The Mirror Ball

Posted by Danny

On Friday we headed to the mountains to cut a fresh Frazier Fir Christmas tree, an annual Tanner family tradition.  Last year Jesse went with us and the two mountain men running the tree farm clearly thought we were a gay couple.  I suppose that’s understandable, although he’s much too young for me.  This year it was the girls, my in-laws and me.

We made reservations in a small motel near Elkin, NC.  When we opened the door to our room, it sort of felt like the set of a seedy 1960’s movie; the brown paneling identical to our family basement on Berkshire Road where we played spin the bottle as kids – a game I’m sure my older brother introduced to the neighborhood gang.  It certainly wasn’t me.

Stephanie immediately headed to the bathroom and within seconds an outlandish screech erupted from her gut, “Ewwww!!!  A bug daddy!  It’s enormous.”

“I swear.  Where is he?”

“In the tub!  Dad, get him.”

Why am I always the default exterminator? 

As I headed toward the speckled blue tiled floor, Michelle smartly informed me that she wasn’t taking a shower until we got back home.

“I don’t see him Steph.”

“He’s in the tub!”

I was ready for a fight, pulling my boot off to squash him…but he was already dead.  “Stephanie, I can’t believe you screamed like that, he’s not even alive.”

Is this worth a deafening scream?

After bug fest, I returned to the room.  The television was on top of the dresser and had a brown wooden frame.  There was actually a round dial to control the volume.  Michelle asked, “Is that a microwave?” 

Old TV or motel microwave?

“No honey.  That is a TV similar to the one I had as a child.”  She looked troubled. 

When you turned the channel, the current picture sort of rolled up the screen while the next channel bounced into place underneath – kind of like a slot machine.  I was surprised not to find Greg and Marsha Brady on channel 5; after all, it was Friday night at 8 pm.

There was a rusty heater that didn’t work, built into the bathroom wall.  “Is that an ash tray dad?”

“No.  But we had those too when I was a kid.”

The curtains were held together with a hair clip.  I told the girls they were welcome to use it to get gussied up for our tree expedition on Saturday; none took me up on the offer.

For me, the peak of the evening came at dinner.  We ate at the restaurant in the front parking lot of the motel and the food was actually pretty good.  There were three families dining and one left shortly after we arrived.  Near the dance floor in the corner, a weathered fifty year old man belted out Clapton and Dylan while strumming his acoustic guitar.  His tip jar eager for some action.

I remembered my occasional apprehension about dancing when Lisa was alive – I felt so conspicuous on a barren dance floor.  When she died and I realized I  could no longer hold her to music, I promised I would never pass up that opportunity again. 

“Stephanie, you want to two-step?” I asked.

“I don’t think I know how.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

So Nana and Pops, the girls and I took advantage of the mirror ball.  And when we finished, the other couple in the restaurant applauded.  And I think Lisa did too.

Sunday Post 45: Finding Thanksgiving

Posted by Danny

Thanksgiving – sometimes it’s hard to see.

There are a couple of times throughout the year that I sort of conduct an informal assessment of my life. I always go running on my birthday. In part to prove that I still can; in part to think. I do the same sort of thinking at Thanksgiving.

This year, on my drive to my parent’s house, I began mulling over all that I had – and my mind began to wander. I started thinking about others – not something I do often enough.

I thought of folks who are in fierce battles with cancer right now. There are others who have lost spouses and even their children. I think about some of the tough living conditions of children who attend some of our Y programs. And I know of so many who just seem lonely.

I, on the other hand, in many regards, have it all.

I just spent 20 minutes putting Michelle to bed. It’s seldom a quick process. I have to scratch each of her limbs. We say a prayer and talk about the people we pray for. Sometimes we talk in languages we make up – and laugh at what we think the other might be saying. And that same special time is repeated with Stephanie and DJ – almost every night. Talk about a blessing.

I’ve got Jesse and my best bud Brad – these are really good dudes to have in your corner.

I have parents and in-laws that I love and get along with – not everyone can claim that. The girls and I just spent the night in the mountains with Lisa’s parents cutting down our Christmas tree, a long-standing family tradition.

And, I love the people I work with on a daily basis.

It’s difficult to mope; it takes a great deal of self centeredness not to see the good in all that I have.

