Running Late

Amtrak owes me $15.83.

Being engaged and living in two cities has its advantages and disadvantages.  The disadvantages are clear:  time, miles on the road, a goopy longing for one another, hours on the phone… yada yada yada – I know, it could be worse.  The advantage is I can give you a full rundown of every Starbucks and Chic-Fill-A between Raleigh and Charlotte.  Want a latte?  Burlington.  The one near the outlet mall.  Just a cup-o-joe?  Salisbury is best.  Fresh chicken sandwich, skip I-85 exit 41.  Plus it is way too crowded.

With a multi-layered travel week ahead of me, I decided that perhaps Michelle and I would train down to Charlotte on July 2, I’d train back to work on the 5th and then drive back down for the weekend.  Get a little work done while someone else chauffeured.  Michelle and Julie had yoga/shopping plans for Thursday and Friday, so it made sense for me to get the heck out of the way and return to a light half-week at work.

I waited to buy my Amtrak tix – I have travel transportation commitment issues.  What if I change my mind?  Plus, Michelle was babysitting for a family friend supposedly until 5 PM, and the train departed at 5:16.  We’d be cutting it close.

At 4 PM, I called her, “Baby, if Mr. Hill gets home by 4:40, I think we will take the train.  There seem to still be seats left.  If not, we’ll drive.  Let me know as soon as he pulls up.”

At 4:43, she rang.  “He’s here.  Can you come get me?”

“Ask him if he can drop you at our house.  It’s only 3 minutes away.  I’ll call Uber and carry the luggage to the street.”

The plan was in motion.  A click of the Uber App and five bags later, (one carrying a homemade ice cream churn – you gotta have homemade ice cream on July 4th) I was poised to depart waiting on Dellwood Drive.

Our Uber was there in a flash.  With an already full trunk, I crammed four bags in the front seat of his car and put the churn in the back with me.  Still no Michelle.  I called.

“Baby – are you on the way?”

“Almost,” she said sweetly.

“Hurry!”

“We’re coming!”

I hated to make the driver wait any longer so I told him he could leave and opened the passenger door to begin unpacking.  About that time Mr. Hill’s truck rounded the corner.

“Jump in Michelle!  Hurry!”

Our driver took off, and I quickly booked the tickets on my phone.

Raleigh has a brand new train station which is incredibly exciting.  I had read in the paper that the station was opening on the very day we were leaving.  We’d be on the inaugural 5:16 train.

We drove up to the station.  It was empty.  The signage was sparse and not one single passenger was inside.

“I swear I read it opened today,” I explained to the driver.

“I read that too,” he assured me.

I walked up to the door – it was 5:03 PM.  A guy in a uniform was inside.  He sauntered to the door.

“You looking for the train?”

“Yeah.”

“We open next Tuesday.”

“The paper said today.”

“Yeah – they got it wrong.”

ERRR.

I ran back to the car, and we sped out to the Cabarrus Street station only a couple of blocks away.

As we neared our destination, I got a text:  Your train is delayed by an hour and 8 minutes.

I guess that’s not all bad, I thought.  At least we won’t miss it.

We unloaded our goods and headed inside the hot, cramped room.  Michelle purchased a drink from the vending machine and used the decades old bathroom.

About five minutes later, I received another text.  Your train has been delayed another 34 minutes.

Had I driven, I could have been over half way to Charlotte by the time the train left the station.  I went up to the counter.

“Can I get a refund?” I inquired.

“Yep.  This train is out of New York.  It’s always late.  Probably be delayed again.  They’re working on the tracks in Maryland.”

Good lord have mercy.

$15.83 cents for the round trip Uber and an hour later we arrived home.  Just in time to repack and leave again… in my car.

Incidentally, I checked.  We made it to Charlotte an hour and forty-five minutes before the train.  I think we made the right call.

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Somethin’ going down in the Dais

AT Speaker of the House

What do you do with a 15-year-old in the summer?  I’m not sure what Michelle would choose – maybe 13 weeks of watching The Office reruns on Netflix.

Nah.  Not in the Tanner house!  She can do that on the weekends.  I have her fanny busy Monday – Friday, and she is actually enjoying the activity.

