A MOTHER' DIARY by Dede Ranahan NOVEMBER 3, 2013 - NOVEMBER 16, 2013

High Tech low Tech * Spending Plan * Equanimity * Insignificant or Not? * Family Mental Illness Support Group * Missing Teeth and Too Much Hair * That's Italian * Snap it Up * There's the Rub * Perfect Day * Batkid

To read A Mother's Diary from the beginning, click on the June 2017 archives in the right hand column and read "Before: Scenes from the Trenches."

Photo Credit: Asil Tunus/Flickr

Photo Credit: Asil Tunus/Flickr


Another day at the computer paying bills online. Online sites are supposed to be safe and protected by firewalls and other technology I don't understand.

There's a two-page article in today's Sacramento Bee about the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the questions raised since Edward Snowden began releasing the agency's documents in June. According to the article, a former NSA official says, "Without new leadership, new laws, and top to bottom reform, the agency will represent a threat of 'turnkey totalitarianism,' and the capability to turn its awesome power, now directed mainly against other countries, on the US public."

This is a scary thought. It sounds too incredible, but is it? Why do I feel apprehensive for my grandchildren? No wonder I'm writing in this journal. The simple, tactile act of putting words on a page is comforting. Old school. Low tech. Connected to that primitive man who drew on rock walls. But wait. What do I know about that caveman? When he wasn't marking his cave, he was probably clubbing his wife. I wouldn't have trusted him anymore than I trust the NSA.

Here's crossing fingers that our collective wills and wisdom prevail, and we'll figure out a way to keep technology and humanity in sync. Here's hoping the NSA isn't tracking my online bill pay, and this is my imagination, stoked by newspaper accounts, needing a time out.



Financial guru, Sure Orman, would be proud. I'm reviewing my budget spreadsheet for 2013. Heading into the home stretch, I'm coming in $7,000 under budget. I've been cautious all  year because I wasn't sure how much financial support I was going to need to give to Pat.

So I cut back. I didn't take a vacation — only a weekend visit to Marisa in Seattle. I didn't make any major purchases. I budgeted $1,000 for medical expenses and used $150 of that amount. I budgeted for home maintenance and yard maintenance and came in as budgeted. I budgeted for car expenses and came in $500 under budget. With no major catastrophes, I'll end the year in the plus column.

I have no debt, I own my home. I have solid medical coverage. I pay cash or I don't buy it. Where I'm not doing as well as I'd like is in putting what money I have to work. I'm not in the stock market. Own no bonds. I'm still benefitting from CDs earning 3.5%. Once they mature I don't know where I'll turn.

I know the drill. Asset diversification. Asset allocation and reallocation. Percentages in cash, stocks, and bonds. I also know that no one cares as much about my money as I do. I've been screwed by financial advisers in the past.

Meanwhile, I sit on the side lines of the great stock market run since its last down turn. Nevertheless, like the tortoise and the hare, my net worth keeps increasing because I draw less from my saving than it's earning in interest. I'm not rich but, with diligence and luck, I'll take care of myself and not become a burden to anyone. I intend to spend my last dime on the day of my departure.

Next year, I want to include a trip in my budget plan. A trip to somewhere I've never been before. Actually, I prefer the term "spending plan." Sounds less onerous than "budget plan." A trip might be someplace not that far away. There's a whole world, right in my back yard, waiting to be explored.

I'm sending this travel thought out to the universe, waiting to see what exciting proposition it presents for my consideration — within my 2014 spending plan parameters, of course. And the universe knows what they are.



Okay. I've changed my mind. I can't be sanguine about my demise. Not on days like today.

The news from NASA, and their Kepler space telescope, is that billions of earth-size planets exist in our galaxy. A planet for every person on earth. These planets don't necessarily have the same biochemical conditions that led to life on earth. The earth has features that are amenable to life — a circular orbit, a good-sized moon, and tectonic activity that recycles the planet's carbon. With zillions of planets out there, however, the chances are good that some form of life exists elsewhere in the universe. SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, thinks we'll find earth-like worlds soon. What is their definition of "soon?" Soon as in my lifetime? NASA and SETI better get to work. I'm not leaving until we find out if somebody else is out there.

