First Class

The most memorable part of our recent trip to Europe might be surprising.

It wasn’t the Tower of London where several folks lost their heads – one I understand took 7 – 8 hacks by the beheader to finish the job. OUCH. Actually, beheading on the public square would be a strong crime deterrent in my opinion. See that a couple of times as a kid and you might think twice before spray painting graffiti on the I-440 beltline overpass.

It wasn’t our food tour of Burrough Market – which was actually REALLY interesting and REALLY good. I’m not a huge fried fish fan, but these frizzled creatures of the deep were quite tasty. And, we went to a pub at noon which is frowned upon on typical weekdays at my office.

It wasn’t the cool suede jacket I purchased for thirty-five pounds (see pic) at Armstrong’s Vintage Clothing. They have some great thrift stores in Scotland! The girls always think that there has been some incredible debauchery in the used clothing I purchase. Certainly, a murder or theft occurred in the jacket pictured above. If so, the wear will lead a far less interesting life on my back than it did in its previous life. More meetings in conference rooms than exciting drug runs from this day forward.

No, the most memorable event of our trip occurred on our last day in Scotland. We were killing time before our flight took off popping into shops on Bruntsfield Place when we entered the Biscuit Clothing Store. It’s a women’s store with upper end outfits, new ones, not ones that have not been previously worn by thieves.

They recognized my wife, she had been in earlier that week.

Two ladies, approximately my age, were at the counter. They shouted out in a most enthusiastic way, with their beautiful Scottish accents, “It’s our friends from Roleigh.” One of the women had fiery red hair. My guess it has touches of gray based on her age, but none was apparent. She was of average size, perhaps a bit plump, with a long, full vertically pleated skirt that nearly drug the floor. The fabric was bright with large pink and red flowers. Her lavender silk blouse was the perfect match. Glasses on a chain hung down her front and additional skin gave heft to her neck. I imagined she could have been a lady-in-waiting for the Queen before this job – she appeared extremely proper.

After a bit of fashion grazing, I noticed Fergie, the singer/rapper, was being piped in over the speaker in the store. Her song, Glamorous, gave us all a pep in our step.

Our Scottish friend in her colorful garb was restocking clothes that had been rejected by previous customers and as she made her way through the store with several hangers of dresses, she began to sing along with the music.

Her voice was operatic, like the woman who sings O Holy Night at a typical Christmas Eve service back home.

Now imagine, Julie, DJ, Michelle and me – tired from a week’s trip and dreading the hours long flight back home. Punchy… ready for our own space and quiet… and this woman with a Beverly Sills like voice, boldly breaking out along with Fergie’s beat…

G- L- A- M- O- R- OUS

I can put you in First Class, up in the sky, First class up in…

If you don’t know the song, I encourage it. It’s a spirit lifter for sure.

We were all spread out throughout the store and each of us absolutely lost it – on the floor about to wet our pants from laughter. We each quickly made our way to the door and regained our composure on the sidewalk outside of The Biscuit.

We all knew the next line of Fergie’s famous song was a rap:

If you ain’t got no money take yo’ broke ass home.

Had we stayed, and had she continued, there would have been no hope. We would have embarrassed ourselves and her.

It is amazing how you can spend thousands of dollars and schedule endless activities, and the most incredible experience of the entire week took no planning and cost nothing. Just people you love surrounding you and a watchful eye on those passing by.

What a great adventure we had. And, after all of that, my broke ass is indeed back home.


They came. They went.

Our cups are tired.

Since December 3, we have had between one and five young adult children home. The youngest, and last one to leave after the holidays, departed on Sunday. And they used more cups a day than a small European country.

I was amazed to go upstairs and find two, three, sometimes four cups, perhaps a bowl or a couple of plates, coffee mugs and silverware distributed on shelves, nightstands, bathroom cabinets and dressers in room after room after room. The dishwasher ran without ceasing. It is tired too.

I was told that one day Stephanie, my middle daughter, put a bowl and spoon in the hallway by her bedroom door. The oldest, DJ, asked, “Why did you put that out there?” Stephanie replied, “Watch. It’ll disappear.” She told her sister she had been keeping track and that you could leave anything you wanted to go downstairs outside the door and someone (presumably me or my wife!!) would whisk it away… just like room service at the Hyatt. Actually, maybe better because we aren’t understaffed. Although the Hyatt pays better unless you include fringe benefits like the endless love and appreciation bestowed upon us by our kids which is PRICE-LESS!