Maybe a fresh heaping helping of perspective is what we all need this season – changing the focus from what we don’t have to all we do have.

When we make that switch, it’s pretty easy to see our blessings. I hope you did this past week.

Longing for January 17

Posted by Danny

Church was really hard this morning.  Actually, church is always hard.  The hymns get stuck in my throat.  A verse that is comforting strikes a chord.  One that seems so simple but isn’t, one of those “don’t worry about lifers”, strikes a nerve. 

I left mid service and had the perfect place to compose myself.  Lisa’s ashes sit in the columbarium across the parking lot from our sanctuary.  We walk through the neatly kept brick walkway each Sunday – and usually run our hand across the engraving that bears her name.

Sometimes she feels so near.  But sometimes so far, far away.

Today I sat on the bench directly across from her granite nameplate.  It was chilly but the sun beamed a warmth on my face.  My mind was stuck on Halloween and the impending holidays to follow.  Our 18th wedding anniversary would have been November 20th followed quickly by Thanksgiving, Christmas and stinkin’ New Years.

It’s Halloween for crying out loud!  It’s not a very meaningful holiday.  I think the last time I dressed up, I was a flasher.   How can that bring a grown man to tears?

I long for January 17.  To my knowledge, nothing special happens on that day.

Maybe what I hear is correct – some parts of the second year are harder.  Last holiday season was planned out to the minute.  I knew exactly what we’d be doing from 5 pm on Halloween through January 3rd.  No minute was left to chance.  I lined up family and friends and out-of-town jaunts to make it through without falling apart.  This year, the calendar is too open, and right now I’m unmotivated to fill it.

Maybe it’s good.  Maybe slugging it out without running in fifteen different directions will help us move closer to healing.  Or, maybe it’s just always going to be hard. 

All I know is that for the past 24 hours I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus. 

Damn grief.  It’s won again.

The Vanishing Point

Posted by Danny

It was ego, sure male ego that made me do it.

Stephanie was invited to the lake with friends for the weekend and DJ, Michelle and I were looking for an equally exciting activity to fill our Labor Day hours.  As I pondered our time, interests and finances, I landed on a day trip to Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Va.  Not too close, not too far away and an outdoor experience (versus the indoor Great Wolf Lodge disaster from February) was all too appealing.  With some coaxing, Jesse decided to come along for the ride.

 The pinnacle of excitement for me came at 5:45, fifteen minutes before park closing.

We had walked by Vanish Point, a slide that takes off from a 75 foot tower nestled in the back corner of the park, several times during the day.  This was the description on the sign at the entrance to the attraction:   Get ready for the ride of your life on Water Country USA’s epic new drop slide: Vanish Point. Inspired by the point on a wave where water and gravity form a perfect partnership, this summit supplies a wicked wet way to drop out of sight.  You can step into a skybox where you fall down when the floor drops out beneath you.

Although I was curious, had Jesse not been there, I would have kept my 45-year-old, ground loving self at the bottom of that tower of terror.  But once he decided to take the plunge, my ego simply wouldn’t let me sit the attraction out. 

“I’m going, you in?”

“I don’t know, you know I’m not a fan of heights.  And the girls really need a father.”

“OK.”  He turned toward the long staircase.

“I’m in!”

We started the climb up the mountain of stairs.  My knees a bit wobbly from fear; Jesse and I tailed a gaggle of 9-year-old boys – excitement buzzing around them like bees on a honeysuckle vine.  Not only was I motivated by wanting to keep up with my brother-in-law, but there was also something motivating about this group of kids.  I could picture myself with Adam Fair, Jimbo Martin, the Mask boys and my brother – the Berkshire Road Gang – from my childhood.  If we’d only had the chance to conquer this challenge as kids.  Our closest adventure to Vanish Point was jumping off the dead tree stump in Adam’s yard with the sprinkler gradually dampening our bodies.  I had to do this for them.

The anticipation was palpable as we reached the staging area.  We were so high, I swear I could see Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

 An attractive college student in her bathing suit was at the helm.  One by one she loaded the boys into the Star Wars type tomb of doom.  My turn was nearing.

Jesse:  “Do you want to go first?”

Me:  “Yes, I need to get this over with.  Goodbye.”

