enjoy their football.

While playing football with him outside, I pointed out a big puffy cloud floating overhead. Davis informed me that it was a dragon. On second glance, I don’t know how I missed that obvious observation.

The sure sign that we may have a budding Picasso in the family was Davis’ intensity while drawing. He stared at the Wii characters on the television screen as his big brother played a game. Davis turned to his drawing paper over and over again, dedicated to replicate what he saw. He didn’t quit until he was satisfied with what he had sketched.

His siblings, Evan and Maren, draw, too. Evan is a meticulous stay-between-the-lines kind of guy, while little Maren is just honing her abstract expressionism. She sent a sample of her early work back to Ohio with us.

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Davis sketching in the pea gravel at the playground.

At the park, Davis discovered a shark designed cleverly onto a section of a gigantic wooden play set. Like the dragon, I didn’t see it until Davis pointed it out. The sharp teeth, the menacing eye, the dorsal fins and the fanned tail were all right there. Creative kid that he is, Davis sat down in the pea gravel and began to outline a replica with his index finger.

I marvel at children who can see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I admire it all the more when the children happen to be youngsters I know well, like my grandchildren.

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Davis and his playground shark.

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.

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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.