Hair Twirlers

An amazing gift

I am in the final hours of an amazing gift. Since Wednesday just after lunch we have been taking care of Frankie our number five grandchild. Number five in birth order only. They are all number one in my heart. Since I waited nine years for the first one, I was so love struck I thought I would never be able to love another one as much. Wrong. After LoLo arrived in July of 2011, we lost Elijah six months into the pregnancy in August of the same year. We still think about him every day. Then Kaso arrived in July 2012. Jenna showed up in August 2014. Coco entered the love craziness in July 2015.

Departure and arrival times change

Frankie had to find a way to make a grand entrance. She did. She was due in August 2016. I was boarding a plane at Dulles Airport on Saturday July 16, departing for Malawi, Africa, for two weeks. Plenty of time to return on the 31st and be here for Frankie’s projected arrival date of August 20. As I was looking for my seat number I got a call from my husband Drew. Anne was on her way to the hospital. It looked like Frankie was showing up early. I turned around and headed out of the plane and back up the jetway.

I tell people this story all the time and they say, “How could you do that?! They don’t let people off planes once boarding begins.” They let me off! Maybe it was the look on my face. Maybe it was my loud and firm proclamation that I had a family emergency. Who knows? I de-boarded without being dragged or handcuffed. Once off, a wonderfully helpful United employee found me a flight back to LA less than an hour later. I made it to LA in the early afternoon and went right to the hospital. Long story short. . . Frankie waited another four days to make her grand entrance. She was born on July 20, 2016 at 9:30 pm. She was five weeks early but weighed in at five and a half pounds, so she was going to be okay. I was not going to Africa. I was here when Frankie was born. Would not have wanted it any other way. I had thoughts of naming her Frances Malawi Bollman. The parents did not have the same thoughts. Frances Grace Bollman was here. Grace means gift. She is a gift. Her parents entrusting her to us for several days another gift.

This is a test

So, after waiting nine years, I had five grandchildren five and under. Four of them born in July! Little Jenna made her mark by claiming August—my birth month. But Frankie was in the NICU for about ten or eleven days. Let’s just say being a first baby and a preemie makes for a little closer oversight in parenting. This is partly why these past four days have been such a gift. Frankie is doing great now. But the first three or four months were very hard for my daughter and son-in-law and for Frankie.  I have helped with her at her house a few days since she was born. But the fact that they would trust us with her for four days when she is only ten months old is a real gift. Ok. We were “tested” about a month ago. They came down for a sleepover and went out for dinner while I put Frankie to bed. Frankie and I both passed the test. I got her down without incident and she slept fine all night. The May four-day rendezvous was a go!

Back to hair twirlers–serious ones

Oh. I digress. This blog is about hair twirlers. What I discovered taking care of Frankie this long is that she is “one of us.” She is a Davis—my maiden name.  We are a family of hair twirlers. I am a hair twirler. Only casual, though. My hair is perfectly straight. Not a bend in sight. But my sister, Kathy, is a serious hair twirler. We were only sixteen months apart so we spent a lot of time together. Growing up she was always twirling her hair. When we palled around our grade school years, she was twirling her hair. When I visited her in college, she was twirling her hair. After we were both married with children. When we lived in the same town for five years and were at each other’s houses all the time, she was always twirling her hair. She is a breast cancer survivor. When I visited in the hospital during her surgery she was twirling her hair. This was before chemo and she lost it all. But, you get the idea. This is what I mean by serious hair twirler. She has curly hair. I think it is from a lifetime of twirling.

Frankie, from what I can tell these four days, will have curly hair, too. She, like my sister Kathy, is serious about hair twirling. You can see for yourself in this picture. I think this must be a genetic marker. If I was a little younger I might seek a PhD in human hair habits. But I would rather spend the time with my granz, watching them and learning that way. No PhD for me.  When I take leave, I will be certified CG—Crazy Grama.

No  need to get creeped out

I know what some of you are thinking. Cute in little kids, but a little weird for adults, no? For those of you who are not hair twirlers, it’s about the feel. Though time and the elements can do a number on the texture of your exposed hair, even well into adulthood, the under-side of  the hair on the head is very soft and silky. This is why we twirl it. Carefully wrapping a chunk of hair around your forefinger–twirling it–then pushing the small twirl with the tip of your thumb, exposes soft and silky strands. Ahhhhhh. Such pleasure. Those of you who are not hair twirlers and getting creeped out about now. Not to worry. This is all there is to it. Just an innocent and life-long joy of twirling hair. For a ten-month old, it’s all soft and silky. Frankie can twist anywhere on her head and it is so soft.

No end to the craziness

These past four days with Frankie have been such a gift. Because my daughter and son-in-law gave us the opportunity, because Frankie is so full of life and has many unique ways of being in addition to the hair twirling, because I can see the Davis in her, it has been pure joy. They have done such a good job of raising her these ten months she was easy to have. And, because this is Gramasylum there is no end to the crazy love and the crazy fun.

What little patterns of behavior make your family unique and bring fun and joy? Tell us about it in the comments below.


Will You Look At That?!

Mini flash mob photo shoot

Will you look at that?! Four of five grandchildren, all lined up on the couch, all looking in the same direction, none crying, though the one second from the left was sobbing just minutes before. She had flown off a spinning chair and caught the back of her head on the corner of the coffee table in front of the chair. Let’s just say the size and shape of the knot warranted some wailing! If you look closely, she is a little sad looking and if you look even closer you can see I am using my arm behind her neck to hold an ice pack against the knot on the back of her head. Talk about multi-tasking!  Back to the line-up.

