Getting ready for winter

Martins Creek by Bruce Stambaugh
A series of heavy snowfalls hit Ohio's Amish country last winter.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Like it or not, winter is right around the corner. We have already tasted some of winter’s appetizers, snow, temperatures in the teens, and, of course, shortened daylight.

Fortunately here in Ohio’s Amish Country, the snow didn’t amount to much, and the skinny temperatures quickly moderated. Once winter arrives officially next week, that could change. We could have a snow-filled winter like last year, or worse yet, one like 1977 and 1978 when snowdrifts reached 20 feet or more.

Living in Ohio all my life, I have found it helpful to mentally and physically prepare myself for the inevitable. Whether it is prolonged or only stays awhile, the weather will get cold, and it will snow from time to time.

Snowbirds arrive in Pinecraft, FL by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowbirds arrive via bus in Pinecraft, FL.

Those who dislike that harsh reality and who are in a position to do so flee south or southwest to warmer climes. At least the snowbirds hope they will be warmer. Last year proved otherwise. It frosted in Florida and snowed deep in the heart of Texas.

Snow deep in the heart of Texas by Bruce Stambaugh
It even snowed in Austin, TX last winter.

All of us can’t escape the onslaught of winter’s harshness. Some of us don’t want to. Others are involuntarily stuck here to fend for themselves.

I have fond childhood memories of the benefits of winter, like ice skating, sledding, flinging snowballs and digging snow tunnels. Most of them likely were indeed in the throes of winter. But I do remember delivering newspapers in a glorious Christmas Eve snow.

I also recall hustling our young son and daughter into my in-laws’ farmhouse amid stinging, sideways snow, howling winds, and frigid wind chills. There are times when Ohio winters are at their absolute worst in December.

We then anticipate January and February to be utterly horrible. And low and behold they might turn out to be meek and mild, not to mention mucky.

Whether we stay or whether we go, winter, regardless of the weather, will arrive. We might as well get ready for it.

Snow covered cornshalks by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical snowy scene in Ohio's Amish country.

In many ways, we already have. The tomato trellises we erected last spring have long been coaxed out of the ground and stored in the garden shed, thanks mostly to one of our kind, strong young neighbors.

The birdfeeders have been cleaned, filled and hung, and the backyard birds, and a couple of mooching fox squirrels, have already been taking advantage of the freebies. Actually, I am the one that is grateful. Watching the birds, and squirrels, rabbits and occasional deer, enjoy the cracked corn, oil sunflower seeds and suet mixes is my winter’s entertainment.

White breasted nuthatch by Bruce Stambaugh
A white-breasted nuthatch at my kitchen window feeder.

In truth, I feed the birds year-round. With winter’s approach, I merely increase the number and style of feeders to accommodate the various feeding habits of my feathered friends.

Of course, I can’t neglect the vehicles that transport us from place to place during the winter weather. I make sure each is winterized and ready to endure whatever winter has to throw at us.

The woodpile is stacked high and wide, ready to feed the hungry fireplace. I’d rather be shunning the cold elements in front of a warm fire than on the outside shoveling them. Who wouldn’t?

Winter is nigh. Are you ready?

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.

A change of venue for the grandkids

By Bruce Stambaugh

When our daughter told us that her husband had accepted a new job in Harrisonburg, Virginia, we were ecstatic. Although we enjoyed our visits to Texas with our family and their neighbors and friends, we found the flights from Ohio tedious.

With the move to Virginia, our grandchildren would be a quick six-hour drive away. I mean quick in the most liberal sense.

We enjoyed flying but to fly three hours to Texas without a direct flight really consumed an entire day. Add together the drive time to the airport, check-in, security navigations, waiting at the gates, and flight connections and a good day was gone.

Driving to Virginia would be a whole lot easier. To be sure, we knew the route by heart. We drove it often to visit our daughter in college in Harrisonburg. She had met our son-in-law at Eastern Mennonite University, and they had lived and worked in the city for a couple of years after their graduation and marriage. Now he works for the school.

There were multiple ways for us to get to Harrisonburg, an expanding city in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. As long as the weather was good, our favorite route was also the most demanding, climbing and descending eight mountain passes. It was a scenic, curvy drive.

Last week, we made our first trip to Harrisonburg in a decade. Our daughter and her family had moved from Texas, but settling in with three youngsters and a husband who works full-time isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Our excuse was to help our daughter and her husband unpack and to get organized in their Virginia home. Our motive was to see the grandkids. The ever-thoughtful Nana packed up containers of frozen sweet corn and applesauce and we headed southeast.

It was fun to travel again through familiar towns like Elkins, Harman, Franklin and Seneca Rocks, all in West Virginia. Not surprisingly, little had changed in those 10 years. But once we hit the mountains, the road seemed windier than I had remembered, even though it was clear some of the curves had been softened and widened.

I would have gladly crossed 18 mountain passes for the chance to see our two grandsons and granddaughter again. I last saw them in Texas at the end of February.

I was amazed at how much they had matured, if indeed you can say a six-year old, a four-year old and a nine-month old mature. But there were definite differences. The two boys, Evan and Davis, played together well, yet were equally content to play independently, too.

Evan surprised me with how well he could read, even though he had just finished kindergarten. Davis, too, showed his inquisitive prowess with delving questions. When we weren’t watching the World Cup on television, we played soccer on their expansive wooden deck.

Maren cuddled right up to me. She seemed more intrigued with my beard than my conversation, however. When the discussion went sour, Nana was the designated diaper changer.

Maren is crawling, curious and exercising her best operatic voice, although not always in harmony with her energetic brothers. She is one adorable little girl, and has saucers for eyes that match the same Paul Newman blueness of her brothers.

