A MOTHER'S DIARY by Dede Ranahan: AUGUST 30, 2013 - SEPTEMBER 7, 2013

Beautiful Feet * Quandaries * Cookies I * Cookies II * A Teacher's Tirade * Which End's Up? * Homemade Books * Tournaments and Wars * Getting Real

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."* 



I had a pedicure this morning. By coincidence, a vet tech, Becky, is coming to the house to clip Jazzy's nails. I can't do this myself. One cat plus one set of nail clippers plus one pair of hands equals total chaos.

I ask Becky to call me on her cell phone when she arrives. Jazzy will run and hide if she hears the doorbell. With faked nonchalance, I shut the doors to the bedrooms and the laundry room, closing off escape routes. When Becky calls, I answer with my usual phone voice.

"Be right there."

But, damn. Somehow Jazzy knows. She knows something's up. She sprints for my bedroom where she can hide under the bed but the door is shut. I scoop her up.

I open the front door and Becky comes in. She's only been here once before but Jazzy remembers. She squirms in my arms. Becky grabs her by the scruff of her neck and places her on her side on the dining room table. She show me how to hold her neck and how to brace her back with my arm.

Jazzy relaxes. She doesn't fight as Becky clips her nails. In less than a minute, the nail trim is finished. I let go of Jazzy's fur and she dashes under the table.

Becky leaves. Shortly, all's right in our world again. Jazzy's sprawled in front of the computer as I type. She's gazing at me. She's purring. We're still friends. And, we have six beautiful feet.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: R.I.P. Seamus Heaney, Irish poet extraordinaire.



The Syria thing is heating up. Russian President Vladimir Putin urges the US to reconsider a military strike against Syria. Russia is a Syrian ally and Russia-US relations are strained, among other things, over Russia's giving national security leaker, Edward Snowden, diplomatic asylum.

Putin challenges the United Nations. "Present evidence that proves it was Assad's military that launched the chemical attacks in Damascus, and not Syrian rebels trying to draw the US into the conflict. Remember what happened, in past decades, when the US initiated armed aggression in different regions of the world. Did US involvement resolve even one problem in those instances?"

Some of our elected representatives in Washington are asking different questions. Is it our mandate to monitor and vindicate international norms? Is military action required in Syria to protect our national security interests?

I try to process foreign positions and US positions the same way. Are the people in power trustworthy? Do they really know the proper course of action? Are hidden personal and political agendas in play? Of course they are. Answers are not easy to sort out.

Across the world, the people I'd like to sit down and talk with are sixty-nine-year-old Syrian grandmothers. What's their take on the situation? What are their ideas to stop the killing of innocent children and grandchildren? Like me, they lack the power to make the killing stop. I'm guessing, though, that they'd be willing to join hands and say a prayer for humankind. I bet that, after prayer, they'd agree the next best steps are to take care of our own families and friends, and to root out the weeds in our own back yards.



For some, I hear, baking is meditative. Sinking hands into flour, sugar, eggs, and butter, one can connect with one's higher self. This has not been my experience.

I'm not a baker. I'm more of a souper, or one who makes soups. A pinch of curry instead of salt, Italian sausage instead of ground beef, kale in place of spinach, navy beans for kidney beans. You get my drift. Souping is flexible. It leaves lots of room for error.

On the other hand, baking is precise. You need to attend to exact measurements and baking times or you court disaster — pathetic pie crusts, cracked cheesecakes, and sickly soufflés.

A recipe I've come across for caramel corn cookies has broken my resistance to baking. I love caramel corn and I need a dessert to take to a Labor Day get-together tomorrow.

The recipe sounds straight forward enough. Nothing too complicated here. First step: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Check. Second step: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Uh-oh. I'm in trouble already. The sheets of parchment paper I've torn off are too long and too wide for my baking pans.

I press one side of the parchment paper up against the rim of the baking pan. I'm trying to put a crease in it to make it fit. It doesn't want to crease. I turn the paper over and try to crease it from the other side. No luck. I fold the paper and force creases into the folds.  Now the paper fits but it's ballooning in the middle. I need those pie bead thingies to hold it down. Not a good idea. They'd end up in the cookies.

I'm 10 minutes into this project and not yet working with ingredients. I grab the kitchen scissors and cut the parchment along the folds I've made. I gather up the parchment scraps to put them in the waste basket under the sink. The basket's too full. The parchment scraps fall all over the floor. I'll take care of that in a minute.

Next step: Beating and mixing go okay but this cookie dough seems really dry. I double check the recipe. I haven't missed anything. I continue on faith.

I bake the cookies for ten minutes, as directed. I let them cool five minutes on the baking sheets, as directed. I transfer the cookies to racks to cool, as directed.

Meanwhile, the parchment scraps need to be picked up. Flour and oats have drifted everywhere — on counter tops, on the floor, on my blouse, in my hair, in Jazzy's fur.

I used half the bag of caramel corn. Someone has spilled much of the remaining half into the sink. Flakes of coconut are swimming in puddles of almond extract.

