Friday, July 15, 2016

Can you find the first world questions?!

I have not blogged here for some time. I have been concentrating on Gramasylum in blogging for the last year or so. Now I am preparing to go to Africa, Malawi to be exact. I am part of a four person team and we actually have been preparing for about three months using a short term mission team manual. Very good stuff and our team has been challenged and had fun already!

But today we leave. So today I am doing the last minute packing and the questions that I have been pondering have been curiously all across the board! I have been a bit stunned by how deeply I can be thinking one moment and how very shallow my thoughts are the next. I came to realize just a few minutes ago that it is the result of first world living versus third world living. Though I have been preparing to enter and serve in a developing country, I am still very much entrenched here in the United States of America. Here you often hear people make some remark about a difficulty and then, a little embarrassed they say, "First world problem." Today, I haven't said it out loud. But I have thought it at least 2o times this morning as I do the final packing. See if you can find the "first world problems/questions".

So I have been asked to teach evangelism to volunteers who will be coming to a school from many villages around. Some of them walking many miles to attend. All of them sleeping in tents for one or two weeks in order to  be at this discipleship event sponsored by Fishers Trainers and Senders out of Lilongwe, Malawi. The Executive Director is Louise Laubscher who is from South Africa, but been ministering in Malawi for 30 years. She is a saint. And she has worked hard to raise up indigenous leaders so that most of the ministry is led by men and women from Malawi. Stonard is her right hand person and a real gem of God's work! I was asked to teach on WHY evangelize and WHO to evangelize. These are very straightforward questions and easily supported and taught by the Bible. I did lesson plans using familiar and story based scripture. And then I got to the part of creating questions that will  help these folks apply these biblical principles to their every day life. I. Know. Almost. Nothing. About. Their. Everyday. Life! “How can I possible teach them evangelism?” I wonder.

Five minutes later I am finally packing up my bathroom stuff and wondering, “How will I keep my hair from going flat? Should I bring my hair texturizer?” And, what hair blower should I bring? I ask myself. “The one I am used to or the smaller travel one under the sink?” And, I wonder, “will the outlets where I will be staying will be able to handle the wattage?”

As I start to pack my make-up, I congratulate myself silently that I am not taking it all. No eye shadow, no highlighter, and no lipstick. Nope, not third-world ready me. I will only take my eye brow brush and cake, my eyeliner and brush, and my mascara. Wait. Maybe I will take my blush, too.  Of course then I realize I need make-up remover to take it off each night. Then a question I hardly ever ask enters my mind…What would happen if I did not wear any make-up while I am there? Then I would not need the make-up or the remover. But, how would they view me? How would I view myself?! Then came the haunting questions, “What is the best way for me to go and be with them in the most authenticate and humble and servant-hearted way?” Why do I care about any of this stuff?

Oh for goodness sake! Then forget about showering for the two weeks, I don’t need soap shampoo, or towels, or deodorant. Well, maybe deodorant, if I am not going to shower for two weeks. And, I’ll just wear the same clothes for two weeks. No need to pack multiple anything and no need to wash clothes by hand when I get there. Shoot! I don’t even need a suitcase! I will just bring a backpack. I do need to brush my teeth. I can imagine not showering for two weeks. I cannot imagine not brushing my teeth for that long. The fuzz and slime would make me throw up and that would not be good!

You can see I have gone back and forth from the sublime to the ridiculous pretty effortlessly! The bad news? I leave in less than an hour. No time to rethink all this. The good news? This mishmash of questions, first and third world, are evidence that God is already working in me substantially. I can count on one hand the days I have gone out of the house without make-up on.  (Notice blog picture is WITH!) To ponder such a thing can only be God invading my space! And, I will trust the saint who invited me to come and teach. She DOES know these people and this culture and believes that God can use me there. What a crazy thought. Which brings up another question. How can God do that?!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gramasylum has its own space now.

