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!

My Elon Graduate!

When she was born, she was a beauty.  Dark hair, dark eyes, looked like a miniature Sophia Loren.

She sucked her middle two fingers for her first four years.  She was sweet as sugar and stubborn as a mule.  One May afternoon, at about age 6, she refused to dance in her end of year ballet recital because she accidently stood in the wrong spot when the performance began.  Her teacher nicely corrected her, easing her into a different spot on the floor.  She fell apart, ran out of the room and refused to reenter. 

Now I am not a pushover. After great understanding and sensitivity, I ordered her, with my strongest tone and pointed finger, to get her tiny behind back on stage.

She looked at me with defiance.  “NO!!”

“I am your father, get back in there!” I demanded.

“NO!!  NO!!”

Her mother left that conflict to me.  I guess she figured if my tough self couldn’t persuade her to return, it was a worthless battle to fight. 

We got pizza instead.

And now, after probably 50 dance and piano recitals, nearly straight A’s in high school and college, and extracurriculars galore, child 2, my Stephanie, is graduating from Elon University.

It seems just like yesterday that I dropped her off as a freshman and Julie had to nearly use a crowbar to pry us apart on the sidewalk of Williamson Street near her first dorm.  I cried to Mebane and then bucked up for the duration of her college years.

I’m so proud of her.

She is smart as a whip, cares about social justice, has interned at a program for folks who are struggling with physical or sexual abuse, has wonderful friends and, like her mother, can organize a clowder of cats.

I think she’s going to spend next year in New Orleans doing service work through the Presbyterian Church.  What a cool kid she is!

Thought Bubbles

My wife, Julie, and I were sitting in bed the other night discussing an upcoming 10 hour plane flight. She doesn’t need a lot of entertainment in route. 

I, on the other hand, packed my iPad, my computer, downloaded three books, packed an additional 3 hardbacks and had four sets of headphones –  just in case.  I asked her how in the heck she survived without a plethora of activities.  She explained that she had a book and had always been able to entertain herself in her thoughts.

I questioned what might be going through her mind as she sat for the not quick journey.  I jokingly began imagining…

That cloud looks like an ostrich.

My lavender toenail polish is going to make a real splash on the beach.

My investment manager better step up his game.  I have three more years of college to pay for.

How did I nab this incredibly handsome man?

She then suggested some of what might be going on in my head…

My side hurts.  I bet it’s a tumor.  I wonder how long I have?

She ran the dishwasher again!  That’s gonna cost another 67 cents.

But what if people could see our thought bubbles?  I fear they’d think less of me.  No, I KNOW they would!

I think God wants us to be as pure and kind hearted on the inside as on the outside.  Icing is good, but if the batter falls, the cake ain’t.

I can’t always stop a sarcastic or sometimes even mean thought running through my head.  I sometimes get irritated quickly without patience or full understanding.  And ironically, I get annoyed when others do that to me.  Hypocrite.

I’m not sure how to stop these thoughts.  I do know I can work hard to have patience and grace with others and when negativity pops in my head, quickly divert, maybe even with prayer.  Perhaps a concentrated effort to maintain purity on the inside will eventually lead to more generous thought bubbles overall.

Wedding Bells Ringing

Michelle did say to the person who inquired about what caught my eye that she thought that when we were together we sure did laugh a lot.  Laughter is underrated.  Enjoying who you’re with is underrated.  Love… well, that’s maybe underrated too. 

In less than two weeks, I will be married!  I can’t wait to get gold around Mr. Ring Finger.  Been a long time.  It actually might take some getting used to.

This wedding is no surprise.  Last week was the fourth anniversary of our engagement.  We don’t like to rush things around here!  All the kids are in college or beyond, both of our houses have sold, and we are ready to be together full time.

It is strange to marry at age 56.  There aren’t wedding jitters; no baby’s breath in braidesmaids’ hair; no drunken bachelor party for me; no parents to pay for the festivities.  Its actually simpler.  Find a woman you love, propose, when the right time comes… get hitched.