How did this happen? Who made this mess when I wasn't looking?

The directions don't state how long to wait before sampling the cookies. I decide it's time. I take my first bite. I eat the whole cookie. I give it another shot and eat another cookie.

These cookies are okay but they're not good enough to take to the potluck tomorrow. They're not dry, as I feared. They're flavorless. They don't add up to the sum of their parts. I can't even taste the caramel corn.

This hasn't been a zen experience. I'm not in the right frame of mind to close my eyes and focus on my breathing.

What to do? It must be five o'clock somewhere. The clean up will have to wait.



Time's getting short. The potluck's at 4 p.m. I go to my recipe book and flip to a proven recipe - Peanut Butter Cup Cookies. All the ingredients are on hand except the peanut butter cups.

I'm at the market to get the candy. Standing in the cake mix aisle, I spy a peanut butter cookie mix. This would be so simple.

The good angel on my right shoulder says, "No. That's cheating. You must make the cookies from scratch."

The bad angel on my left shoulder says, "Naw, go ahead. Stop worrying. No one will know the difference."

I buy the peanut butter cups and the cookie mix. I can decided what to do when I get home.

I'm home. I'm reading the recipe. It involves flour, salt, baking soda, butter, white sugar, peanut butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and milk.

I'm staring at the cookie mx. It involves the mix, oil, water, and one egg. It's a moral dilemma. It's a no brainer. I go for the cookie mix.

I roll the dough into 36 balls, coat them in sugar, and put them in mini-muffin tins to bake for eight minutes at 375 degrees. I remove the muffin tins from the oven and push one peanut butter cup into the center of each cookie. All done. One dirty bowl and not a trace of flour anywhere.

I'm testing a cookie. It's perfect. It's delicious. The baking is successful. After yesterday's fiasco, one might even go so far as to call it a "zen experience."

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies



Megan calls. She's at the vacation rental house she and Britt own in New Harmony, Utah. She's cleaning toilets, changing bed linens, and getting ready for the next guests to arrive. She's wound up.

"I may quit teaching. I t think I've had it."

These words are spoken by the daughter who knew in third grade she wanted to be a teacher and never wavered from that career choice. She's been teaching first, second or third grades for almost twenty years. This year, she's teaching third grade. What's happened?

"My class size is getting bigger and bigger. I have more and more children with ADHD, autism or some other learning disability. I can't move the whole class forward because these children occupy most of my time. Some of them are abusive to me and the other students.

"I told the principal about one boy, in particular, and his disruptions in the classroom. She said, 'Handle it. Nothing can be done unless the student hurts someone.'

"Yesterday, he gut-punched another child at recess. The vice-principal asked the little guy to stop and he sneered, 'Try to make me.'

"I was glad, actually, that someone else was witnessing what I'm dealing with everyday.

"Two years ago, our school scored high on the required student tests. Last year, our scores weren't as good. This is to be expected depending, in part, on the quality of students coming to the classroom. Some of our children are transient or homeless.

"The principal says, 'You teachers must have rested on your laurels from last year. You must have let down a little.'

"I didn't rest on any laurels. I didn't let down a little. I worked as hard as I always work. What's worse, we're required to teach like robots. We have to put the same posters in the same places in each classroom. We have to teach to the tests.

"The principal wants us to stay later after school and monitor the kids while they do homework. I said, 'I won't do it. I have my own children and I'll be at home helping them with their homework.'"

What can I say to my daughter to make her feel better?

"Megan, you have many skills."

"Yes, but there aren't many career opportunities here. Women are either nurses or teachers."

Why does this conversation seem like one out of the 1950s? Have women made career progress in only certain sectors or geographic locations? Are teachers and students trapped, like hamsters on a wheel, in unmanageable educational bureaucracies?

In my experience, bureaucracies are scary beasts that dwell in dark places, feed on greed and incompetence, and suck human spirits dry.

Megan is a seasoned, dedicated teacher but she's burnt out. Wish I had a magic wand or a brilliant suggestion. All I can think to say to my daughter is, "Megan, listen to your own voice."



The phone rings at 7:30 a.m. It's Pat. I need a cup of coffee before I answer.

"Mom, call me as soon as you get this message."

Not the way I want to start my day. Pat was here yesterday and made an announcement. "I need six hundred dollars worth of dental treatment."

I'm afraid to hear what today's call is about.

It's 9:15 a.m. Pat calls again This time I answer.

"I called you earlier," he says.

"I know. I needed a cup of coffee first."

"Okay. I need to see the dentist today. My jaw is aching and if we let this go on it will get worse."

"I'm sorry, Pat, I've run out of funds. You'll have to ask someone else to help you."

Mom calls, "Pat phoned. He says he needs six hundred dollars for dental work."

"Did he say he needs to see the dentist today?"

"No, I said I'd think about it and get back to him."

I go to bridge and I'm unreachable for five hours. When I get home, I check my answering machine. My son's called four times.