Thank you to all of you who have been reading my grandmother stories here. As of last Friday Gramasylum has its own little cyberspace. is up and running. This is a dream that has been in the making for about five or six months. I am so excited it has come true. I would have languished a long time in the "trying to get it done" category.  My talented daughter Anne helped me make it happen in one afternoon. All the related posts have been transferred to that site and tonight I posted the first brand new blog to that site. I will blog there at least once a week about the crazy love of a grandmother. I also invite readers to share their grandparent stories and with permission I will post some of those. I hope you become a regular visitor at Gramasylum and, if you  enjoy it, tell your friends and relatives.

Soon, I will resume blogging here about life and ministry. I hope you will continue to come here too, to enjoy what I am learning about making life and ministry a seamless garment. It is not easy. But it is the heart of the life of faith because we are all called to live whatever life we have been given for the sake of others and the sake of Christ's kingdom. Life and ministry really are a seamless garment. I hope you will enjoy both blogs.

Peace and joy to you and yours this blessed Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Four Year Old Asks The Six Million Dollar Question

The latest cause for Gramasylum arrived almost five months ago. Colette Rose, is number four grandchild so I have not had the concentrated time with her that I had with her sister Laurel who was the first Blankman grandchild. The time discrepancy shows. Colette, called Coco so as to keep up  with Lolo, is not as crazy about Cece as Cece is about her.....yet. This one is very partial to her mother and the feeding accoutrements that she alone possesses. I got her to take a bottle once so far. I had her in the front carrier thingy-majingy, and when she was beginning to nod off, I put the bottle in her mouth and she began sucking and actually took most of the bottle. I felt so accomplished! Figured we had made great strides toward mutual admiration.

Then came last weekend. I drove to their house in San Diego to take care of Coco so mom and dad could go to a Christmas production of The Grinch with big sister Laurel. Let's just say we did okay. But there was no taking a bottle this time. And the Cokes, another name for this latest little bundle, is also very particular about how she is to be held and what the person who is holding her is supposed to be doing. Basically, Coco prefers you up and moving...all the time. And even when she falls asleep, she must have some kind of an internal level mechanism. As soon as you try to sit down or lay down, and she is no longer perpendicular to the floor, her eyes pop open and she protests substantially enough to get you up and moving again.

Later in the afternoon the parental returned with Lolo. Coco was very pleased to see her mom and to be reunited with the accoutrements only her mother can provide. Then the parental units left again to go to a party. This time leaving big sister Laurel with Cece, too. Lolo was anxious to play with Cece. It was not to be. Coco was in charge. There are few games that can be played, and no books that can be read while holding, and walking around and bouncing a five month old baby. So, each time Lolo asked if I could play with her, I had to respond that we would have to wait until Coco was asleep. I think Lolo had enough experience with her little sister to know this was not likely going to happen any time soon.

Lo finally spoke her mind.

"Where's Papa," Laurel asked?

"Papa is at home," I responded.

"Why didn't he come to help take care of the baby," Lo inquired further?

"His favorite team has a football game," I explained, "and Papa wanted to watch it."

Laurel now placed her hand on her hip and twisted her mouth in the way one does when one is puzzled or irritated. Then she asked the six million dollar question.

"What's more important? Football or helping to take care of the baby," Laurel asked with serious conviction?

Wow. Not quite four and a half years old and this little woman understands priorities! How was I to answer this serious challenge?

"That's a great question, Lo," I responded. Truth be known, my mouth was a little twisted, too. I had asked Papa the same question.

Then I passed off the responsibility to answer the question to the one who was responsible for the question being asked. "You'll have to ask Papa that," I added.

What's more important? From the mouths of babes. In Papa's defense, when Lo visits he is at her beck and call and is also a pretty crazy grandparent. After she visited the last time he explained that he doesn't always feel like playing what she wants to play. But, he realizes that there will come a day when she will not ask him to play with her anymore. So, he will take advantage of it while she is still asking. Have you ever seen an over sixty man playing Barbies? Trust me. It makes up for several football game absences!

