Middle School Lock-In Learnings


I was a chaperone at the middle school lock-in at church last Friday.  Whew.

That night, I discovered a couple of things that I didn’t know before.

1) Middle school boys are interesting.

They don’t wear coats, even at night in January.  For the most part, they also don’t wear long pants.  One boy did bring a coat but he tucked it, and it was large, into the front of his sweat pants.  He walked around like that for hours.

They throw footballs in the building, even after you ask them not to.  One balanced a half-full can of Coke, slanted, on an antique table in the church lobby.

I asked, “Does that still have soda in it?”

He responded, “Yes.  It wouldn’t work if it didn’t.”  Duh.

I’ll have to say, he didn’t spill a drop.

When given popcorn, you can follow them anywhere because they leave a trial.  It’s like Hansel and Gretel.  I wondered if any went into their mouths.  Which could explain why they each had room in their bellies for 10+ iHOP pancakes.

They will dribble a basketball or hang on a rim for hours if given the opportunity.

They do not know how to talk to girls, but they do know how to hit them.

2)  Middle school girls are determined.

We went to an arcade from 10 PM until midnight.  There, multiple girls found the game with the robotic clasper.  You put two coins in and with a joystick guide the robotic hand that is inside a glass box.  The goal is to place the hand in the exact right position, press a button to drop it down, and hope it grabs a nifty prize you can take home to put on your already cluttered dresser.  The problem is that the clasper rarely works.  It drops down, pinches together, and generally brings up air.

In this glass box, there were only rolls of tickets, the ones you win to claim more prizes.  On her first try, one girl scored a roll of 500 tickets.  She turned them in for more coins.  She then returned to the game to fish for more tickets.  If the clasper happened to grab another roll, she returned to claim more coins so she could return to try to get more tickets.

It was like she was spinning around in circles.

Insert coins

Win a few tickets

Get more coins

Insert coins

Win a few tickets

Get more coins

What was the point?  Where was this going?  What was the end goal?

I stand perplexed.

At least the boys were using their time to do productive things like blow up dinosaurs that were attacking earth in a vicious sort of way.  If, by chance, a real dino attack occurs, the First Pres. youth group is going to be instrumental in saving our planet.

3)  My brother-in-law can sleep standing up.

4)  You can fit 30 middle school kids under a desk.

Because our church is old, playing Sardines, where one person hides and if you find them, you join them, is quite an adventure.  Our church elevator has a stop at Basement 1 and Basement 2 if that gives you any idea of the depths of spookiness.

Dodging in and out of Basement 2 closets and mechanical rooms at 2 AM is freaky!

One kid hid under the Youth Director’s office desk.  When the last kid found them, there were 30 packed underneath.  They’d been there for quite some time.

Perhaps my greatest discovery?

5)  I don’t like people at 4 AM.


It came early this year.  Generally, it’s two weeks out – like clockwork.  I begin to well up when certain songs come on the radio.  I get a pit in my stomach when I look at family photographs.  I long for what could have been.

I think the anticipation of the anniversary of Lisa’s death has been magnified this year.

Last fall I found some old pictures on my computer that I thought we had lost.  They captured the Tanner family from 2005 – 2006, four years before she became sick.  I recently uploaded them to Shutterfly and have been working to order prints and create one of their memory books.  It’s a task you should only have to do as punishment for a terrible crime.

Keeping up with family pics was not my job – until 2010.  Lisa held that responsibility, along with most of the other things I currently do that are unrelated to my work, tickling kids or putting them to bed.

I’ve dug through these pictures for two weeks, there were over 1,000:  beach trips, Disney World, The Grand Canyon, birthdays, Halloween, huge smiles at Christmas, a shot of the two of us dressed up for a night out.  I keep thinking, we had no idea… absolutely no idea that cancer was about to kick our asses.  If we would have known…

If we would have known, what?  What could we have done?

Ab-so-lutely NOTHING.  We could not have done anything except lived those last few years in fear.