Someone recently asked Michelle what Julie had that caught my eye.  We laughed at her response, which was essentially: I don’t know anything about old people falling in love, you’re gonna need to ask him. 

It’s not easy to sell a house you’ve lived in for thirty years.  It isn’t easy to combine your household belongings and toss out the rusty meat fork you’ve been accustomed to because your soon-to-be spouse thinks it might give her lock jaw.  It’s not easy to merge Christmas traditions and pare back your ornaments or learn to share your kitchen again.  One day recently Julie was giving me input on how to make mashed potatoes.  I was a bit annoyed – as if I didn’t know.  She said, “Well, I’ve been queen of my kitchen for the past ten years.”  I responded, “And I’ve been king of mine!”

When it comes down to it, the meat fork doesn’t matter.  I’m finding that hers is just as good and doesn’t leave flecks of Teflon in the ground turkey.  She actually does make better mashed potatoes than I but my Christmas tree light stringing strategies far exceed hers.

What really matters is – do we love and enjoy each other?  And the answer to that is yes.

We have a lot of kids… but they are growing up and living their own lives.  Who will we be left with?  Each other. 

When you find the right one, whether you’re 22 or 56, being together is well worth the adjustments that have to be made.  When your heart speaks, it is easy to listen.

Chainsaw Massacre

There’s something about a chain saw.

Julie has an electric one.  I also have one but never put the chain on the saw.  It just seemed like so much work.  And I didn’t really have use for it at my old house.

But now…

There is some sort of medium sized tree/bush in our new back yard.  One limb was dead as a doornail.  It was about three times the width of my arm (I have fairly small arms).  It’s been bothering me since we bought the house in April.  So last weekend, I decided it was time.  Time to amputate the limb.

I removed Julie’s chainsaw from the cardboard box.  I plugged it in. 

I like my fingers and have great respect for things that might remove them.  So I was cautious.  I’m not a reckless guy.  I don’t shoot stuff.  I don’t punch stuff.  I don’t chase snakes – if I see one, I run.  But dang, when I saw the teeth of this electric beast, when I began to chop, it was invigorating!

Julie suggested I wait to tackle the limb at a time when she was home to help.  Ppppfh.  What could she do to help?, I thought.

It wasn’t really planned.  I was just working in the yard and the tree yelled out at me, “REMOVE THE BRANCH.  DO IT NOW.”  I couldn’t not respond.

Julie was at the grocery store when I started.  She returned before I finished.  She came outside.

“Honey, I can help.  I don’t want it to fall on the house.”

It WON’T fall on the house!  Ridiculous assumption.

“I’ll be right back.  Let me unload the cold items.”

Nice thought.  What was I going to do?  Just stand there and wait for her to return at some undetermined time?  Ppppfh… no.  I was so close to completion. 

My training in physics suggested the branch would fall away from the house.  My intent – the slant at which I was sawing – clearly would lead to a safe landing. 

As it fell over the porch, bending the handle of our built in gas grill, I was stunned. 

Well that didn’t go as planned.

Julie came running.

“You just couldn’t wait could you?”

“It didn’t hit the house!” I responded, as if it had fallen exactly where I had intended.

VICTORY! – well, sort of.

I don’t know what it is about a guy and his chain saw.  It’s an incredible feeling to cut, to tame the wild.  A rush of sorts.  And really, who has time to wait for the groceries to be unloaded?  It’s just not reasonable. 

Tough Day with the TSA

It was a tough day at the Tampa airport.  I flew in last week on a Monday, and all went well.  Fortunately I was booked on Delta – American and Southwest seemed to be struggling at the time.  Security is where I was snagged on the flight home on Wednesday. 

First I got the leg pat down.  Not intrusive – in fact my muscles were tight from 48 hours of sitting in a conference room discussing how to best raise money for the Y.  I was sort of hopeful he’d press a little harder on my hamstrings – but there was a line behind me so I didn’t ask for more.

