No fooling about the waffle iron

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By Bruce Stambaugh

When I came across an article about the many uses for a waffle iron, I had to read it. The story’s headline pulled me in: “5 Outrageously Good Items You Can Make in a Waffle Iron.”

Besides the obvious and traditionally the only reason to use a waffle iron, to make waffles, the article transformed the lowly gadget into a veritable utilitarian kitchen necessity. I suspicioned the author owned stock in a waffle iron manufacturing company, and was trying to persuade people to rush out and purchase one or two.

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My late father and mother.
The first alternate to waffles on a waffle iron listed was everyone’s favorite, unless you happen to be vegan, toasted cheese sandwich. Next to the pancake, this has to be the world’s most universal food. If you use a waffle iron, it might even surpass the world-renowned flapjack.

Next on the list was an offering for people who either are indecisive or can’t wait for dinner. The author recommended a fried chicken waffle. I am not making this up. He called it “Chicken Stuffed Waffles.” Let’s just say that the directions weren’t as simple as making the two entrees individually. But syrup on fried chicken? I think I’ll pass.

I thought maybe the third recipe would be the charm. I was disappointed. “Cheesy Pasta” for the world’s mac and cheese fans was presented. Again, the confounding recipe resulted in a crispy crust with a gooey, cheesy center. Not for me.

The next one I might try, if my wife isn’t home and I can find a gluten free recipe. Heat up the waffle iron, plop down a lump of cookie dough, and close the griddle for a minute and a half. Presto, you’ve got a crunchy cookie.

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Dad was much more comfortable giving talks on Native American history than he was working in the kitchen.
Finally came a suggestion that really made sense. Though the author didn’t call it this, the result was a waffled omelette. Just preheat the waffle iron to medium-high heat, pour in your favorite egg scramble and two minutes later you’re good to go.

All this leads me to a simple warning. It came to me as soon as I saw the article’s enticing headline. Don’t do what my late father once did. It was kind of like the waffled toasted cheese sandwich, only worse.

Apparently, Dad was home alone shortly after he and Mom were married in 1942. Now my impetuous father knew less about cooking than me. But he was hungry, and what was a man to do without his wife around to fix food for him?

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Dad’s partner in crime.
Dad got out their brand new waffle iron, and made, or at least attempted to make, his favorite gourmet sandwich. He had all the ingredients right there before him.

Dad put a slice of plain, white bread on each side of the waffle iron, without preheating it of course. On top of each slice he carefully placed half of a plain Hershey’s candy bar. You know, the flat one with multiple rectangles with the brand name Hershey’s molded into them.

Dad squeezed the two sides of the waffle iron together, and then turned it on. I’m not exactly sure what happened after that, but when Mom got home, the waffle iron was ruined. Her only choice was to throw it out.

I think Dad was really fortunate that Mom didn’t pitch him out, too. Instead their incredible marriage lasted 67 years, in part because Dad gave up grilled chocolate bar sandwiches, not just for Lent, but for good.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Three spring things

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By Bruce Stambaugh

At long last, spring has officially arrived. Let’s hope it is a spring to remember, just like the recent winter we’d like to forget.

We could use the emotional and psychological boost of spring’s vernal offerings after winter’s long, cold stranglehold on so much of North America. Winter was simply brutal.

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Spring!
Spring offers up its joyous splendor in so many ways. The greening of the yards and fields, the welcoming blossoms of trees, plants and flowers that gloriously unfurl intermittently the next few months. All are coaxed by spring’s gradually warming temperatures that tend to also thaw our frosted emotive reservations.

Another springtime blessing for me is the start of baseball season. Baseball is in my blood, always has been, likely always will be. I admire the skills needed to be an all-around good position player, being equally proficient in the field and at bat. I marvel at the abilities of pinpoint pitchers, too.

Since my youth, I have faithfully and humbly followed the checkered history of the Cleveland Indians with both passion and annual disappointment. Count it as a masochistic character flaw.

