Tag Archives: friendships

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

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Filed under birds, column, food photography, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, photography, writing

Holidays heighten reality of moving

sunrise, Amish farm

Dawn shown brightly as the holidays began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The holidays brought it all into perspective. We were celebrating a lot of “lasts” in Ohio. On the outside, I may have been smiling and laughing my way through the gayeties. Internally, my spirit struggled to stay afloat in a torrent of tears.

My wife Neva and I have spent our entire lives as residents of Ohio. I like to tell people that I was born and raised in Canton but that I grew up in Holmes Co. I think my wife feels the same way. We cherished our experiences in this peaceful, rural community. Nevertheless, we joyously anticipate the transplant to Virginia.

The topsy-turvy ride on the emotional roller coaster began last fall. I’m a big picture person, and I knew the May moving date would roll around sooner rather than later. Closure needed to come to my various community commitments. I also knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

As the year wound down, several last events were rapidly approaching. I thought about what I would be facing. The list of “lasts” was long and involved both personal and community commitments.

Reality soon hit hard. Long-held traditions were coming to an end.

chip and seal, Saltcreek Twp. Holmes Co. OH

Road improvement.

After nearly 20 years, I would attend my last township trustee meeting. I loved that aspect of community service. Along with that, I’d end my term on the East Holmes Fire and EMS board of directors, too. I enjoyed working with others to help people solve problems, and making the community even safer than it already was.

Serving in those two worlds brought me great satisfaction. But I knew they successfully could go on without me.

I feared the gatherings of family and those of friends who felt like family members would be the most difficult to face. On the one hand, I lovingly anticipated our get-togethers. On the other, it saddened me to know that this would be the last of its kind. I savored each moment and each situation.

The passing of parents on both sides had taught me that traditions of family gatherings could indeed change and still uplift. Grandchildren were now adults establishing their own lives and traditions. Adjustments had been happening for years already.

gag gifts

Another goofy gift.

The separate gatherings with my siblings and with my wife’s sister and her family were always special. But their lives were changing, too. It is simply the way life is.

Probably the most challenging tradition to end was with our dear lifetime friends Dave and Kate. Dave and I went to elementary, junior high, high school, and college together. He was my best man at our wedding.

Their children and ours were close in age and played together growing up. Many moons ago we started to meet for Christmas Eve breakfast. At first, we met at local restaurants. Then we began to meet in our homes, alternating years hosting the event.

We shared food, fellowship, goofy gifts, and the strongest love of life anyone could imagine. As time passed, the children became adults, began careers, established homes, and some had children of their own. However, this breakfast was so sacred even those who lived far away made it a priority to attend.

In his contemplative prayer before the meal, Dave’s voice broke with emotion in recognition of this poignant finality. The moment acknowledged our mutual appreciation for our revered personal and family friendships.

Dave’s heartfelt words comforted my crying soul. His grateful thanks had blessed much more than the morning’s food. Lifetime friends are like that.

true friends, Christmas Eve

Dave, Kate, Neva, and I posed at our last Christmas Eve breakfast.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, holidays, human interest, Ohio, photography, writing

Living where you work

home, Amish country

Our home for 37 years.


By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always liked living where I worked. For all of our adult lives, my wife and I have resided in the communities where we plied our skills as public school educators.

We did so intentionally, knowing there were distinct advantages. Experiencing the everyday life of those with whom we taught and guided served as a blessing far beyond anything we could have imagined.

To walk where our students and fellow school staff members walked gave us insight into the core values and principles that drove their lives. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Amish buggy

Along the way.

After we had married in March 1971, Neva and I lived in Killbuck, Ohio where I taught at the elementary school for nine years. I got to see my students first-hand before, during, and after school. I found great reward in knowing their lifestyles, family circumstances, and living situations.

A year after I became a principal in the East Holmes Local School District, we moved to our present home built on an Amish farm. That was 37 years ago. What a joy it has been.

Families invited us into their homes for meals, hymn sings, weddings, and just to visit. We participated in the life circles of the mostly Amish and Mennonite communities. That enabled us to understand and appreciate their ways and values more fully.

When you live in the same location for nearly four decades, incredible benefits find you. Just the other day I visited with a former student from one of the many respectful families we got to know and interact with over the years.

Our conversation in his office thrilled me. Here was a young man who grew up with Amish linage, earned his graduate degree at an Ivy League school no less, and now is serving his home community in multiple leadership roles.