Week 1 was exciting!  She served as a Page in the NC House of Representatives.  It was not an easy feat getting into that program.  Apparently it is fairly competitive.  But she’s a cool kid with a lot to offer.  I’m not surprised she got in!

One day she was helping two younger legislative staff members prep one of the committee rooms for the day’s meetings.  It was budget time in North Carolina so the work was abundant that week.  As they were prepping, Michelle asked the staff members if there was anything else she could do to help.  They said, with very serious faces, “Yes.  We need someone to open the meeting with the Star Spangled Banner.  Do you sing?”

“Seriously?” She inquired thinking they really should have considered this earlier.

“Yep.  It’s House protocol.”

She asked if she could practice.  After belting it out, rather strongly I would imagine – she has a very good voice – they informed her they were kidding.

At least something fun is happening in our government.

On the last day of her service, she spent the day in the House Chambers as the Representatives debated the budget bill.  She told me that she felt sorry for the Democrats because they knew they were going to lose, but, she explained, “they just kept talking.”

Apparently, the Speaker of the House, several staff members and two Pages are situated in the front of the room in an area called the Dais.  it is a large desk structure elevated, sort of like where a judge sits.  Michelle’s peer, Allison, was assigned to the Dais that morning.  According to my daughter, Allison is VERY southern.  She is form a small town in eastern North Carolina, and her accent is rich.

At lunch break, the Pages gathered to eat.  As they sat down at a table, Allison ran out of the House about to bust with the news:

“Y’all,” Allison exclaimed in her country accent.  “Someone farted in the Dais.”

Now I’m not sure of the culprit, most likely the male Page standing on the opposite side from Allison.  But the prospect of the Speaker of the House stinkin’ up the Dais during budget negotiations for the State of North Carolina brings me a little chuckle.  Michelle says it sounds like something I’d do at a Y Board meeting.

She’s probably right.

 

You-Haul

Last time I rented a U-Haul was around 1999.  Actually, my dad rented it to close down my grandparent’s house. My father, my brother and I drove the truck the two hours from Fayetteville, NC, where my parents live, to Florence, SC, where my grand folks lived.

Grand mama and Granddaddy Tanner lived in this house for a very long time and had accumulated A LOT of stuff.  I used to wonder how that could happen, how you could end up with so much junk.  Now, I know.  I have cans of green beans that are older than DJ not to mention rugs, tables, lamps and my dad’s Army uniform that I couldn’t button around my waist if I spent six years in abdominal cool sculpting.

We rented the largest vehicle in the U-Haul fleet knowing there would be a great deal of wares to disseminated between the three of us.  It was sort of like driving a wide YMCA bus sans the windows and sweaty kids.

If I recall, we had a refrigerator, washer and dryer, dressers, queen mattress sets, a china cabinet, tables… I wonder why we didn’t take table cloths and candle holders.  Nah.  We went BIG.  If you made a list of the heaviest items in your house, they were the ones we choose to hang onto.

The three of us packed all day and strategically placed the items in the truck based on delivery location.  We’d leave Florence late afternoon and hit my brother’s house two hours away, unload then repeat at my parent’s house that night.  The next day we would drive to Raleigh to unload my booty and return the truck.

Because my arms are the size of cooking skewers, I was tired by the time we finished packing the truck.  I mean I lift weights at the Y, but I seldom lift dishwashers.  And my brother… weakling (I really hope he read this.)  My dad, however, used to be quite a task master.  Once he started a job, he plowed through.  It didn’t matter how late it was, how tired you were or if you had a wedding to attend that night.  The job would be done in the time frame set in his head.  I’m sort of surprised he didn’t make us repaint the house before we left that day.

About an hour into our return trip headed north toward home, the U-Haul engine began to sputter.  We made it off the main highway before it completely died.  There we sat in the gravel parking lot of Ennis’ Auto Sales.  Thankfully we had all the necessary items to cook, clean and sleep as needed.

U-Haul was great.  They brought us a new truck within a couple of hours so that we could unload the one we had and reload the new one.  Yes, we pulled EVERY SINGLE item out into Ennis’ parking lot and strategically put it all back in the truck.

