The Horizontal Christmas Tree

xmas tree horizontal

It’s never, ever, ever good when you get that urgent Christmas tree catastrophe call.

Text last Monday:  The Christmas tree fell.  Come home now.

I’ve received that communique twice in my life.

I like pretty big Christmas trees; we have two.  This year, the small one has about an 8″ diameter trunk.  I screwed the supports into the booger with the same vigor I used to bolt my tires onto my car.  I mean business!  I actually use pliers to twist the metal in – sap oozes down my fingers.  When I was finished, the jessie was standing as straight as Miss Alabama in the Miss American contest.

I evened out the ornaments and gave it a little shake to make sure it was secure.

It stood for days – and then, ker-plunk!

Special ornaments were busted and Fraser fir needles were scattered around like germs from a sneeze.  I’m gonna be vacuuming those dudes up in July.

Why can’t they make a tree stand that can hold a durn tree up?  Would you make Tupperware that couldn’t hold soup???

As if getting the lights to stay on isn’t enough of a challenge, we have to deal with this too!  You can’t buy a Christmas tree stand that is big and sturdy enough to ensure verticality.  Would we try to balance the Statue of Liberty on a thimble?  I think not!  Target, Walmart, Home Depot – HELP US!

xmas tree horizontal 2

I lifted the thing back up, rehung the lights that once lay on the top of the tree but had moved to its waist, and tied her with bobbed wire onto two separate door handles.  If it comes down again, the door frame to my front porch is coming with it, and I’m gonna take it directly to the street – lights, ornaments, garland and all!

Errrrrr…

Sunday Post 198: Unpacking Memories

I put them in the attic early each January.  I wrap them up carefully because they are so incredibly special.  I store them in boxes eleven months of the year, and then, right after Thanksgiving, the kids and I unpack these holiday memories.

There are so many.  There is the mule ornament from our Grand Canyon vacation.  Her mother surprised us with a donkey dive into the vast hole.

The guide proudly announced, “We’ve never had a mule fall into the canyon.”

Although I was grateful to hear this good news, even the thought of dropping 6,000 feet while clinging onto the mane of a donkey threw me into a full-on panic attack.

I told Lisa, “My ass ain’t gettin’ on that ass.”

I wasn’t a virgin, and this was not Bethlehem.

When Lisa returned, her legs permanently bowed and her derriere scabbed over, it was difficult not to say, “I told you so.”

As she walked toward the shower, I let a little “hee-haw” slip from my mouth.

She flipped me the bird.

I laugh each year when I think of that day.

Usually, memories strike like a slow sink drip.  At Christmas, they pour out like a fire hose.

Cards from old friends who have long moved on.

Those hymns we sing but once each year.

The annual Christmas pageant, the one she directed ten years ago.

Those cookies I work to recreate with limited success.

It’s not just Lisa.  I seem to remember my grandparents more at this time of year – Grandmother Tanner’s seven layer cake, an annual Thanksgiving tromp through the woods with my granddad.

The beautiful thing is that the girls and I now have new memories that have been created:  the late night Christmas Eve service which we couldn’t do when they were younger, the creation of some sort of wonky Christmas card picture, big colored lights on the tree which were outlawed before.

Even though they can be painful, I’m thankful I have fond memories.  I just wish they’d come a little bit slower at this time of year.

Giggling with God

First pres

Last week in church we got the giggles – three of us – Michelle, Stephanie and me.  Someone up front struck the funny bone, and we got tickled.  This is not an uncommon occurrence for our family.  It is genetic; we got it from my mother.

Funerals and weddings were the worst with her.

At one matrimonial service the pianist was also the organist.  The problem was that the organ and piano were on opposite side of the church.  This musician also had a very noisy dress.  When she walked, it swooshed.  Four times during the service she paraded in front of the lectern, in front of the huge flower arrangement, and in front of the bride and groom, to change instruments.

Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh – swoosh – swoosh

It was the loudest piece of clothing I’d ever heard.  The more she swooshed, the more we snickered.

At a distant cousins wedding I became tickled when the Kimball organ was turned on.  Boom da da boom da da boom boom boom…

It was just like walking through the mall.  After the beat began, the “organist” began tapping out the melody of Here Comes the Bride.

Boom da da boom da da boom – here comes the bride, all dressed in white, sweetly serene in the soft glowing light… (bet you didn’t know the third line, huh?)

As if that wasn’t enough, I had overheard my parents trying to recall the mother of the bride – “I’m not sure I know her.  What does she look like?” my dad asked my grandmother.

“She’s blonde, medium build…”

“Mmmm…”

“You know, she has one green eye and one brown one.”

“Oh, yes!” Something about her description resonated.

