Camp Great Grandma

3 grandkids. 5 days. 1 adult (me). Countless hours of fun. We call it Camp Grandma. Many of my friends hold their own versions of this camp with their own grandchildren. Designed to give parents a break and grandparents the opportunity to spoil the kids, Camp (Insert Name Here) is always full of new experiences and established traditions as the kids come back year after year. 

The way we each do Camp is as unique as we all are individually. For example, I feel like I run a pretty tight ship considering that I’m the grandmother. This is due to the fact that my oldest grandchild has ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and seriously needs to have structure in order to have a wonderful camp experience. We sit around the table each morning and create the day’s agenda in 15-minute increments. My first year as a rookie camp organizer, we planned activities in 30-minute increments and we were done with the whole day’s schedule by noon. 

Now, as a veteran (14 years!), I feel like I know what I’m doing. I’ve even turned going out to lunch into a multi-sensory experience by going through the automatic car wash on the way. This adds 10 minutes of oohs and aaahs to the day, which brings me to the title of today’s blog: Camp Great Grandma. It occurred to me earlier today, while taking my car through the automatic car wash that I am currently living in perpetual camp mode. My mother-in-law, who is Great Grandma to my grandchildren is living with us full-time and she has Alzheimer’s. Finding meaningful things for her to do is like planning a camp day each and every day. So today I said to her, “Let’s take the car through the car wash and get some lunch afterwards.” She giggled like a little girl all the way through the wash and got ice cream for dessert after lunch. 

Typically, she follows me around the house asking what she can do and time slows to a crawl when there is nothing to do or I have my own work to attend to. God has blessed me with a decent measure of patience and grace, but sometimes there is just nothing I can offer her. I can set aside my own work and take her to the pool for a dip or on our little golf cart around the neighborhood. These are the highlights of her day. With a child, you can expect them to grow out of certain likes and dislikes and move onto the next stage. Not so with dementia. They grow less interested in outside activities and repeat all day long (words and behaviors).  The only way this completely ends is when Jesus calls them Home. 

One year, after a long and full week of Camp Grandma, I loaded up the kids to drive them to their home an hour away. Everyone was strapped into their seats and beloved stuffed animals were safely packed in their bags as I turned the key in the ignition. And nothing happened. Nothing at all. My car was d.e.a.d.  I called AAA and they were 45 minutes away. I called the kids’ parents and they were two hours away (we were going to meet at their house as they returned from a trip).  It took everything in me to not cry. I had poured all my energy and enthusiasm into 5 great days of camp and my good attitude had an expiration time that had just dinged.  I unloaded the car of children and bags and watched the tow truck take my last link to freedom away. I couldn’t face taking the kids back inside with nothing fun planned, so I took them around back and turned on the hose and stood under it. They didn’t even blink. They thought it was such a good idea that they joined me! I’m keeping this one in my back pocket for the next time I need something outrageously fun to do with Great Grandma. I’m sure she would join me and laugh just like the kiddos did! And that will be just one more fun moment in my new life of Camp Great Grandma!

Do you hear what I hear?

An interesting question posted on social media recently included an audio recording of a computer-generated voice saying “Yanny”. Or was it saying “Laurel”? People would swear that they were hearing “Yanny” while others listening distinctly heard “Laurel”.

No matter which name YOU hear, there is no mistaking that our ears and our brains intake and process sounds and information differently. Have you ever completely misunderstood what someone else said? I am famous for it. When my nephew was about 7 years old, we took him out on the boat with us early in the morning so that our son could water ski before the lake got rough. After enough water skiing, our son invited his cousin to join him in some tubing on the lake behind the boat. It took a lot of convincing to get him out there on the tube because he thought the water would be freezing cold at 7:00 in the morning. As he tumbled off the tube and into the water, we brought the boat back around to pick him up and I distinctly heard him shout, “I love this sport!” I laughed and mentioned to my husband that I thought it was an odd comment to make. Both my husband and son looked at me with strange expressions and said, “He said, ‘this water’s warm!’” Whenever I misunderstand someone, I usually get teased and reminded that “this water’s warm”.

