guild day birthday

Friday morning, my husband and I both woke early. Too early, of course, but waking early is what one does when anticipating an untold amount of work in a short period of time with a whole host of helpers. (For more about the Carpenters Guild, go here.) Also! After we’d gone to bed the night before, my husband’s brother had arrived from upstate NY — one of my little birthday secrets — so I had to get up with my husband in order to make sure he didn’t accidentally wander into the guest room. 

My husband banged around the kitchen, talking freely and loudly, obviously oblivious to the fact that his brother was sleeping a few feet away. I had to keep watching him every time he headed in the direction of the guest room, but he never tried to go in. But then the wind picked up and my husband ran outside to pick up sheets of plywood in the yard, and I soon followed to collect the laundry we’d left on the line overnight. My brother-in-law’s car was sitting right there in the yard. Maybe he won’t see it? I thought as I passed it on my way back to the house. We often don’t see what we don’t expect to see. 

But no. A few minutes later, my husband strode into the kitchen and just stood there, looking at me. I smiled; he didn’t. Worried I’d pushed him over the edge, I hurried to explain. “It’s not the whole family,” I said. “It’s just Dan!” 

“Are there anymore surprises?” he said, wiping his eyes. (Oh. He wasn’t mad, just emotional.) “You gotta tell me. I don’t think I can handle any more surprises.” 

“No more surprises,” I promised. 

Right at eight o’clock, the pickups started rolling in. Watching people arrive, my throat grew tight, and for the first couple hours I felt like I couldn’t breathe. All these people taking time out of their day to come help us, to celebrate my husband. Some of the people, I didn’t even know, and neither did my husband — I saw him introducing himself and shaking hands with some of the guys. 

I didn’t get to watch them work for too long, though. There were doughnuts to make!

From when we first started rolling them until we finished frying and glazing, it took exactly an hour and a half. My younger daughter helped the whole time, and when we got ahead of ourselves and struggled to keep up with the glazing, my older daughter joined us, and then my mom showed up and took over the coffee pots and dish washing — that woman washed dishes for the next five hours straight! (And we even used paper cups and plates, and I’d made all the food ahead of time, too!) 

Partway through the frying, I freaked out that I’d forgotten the salt. I hadn’t, but I couldn’t shake the feeling, so I tossed some flaky salt in the glaze just to make myself feel a little better.

At 10:30, we set out the doughnuts and coffee and hollered at everyone to come take a break. I went to find my husband. “You gonna make a speech?” I said. 

He shook his head and croaked, “I can’t.” When he gets emotional, his voice stops working. 

“You have to,” I said. 

He said wanted to find a piece of wood that everyone could sign their name on, so I trailed him around the barn while he dug through the scraps. A piece found, I hollered for everyone to listen up, and, wouldn’t you know, he got the words out after all. He thanked everyone for coming, and he talked about how he’d started the barn fifteen years ago with an interest-free loan that one of our friends — a man who was there that day — had given him, and how now it was finally getting finished, thanks to the birthday gift, this event, I’d arranged. “Jennifer doesn’t do things in half measures,” he said. Both of us had tears rolling down our cheeks. 

The coffee break over, I cleared away the doughnuts and popped the extras into the freezer. I didn’t want people to keep eating them and not be hungry for lunch, and besides: I was sick of doughnuts. (But then people kept asking if there were more doughnuts, so after lunch, I ended up pulling them back out of the freezer and setting them out again — and they all got eaten! I could not believe how much food that group put away.)

People were everywhere: hauling loads of trash to the dump, stacking scraps of wood, digging out the trash behind the barn. My dad took the opportunity to bring over a load of firewood and volunteers stacked it in the woodshed. One guy fixed our broken deck railing. A few others installed two of the barn windows. Others bent the galvalume. A whole bunch of people ran up and down the roof, nailing down plywood and screwing on the roofing. 

By lunch time, the first half of the roof was under cover.