But then, my bag.  The woman studying the x-ray stopped when my Samsonite conveyed through.  She shipped it to the exit ramp and another TSA agent took it back to the entrance for a rescan.  Again, a pause. 

Of course, I pondered – was my bag unattended?  Could someone working at the hotel have stashed cocaine in the sock pocket?  If contraband was found, would I talk or immediately contact an attorney?  I hate jail.  Well, I only went once when I was a Royal Ambassador at the Baptist Church in the 4th grade.  I think the field trip was a deterrent tactic.  As I walked in an inmate threw a half-eaten ham and cheese sandwich at me while heckling about my uniform.  Apparently he didn’t like the yellow neck scarf required by the church. 

The strategy worked.  I didn’t not want to go back.

The airport staffer zeroed in on a portion of my doc bag.  She pointed to two items.  I was informed the search was on.

Although it wasn’t a big deal, I was a bit uncomfortable with her digging around the boxer briefs I’d worn on the treadmill the day before and the t-shirt with the armpit stains.  I’m sure they will wash out – but what if she thought they were permanent?  Embarrassing.

  What could they be looking for, I wondered. 

I did carry a pair of scissors when I travel.  At my age, ear and nose hairs can sprout out overnight like a fast forward video of a Chia Pet.  I swear I try to keep close track.  I also swear facial hair can grow six inches overnight.  There is no possible way they can hide under a magnified mirror tonight and simply appear the next morning without some miraculous intervention – perhaps an ear hair fairy or Miracle Grow for follicles.

My grandad had dark hair all over the outside (and inside) of his ears.  I wondered why he didn’t pluck.  Sadly, as your unwanted hair increases, your vision decreases.  Eventually I’m guessing, you just don’t give a damn.

She dug through – eyeballing my Ambien – and found nothing.  The scissors were black and matched my  bag.  I strategically placed them under my deodorant and hair gel.  Although, this is conjecture, I think maybe it was my 1992 Gillette Zero razor that caught their eye.  Little do they know, it couldn’t cut butter.

I’m grateful we have folks who keep us safe on airplanes – I’m sure it’s a difficult job.  I thanked the agent for her work.  How nice it would be to live in a world that didn’t require airport security. 

Figuring It Out

I think I turned some white towels blue today.  Not a dark blue – just sort of a pale blueish white. 

It’s been more than a decade since I have been held accountable for the wash.  Historically, I’ve tossed the jeans with the bath towels, the boxers with the girl’s dresses, the dress shirts with the dish towels.  I don’t’ think that’s gonna fly anymore.  Julie has a different set of standards.  It bothers her when my underwear and the kitchen stuff mix.  Even in the washer!

We decided early on in our courtship that we’d pretty much keep our laundry separate.  But there are shared items, like towels, that sometimes come into play.  Perhaps I should have black ones and she white and never the twain shall meet.

I’ve also learned that there are certain towels/rags/sponges to wipe counters, floor spills, dry dishes and wipe noses.  It’s so confusing. 

Recently a bit of spaghetti sauce dropped onto the floor right in front of the stove.  I grabbed the closest towel to quicky sop, it was right there in arm’s reach!  Apparently it is not in that towel’s job description to wipe the floor.  It’s not in my job description to fix a jam in the copier, but sometimes I do it!  That one is exclusively for CLEAN dishes that need to be dried.  Uh-oh.  “But it was so close to me,” I explained.  My fiancé kindly clarified its role and suggested paper towels might be my best bet.  I can use them on anything and then just toss, AFTER ONLY ONE USE, she emphasized.  She also pointed to the Kleenex box… just in case.

After she gently covered the cleaning bases, I asked if I could share a concern with her.  She was very open.

“I can always tell when you’ve worn my readers,” I said. 

“You can?” she questioned.

