Gratitude for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time set aside to recognize, remember, and celebrate our blessings. It is an official civil holiday with spiritual implications.

Many Americans will gather with family and friends around a table laden with roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, grandma’s stuffing, cranberry sauce, and homemade pumpkin pies. Think Norman Rockwell’s famous “Freedom from Want” painting. Only replace those famous, happy faces with those who will grace your own banquet.

Gathering for this glorious day is a blessing unto itself. We shouldn’t take that privilege for granted. Many don’t have that esteemed opportunity for a variety of reasons. Still, they celebrate, each in their own ways and traditions.

Some will fill their plates with the traditional carved turkey and all the trimmings, or perhaps a succulent ham. Others will choose a different course. Chinese carryout, homemade lasagna, or pork and sauerkraut are all viable options. It’s not the menu, but the meaning, the moment, and the memories we make that matters.

Thanksgiving meal with friends.

My heart swells when I recall all those long-ago Thanksgivings with our mother’s mother. Grandma’s three daughters, their spouses, and 17 grandchildren elbowed around a food-filled table to scrumptiously dine and enthusiastically express our appreciation for life itself.

At that point in our lives, none of the three families could claim to be wealthy. But clamoring around that long table with people we loved, and with those mouth-watering aromas wafting in the air, we were rich indeed.

With children in diapers to pimple-faced teens, it was a calamitous scene to be sure. The biggest fuss, if I recall correctly, was over who got to break the wishbone. We probably were all too young to comprehend the real reason and blessings being bestowed on us in those treasured moments.

As youngsters will do, we were too anxious to taste the turkey, enjoy the stuffing, and devour the pies. After that, it was a game of touch football, or we played hide and seek. Grass stains on blue jeans put a temporary damper on the festivities.

What sticks in my mind after all those years gone by is the joy of just being together. We were truly blessed but too young and excitable to know it. Now, I am sincerely grateful for those gatherings and those heart-warming memories.

We were only a decade or two removed from World War II. The Cold War was just heating up. We practiced air raid drills at school as often as fire drills. Thanksgiving Day was precious, and we gathered and played in honor of the day and despite the day’s disturbing news.

Though today’s headlines are just as conflicted and disconcerting, we seem to be living in a different world. Families are often too geographically scattered to celebrate together. They rely on technology to connect them, even if it is only for a few minutes of video conversation.

Others celebrate Thanksgiving in multiple gatherings, visiting one side of the family, and then going to the other. If that happens on the same day, please don’t bring out the scales.

I don’t mean to overstate the obvious. Given the frenzy of commercial clamor this time of year, let’s make sure gratitude is the centerpiece of each and every thanksgiving table regardless of what food is served.

It’s been my experience that when gratefulness prevails, more blessings will flow all around. If we all express our profound gratitude, Thanksgiving will be pretty tasty, no matter what’s on the menu.

Food, family, friends, gratitude. That’s a recipe that will guarantee a memorable Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving sunrise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Why are you thankful?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Thanksgiving is upon us. This year in the United States, the annual day of thankfulness arrives as early as possible, November 22. Our Canadian friends to the north celebrated their Thanksgiving on October 6.

It is only right and proper to pause as a people to reflect and give thanks. We can be grateful for so many things in our abundant living.

A friend on social media posted a list of items for which he was thankful. Given his life of service to others, I wasn’t surprised at how simple and ordinary the conveniences were that he listed.

Sometimes it’s the familiar, everyday activities and routines that are most meaningful to us. With my friend’s permission, here is his top 10 list of thankfulness:

1. Drinkable tap water
2. Flush toilets
3. Working septic system
4. Washer and dryer
5. Electricity in the home
6. Clothes to wear
7. A house to live in
8. Shoes
9. Floors that aren’t dirt
10. Ample food

Keeping things simple helps us think beyond ourselves, consider the plight of others who don’t have even those most basic necessities. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 780 million people globally do not have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion lack improved sanitation. That’s billion with a B. Think about those numbers for a second.

Food, water, and shelter are the basic essentials for living. My friend set a good example. He recognized just how fortunate we are to be able to go most anywhere in our country and turn the tap and be able to drink the water without worry of contamination. I realize that folks in Flint, MI would differ with this comment. As dangerous as their situation is, I’m glad it is an exception.

And when it comes to waste products, I’ve always respected folks who make their living dealing with the muck of life. Farmers, public utility workers, garbage and waste haulers all have tough jobs. I am thankful for them.

