Celebrating good times sandwiched between hard times

Although family humor writers primarily write lighthearted stories, surely readers know that our family experiences the same difficulties, setbacks and sorrows as everyone else.

We recently attended three funerals in two weeks. The first one was on a Saturday morning. We dressed, drove to the church and were puzzled no other cars were in the parking lot. We were a week early. So really, it was only two funerals in two weeks, which isn’t good, but better than three.

The other funeral was for a friend who lost her father suddenly. Three days after her dad’s funeral she sat in a hospital waiting room as her husband had cancer surgery.

Even when your own heart doesn’t break, it breaks for others. Suffering is simply part of life.

Several of the grands have been sick recently and are now enjoying good health. I was across the table from one who fights fierce and lengthy battles with asthma and said, “I’m so glad you are finally healthy that I could throw a party.”

Her entire face lit up and she yelled, “WE SHOULD!”

We should, you know; we really should.

We are so fixated on the steady barrage of headlines of tragedies near and far that they all but eclipse moments of goodness right under our noses.

And so we partied. All 19 of us-with badminton games, kids on tricycles circling the patio, kids scaling a tree, burgers on the grill and pitchers of lemonade.

Best of all, we made homemade strawberry ice cream with a White Mountain hand-crank ice cream freezer now 43 years old. The metal parts are rusting and showing their age, but so are we.

Kids clamored for turns at the large metal crank with the wooden handle that turns the dasher inside the metal canister filled with milk, cream, strawberries, sugar and goodness, surrounded by ice and rock salt.

One kid cranks while another sits on top to hold the contraption steady. It’s always good to work as a team when you find yourself in a challenging spot.

As the ice cream mix grows colder and colder, the cranking grows increasingly difficult. Kids take turns that grow shorter and shorter. One of the sons-in-law notices and yells over to ask if we wouldn’t like an electric ice cream freezer for Christmas.

“This is a family tradition that goes back generations,” I yell, turning the crank with all my might. “Your family tradition is going to Florida every summer. I come from a long line of people willing to suffer for ice cream!”

Only the older kids take turns now and they are hanging tough. Nobody gives up. It is a sweet place to learn patience, endurance and fortitude.

Years ago, as a young mother with three children close in age, a husband who worked long hours, and occasionally at the end of my rope, a good friend who had grown up in Berlin calmly said to me: Wo viel Sonnenlicht ist, ist viel Schatten.” Thankfully, she also translated it. “Where there is a lot of sunlight, there is a lot of shadow.”

It’s true. You don’t get one without the other. Life is a constant mix and on a recent weekend afternoon, we were all together, healthy, happy, basking in the sunshine, eating homemade strawberry ice cream from plastic cups until we had brain freeze.

What a party.

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When justice is served at the kitchen table

We held a trial at the kitchen table before church on Sunday. Seven grands had spent the weekend—five girls and two boys.

There was a ruckus upstairs. I could hear it, but it was far enough away that I could ignore it. I heard them thundering down the stairs but was not quick enough to slip into the garage.

One of the girls said that her brother had picked a lock and busted into the girls’ room and shoved her.

Note to the reader: They have a long history.

Others appeared, all talking at once, with their version of events. He said. She said. This one said. That one said. I said everyone take a seat around the table.

There’s always more to the story. Always, always, always.

I said we would have a jury trial, hear witnesses and return with a verdict. I choose three jurors—one based on maturity, one based on attention to detail and a 5-year-old based on malleability.

The accused sat at the head of the table. His sister took the stand, or in this case the kitchen chair with syrup on the seat. She said he had been upstairs locking doors and picking locks (mechanical, that one, always has been). He picked the lock, crashed into the girl’s room and when they chased him out, he shoved her.

I asked if she fell. No. Did she cry out in pain? No. She said it wasn’t actually a shove, but more like a tap.

The next witness confirmed that he had been picking locks and indeed picked the lock to the girls’ room—but before picking the lock he yelled, “Is everyone dressed?”

I high-fived the accused and congratulated him on respect for privacy.

The next witness— nobody wanted to be a juror, everyone wanted to be a witness—confirmed that the accused had asked if they were dressed before picking the lock and busting in, but added that they were waiting for him, hiding in the closet, under the bed and behind the door to scare him.

The final witness confirmed testimony of the previous witnesses but added that, in addition to ambushing the accused, when they all ran out of the room, she saw his sister shove him.

Bombshell testimony. I rapped a wooden spoon on the table and called for order.

The accused, clearly elated, demanded to testify on his own behalf and against his sister. I told him it was inadvisable and there wasn’t time.

The jurors voted. Writing 1 on their folded slip of paper meant the accused had been out of line and would forfeit 50 cents of garage sale money earned selling lemonade the day before. A 2 would mean he was free to go and everyone should knock it off.

The older jurors voted to let him go. The youngest juror, gentle as a dove and sweeter than honey, wrote both 1 and 2 on her paper. I explained the 50 cents he would forfeit would not go to her. She was more calculated than I had anticipated.