I think that oftentimes our perspective can color how we hear things and even our ability to focus our hearing so that it becomes effective listening. Most of us could use some more listening! Have you found yourself missing what people say? Do you tune out during a movie, a presentation or even a performance? Do you sometimes feel like you need a break from sound input? I can answer “yes” to all of these!

Recently I became certified as a Practitioner Level I for the Tomatis Method, which is sound therapy. I was reminded that sound is a form of energy and that we need that energy to stimulate our brains and our bodies. It has been a fascinating discovery of how differently we are all made and how one sound can be pleasant to a person and create misery for another.
I sometimes wonder if this is why I like Classic Rock but can’t tolerate Country or Jazz. Could it be that the sound energy in one type of music is stimulating and the others are draining (or at the very least, irritating) to my ears?

What sounds make you feel energized or joyful? What sounds bother you? Do you like wind chimes? Or do you dig a rockin’ bass? Mozart or Jagger? And finally, do you hear “Laurel” or do you hear “Yanny”?

Stephanie Parker lives in the Atlanta area with her husband Rob and operates her studio, Learn With Stephanie, in order to teach music, language, home arts and help students with learning challenges through Sound Therapy.

You’re in Trouble….

One year in and I’m still completely hooked on tennis. I feel like I don’t stand and simply stare at the ball as much as I did in the beginning. For some reason, I’m fascinated by whether or not the ball lands in bounds or out of bounds. Hence the standing and staring instead of moving and hitting.

My coach is an interesting fellow. A pre-med student turned tennis pro, he is smarter than he lets on and is fairly adept at communicating tennis strategy to our team, which consists of a dozen women over the age of 40 who are new to the game. Bless him.

I hear his voice in my head when I’m playing in a competitive match. Things like, “you better run!”, or “hit it down the alley”, etc.  But the one that I hear most is the one he uses when he sees I have no chance at getting to the ball. Then he issues the warning, “you’re in trouble”. He knows I am not prepared for the return shot and now it will require a miracle for me to get a racquet on the ball.

I’ve heard “you’re in trouble” so many times that it has made its way into my own vernacular. Unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because, as you know, I teach piano. To small children. To little girls who are sweet and sensitive.  Little girls who usually do the right thing. So… imagine the scenario when I observed a student in my beginners class who was not using the correct fingering during her song and was going to have difficulty executing the note passage. And then I said it. Out loud.  “Uh-oh, you’re in trouble….”  BIG mistake. She stopped playing, turned and looked at me with horror on her face, tears in her eyes and asked, “What did I do?”  I did a quick mental rewind of what I said and realized what those words mean to a 7 year old.  She’s not in trouble. I’m in trouble. A basic rule for teachers is “know your audience”.  I completely blew that one! Before I could soothe the wounded child, a wise 8 year-old in the group quickly jumped in and explained to her what I meant by “you’re in trouble” and then he came around to her piano and showed her the correct fingering to use.

I think I’ll just let him teach.


Stephanie Parker lives in the Atlanta area with her husband Rob. She has two grown children and three grandchildren and loves teaching and learning new things.










A Lemonade Stand

Our family loves to play Four Square. My husband (Rob) and I both grew up playing the game. He learned it at the Boys Club and I learned it at church camp. For some odd reason, we never taught it to our kids when they were growing up, but it’s probably because I did not have many pleasant memories associated with the game (remember last week’s post where I confessed that I am not athletic?). At camp, I would spend 10 minutes waiting for my turn in the game, only to be eliminated within 2 seconds. You know those guys who were really, really good at dodgeball? They were the same guys who reigned as kings of Four Square. If no one could get them out in dodgeball, then who was I to even attempt to knock them out of the Four Square game?