She opened the door.  I gently pressed on the mechanical floor with my foot to make sure it was locked.  I knew within seconds it would fall out from under me, dropping me to what could be my death.  I climbed in – glancing at the lifeguard – a nice final image if this was the end.

“Cross your legs and put your hands over your chest.  And remember to lean back.”

I had entered an upright coffin, albeit a wet one.  

She closed the door.  The male guard at the controls glance toward me, my hangman.  I was guilty.  Guilty of stupidity.

Whoomp!  The floor vanished.  My body darted down like a missile heading toward Cuba, my stomach lodged beneath my tonsils.

I tried to open my eyes but the force was too strong.  Within seconds I was at the bottom, water permeating my body through every orifice I owned.

Stand up quick man!  Look cool.  People are watching.  You’re wet all over, they can’t see the tears.

And Jesse right behind.

“How’d you like it?”

An unconvincing, “It was great” fell from my mouth.

“Too bad the parks closing – we could do it again.”

“Yeah.  What a bummer.”

Sunday Post 22: Fathers

I wish I could pinpoint a day when I learned a significant lesson from my dad or one of my granddads.  I cannot.  There doesn’t seem to be a particular moment that sticks out in my head.

I wish I could remember the birds and the bees talk.  All I recall about that is at the age of 6 my wise older brother taught me a very, very bad word.  As the story goes, I used it when the boy across the street stole my matchbox car city.  And I used it with the zest of a mother calling for her children to come home for dinner.  My voice carried all over Glendale Acres.  It was a Sunday afternoon and my dad made it down the three sets of stairs in our split level house in three giant leaps.  I recall a conversation about that word – I’m not sure how detailed he got.  But I didn’t use it again for a very long time.

Although I can’t remember a specific ah-hah moment that turned me into a man, I do recall time.  Time with these men, doing the mundane. 

I recall hanging on my dad’s shoulders at the beach with what to me were humongous waves smacking us in the head.  And with each wave my father would say, “That was rude and unacceptable!”  I laughed and laughed to see him act as if the wave had gotten the best of him.

I remember squeezing into the cab of my granddaddy Tanner’s pickup truck each time we went to visit.  The three musketeers – Woodrow, my brother and me.  It was tradition to go get a Slurpee at the local 7 – 11.  It seemed that I never had one unless I was in South Carolina visiting him.  And to me it was like nectar from the gods.

My other grandfather, Papa, owned a small convenience store.  I’d spend a week with him each  summer and would pump gas.  The pay:  all the candy I  could eat!  I remember him pulling out a brown bag on Saturday just before my parents were to arrive to pick me up.  He’d walk over to the candy rack and would watch me collect my booty.  “Here, these are good, take a few more.”  My eyes would glaze over at the thought of the weeks to come with my sugary stash.

This attention that they gave, just focused on me – showing me that I was worth their time – actually did more to develop me into the person I am than any significant lecture or event or vacation.

I hope my kids remember the Invisible Daddy Handbook that’s always in my pocket.  I hope they remember sitting on the couch and learning to master a bow tie, just in case their husbands don’t know how to tie one.  Or shagging to beach music in the kitchen.  Time – on a daily basis.

When it all shakes out, my bet is that will be the most powerful lesson they take.

Muncle’s Day, 2011

Posted by Danny

Today is the second annual Mucle Jesse Day.  The kids came up with it last year – it comes between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and celebrates uncles who at times act like mothers – or fathers.  They also retain full uncle status because they don’t consistently act like a parent.  They sometimes act like a friend and sometimes they just leave the house – not something a parent can do as easily! 

This is an original song for Jesse sung to the tune of Wagon Wheel, a family favorite.  I was going to record us singing it – but at 7:30 am, it really wasn’t pleasing to the ear. 

Verse 1

Headed down south from the land of DC

To come and take care of Steph, Michelle and me

Plays basketball but his shoulders gonna fall out of the socket.

He tweets a whole lot and he used to be a blogger (a little dig at his lack of support right now on The Real Full House!)

He’s really our uncle but he’s kinda like a mother

Snoozes in his bed with a game on the TV.


He plays the piano – sings a little off key

He likes hamburgers but he doesn’t like peas.

Jesse, he’s our muncle.