The book is the magic

Why did I not think of this at Easter time? These children ranging in age from not quite two to not quite six are all very content and focused in this picture. The book, Cece, the book! It’s about the book. They all love books. They are magic. They especially love books that they can manipulate or search and find things in. Where is Waldo, and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go are two all-time favorites. This particular book highlights the alphabet with objects and animals that start with all the different letters.  Even the youngest already knows the alphabet. She can sing it from A to Z. The older ones love to show how much they know by naming all the objects and animals in the book. And this book has over 100 words with picture flaps. When you open the flap, a picture of a monkey turns into a picture of a monkey eating a banana. Or, a bird sitting on a wire turns into a bird hanging on by one toe with feathers flying everywhere. All four kids love to open the flaps and name what is different. The older ones have the book memorized and declare what is inside the flap before the little ones can even get it open. Cece tries to moderate the older ones enthusiasm so as not to steal the joy of discovery for the little ones. Not always successful. And, it requires a little grand parental management to make sure they all take turns opening the flaps. But the joy of participating actively in the exploration of the book moderates the “me monster” tendencies they all can exhibit.

One little monkey sitting on my lap

It started with one grandchild in a chair. She brought me the book and wanted me to “read it” with her. Then a second child, the smallest one, came over and said, “Up, up, Cece, up.” We made room for her in the chair—one child on each leg. Suddenly two others showed up. LoLo and Kaso wanted in on the gig. No legs left, and the chair would not accommodate them all. So, I negotiated moving to the couch where we could all sit together and read the book. Suddenly, without drama, and within seconds all four of them were lined up on the couch. All four were focused on the book. Wow! Why did I not think of this a month ago? It took almost an hour to get them all in this pose! Of course, they were not all dressed the same in this one, but who cares. And, we were missing the littlest of the munchkins. She had other relatives visiting (how dare they!) and could not be with us this day. But she is only ten months old. She is not quite reading yet. She likes books but mostly to eat them. However, by next year she will be the age of the youngest one in this picture, so I just may have may Easter photo solution. I will see if they want to “read a book!” It’s genius if I do say so myself. And maybe I can find a fun Easter book to top it off!

Love is the bomb

One problem remains. Cece is in the picture. That has not been my plan for photo shoots with the kiddos. Somehow the little ones together by themselves is so precious.  But this did not start as a photo shoot. I did not plan it or organize it. Jenna wanted Cece to read a book with her. She did not want mommy or daddy. She wanted me. Then Coco wanted to sit with me. Other adults available, but she wanted to sit with me. The older two, who can almost read books on their own wanted to sit with me. How can I refuse this kind of affection and attention? Move to the couch. Get them all tucked as close as possible and begin reading the book. For this, I will photo bomb! I did not ask anyone to take the picture. I was simply soaking up the love while it lasted. It lasted a while. Others noticed and started snapping pictures. We got to the end of the alphabet and did not skip a single page. Every page with lots of pictures and over 100 pictures with flaps and we looked at every one! Four grandchildren taking turns. They each got to open more than 25 of the flaps. It was a glorious time! It was a Kodak moment…well an IPhone moment, anyway!

Don’t wait for holidays

The proof is in the picture. No matter how old I look. No matter how out of place I am in the line-up. It is pure love that creates these moments. I am so crazy about these kids and these moments, I will be in any picture with them that anyone is willing and able to take. I just hope I remember this trick next year at Easter. Crazy Cece is also forgetful Cece. Or maybe we’ll just start taking them all year round. Why wait for holidays to take pictures? I will accommodate and cherish every time they want to sit with me and read books. One is bound to fall around Easter time! Gramasylum is the best!

A Little Pre-Easter Miracle

I consider it my own private little pre-Easter miracle. Two weeks ago, April 9, this blog posted a picture of my grandchildren’s Easter outfits all lined up on the couch waiting for the little bodies to fill them up. Look at this photo, will you?! I know. It isn’t perfect and they are not looking at the camera. Give me some slack! It’s coming. Sort of.

I remembered how hard it was last year  to get four of them dressed, lined up, and looking in the right direction long enough to get the picture. You can also see this foursome picture in the post from April 9. Last year we had the whole weekend. This year we only had about eight hours to get the job done. And, now there were five of them, the youngest one is not quite nine months old! I am an eternal optimist, relentlessly hopeful. And this crazy grama is hard to discourage. However, time and experience has moderated my optimism some. And the deeper value of not wanting to spend important family time being disappointed or bitter over a missed photo caused me to dig deep and prepare for the reality that the picture might not happen. The challenges are real and many. And in the mid-morning hours it looked doubtful. But a crazy grama can try, right?


Getting five children under the age of six, all awake at the same time when two are still nappers is a challenge all its own.  They go to bed at different times. They wake up at different times, and let’s just say they are in varying stages of cooperative spirit. Just about the time the older ones have played long enough and can be coaxed to allow Cece to take their picture, the younger ones are ready for a nap!


Then there is the challenge of getting them all to put the outfits on.  Three of them are old enough now to have opinions about what they do and do not want to wear. I took a crazy gamble when I bought these outfits without consulting them. And actually, the second to the youngest, only twenty-one months old is quite capable of resisting getting dressed at all! Ditto for the not quite nine-month old. Two resisters out of five mean that this dressing up project is no cake walk. Further complicating the challenge is that most of them still want Cece to do this kind of thing for them.  Usually, this pleases me to no end and I love that they want me to do things for them. However, when trying to get a group photo and having so many other challenges to overcome, having to dress all five of them is not only not very pleasing, it is almost impossible in the time frame given. The other adults in the experience were having coffee and conversation and passing through the dressing room chaos offering all sorts of advice like, “Mom, we can do this later.” “Mom, is it really worth it?” Two problems. We were not doing this. I was. There was little assistance in the dressing department. And, worth it? I was already half way to the goal–two-and-a-half little bodies dressed, two-and-a-half to go. There was no turning back now. Nope. The craziness of Gramasylum cannot be exhausted.  I think I dressed all of them. I have no idea how long this took but long enough to elicit another challenge–getting them all in the mood to take a picture.

