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  • The Birds

    January 31, 2009

    So every trip to Walmart, there is always some drama unfolding somewhere.  Walmart is perpetual interactive theater, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, with a cast of thousands.

    Yesterday, it all unfolded before I even set foot in the store.

    I pulled into the parking lot and headed up my usual row and just as I’m about to pull into my space, I see something kind of weird on the ground. So I slow down and take a closer look.  A big bird of some sort, maybe a falcon, has another bird pinned to the ground and is standing on it.  I have never seen anything like this before, so I stop the car completely and gawk.

    Both birds look up at me.  The bird with his face smashed to the ground looks up at me with pleading eyes as if to say “haaaalpme.”  The bully bird gives me a dirty look, as if to say “Get outta here or you’re next.”  I’m certain that if the bully bird had a middle finger, he would have used it. (And that would be the bird giving me the bird. Ha.)

    Crud crud crud!  Only  9:15 am and I’ve already got a moral dilemma.

    Do I mind my own business and let nature take its course and then spend the rest of the day feeling guilty and un-Samaritan like? or Do I use my mom voice and give the bigger bird a good talking to and shame him into repentance? Given that I am terrified of birds, that second one wasn’t really an option.

    At that moment, in a flash of brilliance, I decided that I would rev the engine and honk the horn a couple of times, thus scaring the bigger bird away and giving the smaller bird a chance to get away and notify the Walmart security team.

    But if you were the elderly lady putting groceries in your trunk two spaces ahead, all you saw was some crazy lady in a dirty SUV revving her engine at you and honking furiously.   For the second time that morning, I got a dirty look.  But to her credit,  she did not use her middle finger.

    I pulled up next to her and rolled down my window to explain.  She backed out and took no notice of my pleading eyes.  I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t honking at her, but that there was this big bird standing on this little bird….

    Oh never mind….

    Exit stage left.

    Joy Crosses The Placenta

    January 30, 2009

    A couple of times a month, I’ll get an email from someone like myself, that is to say, someone of advanced maternal age. Antique. The writer is in her late 30s or early 40s and is pregnant for the first time and she is scared.  She wants to know if I was scared to be pregnant in my mid-40s and if so, how did I deal with it.

    Experiencing pregnancy for the first time in the fourth decade of life is thrilling, and if you read too many books, terrifying.  So I did not read too many books.  But aside from being blissfully ignorant, I had other reasons to be joyfully confident.

    The day I stood in my bathroom and saw that immediate and bright second pink line, I had an extremely strong sense that I had entered into some sort of covenant with God. Now, I’m not one of those people who get messages from God or has ever been clear on His will for my life. I’m just an average girl with an average faith, but this was a single moment of clarity.  I wish I could describe to you how it felt.  It was like an atomic blast of joy that endured throughout the entire pregnancy and remains in the sparkle and light of a funny little boy.

    As many of you who have read my story know, I had been through several years of surgeries and infertility treatments only to be dismissed at the age of 41 as hopeless.  It took me three full years to accept the fact that I, and the best medical technology, were powerless to make this happen.  I simply could not accept my powerlessness.

    But finally, three years later, I conceded. For my own well-being, lest I shrivel up into a bitter old raisin, I had to abandon this dream, I had to move on.  So I shook my fist at God and said, “Fine! You win! Have it your way!” And then I stomped off and enrolled in graduate school and scheduled a hysterectomy.  And it was shortly thereafter that I got the second pink line. I was already seven-weeks pregnant.

    I have so often wondered if maybe because I am so stiff necked and so self-reliant, if maybe I had to be broken so completely, if maybe I had to yield my power so unconditionally —  to the point of seeking a hysterectomy — in order to make room in my heart for God to give me this incredible gift.  I don’t know.  I don’t pretend to know the mind of God.  I do know this:  He gives life, not me. I’m clear on that now.

    I tell you all of this to say that, for me, I knew deep in my heart, somewhere beyond the realm of logic and words and statistics, that God would not bring me that far only to crush me.

    And so I was filled with joy the entire pregnancy and I simply did not worry about the outcome.

    I lived each day of my pregnancy with gratitude for this unexpected and undeserved gift that had been dropped into my lap when I wasn’t looking for it.  I now understood that I wasn’t in control of anything so I just laid around with my feet propped up like a big fat queen, watching A Baby Story and sobbing into my Saltines.

    What would be, would be, and worrying about future sorrows would do nothing for today and certainly nothing for the little boy growing inside of me.

