The breakfast clubs

heartybreakfastbybrucestambaugh
This hearty breakfast was served at the Friday break held outdoors on the company’s campus.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Who doesn’t love food, fun and fellowship, even if they happen early in the day around the breakfast table?

Studies show that eating breakfast is important to maintain good health. It helps you get your day started right. I’ve discovered that’s true far beyond the nutritional benefits of healthy breakfast foods.

When it comes to breakfast, I am a fortunate person indeed. I don’t mean the quality or quantity of the early morning fare or the sacred times alone with my wife or sharing blueberry pancakes with the grandkids.

I am blessed to be a part of three entirely different, unrelated groups that all happen to meet regularly in charming Mt. Hope, Ohio for breakfast. Sharing around a common meal, including breakfast time, is special. Given the conversations, there is no dozing at these tables.

For several years now, I have been privileged to commune at breakfast every Friday morning at a local business where I serve as a consultant. At least that’s my definition of how and why I keep showing up for Friday morning “break” as the regular employees refer to the gathering. And what a time it is, too.

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My wife always comes up with some delicious dish for breakfast break at Homestead Furniture in Mt. Hope, Ohio. Her latest creation was a tasty fruit crisp.
On a rotating basis, each member of the company’s team, plus me, takes turns bringing breakfast for the 15 or so staff members. The menu is entirely up to the person responsible for hosting the break. The cuisine ranges from sausage gravy on biscuits to homemade sweet rolls to French toast casseroles. Fresh fruit and juice are often provided, too.

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An employee helps herself to some fresh fruit.
Anxious anticipation always seems to precede my turns. They’re not afraid that I’ll forget or even of what I bring because my lovely wife always whips up some tasty breakfast treat. To be honest, I think that’s the only reason they keep me on the list.

You get your own food cafeteria style and come to the giant table surrounded by chairs and benches. Then the fun begins all around, with internal jokes and good natured kidding.

The second group is a gang from church that meets monthly in the town’s restaurant. Dubbed “55 Plus,” the attendees belong to the senior citizen bracket, unless our young pastors make an appearance.

Though I can’t always participate, I love to hear their experiential stories. That age group has a lot to teach us young bucks if we’ll just listen. From time to time, an informative speaker does the sharing.

The other group is the newest and most serious of the three. The straightforward sharing has priority over any food, which is more often than not simply toast and oatmeal. The troop started as a support group for three of us, all prostate cancer survivors. We share the latest concerning our conditions and healing, both physical and emotional.

A fourth prostate cancer cohort joined the group, and then recently, we added two more to the Blue Men’s group, which is what we have labeled ourselves. The title reflects the fact that blue is the color for prostate cancer. One of the newbies is also a prostate cancer survivor. The other is fighting a courageous battle against a more formidable, horrible kind of cancer.

The extraordinary club includes business owners, pastor, engineer, writer and banker. Cancer indiscriminately invades many careers. I admire my friends’ frankness and honesty, their devotion to staying positive and living a servant lifestyle, no matter their profession or personal prognosis.

Friends and food make for fine fellowship. Together they sweetly season even toast and oatmeal with faith and hope.

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My prostate cancer support group added a new member who has a different, rather aggressive kind of cancer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Tragedy can draw people closer together

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Whipping winds from a severe thunderstorm damaged a substantial limb in the middle of the sunburst locust tree in our front lawn.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When a friend gets hurt, you feel sad and sympathetic. When that friend is injured on your property, you feel horrible, helpless, even responsible. That’s just what happened to my friend, Dan.

A recent severe thunderstorm blasted through our area and in the process heavily damaged the majestic and delicate sunburst locust tree in our front yard. A large limb bent to the ground, but remained precariously attached to the main trunk.

Dan is a jack-of-all-trades, especially adept at trimming trees. He takes every safety precaution and uses sound judgment. When I showed him the tree, he said he was willing to trim the badly broken limb.

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Just one of Dan’s many trades is operating a highly successful concession stand at a local produce auction.
My preference was to work together some afternoon once he closed his concession stand at the local produce sale. Dan said he preferred to work on the tree on Saturday morning. However, my wife and I were going to our cottage in southeast Ohio for the weekend.

Dan assured me he would be fine alone, and encouraged us to continue with our cottage plans. And so we did until Neva received a text from our neighbor. Dan had been hurt while working on the limb. I felt sick.

Desperate for more information, I called the emergency room at the local hospital and asked to speak with one of Dan’s family members. After a few seconds of hearing some fumbling with the phone, a familiar but softened voice spoke. It was Dan, not quite sounding himself.

Near tears, I asked how he was, and Dan assured me that other than a broken jaw, a broken shoulder blade and a broken rib, he was fine. Typical Dan.

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Winds from the severe storm swirled eight-foot high corn nearly to the ground.

Dan immediately took all the blame for the accident and assured me that he was all right. He said we should continue our weekend at the cottage.

Dan’s son filled me in with the few details of the accident that he knew. Passersby saw the mishap unfold, stopped and lifted the large limb off of Dan.