This past fall I was told by someone that I hadn’t written a new chapter in my life.  That I had to put the past behind me.  I thought that was a ridiculous statement, proud of what I’ve accomplished – astonished at my fairly happy demeanor, blown away by my three daughters’ blossoming, excited about the new things in my life.  But maybe, in a way, this friend was right.  Or maybe, you do move on but in a different sort of way.

I will never, ever, be the same.  I will never fully get over my loss.  Perhaps those who have not experienced what I have aren’t able to fully comprehend my inability to slide through February unscathed even after significant time.

Yet, only I can ensure that I’m not stuck, unable to move forward with new relationships and experiences with real joy in my heart.

Occasionally I teeter between thriving and shriveling up.  Weird, these incongruent worlds.  Ninety-five percent of the time I’m ready to tackle the world, completely pleased with how I’ve grown, excited about today and the future.  Five percent of the time I’d like to curl up in the corner of the closet.  The wound fresh again.

It’s been nearly six years.  I am grateful for the 95%.  It’s been nearly six years, why isn’t it 100?

The Real Full House – One Direction?

This is what happens when you’re bored over Christmas and your college Freshman is studying media.  The first semester video class is paying off!

I love my kids!



The $80 Knife

cutco knife

It must have been a Saturday in about 2005, I can’t remember exactly.  All I know is that Lisa told me she had an appointment at the house on a Saturday afternoon.  She was cryptic.  I thought maybe it was the traveling bra saleswoman with an enormous suitcase who visited my mom back in 1974.  I didn’t ask.  I didn’t want to know.

That afternoon, an attractive young woman drove up to the house.  She got out of the car with a magazine and a bag the size of a large purse.  I was trimming bushes in the front yard.

“Are you Mr. Tanner?” she inquired as she walked up our front steps.

I held my stomach in and puffed out my chest wanting not to look as close to 40 as I was.

“Yes.  I am.  Mrs. Tanner is inside.”

“Here, use these.”

She walked over to me and pulled out a pair of hand held yard clippers from her bag.

“These are Cutco Clippers.  The best in the world.”

I nodded and resumed my work on her dime.

Damn. I thought to myself.  These things could cut brick.

I’d found the Cadillac of cutlery.

It wasn’t until last week that I discovered that the three knives my wife had purchased from a struggling younger sorority sister 12 years ago cost well over $100 each!

What’s worse than a cute sorority girl selling you knives that you can’t afford?  A dear friend’s son selling you knives that you can’t afford.

Ben called on a Wednesday.  “Mr. Tanner, I’m selling knives, and if I don’t meet with you, I won’t meet my quota this week.  You don’t have to buy anything.  I’m new at this.  I just need appointments and experience.”

When he arrived, he had me pull out a couple of my old knives, not the Cutcos that Lisa had purchased, the rusty ones with the wooden handles.  He then proceeded to give me the schpill, complete with demonstrations.

“Now, Mr. Tanner, cut this rope with your knife.”

As I sawed through the thick tread, he counted my swipes – 1…2…3…13…15..29.

“Twenty nine.  WOW.  Never seen it take that many before.  Now try it with the Cutco.  1…”

“Man, that would come in handy if I was trying to cut someone loose from a Totem Pole.  How does it work on a cucumber?”

We sliced through leather, and he pointed out the inadequacies of my collection and the unique engineering and craftsmanship of his.

I’ll have to say, he had me.  I was ready to pounce.

I asked about price several times during our hour and a half long visit.  He looked down avoiding my inquiry.

He explained to me that there was a major Cutco convention in Atlanta in February and that he only needed to sell two more table knives to get his trip to attend paid in full.

I headed to grab my checkbook.  These boogers could cut like Tarzan’s bayonet.  I would be the envy of all other widowers working to feed their children something other than French fries.

He showed me a listing of their competition’s pricing, a full set at $2,800.  “We are better than them, so you’d expect to pay more for the same set of Cutco, huh?”

“Ahhh…”  I sat down.

“Our price is half that!  Only $1,400!”