Smiling . . . Well Not Crying

I am not so crazy that I would expect excitement and five full-on smiles for this picture. I was simply hoping for no tears or pouty faces. Well, that, too is a challenge with this group at their ages and when they are together. They run non-stop. They play crazy games jumping on and off surfaces. So of course, there are injuries. And, though there are eight million toys and books and things to play with in our home, two of them often want the same thing at the same time. There are arguments. These children might look like angels but they can be little devils. They can be smiling and laughing one minute and in utter despair and hysteronics the next. So, just when they are all dressed ready to try and herd onto the couch for the miraculous Easter picture, one of them falls running down the hallway and skins her knee on the hall carpet. No smiles from this one for the next two hours. I got her knee all kissed up, and wiped away the tears, but there would be no smiles from this one. Another one doing cartwheels around the furniture miscalculates and bangs her leg on the coffee table. Though a very small wound releases a very small amount of blood, full triage is required. Stop everything. Clean the wound. Find a band aid and apply. “No, not that way,” says the bleeding child. Cece further relinquishes hope. This one awake and dressed will also likely be without smiles. The photo opp seems to be slowly but surely slipping through my crazy fingers.

I do not have time or words adequate to describe the morning meltdown of one of the cherubs. Let’s just say that even though the little one finally stopped crying, by that time almost everyone else was. Miracle within a miracle, this little one actually ended up very neutral in countenance. Kudos especially to her mom–a regular miracle worker. All this would make even the most determined grandmother-in-hopes-of-an-Easter-picture give up. Not this one. I call it Gramasylum for a reason. Crazy Cece forged ahead with the plan.

Lined Up

All awake, all dressed, all at least neutral in facial expression, now the challenge was to get them all lined up on the couch. Most of you know how this works. Three lined up and one has to go potty. Two lined up. Four lined up and one slides sideways out of the range of the camera—the one not quite able to sit on her own yet. Three lined up. Cece enlists the oldest to place her arm around the waist of the youngest to help hold her steady and stay in the photo. Four lined up again and one sneezes and has less than picture perfect things hanging from their nose and dripping down the lips. Pause to wipe nose and face. Three lined up. While doing so another one slips off the couch to get something they dropped on the floor. Only two lined up. It goes on and on. Finally, all five littles, awake, dressed, faces bright or at least neutral (no one screaming or crying) and all lined up on the couch. I hear someone shout, suprisingly it wasn’t me, “Get the phone cameras flashing for goodness sake! Hurry!” Six adults. One herding small children to stay lined up on the couch. Five getting camera phones ready and flashing. But one challenge remains. Getting all five looking in the right direction. Wait. There are five cameras. Where should they look? (I actually love the picture at the top of this blog, caught just before grama antics commenced to get them all looking in the same direction.)


Looking in the General Direction

Crazy Grama to the rescue. I stand front and center and make the silliest faces and the weirdest noises—all things these children are accustomed to—and, voila! All five awake, dressed, lined up, and at least not crying, and all looking in the sort of general direction of the clicking camera phones. Whew! We did it! It is our own little pre-Easter miracle. Proof is in the untouched photo below.


After this year’s little miracle, I do have to ask this question: Why do this? Too late, of course, to reflect on for this year. But there is always next year. A better question is, given this year’s little miracle, do I want to risk it all again. Can or should I expect this each year? Are all the challenges and resulting stress and chaos worth it? Is the picture worth that much? I have an idea. Maybe I can take individual pictures of each child when they are at their best—up and eager to get dressed and wanting to please Cece with a smile for a picture. Then I could have some tech savvy person photo shop them all sitting sweetly side by side on my couch. Picture perfect! Not real, but perfect. Sounds crazy but I think I prefer the adrenaline rush chaos and the resulting less than perfect picture. A real one. After all, my real world is crazy. I choose to live here. Gramasylum suits me. And as long as my littles keep coming the craziness will prevail.

If you have crazy chaotic granz pictures share them with your comments below.

Just Waiting for the Little Bodies

We are ready

There you have it! The dresses and shirt and pants for Easter Sunday for all the Blankman grandkids are all lined up just waiting for their adorable little bodies. The vision and hope is for four girls and one boy all dressed up with somewhere to go–Easter Sunday worship. Last year I shopped for Easter clothes and we got a picture of all of them all lined up on the couch in their matching outfits. I crazy love this picture of them together.

We did it last year

From left to right: Jenna, Laurel, Kasen, and Colette. Worked last year! But we have added one this year. Frances was born in July. I went ahead and shopped for Easter outfits again this year. It remains to be seen whether we can pull this off, or, I should say, pull these on! We’ll see whether or not the line up will be complete with all five of them dressed and lined up.

It requires a miracle

Getting them all here, at Cece and Papa’s house at the same time is one hurdle. Then getting them all dressed in these particular outfits at the same time is a second hurdle. Nappers can throw a wrench in the plans at any time. However, even if they are all awake, the final hurdle is the most challenging. It’s a tantamount to herding cats. Somehow we must get them all in a the same picture perfect space, get them all looking in the right direction, hopefully get them all smiling; well, at least not any of  them crying. All this requires a miracle. But of course, Easter is all about miracles. I am a believer, so I believe we can do it! Although, I think someone might have used Easter baskets as a bribe.

Why is one dress not like the other

If you are a close observer, you noticed one of the dresses in the lead picture is not the same as the other three. Aha! There is a reason for that. A good reason. After I had spent several hours shopping and picking out the new dresses with little matching sweaters, and a nice shirt and pant set for my handsome Kaso, I sent a picture of the clothes to the moms. I did this to let them know that they did not have to shop for Easter clothes if they did not want to. Crazy Cece had taken care of it early. They were all grateful. One glitch, however. One of the little girls already had this dress. Whaaaat?! Yes. This. Very. Same. Dress. Doh!

