A MOTHER'S DIARY by Dede Ranahan WINTER 2013-2014 DECEMBER 18, 2013 - DECEMBER 25, 2013

On the Back Burner * Plans and Priorities * In the Moment * How the Light Gets In * Christmas Eve * A Christmas Card

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."


WINTER 2013-2014

I prefer winter and fall,
when you feel the bone structure
of the landscape. Something
waits beneath it; the
whole story doesn't show.  

Andrew Wyeth



He called the boiler room and said,
"This is John up in the penthouse.
Come on up and crack the steam in."
So I took the cowhide gloves and walked
across the January parking lot
to the main building of the hospital,
stuck my key in the elevator and rode it
to the mechanical penthouse, third floor.
The door opened to show me the tradesmen
all caught up on a different pipe
like kids on the monkey bars.
I put the pipe wrench to the blue valve
and cracked it slow, remembering John's admonition:
"You've got a hundred'n twenty pounds of pressure
coming through there. Open it too fast
and it'll blow you through the fucking roof."
Steam sang through the pipes as the condensate
dripped from the new silver gaskets
onto the concrete floor, scribbling a lazy map.
A man lost his finger here on the original job
putting in the permanent air handlers,
and when I look up to check the steam gauge,
I see where his buddies drew a picture — 
a severed digit with the brotherly words:
"Hey Tony, here's your finger."

Patrick Ranahan



I'm shopping at Trader Joe's and buying more food supplies for Christmas. Today's items include pecans, dried cherries, parmesan crisps, lemon curd, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, Spanish Manchego cheese, pomegranate arils, and pico de gallo.

I stop at Macy's to buy two jelly roll pans for Kerry. They're on her Christmas wish list. On the spur of the moment, I call her.

"Are you home? Will you be there for a few minutes?"

"Yes and yes."

I want to give the jelly roll pans to Kerry now, in case she can use them for her Christmas baking. She answers the door in a jacket and scarf.

"Are you going somewhere?"

"No, just keeping warm."

I give her the red Macy's bag with the pans inside.

"Are these the right pans?"

"Yes, thanks."

Regan and Ayla are in the family room. Kerry and I stand in the entryway.

"I had my annual exam today, Mom. I have a lump in my right breast. I found it myself. I've had it for a month. I have to have a mammogram and some other tests."

I observe my daughter. She has a new haircut with bangs and tapered sides framing her face. She looks very cute. It takes a moment for her words to sink in. She's not crying but close. She's scared. I put my arms around her and we hug.

"They can't see me for the tests until Monday. I don't want to wait that long. They may have another lab that I can get into sooner."

"Call them, now."

Kerry calls the doctor's office. It's closed. She calls another number. She's talking to someone like she's ordering pizza. Matter of fact. But her legs are shaking. Her body's shaking. She gets an appointment for 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.

"I'll go with you."

"You don't have to, Mom."

"I want to."


I hug my daughter, again. "We're not panicking yet. There's no family history of breast cancer. It could be nothing."

Kerry was planning to have Christmas Day at her house. She can't think about that right now.

"If you don't feel like hosting Christmas, we can have it at my house. What time should I be here Friday morning?"

"Come at eight and I'll drop the girls off for their rides to school."

Suddenly, getting ready for Christmas in on the back burner.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: How do you spell relief? Insurance adjuster calls and informs you that your $1,000 deductible has been waived due to other party's fault.



I text Kerry. "How are you this morning?"

"I'm okay. I'm glad my appointment is tomorrow, though."

Me, too. I get busy. I decide to clean my oven. You turn on the automatic cleaning cycle and let the oven clean itself. Piece of cake.

I press the self-clean button. I set the timer for two hours. The words "lock door" light up. I try to shut the door but the door latch has protruded without catching and the door won't shut. The "lock door" light is flashing, but I can't shut the door to make it stop.

Hmm? I push another button - "control lock."

Oh, dear. Now everything's blocked. The "clear/off" pad's not working either. I pull out the oven manual. I check the trouble shooting section. No help there. Maybe there's a number to call for assistance.

I need the model and serial numbers. I find them on the left side of the range at the bottom, almost to the floor. I bend over but I can't read them. My trifocals aren't lining up so I can see the numbers.

I lie down on the floor on my stomach so I can get my glasses at a better angle. Who put these numbers in this position? What were they thinking? Did they consider the people who'd be sprawled on floors trying to read them? Were they laughing in the factory?

Finally, after five minutes, I've copied the numbers. I hope they're correct. I call the 800 customer service number. The number's not operative. This is beginning to feel like a communist plot. I don't want to call a repairman. My stubborn oven is not a repair issue. It's an operator failure issue. I call Neighbors InDeed, our neighborhood volunteer help line. I leave a message. It's embarrassing.

Long story short, an hour-and-a-half later a volunteer arrives at my door. He says, "I'm not sure what to do, but I'll take a stab at it."

After 45 minutes of trying this and that and almost giving up, the "lock door" light stops flashing. We push on the door latch and it aligns with its slot in the oven door. Three hours after I began, my automatic oven cleaner is set and functioning.

