A special Halloween pie, and it’s not pumpkin!

jackolanternapplepiebybrucestambaugh
A Jack-O-Lantern apple pie that my wife baked was absolutely delicious.

My wife, Neva, loves to cook, plain and simple. However, she likes to spice things up a little from time to time, and that doesn’t necessarily mean adding a lot of zing to the food she creates.

Neva baked up a special treat for the grandchildren while we were visiting them recently at their home in Harrisonburg, VA. Using her usual recipe, Neva made a wonderful apple pie especially for the Halloween holiday. She added a Halloween theme to it by cutting a Jack-O-Lantern face into the top crust. The revealed slices of apples added a spooky look to the delicious pie.

I thought you might like to have the recipe. The pie is too good not to share. Once you taste it, you’ll discover that this Halloween will be all treat and no trick.

Bruce Stambaugh

Neva’s Apple Pie

Ingredients:
4 large cooking apples, about 2 lbs., which equals 6 cups of sliced apples
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A dash of nutmeg
A dash of allspice or ground cloves
Pastry for a 2-crust, 9 inch pie
2 tablespoons of butter

Preparation:
Peel, quarter, and core apples. Cut into 1/4 inch slices to equal 6 cups. Toss with the lemon juice in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Pour over the apples and toss to coat the apples.

Place one pie pastry into a 9 inch tin or pan. Pour in the mixed ingredients, and place the second pie pastry over the top. Crimp the two crusts together, and cut out the Jack-O-Lantern face to suit.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Enjoy!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

All quiet on the home front

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A spectacular sunrise on the “quiet” morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We live in a frazzled world, full of hustle and bustle and lots of noise. Even in the country, the noise of a busy world drowns out the normal peace and quiet.

Of course there are people that seem to prefer noise. They’re the ones that can’t stand a natural lull in a conversation, or dead silence in a room full of people, so they feel obliged to fill the air with idle chitchat. They’re happy as long as someone is talking, even if it’s them.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit long winded at times myself. But having lived in rural America all these years, I’ll take peace and quiet every time.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy music, though I’m no musician. I enjoy cheering for my favorite sports teams. I enjoy lively table talk, especially around a meal.

But age has a way of shushing you, quietly encouraging you to embrace the silence. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in absolute quietness, whether I’m home alone or with a congregation of contemplators.

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The normally bustling barn was even quiet.

Silence is good. I was reminded of that recently. Since it was a Sunday morning, the traffic on our busy county highway was minimal. In fact, only one car and one horse and buggy passed me on my regular two-mile stroll.

Normally I dodge construction trucks, straight bed trucks, semis, cars, bicycles, and several horse and buggies. This day was astonishingly different.

Less traffic meant less noise. And less noise meant the few sounds that I did hear really, really stood out. I heard a motorcycle accelerating far off in the distance, and a horse clopping on the county road a half-mile from where I was walking.

It was at that point that I stopped and realized the full breadth and depth of the stillness around me. The compressor from the neighbor’s barn wasn’t running. No cows were mooing. Not even a bird so much as chirped.

For a minute I thought the rapture had come, and I figured I had indeed been left behind. I smiled at the idea, and continued my lonely, but not lonesome walk.

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A quiet stream.

Walking affords me more than physical exercise. It clears my mind, fills my body with bountiful goodness, and sharpens my senses. Even my age-diminished hearing seemed more keen. I could hear crickets and the last of the season’s katydids singing in the tree-lined stream that meandered through the crops and pasturelands.

On the return trip home, I fully embraced the quietness. I felt richer, fuller, and more alive, all because of hearing nothing at all. I was reminded of the importance of listening, of paying attention, of appreciating the good earth of which we have been assigned to nurture.

Our world is filled with too much noise. Televisions and radios blast away with the talking heads, stirring up people when life’s recipe says to let the sauce simmer.

Even from my countryside home, I see too many people with cell phones pressed to their ears while driving their cars, or cords from ear buds leading to a denim pocket of a passing biker.

That Sunday morning walk instilled in me just how important a little quietness is in our clamorous world. That silent experience said stillness is more than golden. It is a priceless pearl to the soul.

I’m glad I’ve come to appreciate the quality and value of silence. Please kindly remind me of that next time I start to ramble.

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The Amish schoolhouse stood quiet in the morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Spontaneity spices up the day

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Annie Yoder.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m a sucker for spontaneous moments. You know the kind.