Last Sunday I told Michelle she needed to have her stuff together so that I could drive her back to UNC right after church. We loaded the car and headed to the grocery store to pick up a few items she needed to start the year off right. When we got to the Food Lion, she realized she had forgotten something at home.

“Give me the list. I’ll do the shopping while you go back home,” I said with a slight bit of irritation in my voice.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” she asked.

“Because I want get home so I can sit in my boxers and watch 60 Minutes like a normal old man!” It’s been a month since Lesley Stahl and I have had time together. I miss her!

Actually, I LOVE our kids. They bring energy, fun, excitement, warmth and happy noise to our home.

And actually, I love January, my wife and Lesley Stahl.

Now we rest up for May!


My sister-in-law sent me a text after Thanksgiving. She said being together reminded her of the importance of family.

I don’t see my brother that much – four or five times a year maybe. And yet, there is a bond with siblings that seems a bit different to me. I was thinking that other than my parents, my brother is the person on this planet who has known me the longest. He held me as a baby; lived through the days when I held onto the fire hydrant, sobbing uncontrollably, because I didn’t want to leave my mom to go to school; and was on the sidelines when I dropped out of my first try at college.

He was the one who shot BB’s at the bully who corned me on Skycrest Road, switchblade in hand, threatening to slash the front tire of my pink bicycle. Why? Why did my parents give me a pink bicycle? It cried out, “SLASH MY TIRE…” No wonder the kid came after me. I was a mama’s boy – probably had my Scooby Doo lunchbox with a pocket protector in my shirt.

It’s good to have a sibling. We commiserate when my parents act up (more often than you might imagine). This year, with my parents’ move to the retirement community, our family has made the transition for the two of us to host the holidays – the torch has been passed. I wonder if our kids will carry on after we can no longer handle the turkey and fixings.

My girls are close as are Julie’s kids. I love that, although they are in different states, even different countries, they connect with their biological siblings. Nothing makes me happier than for one kid to give me a report on the other because they recently Facetimed. I hope that over time all five of our kids will lean on each other building an appreciation of what they all bring to the table. I can already tell you, Julie and I are not going to be easy to deal with at age 85. I plan on being cranky and very set in my ways. They are gonna need each other!

I hear of families with different political philosophies. I had a great Aunt who always seemed to ruin family gatherings. She was angry at someone about something ALL the time. One year she made a huge stink about being in the family photo because she didn’t like her haircut, so she left the party. But even with the differences in opinion and the occasional tantrum, I’ll take it. It’s pretty cool to know there are  folks who have your back for no other reason than your genetic makeup.

Wee Little Time in Scotland

As I write, I’m on a plane back to Raleigh from Scotland where we visited my stepdaughter who is a junior at the University of Edinburgh or Uni as they call it. These are my top learnings from my week abroad:

  1. Haggis seems to be a breakfast food although there are Haggis rolls you can purchase in nice little shops throughout the Kingdom. When I asked waiters or locals what Haggis was, the answer was unclear. These two words were themes in the description: bloody and intestine. I did not eat Haggis.
  2. Everything is smaller in Scotland – the cars, the bags of potatoes (and you’d think they have a lot of those being next door to Ireland), even the rolls of toilet paper pale in comparison to a Costco lot. I like big! I am a glutton.
  3. They don’t use top sheets. One night I pulled the sheet back and after sticking to the rubber mattress pad for hours discovered they had neglected to proffer both fitted and flat bedding! I though it was a mistake until I went to the second, third and fourth hotels and discovered a pattern. The upside? Wet the bed and you’re in great shape.
  4. Their birds are stupid. You know when you’re approaching birds in the road in America in a vehicle, they fly away? They don’t in the Highlands of Scotland. I’ll leave it at that – twice.
  5. I knew they drove on the wrong side of the road, what I didn’t know was the difference in lingo around driving. Duel carriageway ahead… many parents pushing strollers before us? No! Just two lanes coming up on the motorway (highway). Slow Lorries next two miles… girls with the same name meandering by the road? Nah. Mac trucks going up a mountain. And lord only knows what the speed limit was. They had speed cameras for days but seldom shared their expectations about how fast you could go. I fear the rental car company is going to be receiving some bad news in the next couple of weeks from the Highlands Motorway Patrol.
  6. Perhaps the most disconcerting thing I discovered is that in every restaurant, store or hotel we stayed in, the light switch for the bathroom was on the wall OUTSIDE of the bathroom. Julie was surprised several times when she entered and shortly after the small room went dark. I could not resist. I pondered flipping the loo switch in a coffee shop when a stranger entered near our table. I decided against that prank, but boy was it tempting. I wish we had the feature at work.