As if the ongoing syncopation wasn’t enough, when the bride’s mother headed down the aisle, I caught a glance of her multi-colored irises.  I was done.

These days I find two different eyes sort of cool, intriguing.  In my adolescence, it just got me tickled.  I’d never seen that before.

My grandmother glared at me like I’d stood up nude on the pew.  That made my mom snicker, and then it was all over.

I left the church for the remainder of the service.  Grandmother Tanner expressed her dismay the minute she was released from the ceremony (as if I didn’t already know she was made).

The giggles can be brought about by something very small.  One Sunday I might break out with the Korean verse of the hymn printed at the bottom of the page.  One of us might turn to the wrong hymn and the innocent bystander belts out a wrong word or two before they realize the joke.  A couple of Sundays there was a stench in the pew – it smelled like a dead animal.  As various family members began sniffing around and looking at each other as if to say, “Is it you?,” the laughter began.

When DJ was an infant, we took her to the 7 PM Christmas Eve service.  When the soloist hit the high note in O Holy Night, our baby screamed out seemingly trying to match the operatic singer.  It ruined the moment which I felt bad about.  But I laughed until we finally just went home.

Once it starts, it is difficult to control.

Last week, to control my silliness, I grabbed the bible and began reading the Psalms.  They are not funny… at all.  I scowled at the kids who looked at me like I was Benedict Arnold.

Sometimes I worry that God gets a little annoyed at our Sunday morning antics.  But then I figure He saw the same thing we did.  He’s probably laughing along with us.

Sunday Post 197: Four Walls and a Few Good Laughs

We went to the mountains on the Friday after Thanksgiving to cut down our Christmas tree.  It’s a Tanner family tradition.  After dinner, the girls and I were riding back to our sparse conference center hotel with the grandparents and Michelle blurted out, “I can’t wait for tonight!”

When we asked her why, she explained, “When Dad, DJ, Stephanie and I all sleep in one room, fun things always happen!”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she was talking about, but I did recall pleasant memories of the hotel giggles.

It was about 10:30 after showers and teeth brushing, and I suggested that we go to sleep early.  We’d been up late the night before and up at 7 that morning.  I was beat.

I turned off all the room lights but left the bathroom door cracked and the shower light on.

I lay down thinking I was through.

It took about 30 seconds for the hilarity to begin.

DJ jumped on me and Michelle and Stephanie followed.  The tickle fight began.

At one point I “went to the bathroom” but in reality crawled on hands and knees between the two beds.  When I thought they would least notice, I jumped up from the floor in my loudest scary scream.

All three jumped a foot in the air!

It’s so much fun to frighten the little ones.  I think it’s a dad thing.

Later DJ and I convinced Stephanie that Eric Rudolph, the bomber who had hidden in the woods of NC for five years, was still on the loose and could climb through the hotel window at any given time.  She didn’t like that and refused to sleep on the outside wall of the room.

I didn’t let it go on too long.  Just enough to rile her up a bit.

Of course there were a couple of Dutch ovens (if you don’t know, don’t ask), and photos taken to Snap Chat at a later time (it was difficult to get internet access in the room – yahoo!!!)

Occasionally our family has moments of brilliance like this.  No television needed, no computers or fancy games.  Just Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Doo and me, enjoying laughs with nothing but ourselves.

Oh, I finally got them calmed down at 12:30 AM, but I slept with one eye open.  Twice when the room was nearly silent, and I in that nearly comatosed state, DJ snuck out of bed and scared the puddin’ out of me!  I guess I deserved it.

Thanksgiving Jam Session

Uncle Jesse comes through with the Thanksgiving sing along.  It’s good to have an uncle who can play piano by ear, postpones the after Thanksgiving food coma by at least an hour…

Even Grandpa raised the roof!

Here’s a Christmas tune…

 

 

Sunday Post 196: Thankful for Hope

You know what I’m thankful for this year?  I’m thankful for hope!

What if you lived life, day in and day out, with no hope?  No possibility that life could get better?  No sense that you could get through the hard times?  No potential to meet those you love in another life?  That would make me miserable!

I’ve heard some pretty compelling arguments not to believe in God.  I have listened to folks who can quite logically explain that this world could have easily been created simply through science.  There are those who are fast to point out inconsistencies in the bible adding evidence to their “There is no God” case.  I can see their side.  I see inconsistencies as well.  I have a lot of questions too.

But man, I have hope!  And I can guarantee you this, it’s a much better way to live.

I can picture heaven.  I fully plan on seeing Lisa again, and my buddy Trey, and my friend Brenda, and grandparents for days!  I sort of get excited when I think about it!  Maybe when my demise seems a little closer I’ll sing a different tune, but for now, I’m not scared to die.  I got stuff to do on the other side – so many stories to share.  They aren’t gonna believe I wrote a book!