There was no way that I had time to start shopping all over again. So, using FaceTime now, and with the help of her mommie, we shopped for one new and different dress for little Jenna–the one who already had this dress. I wasn’t taking the chance and getting it wrong twice! Jenna would still get a new dress. But, for picture cuteness perfection, and total Gramasylum craziness she would  have to wear the old  one on Easter! No getting around it. She would get the new little sweater but she would wear the old dress–the one that would match with all the other little girls. That is of course, if we can get them all dressed up and lined up and looking up at the same time!

It’s crazy wonderful

I know. It’s crazy. But by now you know that is exactly where I live and where I want to be. Admit it. Your little loves make you crazy, too. There is no better way to be! Stay tuned for the 2017 Blankman Easter Beautiful Granz Line Up. You will see it. I believe in miracles. It’s crazy wonderful.

Do you have pictures of your granz dressed alike for special occasions? Send them to me at and I will post them here at Gramasylum!


Frankie’s Favorite Toy

Toys R Hers

Frankie has a million six toys. There are the standard baby toys that have stood the test of time. She has plush little animals, lots of chew rings and shapes, and rattles all over the place. Frankie has a play mat with a veritable zoo hanging overhead. She has one of those push cart thingy majiggys that are  very popular with the littles these days and actually help them learn to walk. Her push cart has enough gadgets to help her learn a full year of developmental tasks for tots. Some of her toys are so sophisticated. They sing, play music, and speak different languages. They are interactive. If she touches or pushes or pulls on some of them they talk to her or sing to her, all the while flashing lights of every hue and color. She has one of those bounce saucers that has so many gadgets she would have to stay in it for two or three years to play with everything that is at her disposal on the 360 degree tray that surrounds her. And, of course, Frankie can bounce her heart out. All the while various and sundry animals dangle around and above her within reach, ready to be pulled and squeezed. These animals also delight and entertain her with sights and sounds. One of the animal sounds is supposed to be an elephant. If you ask me, it sounds more like a Velociraptor. Frankie does a great impression of a Velociraptor.

Her Own Library

She also has more books than most small town libraries.  Books about everything imaginable. Only eight months old and she already loves books. Of course, she loves to eat them more than read them, but if you use a lot of different voices she will listen for a few minutes when she is heading down naptime lane. Her mother says her favorite book is one that Cece and Papa gave her for Christmas this past year. It may be true, or her mother may be working on racking up brownie points with me. No matter. I will take it either way. The boo  is The Pout Pout Fish, by Deborah Diesen. You can find it in stores and on Amazon. The story involves several other species of fish that interact with the Pout Pout Fish. It’s one of those happy ending stories.  On the last page of the book Mr. Pout Pout Fish is upside down, and what do you know? He is smiling now! Everyone is happy. Being a relentless optimist and idealist, it is my kind of book for sure. I love happy ending stories. I am so pleased Frankie likes it, too. Every family has their smilers and pouters. Hopefully this book will help put Frankie on the smiley team.

She’s Got the Moves

Though Frankie is not yet walking, or crawling, she can get pretty much wherever she wants to go by spinning and rolling. She is very adept at these moves. She sees what she wants. Her little arms function like a sort of compass orienting her little frame in the direction she wants to roll, and off she goes! Sometimes it requires slight adjustments and partial rolls, but she always ends up where she wants to be with what she wants in her hands. Frankie knows what she wants and knows how to get where she wants to go. She is so good at this maneuvering she could get by without crawling or walking for quite some time!

So What’s Her Favorite

So, with all these colorful and interactively amazing toys filling her space, what is Frankie’s favorite thing to play with? Unless you presently have a small child in your home all the time, I doubt you would ever guess. A drumroll here would be a really nice affect, followed by a “padump bump” after I announce. Frankie’s favorite thing to play with in this veritable Toys-R-Hers house she lives in, is . . . the tags on her play mat! Padump bump! Yes. Those white tags with product information and warnings with text and symbols front and back that are sewn into the edge of every toy you buy are her favorite. The inscription warns you NOT to remove them at the risk of losing everything you value and love. Little did I know that the loss warning included the attention of very small children to everything else in the room!

Frankie’s favorite “toy” is those stupid tags! (Sorry, Kaso. I know Cece is not supposed to say “stupid.” But, really?!) All the amazing brain stimulating, educationally designed, artistically created, light and sound gizmos in the room and Frankie heads right for the tags. The pictures in this blog do not lie. I mean look at that relative to Frankie full sized red, yellow, and orange giraffe right within reach! Nope. The tags have it!

The manufacturers must know this. Somewhere in every toy design lab in the world there must be a manual on how to make these tags irresistible. They are made of indestructible, and thank goodness, indigestible plastic. The only way to get rid of them is to cut them off. But no! Don’t do it! Don’t even consider it! You never know what you will lose! And, besides, you will end up with sobbing, forlorn grandbabies. They will turn into Pout Pout Fish no matter how smiley they were before. Poor little Frankie would be rolling from toy to toy, from edge to edge, frantically searching for those tags. I do not remember this strange phenomenon when my kids were little. My memory is less available than it once was, so perhaps these tags were favorites long ago. Whatever the case may be, I clearly saw it this past Friday when I was spending the day with Frankie.

The Craziness Thickens

My entrepreneurial spirit is awakening. I am thinking about manufacturing a baby mat completely covered and bordered with tags of every color, size and shape. Perhaps with some ingenuity and microscopic computer chips (safely embedded and indigestible also, of course) I could design them to talk and sing and make tag sounds. What would those sounds be? I could manufacture tag blankets and mats and pillows and books, and grama clothing, that way the babies would always want to come to grama! Wall to wall carpet. Nothing but tags! The possibilities are endless! Wait. This is crazy! My condition must be worsening. There is no turning back. Gramasylum really is the perfect place for me. Tag that!