He works real hard but never has any money

He hangs out late with his buds Chip and Bomani.

Jesse, he’s our muncle.

Verse 2:

He sweats really bad and his feet smell stinky

He picks his nose with Mr. Pointer and his pinky

He is a bit peculiar-  but we still love our muncle.

He breaks his own rules when he farts at the table

Don’t know how he’d live without candy or cable.


My Big Tent

Stephanie and Michelle entering the foyer

We just returned from our fourth annual Memorial Day Weekend camping trip.  We started this tradition with four other families and have hit different North Carolina parks each year.

I’m not sure why we go.  None of us are really camping people.  We’d be much more comfortable at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla.  Of course, this is easier on the pocketbook, and I guess we all want our kids to spend some time outside looking at stars and enjoying nature and stuff.

One thing that keeps me from being a more frequent camper is the lack of adequate bathrooms.  In fact, on the way to Jones Lake in Elizabethtown, we took a 30 minute detour to my parent’s house in Fayetteville for one last pit stop before closing down the old plumbing until we got back home.  I called my dad to tell him we were coming and to stock each bathroom with a new roll of Charmin.  When we hit the driveway, we noticed the sign he’d hung on the door – “Clean Restrooms Available!”

I was glad we made that stop.  At the campground, the men’s bathroom had stalls but no doors; at least I didn’t see any from where I was standing (I didn’t actually go back there).  I have a phobia about no stall doors.

One time when I was the director of the Cary YMCA, I was making my nightly rounds.  I hit the men’s lockerrom and as always, began flushing all toilets since our male members seldom did.  I hit the three urinals and the first stall quickly – I was in a hurry as always.  When I flew into the second stall – the door was wide open –  much to my surprise, there was a man sitting there.  I didn’t really glance up until I was nose to nose with the dude.   

I ran to my office and stayed there until thirty minutes after the building closed.  I left all bathroom patrols to our maintenance staff from that day forward.

That incident scarred me.  I wonder how he’s doing.

Our family at the West Entrance

About six years ago my father-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I suggested a pup tent built for two.  DJ and I had joined the YMCA’s Y-Princess program, and I knew we’d have to camp together once a year.  I told him there was a small tent, just our size, for $20 at Target. 

On Christmas Day, I opened my large box.  Inside was a $350 Sierra Design tent from REI – it slept six – adults.  David doesn’t always get you what you want – he often gets you what he thinks you need.  He makes up his mind, consults Consumer Reports and you get the top of the line!

I wondered what in the heck I was going to do with a tent that large.  It was more square footage than my first apartment.  The east wing had a closet and the dining room sat 8. 

To my surprise, I’ve used the dang thing 15 or 20 times over the years – often sleeping four or more folks.  David ws right, I did need a big tent.  One that I could be proud of.  In fact, one of my camping buddies had tent envy last year and showed up this year with an upgrade.  That made me walk a little taller around the campfire.

I don’t understand why they make tent and sleeping bag covers 12% smaller than the actual tent or sleeping bag.  I busted three blood vessels in my head trying to shove the dang sleeping bags back into the holders.  I nearly pulled my back out trying to squish all the air out of the blow up matress.  I was hugging it with both arms while I squeezed the middle with my legs.  I felt like a boaconstrictor; all this work to make a single matress fit in a carrying case the size of a sandwich bag.

My friend Martin can make wet wood burn. I think he's a Boy Scout or a Warlock.

At 2:30 am on Saturday night, my buddy’s truck alarm went off.  Lights were flashing and the horn was going nuts.  It scared the mess out of everyone – at least everyone in my tent.  I spent the next hour wondering what could have caused that alarm to go off.  I narrowed it down to three things – a mechanical malfunction, a theif, or a big animal.  The third potential was the most unnerving.  Heck, there was a bear walking around downtown Garner last week – imagine what could have been lurking in the woods in Bladen County, NC.

I saw Jeff walk by my tent to go check things out.  I briefly considered getting up and going with him, but I decided it would probably be better just to listen and keep my phone close.  Although I had a great tent, it wasn’t bear proof and we were the closest family to the cars. 