I have hope for a good, long, happy life with good friends, grandkids, and close connections with my daughters.

Sometimes I’m scared or uneasy, fearful of the future or worried about some stupid little problem.  But overall, I have hope and faith that in the long haul, it’ll all be alright.

The opposite of hope is doubt.  It’s pretty clear which is the better alternative!

DJ’s College Essay

I’m proud of DJ, my senior in high school.  Even though she sort of cracks on her father in this college essay, I thought she did a pretty good job!  Hope she gets in!

When I was younger, my mom and I performed in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol. This play has been running each December for 40 years in the Raleigh area, and more than 25,000 people see the annual performance. It is a spoof on Charles Dickens’ book with musical numbers intertwined. We were two of approximately 70 cast members singing and dancing across the stage. 

What I enjoyed most about the play was that I got to spend time with my mom. It was special, just for the two of us. When she passed away from cancer in 2010, I decided my sisters needed to pick up where mom and I left off, experiencing the magic of performing. We dragged my dad along with us. 

We tried out the year after mom died and surprisingly, we were all cast in the show. Our first rehearsals were easy, we practiced songs that we already knew because they were regularly played around Christmastime at our house. The next week got a little trickier. We were required to put dance steps with our singing. My sisters and I picked up the choreography in a heartbeat, but my dad struggled; he has two left feet. We spent the next few months teaching him how to do a jazz square while simultaneously lifting his arms in different directions. It was a challenge, but by the end we had him flawlessly placing his hands and feet in the right position on the right words.

In addition to vocal tryouts, each year I also attended the dance auditions for more advanced dance numbers. I have taken dance lessons since I was three, and it has been a way for me to escape. The problem was that I had never tap danced before, and one of the main dance scenes required that skill. I didn’t even own tap shoes. I returned to the dance auditions three years in a row, but never got cast as a dancer. I was only put in the chorus along with the rest of my family.

This year, I decided to give it one more go. I’ve spent thousands of hours in dance studios throughout the years, and I wanted to prove that I could perform at a higher level. I’d been working hard on my tapping skills at home teaching myself steps as I walked through my kitchen each day. Determined, but not expecting much, I arrived at the audition. The choreographer quickly yelled out tap lingo that was unfamiliar to me. I tried to act like I knew what I was supposed to do, but I really had no clue. I put on a huge smile and moved my feet in the general direction I thought they should go. When the cast list came out, I was thrilled. I was finally going to be a dancer in five main numbers, and one was tap! My persistence and hard work had paid off. 

This December, I will be performing at the Duke Energy Center and the Durham Performing Arts Center for thousands of people, tap shoes and all. My passion for dance and the energy I have put toward it over the past decade and a half have paid off in ways too numerous to count. Not only do I find great joy in performing personally, but it also means a lot to be on stage with my family next to me.

40th Anniversary of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol

Sunday Post 195: Not too much, not too little

Parenting is hard!

I constantly struggle to balance being the cool dad with tough dad.  Last year DJ told me I was the most strict father in the world.  I asked her if she could remember a time that I had punished her.  She said, “No.  But I know if I do something wrong you’d kill me.”

She has no basis for that.  I have never, ever killed anyone before.

When Uncle Jesse lived with us, he basically told me I was a pushover – not requiring chores, doing too much for the girls, catering to their every whim.

I have friends who are really good parents but have really tough kids.  When I used to run summer camps, I saw plenty of great kids with parents who were seemingly worthless.

I still check in with DJ’s friends parents if she says she’s sleeping at someone else’s house.  I don’t really care that she’s 17.  I also don’t care that she has never significantly broken my trust.  I just think it’s a good practice.

My mom still wants to know the phone number and address of the hotels where I lodge when I’m out of town.  She doesn’t call my friends’ parents when I go out, but she probably would if she knew their phone numbers.

On the other hand, sometimes I let Michelle or Stephanie watch a movie or listen to a song that may push the limits.  I might raise an eyebrow when I walk through the room, but I’m not inclined to run up and stop Netflix midstream.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t watching R rated movies, but some of the TV shows that are on today, some that I really like, are not really appropriate for a 12-year-old Presbyterian.

I happen to enjoy a couple of Miley Cyrus songs.  She appears to be a tramp, but she got some good tunes!

I’ll never forget the time when Michelle was three and busted out singing, Mariah Carey’s song Touch My Body, in the back seat of our minivan.  I thought Lisa was gonna come upside my head.

“You let her listen to that?”

“Ahh.  Well maybe once.”

“Once?  She knows every word!  What if she busts out with ‘Touch my body, Throw me on the floor, Tussle me around, Play with me some more,’ during music time in Mrs. Wishon’s class?”

“Well, I never really thought about that.”

“That’s because you are a moron.  Turn on Barney!”