What's more important? Coco finally did go to sleep and hard enough so that I laid her down and she stayed asleep. I then helped Lolo take a bath, and brush her teeth and get jammied up. Lolo and I got to play and read a book before mom and dad returned home. I kissed her goodbye and her daddy brought her outside to wave goodbye to me as I backed out of their driveway to head home.

I had been on duty about nine hours. It was late. I had about an hour drive home. And, I had to preach the next morning! But what is more important? This day called for a crazy grandma. I'm so thankful that I  have the credentials!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Kiwi Ear Love

Gramasylum has been on the shelf for three weeks. The first week of November I got word my mother was not doing well. We moved her to a new care facility and so I made flight plans to go see her. The day before I was scheduled to leave I got word she was declining pretty fast. I arrived on a Thursday evening. My mother passed away Saturday at 6 p.m. It was fast. I was there holding her hand and stroking her hair as she left this world. All three of my sisters and my brother were there, too. And, she knew we were there. It was a sad, precious, and sacred time. I am so grateful that I was able to be there, that my siblingss were all there together. Believe it or not it set the tone for Thanksgiving coming up the very next week. Gramasylum took to the shelf for these three weeks (almost four) but my own mother's dying actually energized my resolve to be as crazy a grandma as possible. So. Gramasylum is back. With renewed energy!

It started with a simple observation about a t-shirt. Sitting at the counter for Thanksgiving dinner Laurel commented about the dinosaur on Kasen's t-shirt. Laurel, 4, identified it as a T Rex. Kasen, 3, replied, "No, it's a dinosaur." Laurel continued the conversation insisting that it was a T Rex.  Kasen continued to correct her telling her it was a dinosaur. The tone and volume intensified. Laurel tried very patiently to tutor Kasen in the particulars of the varieties of dinosaurs. Kasen was not to be tutored. His resolve matched her patience perfectly. The conversation was going nowhere good.

The adults at the big table were now fully engaged in following the argument ensuing at the counter. And no one was intervening, yet. A sneak peak toward the counter without disrupting the 
going-nowhere conversation revealed the arms of both children were now folded tight and the jaws were set. The volley began.

"You are a pillow with a flower on it," Kasen retorted!

"You are an ear with a kiwi in it," Laurel proclaimed!

“Yeah, well you are a pickle in water,” Kasen volleyed back!

The adults were now laughing so hard turkey and dressing and potatoes were flying everywhere. Where did this pseudo name-calling come from? We could not wait to hear what was next. Then it turned serious.

"Then I am not going to talk to you anymore,” Laurel declared!

"I'm not going to talk to you," Kasen countered!

"Well then, I am not going to be play with you ever, ever again," Laurel replied.

"And I am not going to be your friend," Kasen countered.

Ok. Time for the adults to get involved. Kiwis and flowers are one thing. Breaking cousin love is entirely another. I approached the counter and did not try to tutor on dinosaurs and T Rexes, but on the importance of staying in relationship. I can imagine them in ten years heading out the door together to walk the beach. And in twelve or thirteen years driving away in a car to go to the mall or a movie or a game with friends. One day they could be a huge support to each other—not just cousins, but friends. I am not sure how much of what I told them they understood. But a few minutes later they were arm in arm running down the hall laughing and being as silly as usual. Such fun. Such a blessing. Only one of the many blessings I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. Kiwi ear, pickle in water, flower on a pillow--I just love these little people and their crazy talk. 

Would love to hear from some of you Gramasylum readers! What crazy things are you doing these days with your granz or are your granz doing with you? Post a comment below. We all need the enouragment to be crazy.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Choosing Crazy Chaos

The pictures say it all. This is what it means to open your heart (and home) to a grandchild.  I have always been a neatnic and like my spaces clean and free of clutter. In fact, I cannot sit down to read or work if the space around me is chaotic. In every house we have lived in my children knew there was designated space for chaos--their bedrooms and a play room, and designated space for peace and tranqulity--all the rest of the house. Not anymore. Chaos rules.