“Do you sell them individually?  Like only 1?”  I so wanted to support.

He proceeded to walk me through the multiple sets you could buy.  Sort of like the school picture packages – A:  17 wallets, 18 4 x 6s, 10 5 x 7s, an 8 x 10 and if you order today, a life size 14 x 36.

I wanted package F:  the 5 x 7.

Although I hated to diminish his dreams of Atlanta, what in the heck would I do with two table knives?  Lisa’s mother would look down on passing the steak knife from person to person on Thanksgiving day.  And a set was out of the question.  Besides, what kind of college kid wants to spend a weekend at a knife salesperson convention?  That is not healthy.  He should be out under aged drinking with friends.

Besides, I already had three of his knives from 2005., and they still cut as if they were only 2 years old.

It took some work, but I talked him into letting me just buy one knife.  The cheese cutter.  My FAVORITE food.

It was only about $86 with tax.

I’m renting it out for parties – $10 per night, if anyone is interested.

Tinkle Twins at Disney World


All three girls, my parents and I went to the bathroom at approximately 11:15 AM on January 1 before we pulled out of the driveway for our eight hour junket to Florida.  Before noon, we had stopped once for a bathroom break.  DJ had a sick stomach, and the man I had admired for years for the size of his bladder had taken this opportunity, “just in case.”  Not only did we stop for him in the Tar Heel state, we also visited rest stops in the Palmetto State, the Peach State and the Sunshine State.

I had embarked on a five day journey where the focus of our trip would not be on which attractions we would see at Walt Disney World, but on where we could find the closest bathroom.

My mother’s bladder is the size of a garden pea.  They say I have my father’s nose and jaw line.  I have my mom’s eyes and urological functions.

For years on vacation my mother and I would plead for stops while my older brother and father would roll their eyes, with bladders the size of camels’ humps.  My, my, how the tables have turned.

It did not matter who in the family needed to relieve themselves, my dad joined right in.  I suggested he owed my mother and me an apology for years of urination ridicule.  He blamed old age and refused to atone for the past.

When we booked the trip, I expected my mother to go…and go…and go.  That was no surprise.  What I’d forgotten is the length of time each visit would take.  My daughters explained that when their grandmother approaches an unfamiliar potty, she meticulously wipes it down.  She then wraps the seat, double ply, with toilet paper to ensure that her epidermis does not touch the unknown surface.

Because she is cold natured, she wears a sweater in July mid-day on the beach, imagine the layers of clothing that had to be removed in January in order to proceed with elimination.

I’m not sure what she was wearing on the bottom, but on the top she had a camisole, a t-shirt, a shirt, a sweater, a vest and a white Pillsbury Dough Boyish puffy coat.  Children approached her at the Magic Kingdom asking for her autograph.  They thought she was a character.

To enter Disney World, you hold your Magic Band, a Fit-Bit type bracelet, up to a monitor and then scan your fingerprint to gain admittance into the park.  Time and again, my mother’s Magic Band would work, but the monitor could not detect her fingerprint.  My dad said it is because she washed them off.  The final ritual of her bathroom experience is a full scrub down of any potentially exposed areas of her body.  I have never seen it, but I think she washes her hands, legs and sometimes her hair (depending upon the overall cleanliness of the stall) after each visit.  If you washed your hands 27 times a day, 432,525 days in a row, you would be devoid fingerprints too.

It actually worked fine because the girls and I could wait in line AND ride the more adventurous attractions in about the same amount of time it took her to go to the restroom.

We actually had a lovely vacation, and, we visited bathrooms from around the world.

The Concealer Emergency

light medium

We had a concealer emergency.  Until now, I didn’t know what concealer was, and I had no idea that it could cause me to commit larceny.

The night before dress rehearsal for our big play, which tied up our evenings for 13 days, Stephanie ran into the kitchen with a frantic look on her face.

“Dad, I’m out of concealer!  We need to go get some NOW!”

“What?  Concealer?  Are you doing an art project?”

I was thinking Kilz, the stuff I use to cover up dark patches on the walls before repainting.

