When Your Mom Is Too Cheap To Buy You Spinners

Teachers everywhere hate them, and Pope Francis used them to explain the Trinity.*

Fidget Spinners are the latest fad to achieve the magic balance where adults are annoyed and kids are happy to drive them crazy. They’re the latest “must have” item for kids everywhere.

Which almost makes me feel badly for my poor children whose mother adamantly refuses to shell out the $7+ for the whirling toys, and I even refuse to be persuaded by tears and pleading.

“If you want a fidget thing-y so badly,” I told them, “go make your own.”

As the corner of my 15-year-old’s mouth twitched a little, I knew I was in trouble. “Challenge accepted,” he answered me before disappearing upstairs into the infamous Lego room.

Several hours later, my children were all splayed out on the couch happily twirling their own spinners, each its own unique design. Created entirely of Lego bricks, these fidget spinners cost us nothing. (We already own ridiculous numbers of Legos. That’s why they have their own room.)

Here’s what he’s come up with so far:

…but if your spinner can be Batman…

always let it be Batman!

Now get building! Let’s see your spinner creations.

*the Pope Francis post is satire.
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How To Get Along With Your In-Laws

It’s been seven years since I first wrote this post, and I still stand by it today. With my eldest daughter engaged to be married, and soon to have a mother-in-law of her very own, I decided to dust it off and bring it back for everyone who might have missed it the first time or just in need of a reminder.


A very sweet reader, Katie, asked about my good relationship with my in laws.

She wrote “How long did it take? I’m having an extremely hard time with it all. I feel like there is so much tension when it comes to parenting Ethan. I don’t understand how to fit them into our lives. I’m definitely unlike them and it feels like we’re always clashing. I just don’t get it.”

Katie, a bit of advice from someone who’s been married a while and is now part of a close-ish family.

1. This is real life; it’s not a fairy tale.  It’s hard to remember this, because we all have fantasies of girls’ lunches and how wonderful holidays with the in-laws will be.  They’ll love our children, and the warmth of that will spill over onto us.  When that doesn’t happen, it’s easy to feel as though you are loved only for certain parts of your anatomy.  I have a friend who refers to herself as the “family uterus.”  The glow that lights up the world of her husband and children never quite makes it over to her.  You can be bitter and angry or you can learn to deal with it and let it go.  Make the decision to deal with it, it will save you a lot of time and heartache.

2.  Never complain about your husband to his parents.  It’s important, so I’ll repeat it. Never complain about your husband to his  parents.  They don’t care about all of the things that he does that are annoying.  All they hear is that either you think they did a bad job raising him, or their little boy lives with a woman who doesn’t appreciate him.  You have friends.  They’re not your mother-in-law.  There’s a reason for that.

3.  If your husband’s job takes a lot of time, requires travel, etc.  don’t whine to his parents about his being gone.  It doesn’t come across as the loving wife who just wants him home, you come across as needy and  a burden on their son.  Tell them you can’t wait for him to get home, but then move on quickly.

4. Have a life outside of being married.  Find a hobby, a circle of friends, volunteer, be up on current events, something for you to talk about when you talk to his parents.  It helps them to see you as something other than the girl who stole their son, and gives you a topic to steer the conversation toward if it begins to get uncomfortable.  It also gives you the confidence to deal with it if they never like you.  You’re fabulous, so it’s their loss.

5. Be yourself.  It took me years of living in a house decorated with country blue and yellow with flowers everywhere, because it’s what my mother in law liked, before I gave up and started decorating with my own eclectic mix.  I’m happier in my surroundings and my in laws like me better, too.  Trying to be what I thought they wanted was a lie and they could smell it on me.  Instead of making me a part of the clan, it made them wonder why their son would want to be with  a dishonest person.  Now they get to see the woman their son fell in love with, and they can see the reason why.  Who you are is lovely, go with it.

6. Don’t share too much information.  His parents don’t want to know every minute detail of your life together.  Please, please, please keep private stuff private.  A good rule of thumb is: if you won’t tell your grandmother, don’t tell your in laws.