The lunch went fine, both the prepping and the serving, except…

Number One: When I was heating up the sausage lentil soup in my big roaster out on the deck, I got a whiff of something foul. Was the soup bad? Was I gonna KILL everyone? I privately panicked for about ten minutes, when I got a whiff of stink again and recognized it as a dead animal smell, and then I recalled that I’d occasionally noticed that stench over the last week. An animal was decomposing somewhere in the valley. It wasn’t my soup. Whew.

Number Two: I set out the bowl of whipped cream as a soup condiment instead of the bowl of sour cream. It wasn’t until my older son, who was the third or fourth person to go through the line, said, “This is sour cream? Are you sure? It’s really fluffy,” did I realize my mistake, ha! 

Number Three: The day before, I’d had my older daughter pre-scoop all the ice cream into a bucket, with pieces of plastic wrap between the layers, so we could serve it easier. I was so proud about my brilliant party hack, but wouldn’t you know, the ice cream stuck to the plastic! The girls had to take the ice cream back to the kitchen and manually peel the plastic from the ice cream balls and, even so, people had to pick bits of plastic out of their teeth. (I’ve heard that the Amish always intentionally make a “mistake” in their quilts — a crooked patch, perhaps, or one weird color — in order to keep their pride in check, so for me, I guess it’s the plastic in the ice cream that keeps me humble.) 

But hey, aside from those things, everything went just fine! When it came time for dessert, I stuck a candle in each of the pies and gave them to the kids to carry out, and we all sang Happy Birthday.

video credit: my brother

And then, the meal over, I took my coffee and a piece of grape pie (real dishes, no paper anything, for the cook!) out to the yard to visit with a friend while we watched the volunteers work. 

At 4:30 exactly, my older son straightened up from where he’d been been bent over all day screwing down the galvalume and hollered, “The barn’s water tight!” By five o’clock everyone was gone, and at 5:08, it started raining (but only briefly). 

After everyone left, we kinda sat around, stunned. What had just happened? It’d been so fast, so intense, so productive, my mind couldn’t quite catch up. 

And the barn! We have a new whole freaking building on the property. It’s almost like a whole second house: big, real, solid, spacious. For some reason, I hadn’t understood what this building would be, and now here it was, plunked down in our driveway after all these years of waiting, like a fairy had just waved her magic wand over the spot.

Or rather, like a bunch of ordinary wonderful people had just waved a bunch of hammers. These people had stepped away from their own busy lives to come help my husband with his project . . . because they enjoy working together. Because they are generous and kind. Because they like doughnuts and value community. Because they appreciate my husband and wanted to help celebrate him.

Happy 50th Birthday, Sweetie. You are loved. 


Like I said in the last post, many of the photo credits (I’m not even gonna try to figure out which ones) go to the children.

This same time, years previous: truly wild, weekend watch #2, beef tamales, from my sister-in-law in Hong Kong: covid-19 at the two-month mark, almond cardamom tea cake, the solo, pop quiz: what did you eat for lunch?, the quotidian (3.21.16), a morning’s start.


  • LindyO

    Really enjoy visiting this family via Jennifer sharing her words, her heart, and hard work. You can feel the love. What a beautiful day.

  • Jamie N.

    Beautiful writing about beautiful people or are they angels?
    Thanks for sharing your life. I think many of your readers are tearing up, I know I am.

  • Hannah Nichols-Murch

    Wow, just wow! I was on the brink of tears while reading this. Then I lost my composure and cried during the singing of happy birthday (specifically at the moment where you, Jennifer, yanked John front and center for some well deserved attention, appreciation and agape love).

  • Candi R

    This is such a beautiful representation of community and love for one another. The last picture with you two is stunning, something about it feels artistic and full of emotion.


    I just found you! You are a kindred spirit indeed! Pouring over your recipes. Reading your stories and appreciating your verbage (anemic eggs from the grocery store etc etc etc ) Watching your cheese videos. (That’s how I found you. I was refreshing myself on cheese making after taking a couple years off) I love your content, and your fun, free spirit.
    Stacy Bradt (Upstate NY)
    Someone else who’s family doesn’t understand how I could possibly enjoy being in my kitchen much of the day on my one day off.

  • Sue

    What a great story! It is so nice to hear of kind, generous people. It makes one believe in humanity. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Comment