Granddaughter's new shoesBefore we moved from Ohio to Virginia, Neva and I significantly reduced our individual wardrobes. I had too many shoes and too many shirts and pants I seldom wore. Off they went to the thrift store. I’ve been to locales where decent clothing was hard to come by, if only for economic reasons. I, too, am thankful for affordable clothing and footwear.

Housing is indeed another luxury we too often take for granted. Many moons ago I encountered students I had in my classroom who lived in a house with dirt floors. I had a hard time getting over that when we were more than halfway through the 20th century.

Now here we are well into the 21st century, and poverty and inadequate housing are still rampant in our society and globally. Neva and I do what we can to help the homeless through trusted charitable agencies. I am also thankful for the home we share together, and for my gracious wife’s willingness to use her gift of hospitality.

Before the guests arrived.
Finally on the thankfulness list is food. Food is a universal need and reason for jubilation. Food takes center stage at Thanksgiving. Roast turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, salad and pies all bedeck Thanksgiving Day tables in Canada and the U.S. alike.

When we say grace over this Thanksgiving Day meal, I’ll also be mindful of those who would love to be gathered there with us. Perhaps we should ensure that happens by inviting others not generally in our family circles.

When you think about it, doesn’t my friend’s list about cover what Thanksgiving is all about? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

A recipe that ensures lasting memories: good food, gracious friends

birthday meal, birthday celebration
Birthday celebration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Friends. Food. Memories. That’s a recipe to remember.

Some of my favorite memories come from sitting around a dinner table and sharing a meal with friends. With the passage of time, more often than not these are folks we seldom see on a regular basis for a multitude of reasons.

The excuses responsible for the separation are many and varied. A change of jobs, retirement, relocating, even a misunderstanding are just some of the possibilities.

Funny, isn’t it, how food enables meaningful conversation, neutralizes differences and bonds folks together. That’s true, of course, as long as I’m not cooking.

food and friends
Brunch with friends © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Food flavors the conversational flow. Perhaps it’s the other way around. The intentionality of reconnecting is easier if food is the centerpiece.

The type of meal is insignificant. It could be at a fancy restaurant, or someone’s home or a relaxing picnic. The setting and type don’t necessarily dictate the buoyant demeanor that prevails. The results are the same.

My late father was notorious for instigating such gatherings. He called it the “annual Frith picnic.” Frith was my mother’s maiden name, and anyone directly and remotely connected to the Frith family of my mother and her two sisters was invited.

Grandma Frith, the mother of the three daughters, was always the queen of the feast. Us grandkids revered her. Her homemade pies had nothing to do with that of course.

Dad kept the reunion going as long as he could. We usually met at his company-owned park, along with hundreds of other employees and their families.

We played card games, softball, volleyball and miniature golf. Mostly though, we grouped in semi-circles or sat at picnic tables quizzing one another. As the grandkids grew, they began to have children of their own.

old friends
Marvin and Mary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Attendance and menu offerings expanded, and then lessened as family cells grew and spread across the country like the measles. I miss those get-togethers. I remember the intensity of the conversations though not the specifics. Shoot, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, and lunch was an hour ago.

I recall other smorgasbords as well.

I find sitting at the same table with people you once hired, shared offices, played on the same softball team or attended church with priceless. Between bites of seasoned casseroles and homemade desserts, we sit around like old grandparents and compare notes about our greatest blessings, our grandchildren. We do so because we are old grandparents, well most of us.

Stories long forgotten are retold as if they happened yesterday. We laugh to the point of tears. Quiet reflections often follow the expressive outpourings, sure signs that those times will never return nor be repeated. That may be for the best.

family and food
Family. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
If heads turn our way in public settings, they are accompanied by understanding smiles without knowing the context or details. The other patrons acknowledge the genuine fellowship with polite nods.

I especially love extended opportunities where the conversing spontaneously spills out long past the clearing of the supper table. Raucous rounds of dominoes or card games ensue. They are new memories freshly made.

I find it even more delicious if newcomers slide into the circle of friends. They ask clarifying questions that generate new information, more laughter, a rainbow of language, and new friends.

In such situations, I have learned another necessary ingredient that spices the relational recipe. Silent listening is the honey that sweetens the relationships and keeps me asking for seconds.

relaxing before the meal
Relaxing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

No fooling about the waffle iron

hersheysbybrucestambaugh

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.

dadandmombybrucestambaugh
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.

lecturebybrucestambaugh
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?

waffleironbybrucestambaugh
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

The secret to great ice cream is no secret at all

d&bburgersbybrucestambaugh
One of the food trailers from which Dan and Anna Bowman serve their delicious ice cream. The Bowmans are Amish, so no pictures were taken of them.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When Dan and Anna Bowman crank up their ice cream machine each year in June, it doesn’t take long for a line to form. Their ice cream is that good.