“Yes.  You pick them up by the glass, not the handle, and you leave a smudge print right in the line of sight. I put them on and immediately, I know.” It’s like Papa Bear with his chair. Someone’s been wearing my glasses and they left a smudge mark THIS BIG!

She promptly bought disposable glasses wipes to help with the issue.

You’d think the guy who wipes the floor with the dish towel wouldn’t mind the smudge.  You’d think the woman who wants whites and darks separated in the wash wouldn’t pick glasses up on the 20/200 lens.

It’s a bit perplexing.  I’d say it’s that opposites attract thing and yet, there may be more similarities than differences. 

I’ll work on the sanitation conditions around here.  I’m sure she’ll work on the fingerprints.  We’ll likely see better and ingest less germs if we take the best of both.

I Forgot

I think I’d forgotten the beautiful things that come with having a full time partner.  The wedding is coming, and we are planting roots in Raleigh – working to build a life together.

Of course, there are the typical wins of most any relationship.  Someone to unpack your day with, a Ted Lasso viewing partner, a cooker/cleaner combo for dinner, it makes it much more bearable.  But maybe it’s the small things that your mate brings that make life most special.

Like cloth napkins.  I’ve used paper Food Lion 150 count for years.  The first time Julie set the table for dinner and brought out the niceties, I was perplexed.  Is someone coming to dinner?  Do we have enough to eat?  It wasn’t a guest she was preparing for.  Only us.  Folded cotton, just for me!

She sets out a knife, even when we’re eating soup!  Just in case I suppose.

The half-and-half is sometimes in a wee little pitcher shaped like a cow.  I was used to a carton straight out of the fridge.

The sheets get changed often, not just when the housekeeper comes.

There are soap cubes in the shower with bits of salt (or something rough) to ensure my pours are fully exfoliated.  My face feels so clean.

We don’t use towels for weeks at a time – once or twice and a new one is due.  Mmm – fresh!

Candles abound and orchids are potted.  Real live ones that take ONE ice cube a week to quench their thirst.  Occasionally there’s a pitcher of water with lemons and limes – spa water it’s called. 

I’m encouraged to stretch to keep me limber and eat special oyster mushrooms from the Farmer’s market.  I’ve been to the market more in the past six months than I had been in years!

I’m not sure what I’m bringing to this partnership – maybe a little laughter and an extraordinary expertise at balancing a checkbook to the penny.  But wow, its fun to share once more… to have your personality complimented by another.  I’d forgotten how good that could be.

Too Old For That!

Early Arrivals is a childcare program that the YMCA runs in tons of schools in the Raleigh area.  It starts at the crack of dawn and ends when the school bell rings for the kids to head to class.  Working parents enroll their children for games, time with positive role models and safe care while they muscle their way through traffic to downtown Raleigh or Research Triangle Park.

Like many organizations the YMCA has had a few gaps with staffing.  We are finding great folks to work in all areas of programs, but the first few weeks of school our youth team was slightly short staffed.  Corporate office staff to the rescue!!

Now, I love kids.  I built my career running camps and helping develop quality program standards for our Y’s massive service to youth.  That being said, a 56 year-old should not be working at an early arrivals program.

Although I like Jenka, a game where you strategically stack blocks until the tower collapses, I don’t understand the thrill a kindergartener gets by crashing my painstakingly crafted tower.  Rude!

One teeny girl with hair as big as Dolly Parton and a backpack covered with unicorns was not having any part of my planned group activity.  Don’t let the rainbow colors on her hair bow fool you.  She sassed the mess out of me.

Me:  “Everyone come to the center circle of the gym!  We’re going to play a game!”

I was bringing out the best of my old camp days.

Her:  No movement toward the circle.

Me:  “Come on over!  We’re playing a game.  It’s going to be fun!”

Her:  “NO!!”

Me:  “Please come over.  We want everyone to play!”

As her head spun around she yelled:  “NO!!  NO! NO! NO!  I’M NOT COMING!!”