Now I'm at the local market. Another $89 in groceries. This is never ending. Oven cleaning and grocery shopping, usually they're routine. Today they're diversions.

I was supposed to join a friend tomorrow to see Catching Fire but, instead, Kerry and I'll meet. How quickly plans and priorities can change.



I'm with Kerry at Sutter Hospital. She's wrapped in a hospital gown waiting for her ultrasound. She did some research online that makes her feel hopeful.

"There's an eighty-percent chance that I don't have breast cancer. Maybe it's because I'm thinking about it, but my right boob hurts."

"That's good," I say. "I don't think cancer hurts — at least in the beginning."

A nurse calls Kerry into the ultrasound room. Another nurse comes and offers me coffee or tea. She must know I'm a concerned mom.

I thumb through a woman's magazine. Lots of yummy looking slow-cooker recipes — chicken soup, tomato sauce, chili, stews, short ribs. Comfort food. I brought a book to read but it sits on the chair. Magazine articles are better suited to my attention span.

Kerry comes back. So far, so good. The ultrasound looks okay. She's bracing for the mammogram. This will be her first one. Really? Kerry is 36. I had my first mammogram when I was twenty-something. The same nurse calls Kerry again. Back to the slow-cooker recipes. I may have to buy this magazine. It's the January 2014 issue. Kerry returns.

"That wasn't bad. It pinched a little, that's all."

Ten minutes go by. The nurse comes out and says, "As soon as the radiologist is finished with another patient, I'll ask him to look at Kerry's mammograms."

This nurse is friendly and considerate. She knows we're waiting for the right report. When she comes back again she's smiling.

"Everything looks good. Call your doctor in six weeks for a follow-up check."

I'm smiling. My daughter's smiling. "I didn't know how that concern was weighing me down," she says. "I was really grumpy."

Kerry texts David. He texts right back. "Yay! I'm so relieved. I was so worried."

It's ten in the morning and, all of a sudden, we're both starving and ready for lunch. We drive to a nearby restaurant for soup and sandwiches. We talk about Christmas gifts and children and decorations.

"Kerry, do you feel like today is kind of another birthday?"

"Yes, wondering, even for a little while, is making me think differently about things."

My tomato-basil soup in a bread bowl is hot and well-seasoned. Kerry devours her beef-dip sourdough sandwich. We're both present in the moment. It feels so good.




I'm re-reading Pat Schneider's new book, How the Light Gets In, about writing as a spiritual practice. Pat worked seven or eight years on the book. I believe she's close to 80 years old. I don't know her. Nevertheless, I send her an email.

"Dear Pat, I'm re-reading your wonderful book, How the Light Gets In. I must confess that I'm making a mess of it with underlining, asterisks, and brackets. I'm sad that I've come so late to finding you.

"I'm turning 70 in 2014 and I'm writing, for lack of a fancier word, a journal leading up to that event. My premise/excuse is that every voice is both average and extraordinary.

"I'm not sure, exactly, where 'my boat, my words' are taking me. I am sure that there's 'a place that I'm imagining, the existence of which I cannot prove, except by going there.'

"When I stare at my blank computer screen, your words will be a neon sign flashing in my mind. 'Take whatever comes.' Thank you so much."

Dede Ranahan

To my surprise, Pat replies.

"Dear Dede, Thank you so much for your beautiful message. I am delighted that my book is meaningful for you. It was a long and important journey for me, and I am thankful that it is helping you to write.

"Be brave, tell the truth, ring the bells that still will ring and let the light get in. My very best wishes for your writing and your life."

Pat Schneider



My brother, Jim, and his wife, Sharon, arrived here on Saturday from San Diego. My nephew, Michael, and his wife, Karen, arrived on Sunday from Mountain View. It's been non-stop eating ever since.

We're testing two versions of my homemade Irish cream each day. One is made with whiskey and one with brandy. Looks like a toss-up. But it must be good because everyone wants to test it again. And again.

Tomorrow is a Christmas open house at Kerry's. I'll bring ham and a sesame-noodle pasta salad. Thursday, the day after Christmas, will be my annual crab feed — fresh crab, sourdough bread, spaghetti with David's Bolognese sauce, mixed greens with dried cherries, pecans, and shaved parmesan, and peppermint and egg nog ice creams. And, of course, homemade Irish cream. Friday we'll begin leftovers.

We're hauling GG back and forth each day from her assisted living facility. We pick her up at 4:00 p.m. and she's ready to go home by 7:30. Pat comes over each night to join us for dinner. We celebrate family being together. This is, I think, as good as it gets.



Dear Mom,

Thank you for everything you always do. 


Love, Pat

A note: Akamai (ah-ka-my) is Hawaiian slang for wit and wisdom. In spiritual numerology, 777 is a lucky number, a number of God. “Akamai777” meaning “Wit, wisdom, and a big hug from the universe,” is one of Pat's favorite salutations. I don’t know if he made it up or found it somewhere.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Merry Christmas Everyone! Love and Light!


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

December 30, 2013 - January 10, 2014: Clues * Happy New Year * Doing Whatever I Want * Stories in the News * A Lifetime's Too Short * Baby, It's Cold Outside * My To-Do List * The Briar Patch * WTF * Our Support Group

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