What are some of the craziest things to catch your grandchild’s fancy? Share it with us in the comments below.


Always trade-offs in life

In 2012 we downsized and moved from a house and yard with a pool to a condo just steps from the beach. My dream for years (my husband said it was a pipe dream, ha!) had been to live with an ocean view. Now we were going to have it. But, it was a challenging move. There were trade-offs. Much less square footage and no garage or yard meant we had to divest ourselves of all sorts of things.

We had a beautiful back yard. It had it all. In California this is uncommon in our price range. Land is so expensive. So many houses with pools do not have green space. The pool takes up all of that. Our yard had a pool and green space. There was a veranda on the back of the house and two other covered areas to sit and enjoy the pool or the yard. It was full of flowers and trees that made it a garden paradise—you were not staring into the kitchen window of a neighbor. I had planted lilies from Easter every year for ten years and so in the spring there was a bank of beautiful trumpeting white lilies. Sumptuous rose bushes, elegant birds of paradise, exploding ice plants, and lush greens filling the senses in every direction. Birds and critters flew and scurried everywhere. It felt like a piece of heaven on earth.

In 2010 I took up oil painting and had established a little studio in the corner of the garage. This allowed me to paint my heart out any time of the night or day without disturbing anyone else. My vocation is intense, often stressful, and on-call twenty-four-seven.  No day is completely off. In painting I found a refuge where I would lose track of all worries and stressors and time. And, if I was called away for an emergency, I could leave everything as it was. It would wait for me. It would not be in anyone’s way. Space was varied and generous with this home.

Big but. . .

But. And here is a big “but.” It was a lot of work. Remember. In Southern California there is no dormant season. Stuff grows, and grows, and grows, and grows all year round. Sure, I cut back my rose bushes in January and they were dormant…for about two months! Then, bam! Roses everywhere. Weeds everywhere, and continuous work to keep them groomed and unobstructed by weeds. My husband spent most of every Saturday we were home doing yard work. And when we took vacation we  returned and paid dearly. it would take several days of work to get the yard back in shape. And there was the pool. We did not have pool service. We were the pool service. More work.

So when I changed jobs in 2012 we made the decision. We gave up yard, garage, flowers and trees, outside space to lounge and play, and pool to refresh or swim. We moved into a condo with a pool but no garage or yard. But it has an ocean view. And this was not a minimalist ocean view. In Southern California real estate can be listed as “peekaboo ocean view.” This means that from somewhere in the house, and it could be a closet or bathroom, you can see at least a sliver of the ocean peeking through between the two houses across the street. In the walk- through of home buying, it’s a sort of game to figure out where to peak to see the ocean! Ours was a full-on ocean view. From the minute we open our bedroom door the ocean is in view. Down the hall, and from any place in the kitchen or living-dining room area you can see the ocean. And we also have peekaboo views from all three bedrooms! When it comes to affordable ocean view property, we hit the jackpot. And, we are just steps from the beach and pier. We walk the beach every morning without having to get in a car to get there. What we gave up in exercise from yard work we gained in exercise from walking the beach. And we have a pool but someone else services it. Not too shabby!

What does this have to do with Gramasylum

Wait. So what does all this have to do with being a crazy grandmother? A lot! When we moved in 2012 we only had two grandchildren. One was barely a year old and the other only three months old. They were pretty contained and not very mobile. With three married children we were pretty confident more were on the way. In our new condo there would be much less interior space, and our exterior space was not simply out the back patio door. It was two elevators (or eight flights of stairs) and a five minute hike down to the beach. The beach! An ocean beach! Our backyard was now the ocean. And no upkeep for us in that! No lawn to mow, no trees to trim, no flowers to attend to through four seasons. We had moved to a no-maintenance ocean view. It was no longer a dream, let alone a pipe dream.

The adult children all “voted” yes on this move. I think they just might have been thinking about eventual inheritance. For them it would be a vacation getaway, a second home, a beach home! For us, it was our only residence–home. How would this work with grandchildren? By 2015 there were five of them. How would small children do in this small space with no backyard to run and play in. Not having the pool right in our backyard was actually a relief for us. The constant supervision or the cost to enclose would both have been real challenges for us. But would these littles like coming to Papa and Cece’s condo?

It’s not about the amount of space

They. Love. It. They beg their parents to go to Cece’s house. We find ways to make the space big and fun. We make forts with blankets. They have their own little table for eating and playing with play dough or painting or cutting and pasting things. They love to use the binoculars on our little balcony patio to try and see whales or huge ships from Camp Pendleton that are often just off shore doing maneuvers. And, did I tell you about the train? The tracks are just off the shore between us and the beach. We thought the noise would be a nuisance. We got use to the noise. And the grandchildren LOVE the trains. They can hear the ding, ding, ding of the beach crossing bars going down, with red lights flashing and the train whistle a mile away. Wherever they are in the condo they come running for the balcony patio saying, “Train, train, train! Cece, train!” I whisk them up in my arms and we run pell-mell to the patio just in time to see the train speed by. And we stay to watch the crossing bars with the flashing red lights going back up and we mimic the motion and the ‘ding, ding, ding” of the warning bell until the bars are up, the lights have stopped and the dings are done. It is a much-loved routine. Three of the grandchildren have experienced and loved this routine. The fourth and fifth will soon begin. And the older two now watch the trains and figure out where they are going. They now know the southbound trains are headed to Lolo’s house and the northbound are headed to Kaso’s house! At five and a half and four and a half the trains still hold their attention.