    And so, I didn’t worry much. I trusted everything would be okay one way or another and if at some point I had to adjust the definition of okay, then I would see to that at the appointed time.

    So if I have any advice for you, it is this:  Don’t read those books with all those scary statistics.  Information is not always power.  Put your feet up and rest your hands on your belly and appreciate this awesome gift that has dropped into your lap and remember this:

    Joy crosses the placenta; take in as much as you can every day.

    ***

    If you experienced a late-in-life pregnancy, I’d love to hear how you dealt with the fears and concerns that older moms have.  Any advice or encouragement you might offer would be great too! ~ AM

    Life Lessons In Baking

    January 29, 2009

    When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough start baking.

    Sometimes when I’m having one of those booty kickin’ days with my kid, I lay down my aggravations and we bake bread.

    On Tuesday of this week, the schools were closed.  By 10am booty kickin’ was well underway, so I suggested we make bread.

    I know it sounds crazy that one would open up a canister of flour around someone with under-developed judgment and impulse control and over-developed enthusiasm. And sometimes Sean is a problem too. (Stop it. I can hear you rolling your eyes.)  But in keeping with the many mysteries of the universe, it works.  Somehow.  There is just something therapeutic about baking together and working the dough.

    (Disclaimer:  I have one child.)

    I have discovered that there are a number of life lessons to be found in the ancient art of baking bread, aside from the obvious lessons of fractions, science and farm-to-market commerce and they are as follows:

    All things work together for good in the proper measure.  Too much flour and not enough water and you end up not with delicious bread, but a stone. Too much water and not enough flour and you end up with a very large crusty dumpling.  Life and bread making are both all about balancing the various elements in an effort to create something good and worthwhile.

    Baking bread is a process. As in life, an orderly process yields good results.

    Know when to work and know when to rest.  The bread maker knows when to work the dough and when to rest and let the yeast work. The same is true in life, sometimes we just need to give it a rest, quit managing.

    Life and bread making bread are messy. It just is.  Expect it.

    Making bread is work. It’s good for the human spirit to work to eat.

    Life and bread making both improve with experience and failure.

    Homemade bread doesn’t last more than a day or two.   Live in the present and take joy in your daily bread.

    And I’m sure there are many more.

    Does Sean get these things about making bread? Probably not just yet. But I’m not just baking bread, I’m planting seeds.

    Here is my easy recipe for Focaccia Bread that you can make with your kiddos.

    ***

    Focaccia Bread

    2 to 2.5 cups of bread flour

    1 package of yeast

    1/2 teaspoon of salt

    2/3 cup hot water

    1 tablespoon of olive oil

    Mix 1 cup of the flour with the yeast and salt in a large bowl.

    Into a 2/3 cup of hot water (120 degrees) add the olive oil and then pour into the dry mixture. Stir in as much of the remaining flour it takes to make a soft dough. Knead on a flour dusted surface for about 10 minutes.

    Cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for about 10 minutes. (If you have a granite or stone countertop, put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Granite tends to stay cold and the dough will do better if it’s warm.)

    Punch down the dough and divide the dough into two pieces.  Form each piece into a ball and then press flat into a pizza shape into a well oiled 10-inch round cake pan (or you can put both on a well oiled cookie sheet if you don’t have round pans.)

    Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.

    Using your finger tips or the handle of a wooden spoon, make little indentations into the dough.  Brush liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with course salt.  Just before baking you can add just about anything else you want — rosemary, cilantro, garlic, Parmesan, goat cheese, grilled onions and peppers, sun dried tomatoes.

    Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. Serve immediately. It’s great dipped in flavored olive oil.

    The Resume

    January 27, 2009

    I like words and toying with words and the arrangement of words.  So the other day, a friend of mine who knows I like words, asked me to help him polish his resume.

    I always find resume writing to be a challenge because there is a fine line between detailing the many fabulous things you can do and how astonishing well you can do them and how the world has benefited from your existence — and coming off like a desperate, yet pompous delusional braggart.

    I guess that is to say that on paper, humility is hard to pull off.

    I started thinking about my own resume. I haven’t worked for anyone other than myself since 1987. If I had to write my own resume today,  what would I put on it?

    I am a super duper butt wiper.

    I have been actively engaged in end user maintenance for five years.

    I go to the grocery store every day.

    As logistics manager, I oversee materials procurement and distribution.

    I color with markers. A lot.

    I am responsible for creative design.