We had a grand time in Europe cooking a traditional American Thanksgiving meal for 15 of Lizzie’s closet friends and hiking Arthur’s Seat on a brisk yet sunny afternoon. The whole fam is returning in March. I’ll be better prepared for the differences next time.

Gotta Fight

It’s Saturday. I just got back from a bike ride on the Raleigh Greenway. I saw a handful of people today. Normally, on a beautiful fall weekend afternoon, it would be packed. I couldn’t help but think that the shooting death of five people about a mile down on the path two days ago led to fewer outdoor participators. Imagine – you wake up Thursday morning, you step outside of your house that afternoon and you’re gunned down for absolutely no reason at all.

It felt sort of eerie. On one hand the few people I passed seemed more generous with a head nod or smile. On the other, I felt like folks were peering around their shoulder in a more cautious way as I neared to pass them. Were we all torn between wanting to be more welcoming to a stranger and planning our escape route?

I shouldn’t be surprised. It can happen at the grocery store, an elementary or pre-school, an outdoor concert with bullets reigning down from a hotel window above. Something is wrong; something is desperately wrong.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims. My heart goes out to all the communities now living suspect of the biker/runner/walker passing them. My heart goes out to all the teenagers who have such turmoil inside that they result in this unfathomable action to seek a way out.

Half of me wants to move to a secluded beach sans internet service. The other half wants to fight like hell to make EVERYONE feel loved, accepted and worthy.

At church last week, after the sermon, the minister asked us to turn our chairs in a circle with the folks sitting behind us and share our current life “headline.” I rolled my eyes as my wife enthusiastically turned to the couple behind us. I prefer to listen on Sunday, not spill my guts to total strangers.

As I considered what I was willing to share, the other man in the group said: We’re new to Raleigh. I work in a lab at State. I think my headline is I’m An Imposter. He explained that he worked with really smart people, and he didn’t think he met the mark.

His wife quietly replied: Where Are My People? I’m new to town and just don’t know anyone yet.

I thought to myself – cute young couple – fine on the outside, struggling a bit beneath. Aren’t most?

The fighting half of me wants to invite this couple over help him feel a sense of acceptance and to be her “people.” The fighting half of me wants to be a volunteer leader at a YMCA teen program that builds young folks’ self-esteem. We have 160 high school students at our Chapel Hill YMCA Leader’s Club – doing service projects, learning leadership skills and building social networks. The fighting half of me wants to give more money to my buddy Gordon’s effort to raise support for the Boy’s and Girl’s Club each year providing kids a safe place to go when no one else is at home to care for them.

I likely need to work another decade, so I’m thinking the secluded island option is out. I’ll share more smiles. I’ll thank more than complain. I’ll take a deep breath and seek patience in traffic. I’ll more readily share. I’ll do all the things – maybe if we all do? Maybe we’ll make a difference.

Paper Plate Awards

About three weeks ago I visited our YMCA’s Camp GRACE along with 15 volunteers who help raise money for the Y’s Annual Campaign. Funds raised help support programs for folks who need us but without help might not have the opportunity to participate.

The Y runs GRACE at three sites in the Triangle. This camp is for children with Autism or other Pervasive Development Disorders.

While at camp I was thrown back to fifth grade. I was a student at Glendale Acres Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC, and Mrs. Buie was my homeroom teacher. Once she made me write 100 times: I will not forget my homework. It seemed unfair to me because I realized I left my math at home and had my mom bring it to the school before class started. Somehow she found out I had a special delivery and punishment ensued. I thought I should actually receive extra credit for problem solving. She was hardnosed and didn’t see it that way.

I was not a particularly cool kid. I know that’s hard to believe!

I was an above average student but not stellar. I wasn’t particularly good at anything. I wasn’t athletic. When Scotty Cannon, who had hair on his chest by 3rd grade, threw the dodgeball, I simply ran off the court. If he hit you, you could have the word Spaulding emblazoned on your abdomen for two weeks. Back then we didn’t play with cushiony balls. No, we played with balls made out of two inch rubber, hard as a mound of hard clay!

But during the last week of school that year, I walked into the awards assembly. I was likely disengaged assuming smarty pants Lindsay Merron or cool boy Joey Brennan would rake in most of the acknowledgement. To my surprise, when the principal, Mr. Lawson, called out the winner of the final and most prestigious honor, the Citizenship Award, my name was called out!

I walked up to the stage like Jack Nicholson – cool as a cucumber.