You are waiting in line to check out at the grocery, shopping in a busy department store, or changing a flat tire on a lonely gravel road, and all of a sudden some little thing happens to take the steam right out of your angst.

A person you tried to reach via voice mail or email taps you on the shoulder, and says, “I’m so glad to see you. I forgot to get back to you.” And the muddle gets smoothed.

Or perhaps you are at a gathering where there are hundreds of people, and suddenly you find yourself next to a person you haven’t seen for decades. If you’re my age, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

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The gazebo on the square that served as Annie’s stage.
Of course, I bring this up because I recently experienced such a spontaneous happening. After a brief early Saturday appointment, I headed to the weekly farmers’ market held on the square of Wooster. I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I did.

I really went there for two reasons. I needed to kill two hours before taking my vehicle in for an overdue oil change. I also wanted to hear a friend of mine sing.

Annie had been called on to provide the background ambiance for this in-season outdoor event. I have heard Annie sing at other more conducive venues where the acoustics would enhance her naturally beautiful voice and excellent instrumentation.

Even though benches were available, no one was seated simply to listen to Annie’s pleasing, marvelous offerings. Instead, the small gathering milled around checking out the locally grown and baked items of the various vendors who had set up in a small parking lot.

I decided to join them, which is when I purchased my locally grown plums and homemade granola. But the alluring sounds lifting from the small gazebo assigned as Annie’s stage soon drew me there.

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Annie is all smiles when she sings and plays.
Despite the fact she had to compete with noisy passing traffic, dogs barking and occasional sirens blaring, I wasn’t at all surprised by Annie’s fine performance. She focused on her musical efforts, and she had my full attention.

I love music though I’m no singer or musician. I admire people who can sing and play, especially if they have written their own songs. Plus, I have known Annie since she was born, and watched with much admiration how she and her music matured.

Shortly after I sat down on the bench, a few others who also knew Annie joined me. Among them was a young man I had known casually, and whom I thought was living in Texas. I lost track of him after that.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that this young man and his lovely wife had returned to Ohio, found employment, and were reconnecting with their local roots. I haven’t spoken with his parents, who I have known a long time. But they must be thrilled.

The young man and I talked and talked, while Annie sang on. In addition to enjoying Annie’s inspiring entertainment, I got to reunite with an old new friend. Annie’s performance served a perfect backdrop to our animated catching up.

The concert ended. I said my goodbyes and arrived at the garage uplifted in ways I would have never imagined when my day began hours earlier. Even the unwanted news about the costly vehicle repairs couldn’t dent the serendipitous joy I encountered on that city square.

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The Wayne Co. Courthouse looms large on the square of Wooster, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Loving fall: Let me count the ways

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A typical fall scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Plain and simple, autumn has her way with me. I’m in love with fall for so many reasons. Let me count the ways.

The dazzling leaves mesmerize me. I could sit and ponder the various color patterns and striations of a single leaf for hours on end, but only if my wife isn’t home.

I am captivated by how rapidly the leaves on some trees alter their colors, while the same species nearby stands pat as if it were still July. Still others give up the ghost altogether, and simply shed all of their leaves within hours. It’s both a marvel and a mystery.

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Leaves at various stages of color in Ohio’s Amish country.

Neighbors have a lovely sugar maple shade tree that holds a majority of its leaves verdant well into October. The rest blush blotches of fire engine red as if the tree’s perfect canopy had chicken pox. In the end, all the leaves succumb, temporarily covering the ground below with a warm blanket of red, yellow and orange.

The usually boisterous and bossy Blue Jays fly stealthily in pairs from one hardwood grove to the next. Back and forth they go in pairs, uncommonly silent. Are they storing acorns for the winter ahead? They wouldn’t say.

Not so with a gang of American Robins, long absent from our yard. They suddenly reappeared, chirping and chasing one another from treetop to yard to creek bank like it was spring again. I enjoyed their little entreaty even though, like the Blue Jays, I had no idea what they were up to.

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Black-capped Chickadee with sunflower heart.
I’m content to sit on the porch during fall’s balmy weather, watch the American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches devour the expensive sunflower hearts. So doing enhances my daydreamer image.

With windows open on temperate nights, the crickets and the luscious coolness lull me to sleep until my wife pokes me to stop the snoring, or the Screech Owl startles me from the backyard pines. I note both admonitions, roll onto my side and dream on.