I’m not sure how old my dad was when he directed, yes he was in charge, my six house moves and the closure of two grandparent houses, but if he was over 52, it was too old.  I recently moved DJ into her first apartment in DC.  She moved into a brownstone on a very skinny street a couple of blocks over from Trump’s place.  I was confident we could get her bed up the two flights of stairs to her bedroom but the dresser and the couch were another story.

You know what’s great about daughters?  They often have guy friends.  A little after we arrived, DJ made a plea for help via social media and two ROTC hunks were at our door within minutes.  Like these dudes are going to flight school next fall.  A couch was child’s play to them.

As I was pondering how to begin navigating the skinny stairway up to the den with couch in tow, Biff and Rocky picked up the couch, passed me in the hallway and carried it to it’s final destination – all within about 10 seconds.  They then asked if there was anything else I needed help with.  I felt so old, so useless.  Was I now solely the truck driver?  Was my toolkit not needed?  Was I not going to have the opportunity to put to use the years and years of dumbbell work I’d stored at the Y?

I am thankful for Biff and Rocky.  Taking a large couch up a small flight of stairs would have been a beast on my own, although I’m sure I could have done it.  But I will say those dudes stripped away a little bit of my manhood that day.

Spreading Wings

Lucy graduation

I know – I logically know that the progression is natural.  They are born.  You cuddle and cradle them.  You feed them.  You attend all of their school events and dance and piano recitals.  You help them with their homework and clean their rooms and braid their hair.  And then… they leave.

It makes sense.  We all did it.  It is normal.

And yet, when they toss up that tasseled cap with such exuberance, a little piece of me flies away too.

DJ did it.  Now it is Stephanie’s turn.

There is part of me that is relieved.  There were times that I never thought we’d make it, especially after the loss of Lisa.  There were days that I would have relished less responsibility, less little people fully dependent upon me for nearly everything.

But not today.  No.  Not today.

If I could bundle her cute little self up in a blanket and walk back 15 years, I’d do it in a minute.  I’d go back to her falling into a deep, deep sleep on my shoulder – drool and all, sweet soft cheeks nestled on my neck.  I return to the summer that we worked so diligently trying to get her to learn her colors to no avail.  I would ask her yet again to remove her two front fingers from her mouth, her version of the thumb suck.  I’d feed her smashed green beans from a jar and be excited when she spit them back at me.  I’d change her diaper and stay up with her when she had the never ending fever, and she looked at me so drained, so helpless.  I’d sit through another two hour awards assembly just to see her walk across the stage for six seconds.  I’d buy another leotard – damn those things wear fast, and the expensive shoes from Uniquities that made her prom dress look just right.

This time, I’d do it all with a great big smile on my very tired face.

Yep.  They grow up.  And we take their presence for granted until they’re gone and the house is quiet.

I’m so proud of this kid.  She is smart and poised and gracious and caring.  And I just enjoy being with her.  Not everyone can say that about their child.

I’m thankful for our time.  I’m excited about the future.  I miss the past.

She’s Home

Ten Ways You Know Your College Student Has Returned:

10.  La Croix in da house! (the diet Coke of Millennials)

La Croix

9.  Tennis shoes in da house!  (the kitchen floor to be exact)

sneakers

8.  Dirty dishes in da house!

Dad:  “DJ, could you PLEASE clean up the dishes you use while I am at work?”

DJ:  “I clean up some of them.  Just not the hard ones.”

dirty dishes

7.  The stained shirt returns.

Phone call September 2017:

DJ:  “Dad, I got a stain on that white blouse.  Do you think you can get it out?”

Dad:  “Probably.  Just bring it home.”

May 2018:  It returns.

blouse

6.  A lone sweet potato, just hanging around.

sweet potato

5.  Tupperware filled with unidentifiable things.

tupperware

4.  Plugs, plugs, all kinds of plugs –

plugs

3.  Empty drawers.

Drawer

2.  Cluttered floors.

floors

1. The annual bathing suit blowout.

bathing suit

It’s so fun to have them back.  Right??