As a youngster, I played baseball, and collected and traded baseball cards. That hobby was passed on to my son, who bought them by the box load, instead of the pack. I still have a few my cards. Our son still has a whole bunch of his, and his mother and I wish he would come get them.

I will confess, however, that with the recent revelations of steroids and the exorbitant salaries for playing a child’s game, I have grown a bit disillusioned about Major League Baseball. It’s lost its innocent appeal. Come opening day, however, I likely will be glued to the television, and I have already purchased tickets for several Indians games.

Between the official beginning of spring and baseball’s first pitch of the new season, another more significant and meaningful event occurs in my life. My wife and I will soon celebrate 43 years of marriage.

That number alone is hard for me to contemplate. It seems like only yesterday that I accidentally stepped on her wedding train, rightfully earning my first finger pointing. We quickly got over that, but obviously I never forgot it. Neither has my wife.

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The happy couple.
When you are married that long, there are too many other cherished memories to build on to allow the small, petty disputes to devalue a loving relationship. I feel extremely grateful for the multitude of positive experiences my wife and I have had together over the years.

Yes, like most every other couple, we have had our differences at times. I recognize that I haven’t been the easiest person to live with. Even though she talks while walking away from me and I can’t find my underwear in the underwear drawer, we somehow have survived.

I am not holding our marriage up as a model of perfection, because it hasn’t been. We have, however, held on, embraced each other and each day as one regardless of the circumstances we encounter or what obstacles or disappointments have clogged the way forward.

Indeed, gratitude has far overshadowed grief. Our son and our daughter are grown, successful adults with loving spouses. We have three energetic, creative grandchildren and one ornery grand cat.

For 43 years, we have lived, loved and persevered. That accomplishment alone is more wondrous than any fragrant-filled garden, or even a magical, unlikely World Series win by the Cleveland Indians.

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Perhaps some day fireworks will celebrate an Indians World Series Championship.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Missing the charm and warmth of Amelia Island

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Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m glad to be home from vacation. But I have to be honest. I miss Amelia Island, Florida and all the charm and variety it has to offer.

I miss waking early in the day to welcome the sun, or rain or fog, whatever weather greeted me. It often changed quickly from good to bad or bad to good, just like in Ohio.

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I miss the rising sun painting with its broad brush, constantly rearranging the brilliant arrays of pinks, blues, oranges, yellows and reds on twilight’s canvas. I miss the sun’s shimmering, silver dance on its forever rolling sea stage.

Equally so, I miss the moon, full or half or quarter, glimmering its creamy, seductive light into our night lives. I miss being transfixed by its profound beauty.

I miss seeing the sun sink behind the trees beyond the Intercoastal Waterway. Unless the fog or rain clouds interfered, the alluring sunsets nearly took our breath away. Like the days began, each evening glow was emotionally evocative.

Morning and evening, I miss the dolphins slicing through the hoary sea, first one, then two, then three, then more, fins intermittently marking their gourmet gallop. Their appearing and disappearing mesmerized me.

I miss the slow walks on the beach with my wife. She hunted for seashells and shark’s teeth while I photographed birds, people, and patterns in the sand. Then I’d hustle to catch up.

I miss the delectable seafood meals Neva created. Locally caught, fresh shrimp sautéed in butter and olive oil, a little lemon and a dash of salt and pepper combined with locally made sweet potato pasta and flax seed rolls beat any pricy restaurant entree.

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I miss the strolls through Egan’s Creek Greenway, a salt marsh wildlife preserve set aside for painters, birders, photographers, joggers, bikers, walkers and admirers of all things nature. The Greenway is home to alligators, snakes, river otters, rabbits, bobcats, deer, wading birds, shorebirds, birds of prey and songbirds.