Over the years we have joyfully watched such students mature, finish eighth grade or high school or college, and all contribute in meaningful ways to our culture and society. It’s especially momentous when we encounter one another on life’s journey.

Amish farmstead

A typical Amish farmstead.

I regularly see many former students. They cash my checks at the bank. They serve me my dinner at a local restaurant. They build and sell me furniture that lasts a lifetime. Even my attorney is a former student of mine. The list is endless.

Others I only see or correspond with occasionally, even randomly. There’s no greater joy for a teacher than when a former student recognizes you in the aisle of a large grocery story and rushes up and unabashedly embraces you with a long, loving hug.

Then there are the times when I bump into the orneriest student ever, and he nearly shakes your hand right off of your arm in recognition that he made it. It’s like winning the lottery, only much, much better. After all, the kid knew the way to the principal’s office blindfolded. Now he has a dream job and a lovely wife.

The memories the students share in these encounters make me smile. I usually have no recollection of the incident or how positively it had impacted them. And yet, whatever was done or said then helped them in their young lives. Being told that warms my old heart.

East or West, I am so glad to have lived where I worked. My life wouldn’t be nearly as full without these precious relationships. All I can say is thank you to those of you who have filled my cup to overflowing.

I am grateful to have known you then and now.

dogwood in bloom

Fond memories bloom eternal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Amish, family, friends, human interest, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, writing

No matter where they live, people are people

enjoyingthegamebybrucestambaugh

Baseball fans enjoying a game.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I find people fascinating, a joy to watch. I can easily pass the time observing crowds at airports, sporting events, meetings or shopping.

Humans come in a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, races and ages. They adorn themselves with a variety of intriguing duds and accessories. I marvel at and learn from their diversifications.

mariebybrucestambaugh

Marie was tickled pink that I wanted to take her picture on the dock at Lakeside, OH.

I remember a specific time many years ago when the shoe was on the other foot. My wife and I were visiting her cousin in southern California. Barb had two daughters, ages two and three months. Our daughter was two months old.

I was informed that we were going shopping one afternoon at the local mall. We were quite the sight and unintentionally created an intriguing distraction as we sauntered around the sprawling mall with a toddler and two infants in strollers and two lovely mothers and one man.

When I volunteered to care for the girls while the women ducked into a few stores, the fun began. We became the mall’s main attraction. The kids drew passing shoppers in like they were magnets.

I found myself engaged in conversations with people curious about the children. Were the babies twins? When I said they were born three weeks apart, I could see the mental wheels turning in the questioners’ heads.

When my wife and her cousin, who are close in age, returned to check on us, the eyebrows really arched. People’s non-verbal communication revealed their conceptual inferences about one man, two wives, and three little girls.

learningaboutconflictbybrucestambaugh

Dr. Catherine Barnes (center) taught the Conflict Analysis course during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

In reality, that’s how we operate as social beings. We reach conclusions based on what we see, and interpret observations based on our own life’s experiences and values. Many times, like my mall experience, those assumptions frame and tilt what reality is if the truth is not properly explored.

Recently I was asked what the single most important point I had learned at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute that I had attended in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The answer flowed easily.

“The most significant concept I learned was that people are people,” I said. Not exactly profound, but true nonetheless.

Not wanting to come across as cryptic, I further explained my seemingly glib answer. Based on what I had gained first hand from my global classmates, we all strive and often struggle for the exact same things. We desire basic human needs and rights regardless of our culture, race, religion, wealth, ethnicity, or gender.

groupprocessingbybrucestambaugh

Much of the SPI class involved small group interaction among class members.

Our modest class consisted of female and male inhabitants from four continents, 13 countries, and multiple races and religions. Yet, we were all there for one common purpose. We wanted to gain practical and applicable methods for understanding and resolving conflict.

To that end, the cultures, traditions, and primary languages of each class member became secondary to the overall goal. No barrier would deter our learning, thanks to an outstanding professor guiding dedicated students.

We all had too much to lose by allowing prejudice to cloud our thinking. After all, most of the astute class members would return home to implement and teach the knowledge they had acquired. In too many situations, that would be done in hostile, dangerous, unstable conditions.

Our class discussions easily revealed that people universally desire the same life goals. We all need food, shelter, security, identity, dignity and the freedom to grow and explore in an ever-changing, challenging world.

No political bend could deny the obvious. Regardless of roots of origin, people are indeed people, and they ache to be treated accordingly.

classmatesbybrucestambaugh

Friendships formed from the classroom interactions.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Filed under column, family, news, writing

The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh

The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh

Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh

Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.

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