“Baby, we’re gonna have to wait to get that when the play is over.  We just can’t go shopping right now.  Is it for school?”


She was furious.

“This is NOT for art class!  Concealer is makeup!”

“Is it for your face?”

“No dad.  It’s for my forearm.  Of course it’s for my face!”  Lisa would have added the word moron at the end of that sentence, but then she didn’t need me to drive her to the makeup store.

“Dad, can you go by Julie’s shop?  Today?”

Julie was the lady who taught Stephanie how to put makeup on.  I went with her.  She painted a T on my kid’s face with a tan glue stick which was the exact same color as Stephanie’s skin.  It was like painting a white wall white.  Why would you do that?  She then smeared the stuff from forehead to chin and from ear to ear.  Stephanie looked quite nice when they were done.  But she still looked the same color as before.

“I have meetings all day, and I’m sure Julie is closed tonight.  Do you really need it?  What are you trying to conceal?  You look beautiful to me concealerless.”

She glared at me and in a polite way emphasized she needed the goods – and fast.

“I’ll try to get it.  Can you find out what time the store closes?  Can you get it from Target?”

“No.  You cannot get it from Target.  It is a certain kind.”

I know one thing about makeup.  Target has a bunch of it.  But apparently not Miss Hanky Panky’s brand.

Later in the day I received a text.

Dad, Julie is going to leave the key outside.  You can pick up the concealer after your meeting tonight.  I need light medium.

Do you need light or medium?

I need light medium.

It must be spell check.  You keep writing light medium.  Which do you need?

I need LIGHT MEDIUM.  That is the color.

The name of the color is light medium?


That does not make sense at all.

I did not name it.  Would you PLEASE just buy the makeup? 

At approximately 10 PM, I drove up to the makeup shop.  It is nestled on a side road with a gravel parking lot.  The front is all glass.  The makeup is on a shelf near the front door.  I could see it.

I felt as if I should have been wearing all black.  What if a cop drove up?

Hey fella, what are you doing?

Well, I’m trying to get light medium concealer for my daughter.  It’s an emergency.

You’ve been smoking dope haven’t you?

I got the door open and used my phone light to read the labels on the tubes.



Dark light

Dark medium

Dark Dark Light Medium

Medium Dark Extra Light

Where is the light medium???

At the bottom, in a round pencil holder, were two of our glue sticks.  I grabbed them.  There was no price.  I’d call back tomorrow.

I looked both ways, then locked the door.

When I got home, I received a hero’s welcome.

“Thank you daddy.  I love you so much!” coupled with a huge hug.

That word daddy.  Makes you wanna go back for more.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Tanner Family (with our real names)!  Our 2015 Christmas card was created by the oldest Tanner kid, DJ.  That George Washington University media class paid off.

Thank you for following our blog.

Christmas Card Picture 2015



AT Mary

My Michelle wrote this paper for her writing class.  I think it says a lot about the importance of tradition.  Life is all about building memories.  It often takes year to learn the impact of what we do today.

The Christmas Pageant

The chapel at St. Timothy’s during the Christmas season is beautiful. Standing at the front of the dim room, is a huge Christmas tree that almost touches the ceiling. Four colored candles are placed on a garland that is held from a long, bulky, black chain. Blood red poinsettias line the edges of the alter. The smell of cinnamon fills the air and makes me feel relaxed. The Christmas spirit surrounds the chapel. Different Christmas celebrations take place in the chapel including a special Christmas service and singing holiday hymns. My favorite tradition is the annual Christmas pageant.

Every year St. Timothy’s puts on a Christmas pageant for family and friends. Each grade is assigned a distinct costume to wear. My favorite year was in first grade when all of the girls got to dress up as angels, and all of the boys dressed up as shepherds. Angels had to wear a white dress of any shade. Every little girl had a different and unique dress. My dress was bright white with sleeves that covered my shoulders, as well as a rectangular shaped collar. We also got to wear halos with shiny fringe on the top. That night we all felt like real angels.