Our stay was much too short. You can be sure that now that they are only hours away, there will be many more visits to come. After all, we have the drive down pat.

The time of my life isn’t always fun

By Bruce Stambaugh

As I push into my 60s, I’m having the time of my life. At home, at work, at social and church functions, community gatherings, I enjoy the people I’m with.

But as I take advantage of the senior citizen discounts, I am also more than cognizant of my current station in life. Being an active member of the Sandwich Generation, I never know what any particular day will bring.

Some days are filled with excitement and anticipation. Like when our daughter informed us that her family will be leaving Texas and moving to the Commonwealth of Virginia. My wife and I were thrilled.

Come June, we will be just a short six-hour drive away from our precious grandchildren and their equally precious parents. It will be a whole lot handier to spoil the grandkids in Virginia than Texas.

However, there are days when I really don’t want to answer the phone, fearful that a relative or friend has incurred some catastrophe. I consider myself to be a positive thinker and an equally positive person. But as life’s varying circumstances unfold, the chances for bad news seem to increase the older I get.

My mother and mother-in-law both live in the same assisted living facility. When its phone number appears on the caller ID, ambivalent thoughts race through my mind.

Is a nurse calling to say that my mother is ill or my mother-in-law has taken a tumble? Both have happened. However, more often than not, it’s simply my mother-in-law calling with an inconsequential question or to share some special news.

Too much unpleasantness has happened to family and friends that has trained me to be cautious. I know I am not alone in having these apprehensions. My peers have confessed the same fleeting fears.

The unpleasantry can be as variable as the wind. You never know what direction or with what force it will hit you.

My older brother and his family had looked forward to a tour of Italy. They had to cancel it last year when both my brother and his wife each had their separate, serious health issues.

They rescheduled the trip and were anticipating a sunny and fun-filled time together. Then the volcano in Iceland let loose, and like thousands of others, their flight was canceled due to the huge ash plume that covered Europe. They returned home doubly disappointed.

About the same time and only hours after her husband had left for his new job in Virginia, our daughter had emailed us that their neighbor, a man I considered their surrogate Texas grandfather, had died. I truly wanted to jump on a jet and parachute into their backyard.

In actuality, I knew there was little I could do in the flesh. We asked how we could help, but some things in life are beyond human intervention and control. That is both the reality and mystery of life, not just for my family or people I know. It is the way of all creatures great and small.

Some days are glorious and exhilarating. Others are dark and perplexing. They are devoid of anything even resembling fun, although the sun may be shining brightly.

As I enjoy the benefits and honor of being a husband, father, son, brother, grandfather and friend, I am aware that life has both its alphas and its omegas. At this point in my life, I try to remember that every time the phone rings.

Competing in the winter Olympics, Texas style

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have had a long infatuation with the winter Olympics. This year was no exception. In fact, instead of just watching on television, I actually got to compete.

Coupled with the fatigue of the seemingly endless Ohio winter and the desire to visit our Texan grandchildren, my wife and I scheduled a trip to the Lone Star State right in the middle of the winter Olympic games. We were especially eager to see our four-month-old granddaughter, Maren. She was just a week old when I last saw her.

Just what does this have to do with competing in the winter Olympics? Plenty. Given the crazy weather of this weird winter, it didn’t snow in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Olympics were hosted. But it did snow deep in the heart of Texas.

Of course, like everything else in Texas, it snowed big. At times, the snowflakes were huge. In a location where snow is seldom seen, the accumulation reached up to four inches.

The school kids were ecstatic. When they arrived home from classes, the Texas Winter Olympics were on. The entire neighborhood joined in one event after the other. The only qualifying necessities were to dress warm and have as much fun as possible. The rarity needed to be enjoyed while it lasted, since the snow likely wouldn’t linger in the south central Texas clime.

And have fun we did, including Maren. However, she wisely chose to serve as the beautiful, babbling, blue-eyed commentator from the warmth and safety of her parent’s home.

I felt like a kid again. Often, when the grandkids visited Nana and Poppy in Ohio’s Amish country in the winter, we seldom had snow. Now we were in their southern home territory, and the snow was perfect for any and every kind of wintry game.

The gathered Olympians participated in sledding, snowball throwing, snowman building, and of course the ever popular snow tasting contest. The results, which required no sophisticated judging, were measured in enjoyment rather than technical point calculation.

The lead sledding team, kindergartner Nola and her energetic father, Michael, won that event hands down. They were the only ones on the block with a sled. Even then, they had a rather short slope to navigate, another neighbor’s diminutive front yard.

To no one’s surprise, the snowball throwing drew the most participants and thus was gauged a Texas-sized success. The awards were meted in smiles and laughter rather than shiny medals. Evan, our nearly six-year-old grandson, won the artistic award for creating the most symmetrical snowballs. They were perfectly round and hand-packed hard.

The ever-daring three-and-a-half year old grandson, Davis, ate more snow than he threw. He said it tasted better than ice cream. You never know what those lefties will say.

As for the snowman contest, Poppy was in the lead for most of the way until he realized that the large rolled up snowball was more of a load than he should be pushing. His back disqualified him, and he had to call in reinforcements to complete the job.

Not surprisingly, Davis was a good helper. However, true to form, he wanted to eat the carrot rather than use it for the snowman’s nose.

Next day, when the snow quickly disappeared with Vancouver-like temperatures, the Texas Winter Olympics were declared closed, at least temporarily. With this strange winter weather, it could snow again in Texas. Vancouver could only hope.

Davis and Evan
My grandsons with their Texas snowman. Davis and Evan are on the left.