 

 

Huey at the Bar

I am definitely an extrovert.  I feed off others’ energy.  I’m pretty good at connecting with folks at a work function or a social gathering, asking questions of friends or acquaintances.  And yet, I sometimes work to avoid strangers – it’s just hard to invest in people I’ll likely never see again.

My fiance, Julie, apparently has a different mentality.

Last week we were in New Orleans.  We walked into a restaurant with the intent of grabbing some appetizers at the bar.  I headed to the bathroom while Julie scoped out seats.  Although there were four, I repeat FOUR, open stools at the end of the long counter, she chose to perch square in the middle of the bar between a younger couple and a middle aged loner.  In my mind, I questioned her decision, and she could tell by my facial expression:

There are many, many seats at the end of the bar.

I could also read her response:  Yes, but these seemed more interesting.

And indeed they were.

It didn’t take long for Huey, the loner, to strike up a conversation.  In short order we discovered that:

*He lives in Manhattan

*He is an only child

*His father has a horse farm in Pinehurst, NC

*His family owns a four generation furniture store in New York

*He owns a small flat in Spain that he purchased for only $34,000

And he eats a lot (he didn’t tell me that but he killed double the amount of food that Julie and I ate together.)

By 10:45 PM, he had made suggestions about our menu options, he comes to that bar every time he is in town (he chose well); he offered to go out with me to hear music if Julie wanted was too tired to hit the scene; and he and I (NOT Julie) had become Facebook friends.  When he passed her the phone to friend him, she handed it to me.  He also mentioned something about tattoos, but I think I zoned out during that portion of the conversation.

And sure enough, when I checked my Facebook feed the next morning, there was Huey, shirtless, with a tattoo of a jazz musician covering his right shoulder.

hughie

Our time with Huey is not a novelty.  Last year in San Diego we met Victoria and Ozo, a very fit couple our age, when Julie asked if we could sit by them at a courtyard bar.  It was cold, and they were near the fire.  Ozo and Victoria had merged families and wanted to meet the next day to coach us on life as stepparents.  Together they had six kids.  We met.  They coached.

In Spain we spent time with Sandra who hauled us to her apartment where we met Hugo from South America and learned to flamenco dance on her ground floor outdoor patio.  At the time, Sandra was dating a Frenchman ten years her junior.  They didn’t speak the same language.  I told her it was never going to work.  But we will never know because she is a stranger who lives in Spain.

Although this excessive interaction is uncomfortable for me, I’ll have to say it is interesting.  It’s sort of like adding a little spicy pepper to fettuccine Alfredo.  It’s good on it’s own, but the occasional flavor adds an unexpected zing.  I anticipate A LOT of zing coming my way.

The Fit Family

Occasionally I write an article for Carolina Parent.  It is a magazine and web site with great resources for parents.  Visit the site to find a plethora of resources.

When I was a kid, my mom put us in the yard at 8 AM in the summer, and we didn’t return until dinnertime.  During the school year, it was 3 – 6 PM.  If it was cold, there were coats.  If it was hot, shirts were optional.

We ran around the cul-de-sac at the end of Birkshire Road in Fayetteville, NC, for hours on end.  We’d play tag, hide-and-seek, or a game my brother made up called Boy-Land.  That was when the boys chased the girls.  Tracy McDonnell insisted on equal billing so we sometimes acquiesced and played Girl-Land which was actually just as fun.  It was one of the few times in my life that a female actually showed interest in catching me.

When I was a kid, we would sometimes just stand in the front yard and spin around in circles.  Our lives were centered around physicality.  We’d come home sweaty and tired – likely burning more calories than my mom could shove into us, and she shoved a lot!

That is not the case today.  My three daughters would rather watch Netflix than breathe.  A nine season show is nothing to conquer over a five day school break.  That’s like 90 hours of TV!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the most athletic person in the world.  I don’t know the difference between a football and a hockey stick, and I have the coordination of David Hasselhoff (Dancing with the Stars, Season 11).  But I exercise four or five times a week.  I like to move.

I try to encourage activity with my girls.  I promote the possibility of good weather:  “it’s going to be 75 tomorrow. Nice day to spend outside!”  Typically I get no takers.  Internet reception is spotty beyond the walls of our house, and jogging with a laptop can be cumbersome.