On the other hand, it may not make any difference. We must consider the distances between us and habitable planets. A light-year equal 5.8 trillion miles. Twelve light-years to the nearest possible ocean planet would compute to about 70 trillion miles. The velocity of the New Horizons probe is 35,800 mph. That speed, times 24 hours per day, times 365 days per year means (by my calculation) it would take around 225,000 years to get to the neighbors next door. By then they may not be home. They may be on vacation. They may have moved to another planet.

Then what?

A girl can change her mind. I'm changing my mind. Again. Becoming stardust myself may be the most efficient way to uncover the mysteries of life in the universe and to circumvent barriers of time and space. My equanimity is being restored.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I want to open a pizza place called Failure Pizza. We would have specials like the Power Failure, the Personal Failure, the Marriage Failure, the Nuclear Failure, etc. Employees would answer the phone, "Failure Pizza. Describe your failure."



"Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you,
but it is most important that you do it."  Ghandi

That's where I am, today, in this writing endeavor. Doubting. What difference does it make?

Meanwhile, my Kansas City cousin keeps sending me family photos and documents. I'm looking at a copy of my great-great-great-grandfather's will written in 1840.

"I, Christian Shelly, of Washington Township, Franklin County and State of Pennsylvania, being weak in body but of sound mind and memory do make this as my last will and testament to wit:

First, I allow that all just debts be paid by my executor as soon as can be done after my decease.

Item; I devise to my wife, Magdalena, the use of my plantation wherein I reside and also the part which lies opposite Adam Sesher's building and the improvements which are on both tracts all during her natural life;

And also one horse creature and all the cows and all my household and kitchen furniture, bedstead and bedding, stove and vessels of every description and all other articles which may be in that part of the house which I occupy — all of which my said wife is to have during her natural life."

I'm fascinated by this peek into nineteenth century life. Not because it's family history, but because it's common detail from another time and place. I try reading between the lines. I hear a man, who I'm guessing never cooked a meal or washed a dish in his life, saying, "I'm not sure why we need all these pots and pans." I hear a man saying, "While I'm alive these are my possessions."  Not "our" possessions.

I've never heard of Christian Shelly before. The copy of his will arrives because my cousin saved it, packaged it, and mailed it. But when I open the package, it feels like this document time-travelled to get to me. Is Christian Shelly's spirit hovering nearby as I examine his will? Is Magdalena's spirit hovering nearby as I read her name on a 173-year-old document? Are Christian and Magdalena urging me to keep writing?

Will my record of ordinary life, early in the twenty-first century, be interesting to someone in the future? Will a great-great-great-grandchild read it and say, "I wish I'd known my great-great-great-grandmother?" Or will he or she say, "What a crazy old lady?"

For some reason, today, keeping this journal "seems insignificant" to me. Does Ghandi's imperative — "it is most important that you do it," — then apply?



Random comments at today's meeting:

"My son's having a difficult month. My brother died. Our dog died. A staff member at a health food store recommended that my son take a certain medication and it can be deadly if taken with the wrong combination of other drugs. My son's new psychiatrist told him he shouldn't take that medication and he's listening to him."

"Our daughter's really ill. She can be violent and dangerous. We don't know what to do and we're hoping someone in this group will have a suggestion."

"I'm here because my thirty-three-year-old grandson, who has bipolar disorder, is stressing everyone in the family, especially his mother."

"This has been a really bad month. I don't know if I can talk about it without crying. My son's in Southern California and I'm glad because I'm afraid of him. He has drug and alcohol problems and I'm sure he has underlying mental illness. He's living on the street. I don't know how to help him. I can't stop thinking about it."

"I don't know if I belong here. I'm dealing with depression myself and trying to find help before it gets out of control."



Regan calls on FaceTime to show me her missing front tooth.