The next year, in second grade, everyone had to dress up as an “around the world” character. Some students were European soccer players and held a soccer ball as they walked down the middle of the pews. Others wore snow boots and a jacket to show that they were from a cold part of the world, like Antarctica. The dress I wore was green, and it had a Jamaican style to it. My two older sisters, as well as other friends, wore it in previous pageants. The outfit included a headband that wrapped and tied around the head. My aunt, Sallie, had it especially made for us when she visited Africa, so the dress is very precious to my family.

When my mom was sick with colon cancer, my sister, Stephanie, was Mary. My mom always helped with the readers and the choir in the Christmas pageant. Since my mom wouldn’t be able to see the real Christmas pageant, because she had to have surgery, the Headmaster arranged a dress-rehearsal, with Stephanie as Mary, just for her. Even though I wasn’t there, I can still imagine her smiling face.

The last year our grade was in the Christmas pageant was in fourth grade. I tried out for Mary, Jesus’s mother, and Gabriel, the angel. Everyone was so anxious to know their part. Mr. Farmer, our chorus director, hung a sign outside of his office. Everyone crowded around the small printed, but long list. I was elated to find out that I was going to be Mary, and that I would have a solo! Mary sings a song about her son, Jesus. My favorite part of the song was when the choir echoed me. I was so proud of myself, and I knew my mom would have been too.

After my last year in the Christmas pageant, I was very sad that my grade and I would not be participating anymore. This pageant made my friendships, as well as my connections with my teachers, much stronger. I am also always amazed by the story of Christmas, and I am so happy I got a chance to get to learn more about it. I will always remember the happy, and sometimes sad, memories of the St. Timothy’s Christmas pageant.

Thank you St. Timothy’s school for the impact you’ve had on my children.


The Coveted Puffy Shirt

Puffy shirt

I got the puffy shirt!  Only for half of the shows, but a puffy no less.

Two years ago in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol, I was cast not only as a townsperson, but also as a dancer in the second act’s Fezzy Wig dance.  The entire cast is on stage for this number but only about twelve are dancers.

It was perhaps the most stressful, nerve-racking thing I’ve ever participated in – including giving a speech to over 1,000 people, having surgery and riding The Beast, my first roller coaster.  Although I can shag and step to the beat when Let’s Groove Tonight is played at a wedding, sticking to set choreography that someone else is dictating is much more difficult for me.  I like to feel the music and do what comes naturally – can be a beautiful thing.

So, last Friday when I received an email from the play’s choreographer, not the same one from two years ago, informing me that one of the male dancers had “hurt” his foot and would not be able to perform Fezzy Wig the opening week of shows, a hinge of nausea overcame my being.

I wanted to know what was wrong with his foot.

“What do you mean ‘hurt’ his foot?  Is it broken?” I asked.  “Have you seen it?”  “Could he possibly get better?”  “Can I see a note from his doctor?”  “Can I take him some soup?”

He’s like 15.  He has to have a quicker healing cycle than someone my age.

I considered sawing a toe off.  I mean ten is a lot, and that would have to top his injury.

I would be filling in with only one practice and a dress rehearsal between me and 2,000 audience members who had paid money to attend this show.

Thankfully, Stephanie was also in the dance.  The floor in our den needs to be refinished because I made her go through each step with me countless times Friday night and Saturday.

Surprisingly, and thanks to a patient and diligent instructor, I caught on fairly easily.  Mind you, I made a few logistical changes to the dance steps to better fit my abilities.  At one point, because of my position on the stage, I was to do a 540 degree turn, and gaily clap across the stage to my next position.  I cut my spin down 450 degrees to 90.  I was afraid I’d get dizzy and land in the orchestra pit.

In addition to dancing, we are also supposed to sing.  I can’t walk and chew gum.  That ain’t happening.  I tried, but I continue to catch myself mouthing 1, 2, 3, 4 rather than come and join our rondelay.  I don’t even know what that means.