They all love the beach. They are not yet old enough to swim or surf or boogey-board. But we build sand castles. We have little shark-headed garbage grabbers to help with beach clean-up. It’s fun and they learn to care for the beautiful world God has given them. We gather bamboo sticks and build imaginary animals. Last time Kasen visited, Papa taught him how to break small rocks against larger rocks to find fossils or agates or other treasures that might be hidden inside. You would have thought Papa took him to Disneyland! And of course, there is always throwing rocks. What kid does not love to throw rocks? And there is no ending in the supply of rocks or of ocean to throw them in.

For now we are confident the trade-offs were worth it. As they grow up, we are pretty confident they will still love to come to our house. They will likely spend less time with us and more with friends on the beach or in the water, but they will come.

The bottom line

The bottom line here in Gramasylum is that it is not about the space as much as it is about the relationships and the investment of time. Do I want to be interrupted in whatever I am doing every time a train goes by? No. But for them, I drop anything to run to the balcony patio to go through the ding ding ding routine. Do I love my small condo strewn from back to front with toys and baby paraphernalia? No. But for them no mess is big enough to not want them around. Do I love schlepping all the beach gear every time we go “outside.” No. But for them I will “shlepp til I drop” in order to be with them and participate in the wonder of discovering all this beach location affords. When it comes to loving grandchildren it is the time not the space that really matters. With a little imagination and a lot of crazy love any space can be fun for kids. It does not require expensive toys or equipment. Sticks and rocks, and blankets and boxes, can provide hours of fun.

We made a challenging decision to downsize. We traded space, a backyard with pool for a view and quick access to the ocean. For now our grandchildren love to come. With a little crazy planning and crazy flexibility we hope they will continue to want to come, not because of the space, but because of the crazy love we have for them. As long as I can breathe and move I will be as crazy as I need to be to have them come. It’s Gramasylum. There is no turning back!

What creative and crazy things have you done to have fun with your grandchildren?

Pure Crazy-Making Sweetness

I wish I could put the sound of her voice in this blog.  I know. If I was tech-savvy enough, I could! I’m not, okay? You’ll have to imagine this tiny little, sweet-as-Godiva-milk-chocolate, sincere-as-you-can-imagine voice saying these things. Let me give you just a sampling of her standard, unsolicited responses to everyday things in life.

“Ohhhhh, sank you soooo much, Cece!”

“Weerwy?”  Said with arms and legs moving rapidly and sheer joy.

“Ohhhhh, I jus wuuuv it!”

“No fank you, Cece.”

“I wuuuv my Cece.” This one, of course, will get her anything she asks for after it.

“Ohhhhh, I so sited [excited]!”

“Axually, ….” followed by some correction to what she just said. She actually usually has something to say well worth listening to, But, just her saying “axually” gets me every time!

You get the flavor. This little two-and-a-half-year-old girl is full of so much enthusiasm and so much sweetness you would think she has been coached. She has not. She has been carefully instructed in manners and politeness, yes. Please and thank you are expected family norms. But the way she says them cannot be coached. It would be impossible to coax it out of any child and sound genuine. It just comes out of her and it flows full and abundantly. It is clearly the result of pure unadulterated (read, “no adult messing with it”) joy and glee at the simplest things in life.

Homemade waffles for breakfast for these littles is a long-standing tradition at Cece’s house. No Eggos for these precious mites. In her short two-and-a-half years of life I have made her waffles at least two dozen times. Yet, this past weekend when I made her waffles, the “Ohhhhh, sank you sooo much Cece” sounded like she just opened a surprise door and got a live pony for her birthday! I am not kidding. She is pure sweetness and enthusiasm. Add to the sweet little lispy voice, the image of her barely thirty-four inch frame running down the hall with her little heels kicking up behind her as she tells you how “sited” she is and this grama goes crazy with love. With this combo you have the makings of a child who could ask for just about anything and get it. At this age and stage, she is not asking for much, but she could! Actually, she does often ask for “pawcone” [popcorn] and a movie in our bedroom. A few pillows stacked on the bed, microwave popcorn, and a bottle of water, and you’d think it was a Disneyland show.  She gets a movie and popcorn just about whenever she asks. Especially when she wants to watch my personal favorite movie, Finding Nemo. Can’t you hear her? “Ohhhhh, I jus wuv Nemo!”  ‘Ohhhhh, sank you fo da pawcone, Cece!”

I can’t help but wonder how long this will last. Her older brother is pretty darn sweet, too. Although, at four-and-a-half he has already learned the art of teasing and twisting his sweetness for maximum effect. His latest? At his house, when his mom went out to push him on the swings he said, “Sorry, mom, but I kinda like Cece better than you.” Sweet for me. Not so sweet for her. But while he was here this weekend when he was sitting in my lap, he reversed it with a mischievous little grin on his face. Traitor! He is sweet and excited about playing all the angles.

I am very proud that my daughter has passed on the manners training she received. I got a little of it back at me this weekend. I called something stupid. Kasen, the four-and-a-half year old, quickly and gently instructed me saying, “We don’t say stupid.” I apologized but also qualified the principle. We do not call people stupid but the TV remote is a perfectly appropriate target for such language.

Back to the sweet little sister. On top of it all she hardly ever stops smiling and the dimple on her left cheek is a mile deep. The combined effect of the cuteness, the sweetness, and the sheer joy for simple life is a slam dunk crazy grama-maker. This is why I created Gramasylum. I live here. I am happy to live here. And, I am getting crazier by the minute. Or, should I say, I am getting crazier by the grandchild.

What are the things that your grandchildren say that make you crazy? Share them below in the comments. Maybe, I’ll write a book. Crazy idea.