In 2013 we downsized and moved into a 1300 square foot condo (don't weep for us, it has an ocean view and it is only five minutes down the hill to the water). And between July 2011 and July 2015 four little people moved into our lives. The chaos began instantly.

When my children were babies we had a car seat, a stroller called an umbrella stroller because it collapsed to the size of one, and a diaper bag. That was it. Today? Oh my! These children come with a car seat that doubles as a carry and hold seat and has an awning and a expiration date! Which means the manufacturers make a lot of money on these expensive items because they expire! Who knew?! Then there is the  portable collapsable cradling sleeper. It perfectly cradles the newborn and some of them even swing and play songs. I once lost our first child. I made a nice little bed for him on the floor next to our bed when we were visiting relatives in Austin, Texas. When we woke up in the morning he was gone. Nowhere in sight. After a very brief panic and a quick survey of the floor he was found under the bed, safe, cradled tight between the bed and the floor sleeping soundly.

And, have you seen the new jogging strollers? They are ginormous! In size and expense. They have three full size wheels that must be from Michelin, rolling smooth as silk and taking up the full sidewalk. You can buy two seaters which take up the sidewalk and one lane of the adjacent street.

They come with their own awning, too, and a storage compartment big enough to put two more kids in if you needed to. Then there is the backpack. It is filled with all the possible remedies and aids for one of any hundreds of potential circumstances that parents nowadays read about online that a baby could or might encounter... it never ends!

And as these little people get a little older an entire room of toys travel with them wherever they go! My dear LoLo has ONE play set that has ninety-two pieces. Ninety-two! And she has about a dozen of these sets. Oh my! So much for open clear space. Every square inch of our 1300 square feet are filled the evidence of the arrival of these precious little people. What isn't a toy or game, these innovative little people make into a toy or game. Of course, the bed is a trampoline. Some things never change. The kitchen floor is for putting puzzles together. The bathtubs are now canvases with all sorts of water soluable products to go crazy with. Closets are hiding places for little people and for various objects they decide to conceal from Papa and Cece. Blankets and chairs turn into tents that can be a hospital, a zoo, a castle or anything else they want it to be. And, I love it! What has happened to me?

When these little people enter your heart and home everything else takes a back seat. Who needs clutter free space when you have little people filling your house with endless chatter, squeals, and laughter? Who needs a coffee table decor fit for Houzz when you can have the space decked out for hours and hours of make believe play? Who wants compliments on a neatly and beautifully decorated home when you can have countess hugs and kisses from these little people telling you that they love you? There is no other explanation for this turnabout than absolute crazy love--certifiable craziness. It is Gramasylum and I am a proud and grateful permanent resident.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Falling in Love at LegoLand?

I missed the Gramasylum post last Sunday night because I had to do some investigating to get the facts right on this one! It took awhile, but here it is!

It happened right under our noses. We knew it was a special day. Our two oldest grandchildren have birthdays just three days apart. For their birthdays this year, Lolo, four, and Kaso, three, we gave them  a trip to LegoLand. Of course a three and four year old can’t quite comprehend a gift that they cannot open or touch immediately. But we did our best any way. We found pictures of LegoLand and blew them up full page size and put them in a booklet that ended by telling them they were going to LegoLand!

“Hurray! Okay! Let’g go,” Laurel, said.

“Yah,” said Kasen! And they both headed for the door.

“Whoa! Kiddos,” I said. “We are not going today. We will have to plan a time when the two of you can be together again and Papa and Cece can take a day off and then we will go to LegoLand,” I explained, lamely, of course. These cousins live three hours apart and have other smaller siblings. This can seriously complicate such plans but we were all committed to find a way to do it.