"Regan, where is your tooth?"
"The tooth fairy has it, Mim."
"What did the tooth fairy leave you for your tooth?"
"Four dollars and ninety-five cents."
"Wow. That's a generous tooth fairy. What are you going to buy with the money?"
"I don't know."
"Do you have a bank for your tooth fairy money?"
"No. I don't know if the money's any good."
"It's got gold sprinkles all over it."
"Tooth fairy gold dust?"
"That's very special money. Does Ayla have any loose teeth?"
"She has one that's kind of loose. She fell and knocked it loose and chipped it."
"Do you have any more loose teeth, Regan?"
"Yes, see? The front tooth next to my lost tooth is wiggling. Mommy says not to wiggle it. She's afraid I won't be able to eat anything if both of my front teeth are missing."
"You'd have to drink chocolate milkshakes all day."
"I know."
"Can I talk to Ayla for a second?"
"Okay. She's drawing with my art set."
"Hi, Ayla, What are you drawing?"
"I'm drawing a picture of you, Mim."
"A picture of me?"
"Yes, you're holding my hand. See?"
"Ayla, Mim doesn't have long hair. She has short hair. You drew her with long hair."
"I know. I don't care."
"I like your picture, Ayla. I like that we're holding hands. Remind me, Regan, to pay you the money I owe you for your school marathon."
"I walked ten laps."
"Then I owe you ten dollars. A dollar for each lap."

Oops. We're disconnected. This conversation is over. I love my iPhone and FaceTime. They're perfect for viewing missing teeth and original artwork. And for getting on-the-spot reporting from people in the know.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Went to a wonderful concert last night chock full of classic jazz standards from Porter, Gershwin, Cohen, Kern, and others. That incredible and beautiful vocalist, Ann Roach, at the helm backed by master percussionist, Michael Bayard, keyboards, Doug Matson, and stand up bass, by Rob Lemas. The tunes are all echoing through my mind today with the highlights for me being "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Let's Do it," "Luck be a Lady Tonight," "If I Only Had a Brain," and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." "Fever" was scorching hot and an amazing encore of "What a Wonderful World." Can't believe I get to work with such incredible talent, awesome.



Home again. I visited my friends, Jan and Jim, in San Carlos. We went to Yoshi's on Jack London Square. We ate dinner and attended the evening show - Pasquale Esposito Rendering Italian Jazz. He gave an energetic performance, engaged with the audience and revealed a flair for comedy.

I think, in a past life, I lived in Italy. I once walked into a 400-year-old farmhouse in Montecatini and got goosebumps. It's the only time I've ever thought to myself, I've been here before. I remember this room.

In my next life, I want to live in Italy, again, and have a mad, passionate affair with an Italian singer. Not a marriage. I'm not sure Italian singers would be good at marriage. Too many luscious ladies to distract them. But a fling with one would be fine. Then I'll call Jan and tell her all about it. She's alway looking for a guy for me. Remind me to share my Match.com and It's Just Lunch stories sometime. They're not pretty.

If a good guy comes along, that will be great. If that doesn't come to pass, that's okay, too. I'm leaving it up to fate. Che sara, sara. That's archaic Italian for Que sera, sera. What will be will be. And this week I'm in one of my Italian phases. Thanks to Jan and Jim and Pasquale Esposito.



I'm at Snap it Up working the cash register. Lots of customers this morning. One lady spends $196.00. "I have five children," she says. She doesn't want her receipt. "I like kitties."

Another woman, her friend, says, "She spends money like this everywhere she goes." They live out of town but I encourage them to come back. "Come back often. Come back soon."

A young woman buys three pairs of jeans for $15.00. Another considers ten etched wine glasses for $10.00. "I'm not going to buy these," she says. "I'm not. I'm not. I'm not. Please ring them up."

A ten-foot artificial houseplant goes for $10.00. Prices are low. The intent is to move merchandise. The strategy is working. Word is getting around that this is a nifty thrift store. I'm not usually a thrift store person. Thrift stores are often crowded and packed with so much stuff I can't see anything. They smell dusty, musty, old. Not this store. Merchandise is displayed with care. Clothes are steamed if wrinkled. Duplicate items are kept in the back until the first item sells. Adoptable kittens and cats swat at strings and balls in an adoption area. People see that their money is being used for a good cause.

I'm not immune. I'm buying a Christmas ornament for $2.00, a Christmas music box with dancing elves for the Grandma drawer for $4.00, and a brand new Westinghouse iron for $5.00. I'm working for free and paying for the privilege. I'm being a very good volunteer.



An email from AARP is asking for donations to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. I click on the "Donate Today" button. I change the designated donation from $50 to $25. That's as far as I get. Will this donation provide food and water to someone who needs it? Or will it be swallowed up by bureaucratic ineptitude? Or worse, will some middle man simply fold my dollar bills and slip them into his own pocket? I'm leery.

On the other hand, I can't mail $25 to someone in the Philippines. There's no means of delivering mail. I can't ship food and water. My donation of a few cans of beans would be eaten up by shipping costs. It would end up where?