Cousin Love

The love that I have for my grandchildren is hard to describe. Any attempt to quantify it falls abysmally short. Those of you who have these little people creating chaos in your life and home and heart, know exactly what I am talking about. And you would think that after a while you would hit max love capacity. You would think that there just could not be any more room to love any more of them. Not the case. Each time another one is born, the love capacity immediately expands–no explodes–to make room for more love to pour out and over and all around your life. Granted, my life has only five of these remarkable little heart-stealing, love-inspiring people. Perhaps when you reach ten or twelve you begin to reach the outer edges of the capacity for love. Settle down, prodigy of mine. I KNOW there are not going to be twelve of them in our family. It’s just a number I pulled out of the air for the sake of this blog, ok? Yet, I have friends who have eight and twelve and fifteen grandchildren and there is no sign of the explosive love fizzling out!

All this love of my grandchildren is grand. Maybe that’s partly why they are called grandchildren! Never thought of that until now! But there is another love generated by these little people that simply sends me over the moon with emotion. Their love for each other causes my heart to feel things I never knew it could feel.

I am so grateful that they live close enough to be able to spend time together. I do not take it for granted. The three older ones, ages 5, 4, and 2 1/2, already openly express their affection for each other.  Whenever we FaceTime with Laurel Ana (Lo Lo) the first thing she usually asks is, “Is Kaso there?” Or if we are talking about being together she asks, “Will Kaso be there?” And it is exactly the same for Kasen (Kaso). When we FaceTime with him, one of the first things he asks is, “Is Lo Lo there?”  Jenna, the one in the middle has now expressed the same affection for her two younger cousins, Colette (CoCo or Cokie) and Frances (Frankie). When she can squeeze into the FaceTime conversation by elbowing her way past her big brother Kasen, and get a word in edgewise, she asks, “Is Cokie there?” and, “Me see Frankie?” These little people genuinely and enthusiastically love each other. I have a lot of people in my life who I love, who do not even know each other, let alone, love each other. What a precious gift and great thrill it is to have these little people who make me crazy with love, love each other, too. I don’t even mind that they completely dis me on FaceTime to ask about their cousins! I love it!

It won’t be long until Cokie and Frankie will join the chorus. Cokie is old enough to get in on some of the love fun, but still younger enough that the older granz usually designate her as the one to be run from or the one to hide from. For now she loves whatever attention she can get. Eventually she will join the lovefest and Frankie will not be far behind. Frankie, just seven months old, already loves to just watch the cousins run around and be crazy with each other. It’s hard to even get eye contact with her when they are in sight. But I get so much joy out of watching Frankie watching them love each other, its okay if they all ignore me. This is Gramasylum taken to the next level of craziness.

Whenever they are together I try to tell them how blessed they are to live close enough to be together often. And, I encourage them to stay friends and continue to love each other as they grow up. One day they will be coming to Grama Cece’s house and they will disappear into the world of preteen goings-on, the park, the beach, the library, the pool, or just in the other room whispering. And eventually they will drive away together (Lord, have mercy!) to do things Grama Cece will never be able to do with them. (And some things they will not want Grama Cece to know they are doing!) These relationships, this cousin love, has the capacity to be a major source of joy, comfort, support, and friendship for years to come.

I know it’s not a guarantee. One family could move away. All three families could move away. (See Grama Cece inconsolable on the floor with wailing and gnashing of teeth!) And, I know they could  grow up in ways that would intentionally or unintentionally cause distance between them. They could choose to grow up in ways that would not allow the love to continue to grow. They could choose not to share life regularly–to be close friends. But a grama can dream, can’t she? And, I can continue to tell them about the amazing possibilities and encourage them to appreciate and love each other every moment they can. The world can be a lonely and cruel place at times. Cousin love just might be one of the things to help them see through those cruel and lonely times!

Did you have a cousin like this when you were growing up? How do you encourage your grandchildren to be friends? Share your memories and experiences in the comments below.

Experience Gifts

I don’t know about other people’s grandchildren’s collection of toys, but all five of ours could open their own Toys R Us! They have toys that have toys. Their toys move, morph, make noises, mimic, and do just about everything you can image. Many are battery operated. Some are wifi enabled! Yikes! This is crazy amazing. But even for Gramasylum, where the grama is crazy, it is a significant challenge to buy gifts for these littles who have almost everything their imaginations can think of! Ta da! Enter “experience gifts.” I don’t know when this term came into vogue. And, actually, I was giving them before I knew there was a term for them. But with the reality of my grandchildren’s playrooms filled with enough toys for a store of their own, experience gifts have become the main way we give.

Two years in a row we have given the two older grandchildren trips to LegoLand for their birthdays. And for two years one family has received a family membership to the LA Zoo. Actually, it’s a Deluxe Membership—Grama Cece is on the family pass, too! I know how to do experience gifts really well.

The latest experience gift effort knocked it out of the park. Using a Groupon coupon, we purchased two discount tickets to Medieval Times in Buena Park. We decided this would be a boys adventure. Papa and Kasen, the guy among the gals in our tribe of five grandkids, were headed for a Medieval adventure. Papa and Kasen had watched a couple of videos on jousting knights and Kasen was quite impressed. So, we decided to let him experience the live re-enactment that Medieval Times provides.

About two weeks before the show, we told Kasen that we had a surprise for him. We told him that he and Papa were going to do something together—just the two of them. He was very excited. Every time we talked, or FaceTimed in those two weeks he asked us what the surprise was. He just wanted a hint! It was hard but we held the line and told him he would have to wait. After all, it was a surprise! Finally, Kasen arrived with his mom and sister a couple of days before the event. That is when we told him about Medieval Times. He was VERY excited. He wanted to bring his own little Amazon Fire to take pictures so he asked his mom to be sure it was fully charged. A rather expensive “toy” itself, mom was not so sure he should take it. Grama Cece found him a little back bag to put it in so he would not set it down and lose it, so his mom let him take it.  But, Kasen was also a little concerned.  Remembering the videos he had watched, Kasen advised Papa that they should not sit in the first row or near where the knights were jousting. He explained to Papa, “If those swords or jousting poles break, they could come flying and hit us!” Kasen did not want to be hit by one of those! Kasen wanted to be sure that he and Papa would sit up higher away from the knights. All of a sudden we wondered if it would be too scary for Kasen. He is all boy and hitting and kicking and smashing everything in sight. But, he is also a sensitive little soul. The tickets were already purchased. Papa made sure they left early enough to get a seat wherever Kasen wanted, but guessed the closer seats would fill  up first anyway.