    Today I called the phone company about weird charges on the phone bill.

    I lead a strategic technology management engagement with one of the largest cell phone service providers.

    I call the GE guy when the washer breaks.

    I oversee physical plant management to ensure uninterrupted client service.

    I hand out gummy bears.

    I manage the employee incentive program.

    I spend a lot of time on Twitter.

    I consult with other organizations on various management issues.

    I have a blog.

    I founded a publishing and communications empire.

    I’m a mom.

    I oversee human resources, including disciplinary action, budget, special requests, scheduling, maintenance and logistics.

    I’m a mom. I can do anything. And if not, I can improvise.

    Just In Time For Valentines Day

    January 26, 2009

    So then, the other day I was chatting with the friendly folks at American Greetings PhotoWorks and I mentioned to them that you all like free stuff.

    And they said, “Oh really?  Because sometimes we like to give away free stuff.”  And then I said, “Oh really?  Like how much?” And then they said, “Well, how about $50 of free stuff?” And then I said, “That would be great, because as it turns out, my readers like free $50 stuff.”  I drive a hard bargain.

    I think most you are familiar with American Greetings – cards and stationary and thank you notes and that kind of stuff.  As some of you may know, I am a fanatic about thank you notes. I think the well written thank you note is what separates humans from the lesser species; the ones that cannot hold an ink pen or lick a stamp.  Which is to say, I love stationary, especially thank you notes and especially these.

    If you would like to win $50 of spending money with PhotoWorks, leave a comment telling me the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend and some fun factoid about that romance.

    I’ll go first.

    My first boyfriend was in kindergarten, back in 1965, and his name was Jeremiah (still is).  He was the 8th of nine children and his family lived around the corner from my parents (they still do).  Jeremiah and I went all the way through 13 years of school together, starting with kindergarten.  However, after kindergarten, we decided that we should see other people but have always remained friends. I can’t say that about one other boyfriend.

    Jeremiah went on to become a scientist while I remain fascinated with shiny objects.  Jeremiah, somewhat of an antique daddy himself, lives in that really big city in the mid-west with his lovely wife and two boys and sometimes reads this blog (Hi Jer!)

    As always, I’ll use random.org to choose a winner later this week.

    Your turn!

    ***

    Y’all are so funny and fascinating!  I lovelovelove your stories! I can’t quit reading them, which is bad because I’m really supposed to be working on a pressing matter.

    Miscellany

    January 23, 2009

    Warning: Pointless and unrelated drivel ensues.

    It’s Friday, y’all. Good gravy, another week of life down the drain. How does that happen so quickly? I am positive that when I was in Sister Luke’s 5th grade class, that one day time actually stood still.  During long division class time did not advance one minute for three solid hours.  It’s documented somewhere in the annals of St. Cabrini history.

    Speaking of St. Cabrini, I am reminded of this:  Back in the summer of 2004 (which seems like it should be last year), my 8th grade class got together for a class reunion and we toured the school, all eight rooms. Sadly that school closed recently (moment of silence).

    Anyway, still hanging in the hallway since 1966 when I was in 1st grade, was a big picture of Jesus (you know the one) with a portrait of John F. Kennedy to the left and a portrait of The Pope on the right.   Just as it will be in heaven.  I don’t know why I bring this up, but it made me laugh then as it does now just thinking of it.  The message in that arrangement is not very subtle, even for a 1st grader.

    Moving on…

    There was mostly good stuff this week.

    We had several spring-like days this week. It was in the 80s here, so that was lovely and a very nice reprieve from our so-called winter.  Sean and I got out and went “scootering” as he calls it. It is entirely too much fun to jog  behind him as he hot rods around the neighborhood on that little red Radio Flyer scooter. At five, he’s so happy and delighted with every aspect of life and unburdened with woes of any kind.  To witness that kind of unfiltered joy kind of makes up for the fact that my den looks like the Lego factory exploded in it.

    Which brings me to pointless point number two, or is it three? I’ve lost track:

    Old Coffee Table:  Time, Newsweek, Architectural Digest, Art in America, Venetian blown glass object d’arte, cocktails and appetizers.

    New Coffee Table:  Ranger Rick, Highlights, Lego sculpture, 2-day-old sippy cup of milk, half eaten Ritz cracker and a small pair of dirty socks.