7. Call them regularly to update them on your family.  I know this seems like a contradiction after #6, but it’s not.  I call mine religiously every two weeks and text pictured of the kids every couple days.  It’s enough time that they wonder how we are, but not so frequent that it invites meddling.  Tell them about the baby’s first steps, how he likes to throw the Cheerios, and about the sweet way your husband looks when he falls asleep with the baby on his chest.  Think of the things you would want to know if your baby was living somewhere else and tell them those things.  Ask questions about his childhood and let them reminisce.  You’ll both be happy you did this.

8. Send flowers and cards for every birthday, anniversary, and holiday.  Let your husband sign the card first; you sign it second.  It gives them the illusion that he remembered.  Your mother-in-law will know it was you, she has a husband, but it lets her pretend that he did it.  You can get an ego, or you can let her be happy.  Go with happy.

9. There is a saying that “A son is a son until he takes him a wife, but a daughter is yours for the whole of her life.”  There’s truth to that, and they know it.  They’re very frightened by you.  Your whim can determine how often they see their baby for holidays, how easily they get to talk to him, and you are the gatekeeper for the grandchildren.  They are a bit desperate.  Calm their fears by making sure they know that you don’t have any desire to cut them our of your lives.  Make sure that holidays are split with your family 50/50.  A girl’s parents delight in a wedding because they are gaining a child. A boy’s parents cry because they could be losing one.  Help them to see that they are keeping their son and gaining you, too. (Whether they want you or not.)

10.  Be polite.  I don’t care what they say or do, there is no excuse for rudeness or snarkiness.  You’re better than that.  Be nice.

11.  Pray for them.  Nobody can change a heart the way that God can.  Try everything else. Then make sure you pray.

It took years for us to get to the good place we are in, but you can get there.  Just be calm and in control.

As for how they are with your son?  He is your boy not theirs.  Be firm about this and don’t ask their advice unless you are willing to listen and give them a say.

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Abortion Severs The Family Tree

Seventy-something years ago, this woman was pregnant with her first child. When it turned out that her adoring fiance was actually a married man with a pregnant wife, she made the brave decision to let him live, and place him for adoption. (It could very easily have gone a different way. Legal or not, there were abortions in 1945.)

Because of her choice,  this little boy

became the son of these people

He grew up to become this man

Because of her choice, he became the father of the three of us

and we become the parents to all of them.

When we talk about the morality of abortion, we tend to focus on the mother and/or her baby. We think about the little chubby pink cheeks and tiny baby toes of those precious first months. But abortion robs us of so much more than the tiny infant with the gummy grin. It steals away all of those people who would have come from them as well.

And this one wouldn’t be engaged to that guy and (hopefully) getting ready to begin a whole new generation.  (I’m dreaming Grandma dreams over here.)

We often focus, in the abortion debate, on the right of this baby to live

but it’s so much bigger than that. It’s about whether on not this one will get a chance to live too.

Photos by: Shelbi Moore, Desiree Chapman, and our family. If you want to use them, ask.

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The Land Where Nerds Are King

Once upon a time we had friends who spent their free time in a land of chivalry and make-believe. They put on costumes, went by different names, and pretended to be a part of times long past.

I found the whole thing highly amusing, and politely said this wasn’t my thing but my inner voice was screaming


Then there came a boy who was my beloved son, and he dreamed dreams of becoming a fearless knight. While boys his age were discovering girls and cars, he imagined grand adventures, and wrote tales of dragons and daring, princesses and how best to save them.

Two years of public school bullying had left him questioning who he was and what he wanted that to look like.

“Go find friends,” we urged him. “You need people.” And we pushed him towards the places where he could find people like the rest of us. The “normal” ones.

God bless him, he never complained, trying track, Crossfit, church youth group, and hanging around the local coffee shop. No matter where we sent him, he found no brother knights. He found only ordinary people.