What a great feeling – ME, Danny Tanner, the most citizenshippy out of 500 students! And, as I recall, the trophy was HUGE – bigger than any other.

As the YMCA Director walked us around Camp GRACE, she described their Friday Paper Plate Awards Assembly. At the end of each week, parents are invited in and staff present each camper with a decorated Paper Plate Award that recognizes something they’ve done well over the past five days. Perhaps it is Best Swimmer or Friendliest Camper.

Two things routinely happen at this assembly – the children go nuts for themselves and for each other, and parents weep.

Imagine seeing your child, who maybe has never been recognized for being the best at something, being lauded for his accomplishments. It is powerful stuff.

That’s what the Y does, day in and day out. It provides children, teens and adults opportunities to feel good.

TODAY is the YMCA’s Day of Giving, and my goal is to raise $5,000. Consider a gift that will help over 20,000 people who need a place to fit in, fit in.


No Hot Water

It was there on a Sunday – gone on a Monday. How does that happen? From hot and steamy to cold?

Miserable!!  Just miserable. 

I don’t love the morning when I’m facing a strong cup of coffee and a very hot shower. Imagine my disdain for sunrise with our water a cool 60 degrees.

The plumber came on day two – that seemed like quick work. He ordered the part. It should be here tomorrow.

Tomorrow came.  Tomorrow went.

I called the parts store. “It’s on backorder,” she said as sweet as could be.

“When will it come?” I pressed.

“Hopefully in the next few days.”

“What does that mean?”

“I can’t guarantee anything, but you will get an email when it ships.”

My Gmail was barren so I called again. The message the same but this time a man.

“We’ve been without hot water for four days, do you understand? My skin and bones are cold!! GIVE ME A DATE! When, WHEN will I’ll get my part!”

“We cannot guarantee when the part will be there but you’ll get an email when it ships.” It’s like a robot these answers from the folks on the phone. Are they bone cold shivering two times each day?

We cleaned up at the Y – thank goodness I’m a member. I tried at my office, there’s a shower in the bathroom. I had my towel and change of clothes, but I forgot soap. There was an old bar sitting there, it looked like Dial. A used bar of soap from an unknown stranger? I hope it’s not the sweaty guy from the third floor I’ve seen in the elevator.

I don’t even care! I just need heat!

I stripped down to my birthday suit and grabbed hold of the faucet. Nothing came out, just a cough and a sputter – naked in the office bathroom, all that for naught.

I got into a routine – shower at night – hands and forearms first, then feet. Soap knee down to calf, arms, head, face and hair. The torso was last, my most sensitive part. Rinse hair in the morning at the kitchen sink basin to press out the cow licks and to wake up my brain.

Week one my wife said “there are studies that say there are benefits to cold showers,” her glass an amazing half full. “I’m struggling to find them, those benefits you speak of.” By week two even she packed her bag several nights to find warmth – “I just can’t take it!” then off to the Y.

Three weeks from day one, a new tank, and four visits from our technician, it came back on. It is interesting to think about the things we take for granted – a warm shower, shelter, and food in our bellies. 

Good Luck!

It’s like someone saying: There is a coin at my house. It is worth $1,400. It could be in the yard, the house, the engine of the lawnmower, the attic, basement or garage. Maybe even in the car.  I’m not going to tell you what it looks like… good luck!

In May, UNC informed me that I owed $1,400 for health insurance for Michelle for the Spring semester that had just ended. Apparently if you don’t have insurance, you are required to purchase theirs. I said, “No, I don’t owe you. We didn’t use your insurance.”  They told me, “You didn’t click the Waive Insurance Button so you do owe us.” I said, “I would like a face-to-face meeting with Chancellor Guskiewicz to discuss this matter.”

I feel like they’re playing dirty pool. They automatically charge you $1,400 for about three months of health insurance on your semester invoice (which is about $400 more than I pay through work for five kids!). If you don’t review the invoice line by line, you don’t even know there is an insurance charge! You can opt out of it, if you find the coin (well the Waive Insurance Button).

It’s like Netflix saying we’re gonna charge you $2,800/year to watch Seinfeld unless you opt out (even if you don’t watch Seinfeld). Oh, and good luck opting out – it ain’t easy.

Apparently I checked the box for the fall semester likely assuming it was for the year. I deducted the $1,400 from my payment for spring semester after reviewing my invoice but I didn’t click the box. They shared that they sent me email reminders monthly that I owed them money, but when the Cashier went back to check, she could tell they had not been opened. Probably a firewall issue on my part (not their fault).