Dan was transferred to a city trauma center for surgery to repair his broken jaw. I still felt horrible about the accident to my friend. Dan’s family kept us updated on his condition, which fortunately was not life threatening.

We enjoyed the weekend with friends as best we could. But Dan was always on my mind. On Monday, I visited Dan at the hospital and was glad to see he remained in his usual good humor even while still waiting on his jaw surgery that evening.

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Dan’s son, family and friends returned to the home to finish cleaning up after the accident.
On Tuesday morning as I was finishing my regular walk, I got a call that finally made me smile. It was Dan. He wondered if I could come pick him up from the Akron hospital when he was released in the afternoon. Absolutely I would.

On the way home, Dan kept saying that he was just so happy that my wife and I weren’t there when the limb came down. He knew we both would have been out helping him, and who knows what would have resulted?

The injury certainly hadn’t damaged his congenial personality. I had failed to ask for a written estimate for the work, so Dan said he would double the bill from $10 to $20.

Dan is convinced there was a reason for the accident happening. I have a hint about that.

The trauma, the emotion, the frantic communication back and forth, and now the joyful reunion had galvanized our friendship. Better times are ahead. Trimming trees won’t be included.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Celebrating something good out of something bad

Blue men by Bruce Stambaugh
Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and I meet monthly as a support group following our treatments for prostate cancer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were rowdy without realizing it. What would you expect from three baby boomer couples?

About every month I meet with two other long-time friends for breakfast. Besides our age bracket, we all have something very special in common. All three of us are prostate cancer survivors.

Randy is a pastor. Kim co-owns his own business with his wife. Through a crisscrossing, intertwined past, we have known each other for most of our adult lives. It was the cancer, however, that brought us even closer together.

Blue light by Bruce StambaughWe jokingly call ourselves the Blue Men’s group. Blue is the official color for prostate cancer, juxtaposed to pink for breast cancer in women. There’s no joking about either.

We meet at a local restaurant to share. Finding others who have gone through the cancer experience is critical to full recovery, especially emotionally. We are our own support group.

We were all diagnosed within a year of one another. Like so many other cancer patients, we had the same disease in the same location. However, we all had our differences, and each chose, to use the term loosely, a different route for treatment.

Randy had radiation treatments and has stayed cancer-free. Because his cancer had escaped his prostate, Kim’s options were not as simple. He had chemotherapy, radiation and Lupron shots. He has just recently been given better news regarding his long-term recovery, and has good reason for a much more optimistic outlook than he did only a few months ago.

Based on my situation and diagnosis, I chose robotic prostate surgery. I was in the hospital one day and out the next. My PSA tests continue to be immeasurable, just like my compatriots.

We meet to share our progress, and to encourage one another. All three of us are in long-term marriages, and cancer, no matter which kind, affects the spouses, too.

We have been meeting for two years now. Because our spouses are such an integral part of our recovery, we annually do a nice dinner out with the wives. We did so recently, and this time we had even more than our trio of good reports to celebrate.

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Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh.
On this particular occasion, we were exulting with Randy’s wife, Amy. Like too many other women, Amy has breast cancer. She just recently completed a lengthy series of challenging radiation treatments. Amy said she was really rejoicing because she now had more hair than I do. That wouldn’t take much.

Her journey isn’t over. But it was a joy to sit around a table and laugh and share instead of worry and dread the unknown. By communing together, we lifted each other’s spirits in a way that none of us could have alone.

My wife and Kim’s needed support, too. As faithful wives, they have had to endure the consequences of both treatment and recovery. They also cared greatly for Amy, with whom they could easily identify.

There is nothing good about cancer. There is no good cancer. There is only cancer.

This night, in this restaurant, gathered with comrades in loving arms and warm hearts, we were as one. Around that dinner table an unspoken common spirit of celebrative unity reigned. Gratitude overcame dread. Communal relief replaced disquieting uncertainty. Laughter was our dessert.

Finally, something good had transformed out of something really bad. We only hoped the restaurant staff and other patrons understood our irrepressible joy.

Amish sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Giving praise where praise is due

Marigolds by Bruce Stambaugh
Marigolds highlight an Amish homestead.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been a difficult day.

As the silvery sunset melted into the horizon, I reflected on the last few days and the people and events that had occurred. In reviewing the various situations, it hit me that like it or not I was entering the October of my own life, and that got my attention.

Days earlier I had met my friend Steve in a Mexican restaurant in the city where I was born and raised. Steve is a long-time buddy connected to my school principal days. Steve and I have a lot in common. First and foremost is that we both like to talk, at least according to our spouses.

If for no other reason than that alone, Steve and I have agreed to meet periodically without the wives. We get more talking done that way.

Steve is the kind of friend every guy should have. He doesn’t let you get away with anything. He is a self-appointed critic of my writing, and is unabashed about finding any mistakes that somehow make it through to publication. Well, at least he thinks they are mistakes, but he usually is mistaken.