Court adjourned with instructions to load into the cars for church.

Surely Judge Judy would have been pleased.

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“Now Hiring” signs not an invitation to just anybody

Nearly every restaurant has “Now Hiring” signs posted. Our closest McDonald’s has a sign on the drive-through menu that says, “Now hiring 14- and 15-year-olds.” A pizza place has jammed “Now Hiring” signs in the easement every three feet for the entire length of the block.

Not long ago, a favorite local burger restaurant (with three locations) was on the news talking about how they attended a job fair needing to make 50 hires. Only a handful of people came.

I told the husband maybe I’d apply for a job just to help them out for a bit.

He looked stunned.

“It’s not that different from what I do around here,” I said. “Long hours and low pay.” I also reminded him I had worked in food service three different times in my teens and early 20s.

So when you think about it this way, you could say that I am definitely qualified for the positions that they are hiring for. Although, in fact, I think I may be too overqualified. But that shouldn’t stop me.

I personally thought it was a great idea. But the husband didn’t appear to be too happy.

He reminded me I wasn’t in my teens or 20s. Then he asked exactly how I planned on helping — waiting tables or working in the kitchen.

“I could do either one,” I said, tilting my nose in the air.

“You couldn’t wait tables,” he said.

Sometimes the man has no idea how close he is to danger.

“Why not?” I asked.

“You don’t hear well in big crowds. No restaurant wants a food server yelling at the customers, ‘Speak up, can you? Spell that for me. Here, just take this pad and write down what you want. Great. Now pass it around the table to your buddies.'”

“You shouldn’t make fun of my hearing,” I said.

“What’s that?” he said.

“I could help in the kitchen,” I snapped. “I’m very efficient. I made lunch for 13 yesterday on short notice and at warp speed.”

“You did,” he said, “but everybody had the same sandwich, the same chips and the same veggie sticks thrown into plastic red baskets with paper liners and you announced that if anybody didn’t like it, you didn’t want to hear about it.”

“And the problem would be?” I asked.

“Well,” he hesitated, “you can be inflexible sometimes.”

“Inflexible? Who are you calling inflexible? I am the Queen of Flexible and that’s that!”

I may have raised my voice. He took a couple of steps back. The Queen of Flexible can get hot under the collar (or apron), not to mention inflexible, when discussing flexibility.

Undaunted, he continued: “The first person to send back an order because it has onions and they didn’t want onions, you’d rush out to the table and start lecturing about showing a little gratitude for the food in front of them and tell him to eat it anyway.”

It’s possible, just possible, the man may have made a few good points. Our best contribution to the restaurant industry is to keep doing what we’ve been doing-patronize the locals and tip big.

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Deciphering dress codes harder than it looks

We have received an invitation to an event where the suggested dress code is smart casual. This has thrown us into a tizzy, prompting us to ask a lot of dumb questions about smart casual.

Does smart casual require we bring academic transcripts? Perhaps pin them to our chests or randomly pull them from our pockets when the conversation lags?

If there is such a thing as smart casual, doesn’t that infer that there must also be a not-so-smart casual? If there are pictures of what not-so-smart casual looks like, we might be better able to deduce what smart casual looks like. We are the people who learn more by looking at “what not to wear.”

If we don’t come dressed smart casual, will the assumption be that our intelligence levels are subpar?

Does a hoodie sweatshirt emblazoned with Oxford or Yale count as smart casual?

I didn’t think so. Just asking for a friend.

Further complicating matters, how does smart casual differ from snappy casual, glitzy casual, dressy casual, party casual and business casual?

Of course, the bottom-line question with every stated dress code is, “Can I wear jeans?”

Jeans have become the global default.

Often, we get ready to go somewhere and the husband asks, “Can I wear jeans?”

It’s a trap and I’ve learned how to maneuver around it.

“The jeans you just did yardwork in?” I ask.

“No, of course not.”

What he’s not saying is that he’s thinking of wearing the jeans he did yardwork in a couple of weeks ago, which look better than the ones he did yardwork in today.

My answer is usually no, just like it will be no to jeans for smart casual. But that’s just me and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t wear jeans for smart casual. Casual is in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there will also be those wondering if ripped jeans with the horizontal shreds qualify for smart causal.

Absolutely not. Those fall into the category of “over-priced casual.”

The trend is toward more and more casual. I’m waiting for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction – you know, when putting bling on jeans doesn’t mean you’re ready for the theater and when Casual Friday becomes collared-shirt Friday.

A friend recently received a wedding invitation that stated the attire will be “picnic casual.”

That’s certainly better defined than “picnic formal.” Jeans would be entirely acceptable. Perhaps even jean shorts. It might even be a good idea to toss swimsuits and trunks in the back seat of the car. Guests might also consider bringing their own fried chicken and potato salad.

Going casual is a lot more work than it used to be.

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