I’ll have to admit I’m sort of proud that I stepped in and thus far have not fallen on my behind.  Oh, and the best part of the dance for me?  All male dancers get to wear a puffy shirt – like Captain Hook!  Argh.

Come see Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol at DPAC this weekend:  https://tickets-center.com/search/durham-performing-arts-center/a-christmas-carol-tickets/?venueId=6022&performerId=6&venueName=Durham+Performing+Arts+Center&performerName=A+Christmas+Carol&vaid=123&pfaid=269&tagid=102&atid=1&nid=1&cid=86145766985&akwd=christmas%20carol%20%2Bdpac%20%2Btickets&mt=b&network=g&dist=s&adposition=1t1&device=c&ismobile=false&devicemodel=&placement=&target=&aceid=&random=9232261882099785294&vx=0&locp=9009736&loci=9060500&gclid=Cj0KEQiAqK-zBRC2zaXc8MOiwfIBEiQAXPHrXuGYDX_ueDQKslaw6_I0OLXEMrRa6OcXxXnS4uiEBf0aAq8N8P8HAQ

Hairy Face

Bruce with beard

Once again the Tanner clan, well three of us, are fortunate enough to participate in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol  which will be performed at the Duke Energy Center in Raleigh, starting tonight, and at the Durham Performing Arts Center next week.

It is both wonderful and insane.  The insanity is primarily related to trying to fit three to six nights of play rehearsals/performances into an already blistering work, church and school schedule.  The wonderful part is the diverse and zany cast.

Although simply a chorus member, I have an assigned identity – this year, I am the cheese-maker.

David Wood encourages us to take on a persona, to really live into our character imagining what an early 19th century cheese-maker might actually be like.  I think my cheese-maker has a good sense of humor.  He smells bad, showers were hard to come by back then.  I envision him with Popeye like forearms (due to all that churning) and chronic back pain from lifting those humongous blocks of cheese.  Oh, and he’s making lots of money this time of year cause you gotta have cheese at a nice Victorian holiday drop in!  So he is happy at Christmastime.  I’m guessing he also has facial hair.  I mean who has time to shave when you’re up to your ears in Gouda.

This year, back in early October, the play costumer suggested that some of the performers consider growing beards.  I was committed to my character but spend six weeks pondering the fate of my chin.

I talked with the girls, Michelle and Stephanie were encouraging.  I asked several co-workers who also gave the green light, although now I’m thinking simply to have another reason to razz me.  At any rate, I took the bait.  I have not shaved since the Friday before Thanksgiving.

It’s interesting the comments you get when you change something significant about your appearance.  I wonder if women who color their hair get the same feedback.

Oh, there are many who act as if they don’t notice.  Perhaps if you can’t say something nice, it is better not to say anything at all.  Others have grossly differing views:

“Cut that crap off your face as soon as you possibly can!”

That one hurt…

“I think it’s a fine look, if you’re TRYING to look older.”

Oh my…

“I think it makes you look sexy.”

The guy who said that is weird anyway.

Or, “You’re just trying to look sexy,” a co-worker bantered in the break room.

I can assure you, looking sexy was not a major motivator for not shaving.  I’m a realist.  I know there are a lot of words that could be used to describe me.  Sexy, not top of mind.

In fact, last year a friend of mine, Sarah, shared that she was on a walk with another woman and my name came up.  I think they were pondering who they might set me up with.  The other woman said, “Tell me about Danny.  Is he cute?”

I asked Sarah how she responded.

She said, “Well, my first response was, ‘he has a great personality!’”

“Geeze Sarah.  Great personality?  I mean seriously.”

How many times have I used that line when describing very kind people whose personal strengths are not visible to the naked eye?


Anyway, I’m not shaving for three reasons:

1)  I have an excuse:  the play.

2)  I have always wanted to see what a beard looks like on this face.

3)  I ABHOR shaving.

It’ll be off by January.  The damn things itching me to death.

Come see our the performance: http://www.ticketmaster.com/Theatre-In-the-Park-a-Christmas-tickets/artist/1003849


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,814 other followers