During a late night scroll through Facebook, I stumbled once again across the citizens of the Ansteorran Kingdom.

I sighed, admitting to myself that he would be who he would be. Turning to the boy-man sitting nearby, I asked, “Have you ever heard of the SCA?”

“No. What is it?”

“The Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s this club for Renaissance Faire type of people. They study history, fight with swords, wear costumes…they basically live in their own nerd world every chance they get.”

His eyes grew wide, and he said, “Really? That sounds amazing? How long have you known that this was a thing?…nevermind….it doesn’t matter…..really? A whole nerd world?” And for the first time in a long time, he smiled.

We went to his first sword fighting class last week and again this past Tuesday. He’s clearly in his element. For the first time in a while he’s not the weird kid, he’s actually one of the cool ones.

As I watched him fighting last night with a rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other, the joy on his face told me he’d come home. The rest of us may live our lives in the “real world,” but for this son at least, the vibrant world of Ansteorra is where he’s meant to be.

Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire. – St Catherine of Siena


all photos are property of Paul Mitchell aka Galen of Bristol and are used with permission

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The Old Broken Fork

Once upon a time, my husband’s grandmother was a young woman who was engaged to be married.  (It’s hard to think of her as that young woman in her early twenties.  She was old as long as I knew her.) Her fiance’s aunt and uncle took her shopping for a wedding present, determined to buy flatware for the young couple.

Grandma had a definite picture in her mind of what she wanted on her table.  Having grown up on a farm in Oklahoma, she was used to making-do and going without, but when she dreamed of being a grown-up, she imagined shiny silver utensils gracing her dinner table. Her fiance’s aunt thought that pretty had no place on a farmer’s table, that utilitarian and sturdy were the only way to go.

When grandma pointed hopefully at stainless steel with flowers on the handle, his aunt shook her head and pointed out a plain set with wooden handles.  His poor grandmother fought back tears and said, ”But I don’t really care for that set.”  Nothing was purchased that day, but at the wedding a few weeks later the whole family exclaimed over the generosity of the aunt and uncle who gave an entire set of flatware and at their sensibility in buying the sturdy kind with the wooden handles.

Eventually the tine broke off of one of the forks, and Grandma smiled to herself that the “sturdy” set had broken.  It wasn’t long before she discovered that the broken part of it made it into the ideal hook for fishing things out of pots and for flipping bacon.  It became her trusty utensil and was used more than anything else in her kitchen.

For 10 years, she lived with the set that she hated.  She squirreled pennies away in the hope of replacing her ugly flatware. When she had enough money saved, this frugal child of the depression drove the utensils to the dump, pausing for a momentary pause before gleefully flinging it into the pit….all of it except the broken fork.

By the time I met her, she was already slowing up with age, but she still had all of the fire of her early days.  Sunday mornings at her house were always church followed by a big breakfast which she insisted on making.  In her hand, as she regaled us with family stories, was an old wooden handled fork with a broken time.

His grandmother is gone now, slowly slipping away from us years ago.  It was hard to look at her frail quiet frame and see any trace of the woman she had always been.  But when I go home, I look on my window sill, see that old worn out fork, and remember the defiance of a woman very near my own age who once flung the detested set into the trash heap and then laughed all the way home.  I remember, too, the aged and caring hands of a kind and generous woman who made breakfast for her grandson and his new bride, passing on the history of their family with pride and a touch of humor.

I remember the first time she put that fork into my hand and asked me to finish the bacon because she had to sit down.  It felt as if she was passing the torch from one generation to the next, and I became her heir in the care and keeping of the history of our family for all of the Frechs who will come after us.

I am not a sentimental person, attached to material things, but I’m kind of in love with my old broken fork.


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Wheelchairs, Skating, and Gratitude

Three years ago, I dragged Ella to a skate park. If she’d been able to move her legs, she would have been kicking and screaming. As it was, she went under extreme protest.

“I don’t want to do this,” she huffed. “I’m not this girl.”

“You could be,” I told her. “You might like it if you give it a try.”