In case you’ve never heard of Four Square, it’s a game with very few rules, requires a flat surface that can be marked off into four squares inside a larger square, and a rubber ball. And at least 4 willing participants. I say “willing” because oftentimes our grand kids have to be bribed into playing. There are just too many other fun things they would rather do and having a ball  thrown at them by an intimidating grown-up just  few feet away can be a little unnerving. Just before playing one day, our youngest granddaughter, Addie, asked, “How long do I have to play before we do a lemonade stand?” I replied that we don’t have any lemonade to do a lemonade stand and would not be able to have one today (or ever). She gave me the strangest look that implied, “What? We’re not going to have a lemonade stand?” Then another grandchild spoke up, “I think she means e-li-mi-na-tion”    Elimination…   A lemonade stand…  A real “aha!” moment for all of us. Addie turned “getting out” into something fun with her innocent interpretation of the rules. Words have power and “elimination” is not one of those “feel good” words in our vocabulary. But “a lemonade stand” conjures up images of sunny days, a shaded street, kids on bikes, and quarters collected in a little homemade box. Anyone who teaches, coaches or parents knows how hard it can be to employ language that encourages and doesn’t dissuade learners from engaging with the difficult tasks. Our jobs consist of a healthy dose of evaluating our students’ or child’s performance and giving feedback that inspires them to improve. Finding the right words can make all the difference!

Although Addie didn’t quite know the word “elimination”, her choice of words has been a reminder to me to be on the lookout for substitutions that inspire and promote positive imagery….. such as a lemonade stand!


Stephanie Parker lives in the Atlanta area with her husband Rob. They have two grown children and three grandchildren. For more information, go to

Inspiring a lifetime love of learning.

It took me 35 years to “get it”

I am not an athlete. I spent one season in high school keeping the bench warm for the other girls on our Junior Varsity volleyball team. The rest of my time was spent in musical or academic pursuits, which have, in my opinion, definitely paid off, but I did miss out on some of the physical and relational benefits of being in team sports.

My husband (Rob), on the other hand, spent a good deal of time and energy playing sports. His sport of choice is basketball, but he can easily apply himself to almost any other sport (and has). Any time a team needed another guy to fill out the roster, they called Rob and he just didn’t have it in him to even consider saying “no”. Words like “play” or “game” or “tournament” are music to his ears and he said (and still says) “yes” without even hesitating.

It was on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon when we were new parents that he got a call from a buddy to play tennis. We could see the tennis courts from our college apartment, and Rob told his friend the courts were empty so “come on”.  He grabbed his racquet and a can of tennis balls and headed out the door with a hasty “good-bye”.  No problem. I had spent the morning working, so this was some time for me to spend with the baby and figure out what to fix for dinner.  After a couple of hours, Rob came in just as the phone was ringing. He grabbed it. It was Buddy #2: “Hey, I just saw you down at the tennis courts…where did you go?” Rob replied that he came home but could head back over for some more tennis if Buddy #2 wanted to play. Yes. It was on. Another hasty good-bye and a half-hearted “Are you ok with me playing again, Babe?” as he headed out the door and I just shook my head and started in on dinner prep. Fast-forward another hour or so, and in comes Rob, all sweaty but smiling. Obviously had a great time on the tennis courts.  “Can’t stay,” he says, “Buddy #3 is waiting for me to play a quick game of tennis. Won’t be out very long. Bye.”

Okay, this has gone from barely acceptable to ridiculous and I am steamed. I call up my friend who is house sitting for a family with a pool. I pack up the baby and head over there to cool off (literally and figuratively). After awhile, Rob called looking for me and asked me if I was mad at him. I said, “THREE TIMES IN ONE DAY you went to play tennis! Yes, I’m mad!” He apologized and said that he got caught up in it and would never do that again. And to this day he hasn’t.