Last night after we were in our tent and the lights were out, the girls asked me to tell them a ghost story.  I shared about Crazy Nell who was killed right there in Elizabethtown many years before.  When I finished, DJ said, “I believe in ghosts.”  And Michelle added, “And the holy Catholic Church.” 

Our minister will be glad to know she’s been paying attention during the Apostle’s Creed.

I wish I could post more pictures but one of the moms there told me if I put a picture of her on this blog after a night of camping that Crazy Nell’s death would look tame compared to what she would do to me.  From her tone and the look in her eyes, I think she was serious.

Can’t wait until next year!  Thank you camping buds.

I'm allowed to publish this picture -these are the clouds that produced 10 inches of rain all over our camp site.

Gift Usage

Posted By Jesse
Gift-giving is not one of my biggest strengths. Lisa was an amazing gift-giver but I think it’s because it gave her an excuse for more shopping. But even beyond picking things out, she had that sort of mind that was always thinking about the next birthday or Christmas coming up. Typically by the time Christmas shopping season came around, she was already done, having kept a watchful eye out for presents while on trips and vacations. I’m more of the “how late are you open on Christmas Eve?” kind of guy.
The other thing Lisa and Danny are both good at is establishing “themes” for birthdays and Christmas for the kids: they let you know what the big thing is going to be and it helps you pick a relevant accessory. Plus, if the kid is already excited about said big ticket item, they’re that much more likely to be excited about every related gift. It’s a win-win. When DJ got her cell phone, I got her a case. When Michelle got a big art easel, I gave her cool crayons and other supplies.

the picture belies the excitement of first piercing

This year one of Stephanie’s Christmas themes was EARRINGS! She got her ears pierced just before Christmas and must have gotten 30 pair of them in December to get her collection started. I joined in the theme: I got her an earring stand and a little wooden box with a design on it to hold loose ones. I was pleased with the purchase.

But not as pleased as I was a few weeks later when I first noticed that she actually uses them! Typically I’m happy if my gift gets picked up after the wrapping comes off; seeing it put to practical use is a whole new ball game.
Being thoughtful and sweet is something Stephanie comes by naturally, but I have learned that putting presents to use is a specific skill that she has inherited from Danny’s mother. From what I have been told she has an extra gene that allows her to mentally label every sweater or serving tray or electronic device that she ever received as a present with the name of the giver. Then, if that person is visiting, she will being wearing or using the gift. Not only that, she does it naturally, never seeming like she’s planned it this way, so it really does seems as if you have always given her the perfect gift.
Michelle has been learning in cotillion about the proper way to receive a compliment. Stephanie and her grandmother could teach classes on the best way to receive a gift, a way that makes the giver feel good. It’s a gift they have.

Happy Mother’s Day???

Posted by Danny

I used to look forward to Mother’s Day.  I enjoyed celebrating Lisa.  The girls and I would devise a plan that we thought was genius often with decorations, breakfast in bed and a dinner with a homemade pound cake for dessert (one of the few things I can cook pretty well).  I think we enjoyed planning it as much as Lisa enjoyed being celebrated.

Not so much anymore.

And it is EVERYWHERE!  You open  the paper, it’s on the front page.  You turn on the TV and find that Zales has the perfect gift for our mom; except diamonds aren’t quite as important anymore.  At Cotillion the teacher wishes all the mothers out there a beautiful day on Sunday.  Michelle comes home with art for grandma because she no longer has a mother to create for.

So – to uncelebrate today, we planned to head to the beach, Jesse, the girls and Kimmy Gibbler.  Only our local weather guy had a different idea – rain in Wilmington all afternoon.  We needed a back up plan.

We lounged around all morning and finally broke down and ate the picnic lunch I packed for the beach.  We then headed to Frankie’s Fun House – and it was.  But 30 minutes and $100 later, the fun was beginning to diminish.  What would Lisa do in this situation?  Hmmm. 

She’d go to Target, her favorite place on earth!

We bought a package of six men’s small V-neck t-shirts for $10 and a box of Crayola paint.  An hour and a half later, this was the result.

We even figured out a creative way to send my brother a birthday card (after Frankies, I couldn’t afford a stamp – hope he reads the blog tonight.)

If Lisa’s not here, there is no one on this earth that I’d rather be celebrating Mother’s Day with than my girls.  I am a lucky, lucky man.

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