I miss the drives and walks through well-maintained Ft. Clinch State Park, a marvelous blend of ecosystems and history. It was equally easy on the eyes and wallet. The 3,300 ft. fishing pier that paralleled the inlet to the Amelia River afforded panoramic views and a perfect perch for birding.

I miss the charm of historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the only city on the island, and the nation’s oldest settlement. Founded three years before St. Augustine, the quaint town attracts customers from around the world.

I miss the eclectic mix of Amelia’s people. From tourists to shop owners to fishermen to photographers, everyone, I mean everyone, was friendly, like open books if you took the time to turn their pages.

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The Florida House Inn flies the eight flags that have flown over Amelia Island.
I miss the quirkiness of the island that has seen the flags of eight different nations fly over its humble geography. Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel and bar stand less than a block apart. Businesses boldly display the scores of football games when Georgia’s Bulldogs beat Florida’s Gators.

Those in the know like to say that Fernandina Beach is the East Coast’s western most port. In other words, drive straight north, you run into Cincinnati, Ohio.

Of course, I miss the warmer weather, too. However, warm is a relative word. Our Florida vacation ended the way it began, wearing winter coats. Still, we had it nice compared to what much of eastern North America experienced in our absence.

I like it so much that I could live there. But I won’t. As incredible as Amelia Island and its people are, I like it right here in Holmes County, Ohio even better.

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Back home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

From strangers to friends

By Bruce Stambaugh

We had never met this couple before, or so we thought. All we knew was that they were across the street neighbors from our long-time friends who live in Kitchener, Ontario, and this couple was vacationing at Amelia Island, Florida at the same time that we were.

Our common Ontario friends knew what they were doing. We made arrangements to meet these strangers one afternoon at a Fernandina Beach coffee shop, not knowing we had already “met” them the day before.

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Our initial meeting at the coffee shop.
What unfolded was nothing short of amazing. Don and Gail were already seated when Neva and I arrived. We joined them at the table, and it was like the starter’s flag had been dropped at the Daytona 500.

In speech, they weren’t your typical Canadians. Gail’s native Queen’s English accent was lyrical. Don couldn’t hide his Bermuda brogue if he wanted to. He didn’t. Don and Gail were kind enough to accept our Midwestern twang without comment.

Our conversation lasted longer than our afternoon tea. It turned out that we had much more in common than mutual friends.

Don and Gail were attracted to Amelia Island because of its laid back lifestyle, and her friendly people reminded them of their beloved Bermuda, an island country nearly identical in size to the barrier island. Neva and I said the same thing about the residents of Holmes County, Ohio, where we have live all of our adult lives.

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Neva, Gail and Don shared a laugh in the condo we rented.
Gail and Neva both rambled on about children and grandchildren. They discovered that Gail knits Linus blankets, and Neva knots them.

Don and I quickly discovered two shared interests. We both love photography, and we both served as volunteer firefighters for several years. Shoot. Don and I even wore the exact same kind of shoes, although I paid far less than he did.

Our connections went far beyond the Kitchener link. Neva and I traveled to Bermuda in 1995 to follow our son in a golf tournament. Gail and Don knew several of the people we had met there. They even knew the home where we stayed.

We arranged to meet Don and Gail for lunch at a local seafood restaurant on the pier, and then invited them over to see our rental. We talked and laughed for hours.

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Like me, Don enjoys photographing landscapes and wildlife.
That’s pretty much how it went for the next four weeks. Gail and Neva went shopping. Don and I went birding, hiking, shooting pictures all the while.

We went out to eat together. We explored the area’s many lovely state parks. When some of our friends from home visited, Don and Gail joined us, and the guests bonded with them as quickly as we had.

Here’s the kicker about connecting with this gregarious couple.

The day before the coffee shop meeting, the town held its weekly local farmers market. We checked it out with the intentions of buying locally raised produce and homemade bread and pastries.

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Don and Gail enjoyed playing dominoes with us.
As is my habit, I carried my camera. I took picture after picture of the luscious strawberries and the vibrant vegetables. Of course, I couldn’t help but include some people in the shots, too.