The look in her eye told me that she fully meant what she said.  This was going to take a different approach.  I walked over to her with my serious face. 

Me:  “I SAID come to the circle.”

She then ran to the corner of the room, threw herself on the ground in a very dramatic way, and started sobbing. I felt like doing the same.  7:45 AM is much too early for a tantrum.

In my younger days, I could have commanded the audience.  But now, I think the kids can sense my weakness.  He’s old.  He’s tired.  We don’t know him.  Boomer…

Another kid refused to sit out when he got hit in dodgeball.  That is cheating I rationally explained (at the Y honesty is one of the key character traits that we teach).  He was uninterested in honesty and very interested in staying in the game.  Understandably, this was very disturbing to the star player on the other team.

The tears still continued in the corner.

Although I had some challenges over my three substitute sessions at Early Arrivals, I also met the cutest kid ever making a card for his sick grandfather, saw an older child with great care help his younger brother prepare his water bottle for class and saw strong connections between the Y youth counselors and the kids in the program. 

Children need to be in school right now.  Children need to play and cut up and express themselves, even if it’s dissatisfaction.  They get that at the Y.

Each year our YMCA raises funds in our Annual We Build People Campaign to support children who need Y programs but who cannot afford to participate.  For the next two days, we are working to raise $500,000 in our 48 Giving Challenge.  If you’re able, consider a gift, click on this link.  https://give.ymcatriangle.org/fundraiser/3493671

Thank you!

Gas AND OIL??

I’m not very mechanical.  That is actually an understatement.  I am not mechanical.  That is actually also an understatement.  I am like negative-mechanical.

I like numbers and I enjoy people and I can bake a fairly crusty pound cake, but I can’t fix a dag gone thing. 

Stuff with nuts and bolts, screws and gas – just not my thing. 

I try.  When I first purchased a house I painted the entire inside – 2,500 square feet.  I intended to coat the walls and ceilings.  I did as well as the floors, bathroom fixtures and myself.  It’s not for lack of trying.  I have every tool you could ever imagine – thanks to my father who desperately wants me to be a fixer.  He got that in my brother who can change car oil and install a garbage disposal.  Man, I wish I could do that.  If I could I’d have one in every sink in the house just because…

The other day I pulled out my lawn mower to cut the grass.  It was difficult to crank.  It’s only like twelve years old – why would it be so difficult to start?  I don’t ask a lot of it, just crank once a week, cut and then it can sit around doing nothing the rest of the time.  I even give it like four months OFF every year.  How happy I’d be if all I had to do is work a couple of hours a week in the warm months.

Julie, who is .05% more mechanical than I am, suggested I check the oil.

I put gas in it, and now, now after only a decade, I have to ALSO check the oil?  I took it to the shop several years ago for a tune up.  It just seems like this mower is expecting a lot considering its output.

I screwed off the oil cap, and it did indeed look a bit dry.  Sort of like my skin in February.

I had oil, so I filled it, screwed the cap back on and again tried to crank.

It did start, but a huge poof of white smoke billowed from its undercarriage.  It looked like a smokestack from a tire manufacturing plant.

I was told by my woman that perhaps I’d overfilled.  That seemed unlikely to me – I just put as much in as the container would allow.

A neighbor walking his dog passed by as the plume wafted away from our drive.  He had a smile on his face.  Julie’s brow was furrowed.  Our neighbor said in a supportive way, “Don’t worry.  He’ll figure it out.”

And I did.  I siphoned ¾ of the liquid out and gave the mower a rest.  Thirty minutes later she was cutting like her typical old self.

Julie thinks we need a new mower.  I think she will make it another year or two.  We have a small yard.

One might think that a guy who couldn’t fix things might be more prone to buying new stuff when in a situation like this.  However, more than my disdain for fixing, is my disdain for spending money. 

Even I can see the contradiction in my philosophies.  And yet, it’s unlikely I’m going to change.  Engrained. 

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