I don’t have the answer on how to best parent.  I think too strict could drive a wedge between a parent and a child and perhaps stop all flow of communication.  On the other hand, totally letting go of the reins can lead to behaviors that could bring about long-term, unwanted repercussions.

I think my mantra on life has been to steer away from excess.  Maybe that keeps me from being too passionate about anything.  Or, maybe it keeps me centered.

Knock on wood and say a little prayer (not too evangelical and not too progressive); my girls are doing well under the current regime.  For now, I’ll keep walking the line.

It’s Christmas Carol Time… Again

I think I'm singing on key...

I think I’m singing on key…

This is our fourth year performing in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol and after being cast as a dancer last year, I had a pretty strong inkling that my talents were fully exposed.  I assumed I would, from this day forward, dance on stage.  In fact, I was fairly certain that talent scouts from other shows would be after me and frankly, I have no more time to perform.  I was saving it all for the fortieth anniversary show of Charles Dickens’ play right here in Raleigh, NC.  I wanted to please my hometown constituents.

Much to my surprise, not only did other talent scouts not call, but I was not asked to shake my legs this year in our annual Christmas performance.  Oh, I’m in the big numbers with all of the other townspeople, but the second act party scene with leaps, jumps and herkies, will not highlight my abilities as was the case last year.

I was deflated.  I sulked for days after receiving the news.

I complained to the girls, “How could this be?  How could they not see my talent with movement?  I mean look at these jazz hands!!”

DJ reminded me, “YOU CANNOT DANCE!  You don’t even march correctly! Didn’t you learn that in preschool?”

“Have you seen me shag?” I protested.

“Did they shag in the 18th century?  Do you remember how long it took to teach you Shuffle/Ball/Change?”

“That’s a VERY complicated step!”

I guess they decided they wanted to focus on my vocals, or perhaps my acting abilities.

We are reminded to act like it’s cold in the play, it is set in December.  And I shiver like a pro!

I mean, I can sort of understand that perhaps they wanted to give others a chance to shine.  And, well, maybe I am better with all of my focus on shivering.  That’s really important.  Sets the entire tone for the show.

I won’t be in the second act dance number this year, but DJ will.

Bailey ACC 2014 2

In fact, after three years of trying out to be a dancer, she has been cast in five big show stoppers.  In one she’s wearing an outfit that is actually a bit revealing.  Thankfully she has a feather fan that covers most of her business.

I estimate that I’ve spent $26,000 on ballet and jazz lessons over the past 18 years for that child.  Incidentally, that is the average cost of a wedding in America.  I should have just taught her myself.

But I guess the investment has actually paid off.  She’s knocking it out on the dance floor this year.

I would strongly suggest that you come to see her.  This is the 40th year of the production, big things are in store.  And you might even catch me bustin’ some moves in a few of the big numbers.  I’ve been practicing!

40th Anniversary of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol

Sunday Post 194: Another One Down

I’ve attended two funerals for young parents since Lisa died.  One was last week.

In both cases I sat on the front row of the church balcony.  I headed up there assuming there would be fewer people around in the event I become a blubbering idiot.  I have a bird’s eye view of those beneath who are struggling with their grief.

Yesterday I sat and watched another father on the front row, his daughter and son beside him.  And I return to that day.

It’s weird what you remember.  I was wearing my light gray suit.  I saw a former employee who I had not seen for years in the hall as we entered the sanctuary.  I grabbed her hand.  Another guy I work with was standing under the stained glass window half way down the aisle.  He had given up his seat for an elderly woman.

I remember Michelle on one side of me, Stephanie on the other.  I could touch DJ with my hand if I put my arm on the pew around my middle daughter.  I felt it was important for them to feel my presence, physically and emotionally, since their mother seemed so far away.  I enfolded the other two up under my arms, crutches to keep me upright.

We sang four hymns because Lisa loved music.  She used to say, “You don’t need to talk at my funeral, just sing.”  We did both.

I stared at the cross hung above the choir’s heads, What a mess you have made. I thought to myself.

There was no talk of the beauty of God’s plan.  We didn’t pick bible verses that would make it all seem planned.  We just  sat and ached, every single one of us.  Our minister hurt too.

Over and over and over I wondered how this could be.  It just could not be true.  I felt like I was at a movie watching someone else in pain, and yet clearly it belonged to me.

It broke my heart to see that father last Friday.  I didn’t hurt for me – I’m through the worst of it.  But to think of what he has to face: the fear, the loneliness, the open wound in his heart.  As a fellow human being, I simply ached for him.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could share the pain, if I could relieve him for two hours each week?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  It’s his journey to walk.  We can stand by his side, we can help hold him up, but he and only he has to take the steps.  One     at      a      time.

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