I try to beat them at their own game finding activities they can do while watching a screen:  “I found a great exercise video online.  It’s Zumba!  I think you’d enjoy it.”  They disagree.  Unless Phoebe from Friends is the instructor, they have no interest.

The only way I have found slight success in getting my teenagers to sweat is to hit the gym as a family.  They seem to revel in watching me plunder through a group fitness class.

Once we landed in Sports Conditioning.  I thought it would be a good fit for a rhythm-less fifty-year-old.  I was wrong.  Apparently part of conditioning for sports includes straddling a “stair” and crossing it in sync with music.  Who walks upstairs to a beat?  It is not a practical exercise.

Once my youngest daughter and I took Pilates.  As the class began, the teacher announced to all that in her class participants generally removed their shoes.  I thought it was nice that she was informing the masses.  As I untied my New Balance, I realized I was the only one without bare feet.  Why didn’t she just come tell me?

We all took Yoga.  I believe the woman on the mat in front of me could have stuck her head through her legs and licked her own back.  I, on the other hand, can’t touch my feet, unless I’m sitting with my legs crossed.

At the gym we jog together, ride bikes together and workout our abs.  I’ve even taken my teens through my rigorous weight lifting routine (well, it’s rigorous for me).  But they always keep it real.  “Dad, these are big weights.  You’re pretty strong.  Why do you look so scrawny?”  They seem to delight in my misery.  And I find joy that they’re doing something besides watching inappropriate clips from Saturday Night Live.

At my house, exercising together brings happiness to all, or at least to me!

Ye Old College Tour Guide

elonfurman-university-belltower

This past weekend, Stephanie, Julie and I took our final, I think, university visit before decision day 2018.  We have it narrowed down to two:  Furman University in Greenville, SC, and Elon in Burlington, NC.

It is interesting that your college decision, a big one I might add, often relies upon two factors:

  • the weather
  • the tour guide

Both are a crap shoot.

Our primary guide this week was a freshman from Lenoir, NC, named Rupert.  He was enthusiastic and had his full head of black hair moosed up.  His bangs pointed toward heaven like a duck’s beak.  Although, from my estimation, he’d only been at Elon for seven months, he said he’d changed his major three times.  Reassuring to those who have yet to determine their lifelong goals.

Our tour group was small, only four.  Rupert was able to give us plenty of attention.

Rupert walked backwards the majority of the hike across campus.  Although it was evident he was walking backwards, he specifically pointed it out to us.  I think that was what he was primarily excited about – he was very proud of this skill.

I feel sort of sorry for Rupert and his colleagues across America.  These pour souls work so hard to be engaging, and yet, the high school senior demographic is not too keen on participation.  When your guide asks, “Does anyone have any questions,” so hopeful to fill the silence void, they often get nada.  The kids are too cool to ask; the parents have been threatened.  Julie’s kids told her she could not ask questions which is really, really hard for her.  I was warned too not to go overboard.  But when the dude says, “If you ask questions it makes my job easier,” I just feel compelled to speak.

I want to ask things like:

“Do the college students here drink, smoke pot and have sex?  And if so, what percentage of the student population do those things and how often?”  Or, “Do you have friends?  How did you make them?  I don’t want my baby to be lonely.”

I refrain, often asking what I already know:

“Does this school have study abroad?”

“Is the food good?”

“Are there clubs you can join?”

Anything to keep us from standing there in uncomfortable silence.

In one of the dorms, the guide opened a dorm room door and Julie and Stephanie walked in.  The stunned student, sprawled out on his futon was quite surprised, “This is not the room you’re supposed to visit!” he snarled at the guide.

Ooops.  Thankfully he was just reading.  It could have been much, much worse.

I feel really good about Stephanie’s options for college.  She wants a small liberal arts school and both of these fit that bill.  And perhaps this time next year she can don a purple or burgundy polo shirt and walk backwards through campus herself.  That might give her a little more patience with the adults in her life!

Just One Life

When I first met grief, it was all consuming.  I had not experienced pain like that.  It cut to my core.  There was little ability to feel anything except loss.  Grief lived with me for quite some time.  If you’ve felt it, you know.  If you haven’t, it simply can’t be explained.  There aren’t words.