It is now 35 years later and I recently started taking tennis lessons. It’s awesome. I have to force myself to get off the court and go home.   It’s so fun! And addictive! I finally get the whole team camaraderie thing. And the endorphins kicking in. And just how much fun it is to swing a racquet at a little green ball. One day, when we were playing, I told the tennis team, “I owe my husband an apology.” And then I told them the story I just told you. And then I went home. And told my husband, “I’m sorry. I finally get it.” We had a great laugh over it and now we go play tennis together.

Stephanie Parker lives in the Atlanta area with her husband Rob. They have two grown children and three grandchildren.  Check out Stephanie’s website

Learn With Stephanie:  Inspiring a lifetime love of learning

Filling Your Child’s Love Tank ………. on the Piano Bench

I’ve heard it said that we all have a “tank” inside of us that gets filled up when we are loved and appreciated, but drains out when we expend energy just “doing life” or giving our time and energy to others. You can spot a person with an empty tank pretty easily. They are the ones who are losing their cool over minor issues. Or the ones who are negative about everything going on in their lives. You know these people. You work with them, you serve with them on the volunteer committee at school.  They drain you by their very presence. You can choose to try to fill their tank or you can flee to a safer distance!

The saddest thing that I see from time to time is a child whose love tank is not full. It might not be dead empty, but I believe that a child has to operate with a really full love tank in order for them to securely operate in a tumultuous time of bullies, busy parents and overloaded schedules.

As a piano teacher, I spend time with children either one-on-one or in small groups of 2 or 3.  Although the main reason parents bring their children to see me is so that I can teach them how to play the piano, a major benefit of this time spent together every week is a beautiful, growing student-teacher relationship.  Watching a student grasp a new concept and conquer it is why I do what I do! They leave my studio with more abilities and understanding than when they arrived.  And their love tanks are full because we laughed, we cried, we high-fived our way through the learning process. In a word, we bonded.

In my heart of hearts, I know that the piano bench is an incredible place for filling up love tanks. No cell phone, no iPad, no computer, just you and your child facing 88 black and white keys and an open music book. You are sending LOUD messages to your child that they are important. They are loved. They can do this. You are in this together!

How do you cross over into their territory of piano? By asking them if they would show you what they played at their lesson this week. And really pay attention! Ask them to do that cool section again because you were fascinated with how their fingers could be so tricky! And then do this all over again in a couple of days! You can ask them to teach you something and then truly and sincerely learn it.  Even if you already know how to play, let your child show you how he is learning and open your mind to understand his relationship with the music. His love tank will be filled by your interaction and undivided attention, and you will love how much he grows into a securely loved human being who happens to be able to play the piano!



Operation Christmas Child Shoe Boxes and how we’ve been doing it wrong.

So, you want to teach your kids about compassion and giving to others by filling up a shoebox. You deserve an A+ for good intentions! Since you are going through the effort and expense of filling a shoebox with your family, let’s get serious and make it a gift that SIGNIFICANTLY impacts another child’s life besides your own!

Making a trip to the Dollar Store and putting all those items in a box and dropping it off at the church collection table feels GREAT. I know. I’ve been filling shoeboxes for over twenty years…first with my kids and now with my grandkids.  But….and I really hope you’re open to hearing this..…what if our shoebox-filling ministry isn’t great? What if we inadvertently make things worse just so we can feel good about being generous and responding to the call to participate?

I’d like to share with you my own thoughts borne out of multiple trips to foreign countries on missions trips and visiting Peace Corps sites.  In my humble opinion, we could be doing this so much better with just some simple changes:

Step One: When selecting a box to use, get a sturdy plastic reusable box with a snap-on lid.  Many children who receive our boxes live partially outdoors and exposed to the elements and all the bugs and critters we don’t have in our well-built homes. The box itself becomes a useable gift! (Let your kids decorate it with stickers if they want it to look colorful.)

Step Two:  Take a look at the Samaritan’s Purse website. How many blond, blue-eyed children do you see in the photos? VERY FEW.  If sending dolls, books, stickers, etc….try to select those that depict browner skin and darker hair.