It's a conundrum.

Should I simply make the donation to AARP, close my eyes and trust that it will get to someone in need? The message says, "One hundred percent of all funds raised will go to organizations helping the victims of the typhoon."

Ah. There's the rub. The synapse where money changes hands. I'll never know how my donation is used, of course. The other option is to do nothing. The classic approach-avoidance scenario.

The AARP Foundation will match, dollar for dollar, contributions up to $500,000. I guess I'll click again on the "Donate Today" button and then click the "Submit" button to complete the transaction. Why do I have such angst over $25? Because I want the donation to help, and because it's the principle of the thing.



I wake up at 8:00 a.m., make coffee, and read the paper. I water houseplants, launder a couple loads of clothes, and vacuum the house. I shower and dress, pleased with my shrinking waistline. I can tuck my top into my jeans. I can wear a belt.

I visit the new Dollar Store near the market. A neighbor's there. We chat and catch up. Her husband died earlier this year. She's doing okay. We give each other hugs.

At the grocery store, I check out tomatoes for a recipe to try for dinner. "What kind of tomatoes are best?" I ask the produce guy. His name is Scotty.

"Sometimes," he says, "tomatoes look good but then they don't have any flavor. The  heirlooms are best. I promise. I don't get a commission."

At the checkout counter, I joke with Scotty, who's now working the register. "You said these tomatoes are free. Right?"

He doesn't blink. "That's what I said. They're free today."


"Yep. I didn't ring them up."

On my way out of the store, I scan my receipt. No tomatoes listed. What a simple little gesture that makes my day. Thanks, Scotty.

At home I make corn, zucchini, and tomato pie. The pie and the tomatoes are flavorful with the help of parmesan cheese, garlic, and salt and pepper. Soon, I'll climb into bed and read more of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I'm learning about HeLa cells and ethical dilemmas in scientific research.

Nothing happened today. Yet, on many levels, it was perfect. A perfect sort of day.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: 10 things you didn't know about me and were afraid to ask:

  • I've written two books — a book of poetry and a memoir.
  • I was second in line for the starring role in the movie "Lucas" about a kid who plays football. 
  • I became close friends with Nobel Prize winning poet, Joseph Brodsky, when I was in college.
  • I, too, have been to over 20 Grateful Dead concerts, Tanya Rosa.
  • Once met Bob Weir at a house party after an Oakland show.
  • I did a solo motorcycle trip through 29 states when I was 24.
  • I am a survivor of heart surgery and brain surgery.
  • I once lived on the island of Guam.
  • I got to sit with Bill King on the radio broadcast bench at a Warriors' game when I was a kid.
  • Used to be a teen model for Macy's, JC Penney, & Sears.




The City of Gotham, a.k.a. San Francisco, is saved today by Batman and Batkid, a.k.a. Miles Scott. Miles is a five-year-old cancer patient whose wish to the Make-A-Wish Foundation was to help Batman.

At 10 a.m., a plea was broadcast on San Francisco public television. The San Francisco police chief asked for Batkid's help in apprehending the Riddler. During the course of the day, Batkid did the  following:

Rode in a black Lamborghini Bat-mobile.
Locked up the Riddler.
Saved a damsel tied to cable car tracks.
Rescued the San Francisco Giant's mascot, Lou Seal, from the clutches of the Penguin.
Ran the bases in AT&T Park.
Read a message from President Obama.
Claimed a key to the city from the mayor of San Francisco.

Twelve thousand people turned out to role play and root for Batkid in his pursuit of justice and the American way. The San Francisco Chronicle published 1,000 copies of The Gotham Chronicle.

What an amazing display of communal whimsy. Long live Batkid. Long live the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Long live thousands of people, at the ready, to cheer our hero on — with heart.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Gradual Facebook withdrawal: I'm going to go get something to eat and I'm not telling you where and I'm not going to post a picture of my food.


Please share my blog/book with "other wayfarers who might catch a resonating echo while wandering in my woods." Thanks.

Walkin' the Cat * It's Criminal * Follow the Leader * November 22, 1963 * Happy Birthday, Marisa Elizabeth * Little Things * God Bless Us Everyone * Thanksgiving * Which End's Up? *Topsy-Turvy

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From the oldest