    Wednesday I was honored to speak to an amazing group of young moms and chat with them about seeking joy on this astonishingly beautiful, difficult, precious, absurd journey that is motherhood.  I went to offer encouragement but I believe that I left with more than I brought.  I get to speak to another group of moms this coming week on the same topic and I’m very much looking forward to it.

    Monday, I’ve got a super awesome give away from the PhotoWorks.com people, some spending money with them, just in time for Valentine’s Day.  So you might want to go there and snoop around and see what you might like to have.  Check back in on Monday to see what hoops I’m going to make you jump through for that.  I love it when in the interest of winning something, y’all reveal something of yourselves to me because you guys are fascinating and always make me laugh.

    And finally, I will leave you with this story, a rare golden moment in parenting when I think I got it right. And all because I kept my mouth shut.

    Yesterday, my friend Shelly invited Sean over after school to play with her little boy Max.  When I picked Sean up, he and Max were having a great time playing outside with the garden hose and he had obviously had a very good time.

    On the way home, he mentioned that Max has all kinds of cool stuff.

    “He’s got a really big play room with lots and lots of really big toys,” he said with a tinge of envy in his voice, “And he also has a big swing set with a fort. And a swimming pool. Max has everything.”

    Sidebar: Yet, they were outside playing with the garden hose and some plastic cups.

    I had my speech all ready to go, you know the one:  There will always be people who have more than you, but there will always be a lot more people who have a whole lot less than you. I would remind him of how blessed he is and of how much he has for which to be thankful. I might even go so far as to tell him that some children don’t even have enough to eat.  Although the last time I used that line, he said they should just get their mom to go to the store.

    But I didn’t. I didn’t say those things. I just kept my mouth shut and waited and watched his face in the rear view mirror.

    “But, you know what?” he finally said, “I’ve got a lot of toys too. I’m lucky.”

    Sometimes the truth is taught and other times it is discovered.

    When we got to a stop light, I turned around and told him that he was an awesome little boy and I was so glad that I got to be his mom.

    And if that was the only good thing that had happened all week, it would have been enough.

    Have a great weekend y’all.

    We All Have Our Own Gifts

    January 22, 2009

    I have the most awesome husband on the planet. He amazes me with the things he knows how to do, that I don’t know how to do. Like make money.  Money making is not my gift. Spending it is.

    Dude has a computer in his head where he can take any situation and put it on a mental spread sheet and calculate detailed plans with predictive outcomes along with mapping algorithms, sequencing strategies and data convergence points.  I don’t know what that means.  Sometimes I hear him say those words on the phone, so I just made up a nonsensical sentence. Another gift of mine. That doesn’t make money.

    Sometimes I look at him with awe and I say to him, “Dude, you impress me. I could never do what you do.”

    But I comfort myself with the fact that at least I can mentally calculate that I will need a towel when I get out of the shower.

    We all have our own gifts.

    No School, But Still A Lesson

    January 20, 2009

    Did you know that yesterday was a holiday? And that there was NO school?

    Well, I didn’t. Until I showed up at Jennifer’s house to pick up her child to take to school. After I rang her doorbell several times, she opened the door in pretty PJs and her hair all (sigh) askew in a really cute and fabulous way and  looked at me like I was from Mars (where school is in session!)

    Yes, it was on my calendar in big black Sharpie letters – NO SCHOOL! – but I seem to have trouble operating a calendar. Too many moving parts.

    Several not-that-great things about this situation: 1) I got dressed and put on make up for no reason. Dude asks me why I bother to do that just to drive the kids to school and I tell him because if I don’t, the next logical step is going to Wal-Mart in my pajamas and slippers, so it’s a preventative measure.  2) I woke, fed and dressed my sleeping child for no reason and 3) I had a really pressing matter to attend to and now I had a really pressing child to attend to and the two pressing matters were not compatible.

    So Sean and I went back home with his little lunch box and my dream of working on a very pressing matter and we put both in the fridge for the next day.

    Let me be honest here. When Jennifer answered the door and informed me that there was no school (and didn’t even flare her nostrils!) I didn’t not leap off the ground and punch the air with my fist and shout “Yes!”   In fact, I may have dropped my chin to my chest and mumbled something under my breath, something more or less like “Crud!”

    This was not how I envisioned spending my day.

    So yesterday, the pressing matter went unattended while Sean and I set up an art studio in the kitchen and painted all kinds of pictures.

    Sean really is a pretty good little artist, but his conceptual skills are somewhat ahead of his abilities, so sometimes he miscalculates how much space he will need for the composition he has in mind, which is typical for a 5-year-old.  And this is very frustrating for him.