“I’m not a skater girl. I’m a ballerina.” She stated with absolute certainty.

It took three times down a baby ramp for her to concede that skating in a wheelchair wasn’t the worst thing she’d ever done. Three years later, she flew down quarter pipes, carved corners, and sassed her way onto the podium to win the WCMX Women’s World Championship.

Three years is a long time when you’re twelve, but Ella hasn’t forgotten that horrible first car ride. When the media asked her if she’d like to give a shout-out to anyone watching at home, she shook her head and told them “The only person who deserves a shout-out is here. It’s my mom. If it wasn’t for her bringing me, I wouldn’t be here at all.” Then she glided over to me, wrapped her arms around my middle, and laying her head against my side whispered “Thanks, Mom.”

And then the 2017 WCMX Women’s World Champion let her mother drive her home.




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God Bless the Chreasters

Easter Sunday morning, the church and the parking lot will be packed. Extra chairs will line the aisles and spill out into the narthex. Even with all the extra seating, the Sunday Masses will be standing room only. It’s a sight that makes me incredibly happy, even if that’s not the prevailing opinion on social media.

For the past few days, I have read the snarky comments about the Christmas and Easter Catholics (the Chreasters) on Facebook and Twitter. Their presence will be bemoaned by regular Mass attendees who find  parking places rare and their usual pew spots occupied. I can sympathize with their aggravation at having to arrive an hour early to the church only to still end up in the last row of the folding chairs. It seems like being regular and faithful should count for something, and these fair-weather Mass-goers should have to scoot over and make room. But I remember so clearly when I was one of them, and I rejoice that they are here at all.

There were quite a few years when I was an atheist-leaning agnostic, and I studiously avoided anything that looked like church, except on Christmas and Easter. For some reason, the smells, bells, and music of Mass were inextricably intertwined with how I celebrated these holidays. While I didn’t believe in what they meant, I loved the music of the choirs and the pageantry and spectacle of Mass. I became a connoisseur of which parishes offered the loveliest liturgy, and went sight-seeing at Midnight Mass and the Easter Vigil.

As I sat in the pews, the ritual of it would envelop me with the familiar comfort of coming home. It was the same contentment as a family dinner where the menu is filled with familiar comfort foods, the stories are a beloved tradition, and it smells like you remember. Long before I was shoved to my knees and back into God’s arms, the comfort of home was calling me back to the safe comfort of home.

I always felt a twinge of guilt, way back then, about taking up space that might belong to someone else. I was acutely aware of the fact that I didn’t actually belong. What was an agnostic doing in a Catholic Church anyway? Why was I there on the holiest days of the year? Weren’t those the days I least deserved to be there?

It’s only with the hindsight of years that I see how absolutely appropriate it was for prodigal me to arrive just in time for the Feast. The people were dressed in their finery, those who were faithful to Our Father, and here I was, a lost and wandering soul. While they grumbled and protested that I had been allowed into their choice spot in the pews. I took in the wonder of the banquet which had been prepared for us, and this return to the home I had left in a fit of rebellion would reach in and eventually thaw my hardened heart.

This Easter Season, let’s rejoice that the Chreasters have joined us in the pews. We don’t know what long and winding road has brought them to sit among us, or what personal struggles they have fought in order to be there. Let us rise ecstatic that our churches are filled to capacity, and that the brothers who were lost have found their way home. Even if it’s only for one short day.


Artwork: Return of the Prodigal by Guercino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Four Perfect Hands

**My daughter was given an assignment to write about forgiving the unforgivable. This is what she gave me instead.

two sets of hands
hands that knew work
one set the sacrifice
the other the one that made it
both perfectly made
one that held the nails of sin
the other that gratefully received them
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Caring for Our Clergy With Holy Week Survival Kits

We spent this morning putting together “Holy Week Survival Kits” for the priests and deacons from our parish. Holy Week is a marathon of rites and liturgies which will test the limits of their strength and endurance.