The Bowman’s operate under the business name of D and B Burgers, Fredericksburg, Ohio. Don’t let the name deceive you. They serve up lots more than tasty burgers. Their menu includes offerings for breakfast and lunch, and of course, fresh and delicious soft serve ice cream.

When asked what the secret was to their yummy ice cream, Dan didn’t hesitate to answer, though what he said may come as a surprise. His modest answer reflected his daily demeanor.

“We use the same commercial ice cream mix as several others in the area,” Dan said. “Fresh and clean is a very good combination for good tasting ice cream.” By that he meant that he keeps the soft serve ice cream machine cleaned on a regular basis.

“You can’t keep ice cream mix in too long,” Dan said. “You can only go about two days before you have to sanitize the machine.”

twistandshoutbybrucestambaugh
The twist soft serve ice cream cone is a hit with the Bowman’s customers.
Dan said that if the ice cream sits in the well of the machine too long it gets gritty and sour. To ensure freshness, he even cleans off the dispenser to eliminate any chance of anything less than fresh being dispensed.

To keep it clean, he and Anna completely take the machine apart to clean, a process that takes an hour. The machine gets thoroughly cleaned with the manufacturer’s recommended cleanser, rinsed, dried, and reassembled.

Dan and Anna sell three flavors of soft serve ice cream, chocolate, vanilla and twist. They serve their ice cream in cake cones, cups and sundaes.

“The raspberry sundae is the favorite of customers,” Dan said. Of course, the topping is homemade by Anna.

Again, they said there is no secret to that success. Freshness makes the difference here, too.

“I just add a little sugar to the berries and turn on the blender,” she said. They offer red, black and purple raspberry.

Dan said there are four or five ice cream mixes that he could choose from in the area.

delicioussundaebybrucestambaugh
Anna’s homemade raspberry sundae topping is very popular with customers.

“I use a mix from a local dairy for consistency and freshness there, too,” Dan said. He buys the mix through the Country Mart in Mt. Hope, Ohio. The mix is a liquid that is poured into the vat of the tabletop ice cream galvanized machine.

“We have people tell us that our ice cream tastes better than others,” said Anna. “But we use a commercial mix just like the others.”

Dan said censors on the machine tell him when the ice cream is getting low.

“That’s why we never run out of ice cream,” Dan said. “It only takes about five to 10 minutes before the ice cream is ready to be served.”

Dan said they average about 25 gallons of ice cream per day during the peek time of June to October. Dan and Anna’s stand, which he affectionately refers to as the wiener wagon, can be found at the Mt. Hope Auction during special events like horse sales. They also do some special sales and auctions.

pouiringthemixbybrucestambaugh
The ice cream mix gets poured into the machine, vanilla on one side, chocolate on the other.

The best chance to catch Dan and Anna is at the Farmers Produce Market on State Route 241 a mile west of Mt. Hope June through October when ice cream is served beginning at 10 a.m. The stand, however, opens around 8 a.m. when buyers and sellers start to arrive. D and B Burgers serves breakfast and lunch sandwiches, side dishes, donuts, cookies, candy and hot and cold drinks.

The produce market is affiliated with the Mt. Hope Auction, and Dan and Anna provide food there February to November. During the summer months, the auction runs four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

“We are very thankful to Steve and Jim Mullet for allowing us to operate at their sales,” Dan said. “My business would not be without the Mullets.”

D and B Burgers operation has been operating for 13 years. They now use two food wagons. One is stationed at the produce market most of the year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

A Thanksgiving tradition comes to an end

Home by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, the extended Stambaugh family gathered as one at Thanksgiving. Not this year.

When I was a youngster, we had a rip roaring good time on Thanksgiving Day. Usually we celebrated with our cousins, the offspring of my mother and her two sisters. We would assemble at the old farmhouse of Uncle Kenny and Aunt Vivian, who we affectionately called Auntie Bibbles.

It was like Christmas before Christmas. With 17 cousins ranging from teenagers to toddlers, we relished the day together. We would play games inside and out, if the weather cooperated. I’m sure the adults privately prayed that it would.

Marvelous fragrances filled the old farmhouse from the array of good food cooking. The adults chatted while they prepared the savory meal. The family matriarch, Grandma Frith, oversaw all the action in her reserved but proud southern hospitable manner.