Bright Angel Canyon by Bruce Stambaugh
Bright Angel Canyon at the Grand Canyon, AZ is a favorite spot for hikers, painters and photographers alike.

That’s the kind of friends we are. He has the same theology about technology that I do. He loves to frequent the western United States and does so annually, months at a time, mostly hunting for arrowheads. Archeology and travel are other mutual interests.

At bat by Bruce Stambaugh
Baseball is my favorite sport.

Another thing we have in common is baseball. He hates it. I love it. Also, we enjoy discussing politics, until the conversation gets too political, then we switch to a more congenial topic, like baseball.

We talk about our late fathers and how our mothers are doing. And of course, we extol our wives, and try not to roll our eyes too much. Did I mention we laugh a lot?

A few days later, I took my mother on a short drive around the colorful countryside near the retirement home where she lives in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Mom always enjoys getting out when one of us “kids” can take her.

Mud Valley by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country, this one near Walnut Creek, Ohio.

This day was exceptional. The sky was pure blue, allowing the sun to heighten the already vivid colors. Since Mom was an avid and prolific watercolor painter, I always hope these short rides spark a memory of those days gone by when she and her friends would find a spot to paint, set up their easels and spend the day communing with nature and one another, beautifully interpreting what they saw.

Besides the warm hues of the leaves, a stunning red-tailed hawk flew right across our path. Around the curve, Mom spied some flashy marigolds. All in all, it was an invigorating jaunt. Seeing that Mom enjoyed the little excursion, I chose to tell her a comment that Steve had shared with me at the Mexican restaurant.

Marian Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh, 89, taught me to see and share in creative ways.

Knowing my mother was an accomplished landscape artist, Steve said, “You have your mother’s eye.” I non-verbally asked for clarification. “Instead of a brush, you paint with words and through the lens of your camera.” I don’t know if Steve noticed or not, but tears welled in my eyes. I was honored with the keen compliment. When I shared the kind words with Mom, tears welled up in her eyes, too. Despite her advanced dementia, knowing that Mom had understood at least a little of the depth and breadth of Steve’s insight made the compliment all the more meaningful.

The circle of blessing was now complete. It had returned to its rightful owner, the creative and artful woman who had taught me to see and share Creation’s beauty.

Suddenly, this difficult October day didn’t seem so difficult after all.

That’s what friends are for

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sky was clear blue, the morning’s puffy cumulous clouds having moved on. The north wind discouraged any humidity, and helped keep the temperatures tolerable.

Earlier my Amish neighbor had tethered the hay he had mown the evening before, fluffing it up for the breeze to blow away any remnant moisture. The barn swallows that had circled his horse drawn machine still skimmed the ocean of cut hay for insects.

I imagined the next day my neighbor, his family and his circle of friends would follow their given routine of making hay. I have marveled at their consistency each and every harvest of hay, oats and wheat. Their combined labor is as affable as it is proficient.

But isn’t that what friends are for? Like the classic Dionne Warwick/Stevie Wonder song belted out, “For good times, for bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for.”

That pretty well sums it up. Friends want the best for you no matter what. They sympathize with you, empathize with you, are honest with you and you them. That friendly formula leads to trust, understanding and compassion.

As humans, we all need that. We are social beings, and unless you are Ted Kaczynski or Lizzie Borden, friends mean the world to you.

Sitting on the porch alone, I had to think about my circle of friends. I was humbled and honored to recall how many times others had come to my rescue or reassured me or celebrated with me or mourned with me or just took time for a visit.

These may seem like ordinary occurrences. But to me, they are extraordinary events, given that they all involved friends.

Food seems to be an important ingredient in friendship. We have enjoyed many a meal around a table with friends, meaning family, neighbors and acquaintances. No matter how tasty the entrées, the fellowship is always the dessert.

A home in Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
A home in Lakeside, Ohio. - Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago when we moved from the home we built in the western part of the county to our current home in the east end, friends clamored to help us. Thanks to them, the difficult task was made simple.

Each time we visit our beloved Lakeside, Ohio we are greeted with hugs and kisses from people we may only see there. They are our vacation friends, but from the reactions you would never know it.

When I pushed my grandsons on side-by-side swings so high they bounced out of their seats, they giggled and laughed like little girls. The bright sun wasn’t the only thing warming me that morning.

Reading the blog by the parents of a special newborn child helped me better understand their critical situation. I marveled at how calm and objective their writings were, especially given their uncertain situation.

A birder friend called to tell me about a very rare bird in the neighborhood. Without his kind gesture, I would have missed the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Butterfy on cornflower by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoyed the wildflowers in our backyard. - Bruce Stambaugh

Which reminds me that friends are not confined to human beings either. Pets, sunsets, thousands of blinking fireflies rising from the flowering alfalfa and ripening oats, robins chirping their contentment with the day all qualify as friends by my definition.

All these people and creatures and natural events have abundantly blessed me. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Holmes County sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A recent sunset taken from our back porch. - Bruce Stambaugh