For three days, every couple of hours before the event Kasen would ask, “Are we leaving pretty soon, Papa?” Finally, the day came and the time to leave came. Kasen could hardly stand still. He was beside himself with excitement. Papa was too. He just doesn’t show it as much! Truth be known, so was I. Secretly, I wanted to go along. But I knew this was a boys outing. I told Papa to be sure and send pictures. But Kasen’s Fire never left his back bag and Papa only got two pictures. Papa took one picture in the gift shop waiting for the show to begin. The entrance goes through the gift shop, of course. Cece had given Kasen five dollars to buy a souvenir. The picture below shows the items that captured Kasen’s heart—a castle, a dragon, and a knife with a snake sheath. Obviously, it was not in his budget! So, after the show, he ended up buying a knights blue flag, the color of the knight he chose to cheer for during the event. The other picture above, simply shows the event in progress. I was a bit miffed there were no other pictures until Papa explained why.

Kasen was so mesmerized by the event he hardly moved. His little neck and head just cleared the table they were seated at and his chin rested on the table through the entire event. He was transfixed with it all. One time, bouncing in his seat, Papa heard Kasen say, under his breath, “I am so excited!”  And only one other time did he take his eyes off the knights and their horses. Without any prompting, he turned to Papa and said, “Thank you, Papa, for bringing me to the castle!” Heart melt. Papa then. Cece when Papa told her.

This is what experience gifts are all about.  They can cost a little more, but they last a lifetime. Toys come and go. Toys break. Toys are reproducible. Experiences are one of a kind. They create memories and build relationships like no toy ever can. Sure, some childhood toys are remembered and even kept and passed on.  I have a few of these well-made toys. Remember Baby Tiny? (See August 28, 2016 blog post.) But they do not create the depth of experience that going together to the LA Zoo does, or to LegoLand, or to Medieval Times. I am crazy about experience gifts. Even when Cece doesn’t get to go, Gramasylum expands with every outing! The crazy love gets deeper and deeper.

Do any of  you other crazy gramas out there have good suggestions for other experience gifts? Comment here and share the wealth!

Just When You Think They Are Asleep

We changed her diaper. We got our jammies on. We watched a movie and had popcorn. We brushed our teeth. We gave goodnight kisses and hugs to brother, grandpa, and mommy. We got our paci (pacifier). We found baby tiny, bear, doggy, and blankie and tucked them all close by in our little sleeping bag bed on the floor. We read a book. We said our prayers. I sang every song I know to sing at bedtime at least two times. We laid together for at least thirty minutes until all the tossing and turning stopped. All the legs and arms swinging and sweeping came to a rest. The outstretched arm with hand touching my neck to make sure I was still there slowly slipped down to the sleeping bag on the floor. Ok.  Until I fell asleep, too. Then, when I woke up because of the pain in my side and neck from laying on the floor next to her, I carefully got up, put my glasses back on, turned the lamp light off, and quietly closed the door as I left the room.

It is such a joy to be with these little ones as they call it a day. The fact that she allows me to do this rather than her mommy is quite an honor! But it is an ordeal. Probably close to an hour from beginning to end. Sometimes I can do two at one time. Not this night. It was just me and Jenna. And, I was ready for a little adult conversation and a glass of wine to finish off the night. Her grandfather, her mom and I were doing just that. Some time passed. It seemed like awhile. But, all of a sudden, from down the hall came a little voice and the jammied little two-year-old Jenna with her hand on her head saying, “I want piggy tails.” All three adults burst out laughing. She was awake at 10 p.m. and she was walking and talking and requesting her hair to be put in pig tails. We could hardly believe it. I had tried to put her hair in piggy tails two days in a row and she would not have it. Now, some how she woke up after only a little while asleep and knew what she wanted. She wanted pig tails. What is a grama to do? There was only one thing to do. Give the girl pig tails!

We walked together to the bathroom. She climbed the little step stool we have for the kids to reach the sink and mirror. I gave her pig tails. She was completely satisfied. No protest to stay up later. No whining when I put her back in her little sleeping bag bed. No fussing and crying about staying up. She had what she wanted. Pig tails. She looked adorable. She IS adorable. But what goes on in the mind of a little two- year-old when they refuse for two days to allow you to put their hair in pig tails and then, suddenly, they awake and decide it is time to have them? I do not know. I do not understand. I just respond with the crazy grama love that comes rushing in every time something like this happens. I wish I had a picture to show you of the striped-pajama, baby tiny hugging two-year-old sweetie, but there was no way to interrupt this Gramasylum moment with a photo shoot! The pictures posted here are from a few days before when she first allowed her mommy to give her pig tails.

I try to say “yes” as often as I can, and say “no” only when it is really necessary. That is the privileged territory of a grandmother. I do whatever she says within reason. Reason flexes a lot in Gramasylum. Like when she wants to have waffles three meals a day. She loves waffles. Is it all that crazy to eat them three times a day? I do sneak in other food groups. A strawberry on her plate. A little peanut butter on a banana. Chocolate milk instead of water. A Dum Dum sucker for dessert. Ok, I know it is not ideal, but in the long run, what harm is there? Waffles have eggs and milk in them and I use olive oil instead of vegetable oil! Downright healthy waffles! Ok. The Dum Dums are dumb. Crazy love calls for crazy meals!

So, piggy tales past bedtime. Waffles three meals a day. A Dum Dum thrown in here and there. It is crazy and I love it! What are you willing to confess you have done in the grip of crazy grama love?!