We occasionally had to wait on my father to arrive before we ate. Much to my mothers chagrin, Dad loved to hunt rabbits and pheasants on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t the hunting so much as being habitually late that drew Mom’s ire. Of course Dad has his tales to tell.

Once the meal was over and the kitchen and dishes cleaned, the adults joined in the merriment. If I remember correctly, they often raised more clamor than the kids. That’s because they were all good sports and lovingly embraced each other’s company.

Maren and Daryl by Bruce StambaughAs the families grew, the Thanksgiving tradition underwent a logical metamorphosis. Each of the three families began to celebrate the blessed day on their own. Most of the cousins were no longer children, but adults with spouses or significant others of their own. The rambunctious cousins were beginning to bear rambunctious children of their own, too.

My family would gather at the home where we were raised. Somehow we all managed to squeeze in the little brick bungalow. Realizing their place was a bit tight for the growing family, Mom and Dad added on to make more space for holiday gatherings.

Each family chipped in with their specialty dishes to make the feast complete. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, of course, pumpkin pie filled the table of plenty.

After the meal, Dad always had to turn on the Thanksgiving Day football game on the TV. No matter what else the assembled masses wanted to do, the game was part of the ritual.

Family gathering by Bruce Stambaugh

Over the years the grandchildren, as they tend to do, grew into teenagers themselves. Today, they are all mature adults, productively contributing to society, using their various skills. Some with children of their own, they are scattered geographically from New York City to Atlanta, Ga. to Chicago, Ill. to Wooster, Ohio and places in between.

For our family, for the first time for as long as I can remember, there will be no collective Thanksgiving gathering for the Stambaugh side. Our mother died last April, and Dad has been gone since Christmas 2009. I think we all made every effort to meet for them as much as for the meal. Now that need is gone.

Thanksgiving 09 by Bruce Stambaugh

This Thanksgiving the families of my four siblings and mine will each do their own things. We are all right with that. We will embrace this new transition in our lives and be thankful for the day, the memories of the past and those to come.

It just may be our new Thanksgiving tradition.

This column was published in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

More than a benefit bake sale

Baked goods by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

This could have been the bake sale of all benefit bake sales. As impressive as they are, the numbers alone don’t tell the entire story.

On June 3, the life of 2-year-old Betty Ann Weaver changed forever. Her left hand was accidentally mangled in a lawn mower. She lost all of her digits, with only a couple of stubs remaining.

Betty Ann returned to her parents’ home four miles west of Holmesville, Ohio on July 4. Her nine brothers and sisters and her parents, Roy and Lovina Weaver, were glad to have her back home.

After a month in the hospital and with rehab visits ongoing, medical bills accumulated. Her maternal grandmother, Ada Yoder, was determined to help. The gregarious woman, who lives with her husband, Wayne, a mile west of Holmesville, had a big idea to raise some funds for her granddaughter. She shared her vision, and soon a bake sale was planned.

“We had lots of help,” Ada said. In fact, four Amish churches donated hundreds of baked items that were sold August 16 and 17.

“There were some good looking items that we sold,” Ada said, “including a square angel food cake.” As delicious looking as all those items were, the homemade donuts were the real draw.

“We used 11 bags of donut mix,” Ada said. “Each bag made 50 dozen donuts. That’s a lot of donuts!

“The first day we started making donuts at 7 a.m. and finished at 9:30 p.m.” Ada explained. The next day the process began all over again.

“We started at 3 a.m. and finished at noon,” she said. “We had people here for donuts at 5:30 a.m. already.” The donut making finished up that evening with another round of frying them in coconut oil that lasted from 4-8 p.m.

Bake sale sign by Bruce StambaughAda said customers had to wait until the donuts cooled enough for them to be glazed and boxed. To generate orders, she had distributed fliers about the donut and bake sale to several area businesses. Many bought multiple dozens to share with employees.

“We had pre-orders for all the different kinds of donuts we made,” Ada said. “We did raspberry filled, strawberry filled, Bavarian cream and glazed.”

“I made six kettles of raspberry filling,” she said.

Ada said she was overwhelmed with both the amount of help she had and the response. The last baked good item, a regular, round angel food cake, was sold at noon on August 17. The sale was held at the Weaver’s home.

“We were very pleased with the results,” Ada said. “We made in excess of $5,000 the first day alone.”

The money will be used to help defer medical expenses for her granddaughter. Donations may still be sent to Wayne Yoder, 9378 County Road 329, Holmesville 44633.

The article appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012