Holidays and friends are a natural combination

Shenandoah sunrise, Harrisonburg VA
Sunrise over Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I read an article recently about the importance of having friends. The timing couldn’t have been better.

It was one of those bright and beautiful mornings when I should have been exceedingly happy. American Robins welcomed the frosty day with glorious and varied song, a rare occurrence this late in the year. Having done their duty, they continued their exuberance by mobbing the heated birdbath in the backyard and guzzling the refreshing water, perhaps to soothe their rusty voices.

As often happens in our too busy lives, I forgot this welcome distraction all too quickly. We had early morning business in town. Sign here. Sign there, and we were off to a favorite coffee shop that also happens to offer gluten-free scones. But there was a first world problem. I couldn’t find a parking spot, and I didn’t want to do the drive-thru.

holiday food tray, holiday gatherings
A tray of simple foods beautifully decorated by my creative wife.
I had hoped to enjoy quality time with my wife, sip a mocha and nibble at a tasty treat. Because reality didn’t meet my expectations, I punted and drove home. I know. It was silly of me. Typical man.

Back home I found the article in an email I receive daily. The thrust of the story forced me to immediately readjust my stubborn attitude. The piece presented nothing new or earth shattering but redeemed me with just plain common sense.

In a nutshell, here’s what the writer said about friends. We need them, and they need us. He wasn’t talking social media friends either. As human beings, we need real, live, face-to-face friendships.

Numbers aren’t the point. Connectivity is. The keys, the writer suggested, were having friends who are dependable, enjoyable, and easy to talk to. It was that simple and yet that hard.

That kind of intimacy can only happen with so many people. The suggestion was to gather together a few friends who share that trio of characteristics. When it comes to friendships, quality should always outweigh quantity. The writer said the group should meet regularly to help bolster the relational bonds.

Now in our busy, bustling 21st-century lives that effort takes time and planning. It also requires commitment. That’s the dependable part.

holiday gatherings, friends
Our small group before we ate a simple holiday meal.
If you aren’t already a part of such a friendship circle, the holidays provide excellent opportunities to start. Food is a necessary common denominator in sharing with friends. It’s the equalizer, the icebreaker, and the unifier of people. Food transcends all human hesitations.

Once the group is created, it’s important to set a regular time and place to meet. Each party or couple should be responsible for some aspect of the meal. It doesn’t have to be a feast. A simple dinner will suffice.

In living in the same locale for nearly 50 years, Neva and I had all of that. We knew what we were giving up when we decided to move to the Shenandoah Valley to be near our grandchildren.

We hoped it wouldn’t be long before we would be gathering with new friends, and that’s precisely what has happened. We’ve joined a like-minded set of former Ohioans who have also resettled in the area. We meet once a month, and food and inspiring conversation are always given elements of our evenings.

Find the folks you enjoy, who are dependable, and who are affable. Begin with a holiday party. It just might be the start of a routine that will fill your life with unexpected joy, just like robins suddenly singing on a chilly December morning.

robins, birdbath
Gathering around water hole.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

From every angle, August is golden

Golden sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Hazy sunsets in Amish country are the norm in August.

By Bruce Stambaugh

These are what I call August’s golden days. If I only referenced orangey sunrises and the hazy, citrus sunsets, that moniker would apply.

August is so much more than lovely solar appearances and disappearances. It is always full of golden moments that make golden memories.

I realize my reflections are provincial. In a world full of disease, disaster, dismay and hostilities, not all would share my august perspectives. However, I cannot deny what I have observed and experienced in this transitional month in Amish country.

In calling August golden, I mean to take the broadest definition possible. Everywhere you turn, deep, rich yellows and golds appear. August is golden, too, in that it is good, providing success and satisfaction as the harvesting begins.

Mowing oats by Bruce Stambaugh
Mowing and stacking the oats into shocks is the first step in the harvesting process for the Amish.

August is usually a hot month in most of the northern hemisphere. Even the poor people in Moscow, Russia, where temperatures have seemed more like Dallas, Texas, have been especially suffering.

True to form, hot and humid have been the bywords in Ohio, too. Those who have had to work out in these blazing elements would argue for sizzling and sultry as better descriptors. But no matter how we describe the daily dog days of August, the benefits surely outweigh the negatives, no matter how muggy.

Coming and going by Bruce Stamabugh
One wagon heads to the barn while the other returns to the field to be loaded again.

My Amish neighbor’s circle of friends purposefully gathers the air-dried, ripened oat shocks wagonload after wagonload. Their water thermos got a workout, too. With their cooperative efforts, the impressive stand of honey-colored sheaves had disappeared by day’s end.

I always find it a miracle that once the sea of grain is cut and shocked, a carpet of bright green immediately replaces it. The hardy clover thrives all the more once it has the ground to itself.

There are other kinds of gold in August, too. The Incredible sweet corn arrives almost simultaneously with the transparent apples. It’s husking, cutting, cooking and freezing corn one day, making tartly sweet applesauce the next.

Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Heirloom tomatoes ripen on the vine.

The growth of the heirloom tomato plants my wife and son planted in late May is so
prolific, the plant runners get tied daily. Their yellow, red and green-striped fruit add to the festivities.

House wren by Bruce Stambaugh
A house wren leaves the nest after feeding her brood.

The noisy tan house wrens worked frantically to satisfy their last brood of the summer. Their hungry youngsters consumed an amazing amount of worms, caterpillars and insects.

When the little ones began to greet their parents at the entrance to their birthplace, it’s nearly time for them to fly. In our case, the babies were there before church, but not when we got home. The grandsons and I found them learning to forage and hide in the brush pile under the pines near the hammock where other golden moments were made.

Monarch and swallowtail butterflies joined the goodness of the month as they enjoyed the nectar of the milkweed and wild and domestic flowers. Both the black and yellow-billed cuckoo birds announced their arrivals as the tent caterpillars hatched.

The much publicized but often under performing Perseid meteor showers still managed to send enough bright streaks though the new moon sky to extend the month’s goldenness 24/7.

Next week the full moon will strut its stuff, casting a golden glow across landscapes, rural and urban alike. Ready or not, summer vacation has yielded to elongated yellow buses and excited, golden voices of children beginning a new school year.

All things considered, August is a positively golden time of year.

Hammock fun by Bruce Stambaugh
Playing on a hammock in the cool shade serves as a diversion from the August heat and humidity.