Perhaps that is why I cried when I saw the news last week about the Florida massacre.  Tears rolled down my face.  It wasn’t my pain, but to know that others have to go where I was eight years ago (or perhaps even worse due to the circumstances) made me ache for them.  I wept in utter disbelief that someone could inflict that level of pain on another human being.  I wept that we as a nation have let this continue.

If you’ve felt true loss, you know.  You want to spare any fellow human the agony.

They say that the second amendment gives us all the right to bear arms.  I don’t disagree.  However, it does not say that we have the right to bear AR-15 type semi-automatic weapons, the gun used at Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.

Some say it is hobby – that responsible gun owners should be able to shoot the weapon of their choice in a responsible manner.

I don’t really have a hobby.  I don’t fish or paint or collect stamps.  But I can’t imagine that there is a hobby that I wouldn’t give up if I thought it might save lives, especially the lives of children.  How can one be selfish enough to allow the thrill of shooting to get in the way of potentially protecting our kids?  Would you give up fishing to save lives?  Would you turn in your favorite stamp if you knew 17 teenagers would live sixty, seventy years longer?  How can we as a nation not understand that access to these destructive weapons are a part of the problem?

If we outlaw semi-automatic weapons, I do not believe it will fully stop gun violence.  There are many issues we need to address before we can rest.  But common sense tells us that cutting off legal access to semi-automatic weapons might, just might, make a dent in the problem.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But, in my opinion, it is worth a try.

What if we outlawed semi-automatic weapons, and it saved one life?  Would it be worth it?

It would if it was my child.

The Purge

The idea of eventually combining two households, my fiancé’s and mine, has me a little stressed out.  We would have to live in Buckingham Palace to fit all of Julie’s stuff and all of my stuff under one roof.  So, we are both working to purge a bit.

Since I’d rather spend the day reading a scientific atlas than cleaning, I cajoled my lady into helping me tidy up a bit.  It was an interesting morning.

Julie has a fairly strong commitment to expiration dates.  She felt rather strongly that the oregano that expired in 2003 should go.  Does oregano really go bad?  After some discussion, she encouraged me to toss anything that had expired prior to 2015.  I thought that was a good idea.

Interestingly, I had five containers of Mustard Powder.  I can assure you that mustard has NEVER been birthed in my kitchen.  Did a house guest slip some in my cupboard?  How in the hell did four bottles of Mustard Powder appear on my spice shelf?  Next Saturday I’m going to have a Mustard Powder sale – I’m putting signs up on telephone poles in the neighborhood:  EXPIRED MUSTARD POWDER FOR SALE!  LARGE SELECTION AVAILABLE.

I also have four large cooking forks that I use exclusively to break up and brown ground beef.  My favorite has a blue handle and is slightly rusty.  Julie felt that to avoid botulism I might consider tossing it.  “Honey, you have four of these forks and this one is rusty.  What if you threw this one away” she held up the blue handled.

“But it’s my favorite!  It curves just right and is the king of splitting up the meat when it’s all stuck together.”

“But pieces of metal are getting into the meat that you are then feeding to your children.”

I hadn’t thought of that…

My mom also tried to throw that meat fork out the prior year.  I rescued it from the TRASH CAN!

Julie was very good.  She just made suggestions, asked some thoughtful questions, and let me decide what should go.  “Honey, is there a reason you keep your bug spray on the same shelf with the food in the pantry?  And do you need 8 cans of Off?”

When we got to the bathroom she made interesting observations, “Maybe the drain snake you use for unclogging your shower should be kept in a separate area from your toothbrush.”  She explained to me about the opioid crisis and encouraged me to dispose of the pain killers from my appendectomy of ‘76.  “I just don’t think you would want to take those now.”

“But I loved Dr. McCutchen, and he is deceased.  I’ll never get another prescription from him again.”

I think cleaning out with Julie is better for me than doing it myself.  She constantly thinks of things that never cross my mind.

Coincidentally, Julie’s mom gave me a new meat grinding utensil that is coated in Teflon.  It’s actually BETTER than the blue handled fork.  I’m pondering tossing it.