It took us two and a half months but we finally pulled it off. On a Thursday afternoon in September Kasen’s mom came from Santa Clarita with Kasen and his little sister. The next morning Papa, Cece, and Kasen drove to San Diego to pick up Laurel. LegoLand is in Carlsbad, California, actually half way between San Clemente and San Diego.  So it still required some logistics but we did it! On Friday, September 25, we made good on our birthday gift and arrived at LegoLand when the park opens at 10 a.m.  It was so much fun to see and hear their excitement. They were holding hands and giggling and Laurel was intermittently wrapping her arms around our legs and saying, “Thank you, Cece. Thank you, Papa.” Kasen in his own expressive way just walked alongside me and said, “I love you Cece.” That’s good for unlimited trips to LegoLand or wherever else the boy wants to go!

Of course the genius marketing folks of these establishments place the “gift store” right at the entrance of the park. And other purchasing opportunities are located throughout the park often at the conclusion of an exhibit or ride where you exit, or at least try to exit through the gift shop. Yah, right! But the main gift shop is the first thing you see when you walk in the main entrance. And, of course, this is the first place a child wants to go who is old enough to know grandmas and grandpas love to buy things for their grandchildren. I did hold my ground and said we might go through there on the way out but that our trip to LegoLand was their gift for the day. Kasen is not yet old enough to initiate the buying ritual. Laurel, on the other hand is already a pro. She had informed me when we picked her up that her mom had said that the trip to Legoland was her gift but maybe, Cece, might buy her one small thing.  I think LoLo might have had this reversed in the telling of it. This is probably what Laurel told her mom! She is one smart little cookie. Remember, this is the little woman who at three told her Cece about self-talk as a means of calming your fears! But on this day, she was incredibly circumspect and self-controlled and we walked right past the gift store and we did not hear another word from her about buying something.

We had a blast! We made Lego cars and Lego boats and raced them. We went on rides and saw exhibits of amazing things made completely from Legos. We cooled off  in one of the water pads in the park. We saw a stage performance of Best Friends Forever. Even in the heat of the day and with no place to sit, Laurel was transfixed. Of course, she knew the name of all four of the girls and every word of every song.  Kasen, on the other hand, watched for about five minutes and then decided to go sit with Papa in the shade. Go figure.

But the real show stopper of the day we found out about a week later. Who knew a three year old could fall in love at LegoLand without grandpa and grandma knowing anything about it? Yes, Laurel informed her mother and father that Kasen had fallen in love at LegoLand. But wait, it gets even more dramatic. She further informed them that Kasen was going to marry this little girl. What?! When did that happen? Neither Papa or I saw or heard anything. These kids were never out of our sight or beyond hearing range. How could this happen right under our noses and us not know anything about it?!

So just this past weekend, Laurel was coming to stay with us. I decided I would wait for the right time and then strike up a conversation with her about exactly what happened at LegoLand. I knew that if I was too pushy or brought it up at the wrong time I would likely get nowhere. I had to practice my own self-control and be circumspect. The first night she stayed over I was laying with her in her bed reading a book, when she asked me to tell her a story. She likes me to tell real stories about her daddy and his sisters when they were little and the silly things they did. I might embellish them a little, but the basic plot is legit. Anyway, this was my opportunity.

I said, “Hey, Lo, why don’t you tell me the story about Kasen falling in love at LegoLand?”

Laurel responded, “I don’t want to. Ask Kaso to tell you.”

What?  This four year old sprite was not going to get off that easy! “Come on, Lo. I heard you told your mommy and daddy, so you can tell Cece,” I said as connivingly as I  could.

“Okay,” she said, sort of begrudgingly, “ Kasen fell in love at Legoland.”

“Wait,” I objected, “there’s more than that. You told your mommy he was going to marry the girl.”

“Yah,” she offered still a bit reluctant, “I asked him if he was going to marry her, and he said, yes.”

Okay, so at least he did not initiate the proposal. Laurel asked him. Trying not to push too hard, I inquired, “Where did this happen, LoLo?”

“At lunch,” she said without any hesitation, “when we were playing in that little play house, he fell in love with the little girl that was in there.”

