May 26, 2018
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Dinner with graphic illustrator Josh Alves full of surprises

Sarah Smiley
By Sarah Smiley

It has been a busy month for Dinner with the Smileys. A recap of a few of our March and April dinners follows.

Graphic illustrator Josh Alves

Before each dinner, I often wonder, “Was this a good idea? Will we have anything to talk about with the guest?” Waiting for our 12th guest, graphic illustrator Josh Alves, to arrive was no different. Although Josh and I have lived in the same town for nearly four years, I didn’t really know him. And I had never met his wife. For someone like me — someone who hates small talk and isn’t very good at it — the dinner had the potential to be an awkward first (friend) date.

And then Josh and Amy and their oldest daughter came through the door, bringing with them freshly baked cookies and a burst of positive energy and conversation that never waned during the four-hour visit. We had a lively dinner (four kids at the table always ensures liveliness) and an after-dinner game of Pictionary on the back porch, where it was still warm and sunny at 6 p.m.

I was sad when the evening came to an end and not just because the black permanent marker Lindell was using for Pictionary had exploded all over my white shirt. (Also not because Josh beat all of us at Pictionary.) Rather, I didn’t want the Alves to leave.

Josh left the boys with copies of his comic books and a series of books he illustrated called Zeke Meeks. Ford and Owen read all three books before bedtime, and what a surprise (and comfort!) when they learned the main character, Zeke, has a father who is also on deployment.

A season of learning

March and April brought dinners with two schoolteachers (always a highlight) and visits to a local news station where weatherman Steve McKay taught the boys how to use a green screen (Ford: “If I cover my younger brother with this green blanket, will he disappear?”) and to prove air exists (my thought: we’re breathing, but that wasn’t the right answer).

On another unseasonably warm Maine spring day, Dr. Scott Peterson, a baseball historian, took us out to a ballgame and taught the boys how to keep score using the method Henry Chadwick invented (I wasn’t kidding about him being a “baseball historian”). We met the winning pitcher, D.J. Voisine, and my youngest, Lindell, 5, dazzled him with this:

D.J.: What position do you boys play?

Ford: I play second base.

Owen: I hope to play shortstop.

Lindell: I’m hungry.

Lunch, which consisted of hot dogs, popcorn and candy, quickly followed.

A missed opportunity

One of our April dinners was supposed to be with an elderly friend who sometimes had served as a substitute grandmother for the boys. She came to their school events, sent them birthday cards and brought them goodies on Halloween and Christmas. She always waved to them on their way to school. And on warm days, Lindell liked to sit with her on her front steps.

Our friend had gone to an assisted living facility in the last few months, so we planned to have dinner with her there. When I called to confirm, I found out that she had passed away several weeks earlier.

I needed time to absorb that.

Then I told the kids.

Losing our friend before we had the chance to visit her for dinner emphasized a growing theme of this project. Community matters more than any “reason” we have to not invite someone to dinner:

“My house is too small.”

“I don’t have time.”

“My house is a mess.”

“I’m not a great cook.”

“What would I do with my kids?”

“I’ll do it later.”

I could have had my friend over when the house was a mess, the food was burned and the kids were misbehaving. She wouldn’t have cared. She would have been happy to be there. Because it’s not about the house. Or the food. It’s about being together. And in the end we have less time to be together than we ever could have imagined.

At the boys’ suggestion, we will honor the missed dinner and the memory of our friend through a visit with a neighbor who is 94.

Looking ahead to summer

As each month passes, the boys’ excitement for this project, as well as their understanding of its importance, grows. They enjoy looking back at the pictures and seeing your comments on the Facebook page. They also like to hear your guesses to my hints about upcoming guests. (Some of those guesses have given us ideas and prompted us to contact new guests!)

Last week, we got permission from musician Josh Ritter to use his song “Change of Time” in a promotional video for Dinner with the Smileys. You can see that video on YouTube at

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at

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