When we started our Survival Kit tradition a few years ago, my children seemed stunned by the idea that the priests at our parish could ever be worn out by saying Masses and hearing Confessions. They were surprised to learn that their priests were human after all.

We started this years kits with a brainstorming session and the simple question “If you had to spend a week on your feet and talking, what would hurt or be tired?” and followed it up with “What would help you get through that?”

We made and edited a shopping list, set a budget, and then went shopping. With 2 priests and 3 deacons to care for, we couldn’t afford to go crazy. Here’s what ended up in our bags this year:

  1. Coffee – we went with the Starbucks instant because it’s so easy
  2. Epsom salts – for soaking sore feet and tired muscles
  3. Hand Sanitizer – They’re going to be shaking a lot of hands we want to keep them healthy
  4. Hydrating Lotion – Hand sanitizer can dry your skin out and so can this time of year
  5. Chap stick (not pictured) – Lots of talking means dry lips
  6. Cough drops – Lots of talking also means sore throats, we want them to still be able to offer the homilies on Easter morning
  7. Altoids – Coffee and dry mouth? That’s a recipe for bad breath and nobody wants that
  8. Beef jerky – A little bit of protein just to keep them going
  9. Granola bars – These guys are sometimes too busy for eating regular meals. We want to tide them over until the next one
  10. Chocolate bars – Because they’re chocolate. Isn’t that reason enough?
  11. Chick Fil A gift card (not pictured) – Lunch or dinner on the fly, plus it’s really tasty
  12. A thank you note to let them know how appreciated they are

We set up an assembly line and listened to/prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet while we put them together. Gifts are good. Gifts and prayers are better.

At the church with our deliveries for the clergy, plus flowers for the receptionist. It’s going to be a long week for her too. They were all thrilled to see us. We all like a little surprise and to have our hard work recognized, our priests and deacons too.

Is there anything we missed? What else would you add to the Holy Week Survival Kits?

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Catnip for Crazies

I have come to the inevitable conclusion that I attract crazy.  I send out a signal like a homing beacon and draw it to me.

A few weeks back I was couch shopping, this woman sat down next to me on the sofa I was seriously considering.  I was just waiting for the saleslady to bring me the total purchase price including delivery when the voice next to me said “Do you see the guy I’m with?  I know everybody thinks he’s my first husband, but he’s not.  He’s my second.  He’s the twin brother of my first husband which is what confuses people.” She went on to regale me with the tale of how she’s unsure which brother is the father of her 10 year old son, but could I please not tell her husband that?  The new one or the old one, please….although she’s not sure where the first one is as he went to Mexico 10 years ago and never came back………and it got weirder and I just kept hoping for the saleslady to return so I could leave.

They find me, the crazy people…we’re weirdly drawn to each other. Everywhere I go, I get the waitress who decides to share the intimate secrets of that thing she did last week that she didn’t even tell her best friend...in explicit detail, or the man who was abducted by aliens on Tuesday and tells me the tale as we’re standing in the grocery checkout line (btw, eyeball probes do not sound fun).  I encounter the person who drank poison and lived to tell about it, and the woman who swore to me that she’s a psychic and I’m the reincarnation of some French Jewish woman she knew in WWII and the birthmark on my head is exactly where her friend was shot.  (fabulous.)

I’m not sure why the crazies come to me.  I try to avoid eye contact with anyone even slightly strange lest I hear more about their one night stand with the ghost of Elvis than I ever wanted to know.  It doesn’t matter.  They tap my shoulder to get my attention and then launch right into it, and my mama raised me with too many manners to just rudely walk away no matter how bizarre it gets.

My husband read some post apocalyptic novel a few months back and mused out loud how unsafe the world would be with unchecked craziness on the loose.  He can worry all he wants, but I know we’ll be just fine.  The crazies love me.  I draw them in like bugs to a porch light and they adore me.  Other people can fret over what ifs, but if that ever happens the loonies will come to me, and I will be their queen.


Photo credit: Photo via VisualHunt

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