Oh, my goodness! Right under our noses indeed! Sure enough. Where we ate lunch there was a little play house about twenty feet away where we could see them playing. But out of sight because we never saw the other little girl that was in the little house.  We saw LoLo and Kasen  running in and out of the house but I do not remember ever seeing another child! Holy cow! What kind of delinquent, incompetent grandma am I?! Crazy enough to have my grandson fall in love and propose right under my nose without  me ever even seeing the girl! And my four year old granddaughter saw it, heard it, and was telling the story. The next time Kasen comes, I will cross examine him…I mean, I will see what his explanation is. Laurel did not know her name. If Kasen knows her name or has her cell phone number, that little girl is getting a phone call from one very crazy grandma. A three year old falling in love and proposing right under my nose.

And, oh, by the way, they both picked out one little thing at the gift shop on the way out of the park. Gramasylum rules!

Monday, October 5, 2015

It's About the Space

In 2014, 18 billion dollars was spent in the United States on traditional toys. These include everything from action figures to dolls to building sets. At 3.6 billion outdoor toys and sports toys were the largest portion of the 18 billion. I must confess I try hard not to. I say I am not going to. But doggone it! When those granz look up at  you with those eyes and smother you with hugs and kisses and are just flat out adorable beyond description all my best laid plans crumble and I buy them toys. I try to stay on the side of educational or imaginative and creative, but let’s get real. Sometimes I just buy whatever they want because I can! This is Gramasylum after all where it’s pretty clear where much more powerful factors are in play than simply what is rational or cheap.

I am proud to say that I put away and stored, much to my husband’s chagrin, a few…okay a lot… of select toys from when my own children were little. We packed and moved them repeated times for 30 years before our first grandchild showed up. I saved some money that way, right? And I am even more pleased to say, and have pointed out to my husband often, that these are now some of the our grandchildren's favorites. A Fisher-Price doctor set is in the top five along with two Polly Pocket sets, Legos, and a canister with different shaped holes in the top and different colored shapes that fit into those holes. Bam! Some toys are classic. I even have a Mr. Potato Head from 35 years ago. I keep this toy in my office and it rocks all the kids who come in with their parents. It allows us to have somewhat meaningful adult conversation while the kiddos pull him apart and put him back together in strange and wonderful ways.

But anyone who has been a child and remembers or anyone who has had children or grandchildren know that the real child mesmerizer is not a particular toy but space. Yes. Space. Every child from the beginning of time until now loves having a special place to play. I don’t remember my mom or dad doing it for me but I know I did it for our three kids and now I do it for our granz. We take blankets and miscellaneous furniture and we drape it all to create a play space. Kids go nuts. “CeCe, Cece! Make me a tent!” The tent becomes a house, a hospital (where we use the 35 year old Fisher Price doctor set to play doctor), a school room. Whatever it becomes it occupies their imaginations for longer than any toy. Though it certainly does a number on general use of that particular space for the duration of the play it is otherwise free except for time and effort. No toy industry ringing up profits in this! But I have even more proof that space wins over toys. I have photographic proof! Every toy box I have ever used has itself become play space. The first toy box I used for my grandchildren was the bright blue elephant you see in this blog. Laurel was not even two when she started pulling all the toys out of the toy “box” and crawled in it to play. Who needs toys? You just need a fun space! Then just recently I got a new toy box. Not as fancy as the elephant but still a great fun space to play. (The blue elephant had become damaged from all the crawling in and out of it and duct tape could not longer hold it together so it had to be retired.) Kasen is three but the last time he visited he emptied the new toy box and crawled in as you can see in the other picture in this blog. The look on his face says it all. Who needs toys when you can have a fun little space just to be.

Special spaces are so easy and so much fun! Of course the challenge for Grama Cece in the tent version is getting in and out and up and down out of these spaces. The heart is willing. The body oh so resistant! It’s why I prefer the actual toy boxes for their play space. These spaces are so small even my little grandchildren know I cannot get into it with them! They are satisfied to have me just pretend with them while they are in these spaces. I pretend I can’t find them. I pretend they are a toy. I pretend I am going to cover them with toys. It’s about the space.