They sent me directions on how to waive for the upcoming semester. I had to log into two different sites, find two user names and passwords, and navigate approximately six screens to find the magic button which was a popping light gray you had to scroll to at the bottom of the page. Oh yeah, then I had to log into my insurance web site, download proof she was covered and upload it for UNC.

They did not let me meet with the Chancellor. However, I wrote a formal letter of protest, they checked to see that we did not ever use the insurance and realized the emails had not been open so they credited the account. I received a strong reprimand and a warning they would never credit my account for anything again in my lifetime regardless of my story.

Oh – I can assure you they won’t have to. I’ll be clicking the button!

Imagine how many people are out there paying for stuff they have no idea they are paying for! Imagine those who don’t fight it like I do? Imagine if you can’t easily navigate technology (well apparently that is me), you’re screwed!

Taking advantage of the masses. I don’t like it.

Off to college again, sort of

I feel like we’re about to send my parents off to college, again. Well, I wasn’t there the first time, but I’m channeling my inner Grandmother Tanner.

After years and years of talking about it and a year of aggressively looking, they got their letter (well phone call) of acceptance. They’re headed to… a retirement community! I’m so proud of them. They have worked hard for years to get to this point – hosting countless family holiday gatherings; cleaning bathrooms after my brother (yuck) and me; babysitting grandkids; planting flowers and cutting grass; unclogging drains and vacuuming. The first time, my mom double majored – in vacuuming and toilet cleaning. Both earned magna cum pound cake bakey. Now perhaps they can relax a bit, have someone wait on them rather than serving all of us.

I hope they make good decisions. There’s a bar on the floor right below their apartment – a little too close for my comfort. And the building is co-ed! Could be a problem. What if they start skipping their doctor’s appointments and not following through with their at home physical therapy exercises?

With dinner out every night, dessert included, my mom might forget how to make my favorite chocolate cake! Or worse, just refuse to make it. You know what they say: practice makes perfect – she won’t be practicing.

Apparently there is a shuttle bus that will take them anywhere they want to go. I’m thankful they won’t have to drive after nights out in popping downtown Fayetteville.

Last time they visited the place for a tour there was a group of seniors playing poker in the rec room. I hope they don’t get in with THAT crowd.

I mean, I trust them. I’m sure they will make good decisions. Well, I’m sure dad will, and he’s pretty good about letting me know when mom starts skidding off the rails. I’m sure everything will be fine. My brother and I have built a strong foundation, it’s time for them to spread their wings.

But they better call at least once a week!

A Couple of Car “Incidents”

Trivia Question:  How many Tanners have had some sort of vehicle accident/incident in the past six months? 

Answer:  Five.  Five out of seven. God bless you State Farm and kudos to Lizzie our only offspring who hasn’t. I hate to take away from her glory, but she has been in Scotland without a car for five of six of those months so I’m not sure we should spend too much time praising her. I am grateful nonetheless.

Accident 1: NOT AT FAULT. Will was smashed in a parking deck by a fellow shopper, perhaps an aggressive one, near Christmas. I get that. Some poor soul trying to knock out the Santa gifts for the kids, stressed out all the while working to avoid COVID, ran smack into him. His car was out of commission for months.

Incident 2: NOT AT FAULT – sort of. Stephanie parked her car across the street from our house. There is a beautiful wooded view from our front door, a huge draw for my spouse who is nuts about nature. Sadly, that nature, in the form of a huge tree limb, fell on top of the Civic and smashed in the roof and back window. There were shards of glass for days.

Accident 3: AT FAULT. Michelle “slightly bumped into” someone at a stoplight near downtown Raleigh. She was just trying to pull up a bit, and there was a car in the way. Fortunately she knew her victim so they had a nice catch up while exchanging insurance cards.

Incident 4:  NOT AT FAULT – I guess. DJ parked her car and when she returned the driver’s side mirror was dangling from the door. Not sure what happened – perhaps an angry gang of teens that hate Volkswagens and had a baseball bat handy??? Who knows? The mirror is dead. When she called the insurance company to report, she shared her name with the agent. She asked if he needed her address – he said “no.” I have your sister’s claim open as we speak – I can just get the info from that.” It is NOT GOOD when your insurance rep has your address memorized.

Accident 5:  AT FAULT – sort of?? Julie rear ended a guy at a stoplight. The light was about to turn green. He should have done a better job of anticipating. Everyone knows green comes right after red.

Everyone is A-OK which is what matters. It is unlikely, however, I will get a safe driving rebate this year.

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