    At one point, after painting one little circle on the paper, he sighed loudly and huffed and asked for another piece of paper.  And being the mean mom I am, I said no and told him to turn the paper over.  With an elaborate expression of discontent and duress, he turned the paper over, drew another little circle somewhere in middle of the paper and huffed and sighed again and stated that he realllly needed another piece of paper.

    I told him that in art, as in life, you can’t just get a new piece of paper when something doesn’t work out the way you envisioned it.  I told him that his job as an artist was to re-think the composition, to accept the challenge of seeing what he could do with that misplaced circle. I told him that often mistakes are opportunities for something wonderful to come into your life that you had not planned on.

    Like spending the day painting pictures with your five-year-old.

    The Next New Cooking Show

    January 18, 2009

    The other night, as I was flipping through the channels before giving it up to the sandman, I happened to come across this show on the Food Network called The Ultimate Recipe Showdown.  It was so fascinating I couldn’t turn away.

    It seems that they take four average people who like to cook and they each make their own unique version of a given dish, like a hamburger, and they have to make it in 30 minutes.  Three professional foodies,  chefs or food editor type people, provide useless play-by-play commentary as they closely watch the competitors feverishly chopping and dicing.

    At the end of the 30 minutes, the judges taste each of the four dishes and give the wanna-be-chef feedback about what they did and didn’t like about their dish. And then they huddle and vote.  Somehow or another, one of the four amateur chefs emerges as a winner and gets $25,000 or something. Can you tell I wasn’t paying that close of attention?

    As I was watching this competition, I was thinking, what is the big deal? All of the ingredients and equipment they need are on hand and ready to go. Where’s the challenge in that?

    No, the show I’d like to see is where they take a couple of amateur chefs, drop them into MY kitchen and let them scrounge around in the pantry and fridge and try to concoct something edible out of whatever they can find in 30 minutes.  Now THAT would be a challenge!

    Food Network!  Call me! I’ve got your next big show idea.

    Looking For My Box

    Why is it that churches need to put people in boxes? When Jesus spoke to and fed the crowd of 5,000, did he organize them into Youth, Singles, Young Professionals, Young Marrieds, Young Families, Pacesetters and Widowed and Divorced?

    There’s a verse in Scripture that compares the body of the church to that of the human body, where all parts do their own thing but contribute to the wellness of the whole.  In our current church culture, generally all the Toes meet in room B3 and the Fingers meet in B4, neither benefiting from the wisdom and perspective of the other. And the idea of fingers and toes having their own meetings kind of cracks me up.

    When I was widowed at 34, I eventually (re)turned to church to help me through the grieving process – not so much for spiritual healing, although that too was certainly needed, but merely as a way to force myself to get out and interact with other humans on the longest and loneliest day of the week.

    What I found when I finally ventured back to church, now in my mid-30’s, unemployed, widowed and childless, was that I didn’t fit anywhere. I had no box. I didn’t fit into the singles group, where everyone was at least ten years younger than me. And I certainly I didn’t fit into the widowed and divorced group where most everyone was 30 years older than me with grown children and grandchildren.

    Nothing changed after I remarried at 39. Antique Daddy and I didn’t fit into the Newly Marrieds group. Although we were newly married, we weren’t exactly young. And now even though we have a child, we don’t fit into the Young Families group either, because you know, we’re still not young. So we kind of roam around from church to church, class to class, bugging visiting people who are comfortably snuggled into their demographic box.

    And while that may sound like a complaint, it actually isn’t. I don’t really want a box. I like being with people from all seasons in life. It’s more interesting. It’s kind of fun to make people squirm when you invade their box. It’s liberating to be box free! Down with boxes people!

    I was appreciating my box-free existence a few Sunday’s ago. We were visiting a church and ended up in a Sunday school class with mostly older folks. When the teacher asked that the guests be introduced, an elderly gentleman stood up and introduced his daughter who was about my age. “Everyone, I’d like you meet Susan, my daughter,” he said proudly. Then he looked at his wife who was glaring up at him through squinted eyes – his cue to quickly correct himself. “I guess I should say this is our daughter.”

    “I guess so,” she said dryly in her long-vowel’d Texas accent, “Since you were out eating a hamburger when I had her.”

    Gotta love an old gal that speaks her mind.  See what I would have missed had I been in the Old People With Toddlers class?

    Originally published November 2006.