Step Three:  Buy good quality stuff. And take it all out of the cardboard and plastic packaging and place in thick freezer-quality zipper storage bags. I’ve seen kids in El Salvador toss aside the stuff in the bag and keep the bag as the prized item!  Be generous in your use of the bags. Most other countries do not have garbage trucks that drive up and down the streets to collect the trash. This is the reason for buying good quality items AND eliminating the packaging (plus… you can fit MORE in a box if you toss out the packaging!).

Step Four:  If you include a photo and/or a letter, please be sensitive to the fact that the recipient is going to look at EVERY detail.  Enclose a photo that only shows heads and shoulders with a background that is outdoor foliage or a blank wall. Do not pose on the front steps of your house or in front of your Christmas tree. And letters should talk about the people in your life, the ages of your children, what part of the U.S. you live in, and what the climate/geography is like.

Step Five:  Pray with your children over the box and the person who is going to receive it. And thank God for being blessed with the resources to touch another person on the other side of the world!

I welcome your comments/suggestions! Let me know if there’s a topic you’d like to see here!

What if Jesus Screened His Calls?

I remember the good old days when a ringing phone was an incredibly joyful sound. Mostly because it meant someone wanted to talk to you! How times have changed! Over the years, I’ve watched as many of us have become accustomed to using text, photos and emojis to communicate with one another. Shocking to realize this about myself, but I notice that I too have become more and more annoyed with the interruption that a call will make into my day. At times, though, I will see an incoming call from one of my kids, a friend, or an extended family member, and am usually laughing or smiling as I put the phone to my ear to begin a conversation. It is so much more fun (in my opinion) to laugh right along with someone over the phone instead of sending an “LOL” or smiley face back and forth. My husband can tell who I’m talking to just by the way I’m laughing and the depth of my engagement in the conversation!

Caller ID makes it possible to decide whether or not you are able to (or desire to) take the incoming call. If I’m in line at the grocery store and the dentist is calling to confirm my appointment, I can take that call and conclude it in less than 20 seconds. But, if it’s my 91 year-old mother-in-law, I will have to delay talking to her until I can get home and focus on the conversation and shout into the phone if she doesn’t have her hearing aids in. I would not subject the general public to my side of that conversation!

Once or twice a year, I get a phone call from a long-lost someone. It could be a relative or a lifelong friend. History has prepared me for the fact that this person typically calls me when she needs something. It could be as big a need as airline miles, money, or mission trip support to something as small as selling me some Girl Scout cookies or asking for a ride to the airport.

Today it crossed my mind that I hadn’t spoken with “Darla” for a couple of years now (Facebook is partly to blame for this, but that is a whole other blog entry). She was one that used to call only when she needed help from me or my husband. And then it hit me: I DO THAT TOO. The only difference is, I don’t do it to my fellow human beings. Oh no, I’m much worse than that! I do it to Jesus. Yep! Guilty! When my selfish wants take priority over my daily communication with the Lord, I go for long stretches with no communication at all, and then when I need something, I call on Jesus to help me out. When I get a call from someone operates that way with me, I will let it go to voicemail so that I can have time to process what they might be calling about. What if Jesus used that same tactic with us? I know it feels that way when we don’t get an instant solution to our problem, but the truth is, He’s okay with us needing Him. Yes, you heard right; Jesus is OKAY with us needing Him. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

If my needy caller was in a two-way relationship with me where we had a balanced relationship and regular communication, imagine how ready and willing I would be to answer her call and come to the rescue? A healthy relationship is one that is nourished regularly. Although Jesus wants us to come to Him when we are in trouble, He delights in the praises of His people. Surely we can praise Him today! I’m reminding myself daily and sometimes moment-by-moment to be in constant communication and relationship with Him so that He knows my needs even before I have to voice them, and He is already “at work for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28)

Stephanie Parker is a teacher to students of all ages across many disciplines and lives in the Atlanta area with her husband Rob.