I review my horde of photographs from time to time to thin out the pictures I don’t want to keep. As I scrolled through the pictures, I couldn’t believe what I found. There behind the red, ripe tomatoes and assorted, leafy greens were Don and Gail.

I had taken their picture the day before we formally met. Mere coincidence? I doubt it.

One of my vacation reads was Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies.” Lamott considers traveling mercies as events or people put in your path for specific, often unforeseen purposes.

I photographed strangers at a street market. Traveling mercies easily transformed them into extraordinary friends.

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Don and Gail making a purchase at the farmers market the day before we met.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Humbly and gladly joining the snowbird migration

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The day we left Ohio it was 15 degrees below zero, and the snow rollers, a rare weather phenomenon, still graced open fields surrounding our home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never thought I would ever be a snowbird. Snowbirds are old people that head south to Florida or southwest to southern Texas or to Phoenix for the winter to avoid the chilling temperatures and the harsh weather of northern latitudes.

I wasn’t going to be “one of those people.” I liked winter’s Jekyll and Hyde fickleness. In Ohio, a dull, dirty brunet landscape can be magically transformed overnight into a fluffy, frosted wonderland.

Really, I cherish the change of all the seasons. I never tire of seeing the verdant transition from winter’s dormancy, whether brown or white, to spring’s greening and glorious floral colors. Splashes of vivid feathers of our aviary friends enhance spring’s sparkle.

Of course after spring, summer’s cottony clouds come sailing over maturing crops and rainbow gardens full of nascent flowers and luscious vegetables. Then there is fall’s full blaze of glory amid the many stands of hardwoods to behold, too.

We are fortunate that our area offers diverse landscapes, from steep wooded hills to vital marshy habitats for an array of wildlife. I marvel at the hilly farmlands, with their multihued, flowing ribbons of contoured crops, and smart fields of grazing livestock. Contrasting brushy fencerows stitch the agrarian patchwork quilt together.

At middle age, I began to view winter differently. No longer was it the snowy playground of my youth, but a season to appreciate the beauty of white against earthy sepia browns and blacks, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.

Even so, I have to confess that my fondness for winter has waned. During February, my wife and I overlooked a sandy beach that gently sloped down to the ever-rolling Atlantic Ocean.

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The view from our condo.

Traveling the interstates to the Sunshine State, we saw many other gray-tinged peers migrating, too. Like us, they fled from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Canadian provinces alike.

Some drove vehicles like ours, stuffed to the gills with clothes, food, bikes and any other paraphernalia deemed necessary for their extended winter’s stay. Others steered huge recreational vehicles, towing equally crammed cars.

It’s the fourth consecutive year we’ve made the journey to Florida. Our stays have evolved from the original few pleasing days to several weeks in order to maximize the obvious.

I never thought I would ever say that. If I had my preference, I’m a mountain man. But the mountains are cold in the winter, and the cold makes my arthritis ache, and my bones groan. The modest warmth of northern Florida minimizes those maladies.

So there I was, a snowbird, partaking in the many amenities that Amelia Island, Florida had to offer. And believe me, it’s a lot.

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There I birded without crawling into my insulated coveralls and donning a stocking cap. There we read, wrote, explored, met new friends. There we could stroll the beach for a dozen miles if we wanted. We didn’t.

We were content to walk up and down the same sections of sand, embracing the sounds of the sea crashing the beach, the shorebirds probing for food or skimming the rolling surface for sustenance.

We gathered seashells simply because they were pretty. We embraced sunrises and moon rises shimmering at the ocean’s horizon. A mile west, the harbor sunsets were spectacular.

Our consecutive trips south for part of the winter serve as evidence enough. I readily and happily admit that we are officially now snowbirds.

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My wife and I enjoyed our first lunch at Fernandina Beach, Florida outside, and it was Feb. 1.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014