The grass is spring green one week and dull and prickly the next. Blessed fall rains ensure the difference.

Fox squirrels and chipmunks scurry to find whatever they can to hoard for the coming cold. I wish they had better memories. Next May dozens of red oak and black walnut saplings will verify the varmints’ mental lapses.

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Canada Geese on the wing.

Flocks of Canada Geese sail in imbalanced V’s over burnished treetops, cackling their way from one farm pond to the other. Lore says that near-sighted and neurotic Puritans imagined them as witches flying on broom handles. It’s ironic that the religious runaway paranoia inadvertently created a very successful commercial Halloween tradition.

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Heavy morn dew reveals overnight cobwebs.
Foggy mornings bring cool moisture that transforms secreted spider’s webs into glistening gems. The stunning natural artistry leaves me speechless, which may be for the best.

A sudden gust blows through the fragile leaves of a poplar tree, cascading a golden shower onto an emerald carpet that had only been raked hours before. Eventually, heavy rains or perhaps an early snow will bring them all down, ringing in the barren times once again. It’s a necessary part of life’s endless cycle.

Fields of corn, once huge waves of tasseled emerald, now show more brittle brown. Corn shocks already dot fields farmed by those who distain machinery.

Hungry birds have devoured all of the bright red berries of the dogwood trees. In protest, the dogwoods’ crimson leaves have one by one fluttered to the ground.

I’m in love with fall. Can you tell?

fieldcornbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

A bittersweet Amish wedding

churchbenchwagonbybrucestambaugh
The day after the wedding, only the lonely church bench wagon marked the spot where the bittersweet wedding had taken place. Out of respect for the Amish, no pictures were taken prior to or during the wedding.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The cool morning’s haze hung in the low, sweeping valley, kissing everything animate and inanimate with thousands of moist droplets. The sun, just now slipping above the distant hillsides, began to undo the dew.

An Amish church bench wagon stood alone, a silvery silent phantom in the dampened alfalfa field. A week earlier the wagon likely went unnoticed. It had been brought there to supply some of the seating for the hundreds of guests who attended a very special wedding.

The bride, a good friend and neighbor, was the happiest, most excited young woman about to be married that I had ever met. Only a year earlier this same 34 year-old had adamantly proclaimed to my wife that she would never get married.

Life events change things above and beyond our poor power to anticipate or comprehend them. We can only accept them.

Months earlier, the groom was suddenly a young widower with six children, teenager to toddlers. When the life of a wife and mother is taken at 34, a huge, horrible hole is created. Now, through a series of miraculous happenings, the modest, stalwart man was about to take a new bride.

It clearly was a bittersweet wedding. In fact, the bride used that as the theme in the invitations, throughout the preparations and the wedding itself. She went out of her way to include the children and their grandparents in this transition.

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The home of the new bride and groom and their family.

If ever there was a model for the positive blending of families, this wedding was it. There were tears of joy for the new couple, for the young children who would once again have a mother, and for the new groom, who would no longer have to worry about how to care for his family while holding down a fulltime job.

Step by step, it all came together. Even the minister had to wipe away a tear or two as he preached his sermon in his native Pennsylvania Dutch. During his animated sermon, he spoke reverently to the children, all dressed in matching gold shirts and dresses. He shared personally and passionately with the bride and groom on the incomparable commitment they were making.

In the Amish community, weddings and the meal that follows are a crowning celebration. They are a commitment for a lifetime to each other and the community. Surrounded by hundreds of family and friends, my friend followed her heart, and filled that family’s aching emptiness.

The reception was held across the narrow township road from the bride’s parent’s home. A large white tent had been erected to accommodate the reception goers. Usually the wedding party sits in the eck, or corner, while the guests enjoy their meal at long decorated tables.

This was no ordinary Amish wedding. The guests were afforded a glimpse of how life would be in this newly established household. Centered at the back of the tent was a huge, antique dining room table. Around it sat the bride, the groom and his six children. The bride fed one toddler while the groom fed another.

This marvelous couple had only been married a few minutes, and already they were modeling the family way. I had to wipe away a few tears of my own.

Just as the joy of this marriage warmed the spirits of the wedding guests, the strengthening sun quickly melted away the dewdrops around the church wagon. It was an honor and a blessing to have witnessed both.

silverliningbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013