Pat's trying hard. He's had two job interviews this month but no luck. His resume is full of holes and I don't know if he presents himself with energy. I wish I could meet all his financial needs, but I can't without ripping a hole in my financial safety net — a hole we'd both fall through.

Where's this psychiatrist who's told my son he doesn't have a mental illness and doesn't need medication? Maybe he could pay for Pat's dentist. On the other hand, what if he's right? Maybe I'm the one who needs medication.

An email pops up on my computer. It's from a member of my Family Mental Illness Support Group: "Hi Dede! I announced to my classes today about your wonderful group and what a great resource it can be. I invited those who are  interested to attend the next meeting to hear the MediCal speaker. Save me a seat for the 13th. God bless you for your talents and leadership for all of us! Cheers."

Thank you. I need this feedback. Maybe I'm not losing it after all. But things feel topsy turvy and it's hard for me to tell.



I'm babysitting Regan and Ayla while Kerry and David attend Back to School Night. These redheaded granddaughters are super cute. Four-year-old Ayla yells, "Mimmy," and gives me a hug. She's wearing a new headband with a big, glittery red bow on top.

"I'm going to wear it every day."

Seven-year-old Regan is typing on the laptop. She's writing a letter to me. "Mim, show me how to print."

Regan prints her letter: "Regan Ayla Kerry David I love you. Because we have fun. And it is awesome. I am excited to make cookes with mim it is going to be fun and the cookes or going to be yummy because it's peanut butter. Love," Regan.

We start making cookies. We crack an egg and Ayla tries to dump it into the mixing bowl. Most of it ends up on her arm. She says, "I have to go wash."

She comes back and adds the chocolate chips. Regan and Ayla dip stray chips into the cookie batter. They lick the beaters. Cookies are an afterthought. They're into the here and now.

I ask, "Where are the toothpicks?"

Regan's looking. "I'm the one who usually knows where Mommy keeps things because Ayla is younger than me and my brain is bigger than hers."

Ayla runs off to play with Kerry's iPad. Regan is assembling treats for Mommy and Daddy - three carrot sticks, five blueberries,  and a tablespoon of peanut butter for dipping. She pours lemon water out of a jar from the refrigerator into two paper cups.

"Mommy made it yesterday. Mommy and Daddy love their lemon water."

The cookies are done and cooling. Regan and Ayla are modeling their new Taylor Swift t-shirts. They show me tiny frogs in their goldfish bowls.

"The fish died," Regan says. " I want a bunny but we can't get one. Piper might chase it. Daddy wants a lizard and a snake. My room's messy because Ayla let her friends in while I was at school. I put a 'stay out' sign on the door but she still comes in."

Chatter, chatter, chatter. I want to bottle it.

David and Kerry are back. It's time for me to leave. Regan and Ayla charge out of the den. They've printed Regan's letter dozens of times and stapled pages and pages together to make three books.

"Mim," Regan shouts, "these books are for you. You have to take them home."

"Thank you, Regan. I will take them home."

I most certainly will.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Her last words to me were, "No hard feelings," but I'm beginning to think she meant "Know hard feelings."



I played in an all day bridge tournament today that was held in an uncomfortable community recreation center. An outmoded air conditioning system froze our hands and feet. Cold, hard, folding chairs stressed our bottoms. Worn cards and bidding boards strained our eyes. The tournament started late and ended late. My partner and I were rummy by the end of the day. We came in third in the morning session, but were too tired to hang around and see the results of the afternoon session.

During the tournament, I look around the room at people playing an intense, competitive game and think about Syria. I wonder what news I'll hear when I get home.

I don't want to find out that we're committing our military. My heart is breaking for the Syrian people, but I believe that violence begets violence. I don't know what we can accomplish with more bombs and bloodshed. So many factions are involved we really don't know whom we might be helping. We can't anticipate unintended consequences.

Call me a skeptic. I don't trust power players anywhere. Not because they're bad people — they may be — but because they're people. In armed conflicts, humans have always made, and will always make, tragic mistakes.

The international decision makers in the Syrian situation are mostly men. They move bodies around in war zones like trump on a bridge table. They set up strategies and signal their partners. They make bad calls and play bad hands. They win some and lose some. Men have been playing war, like bridge, a game of errors, forever.

It's time to forget scores and put egos aside. Everyone, let's call it a millennium. Like leaving a bridge tournament, it's time for all of us to go home.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Went to Papa Murphy's yesterday to get a pizza with my food stamps. (Only place you can use your food stamps to buy prepared food.) Food stamp machine was down. Owner said, "You're in here all the time, we're not gonna worry about it," and gave me a free pizza and even threw in a jar of hot red pepper. Still some good people around.



I call Megan. It's been another stressful week at school. One of Megan's students is the son of a teacher Megan has co-taught with in the past.

A few days ago, the boy's father was riding with his cycling group practicing for an upcoming marathon. His was the last bike in the line. Traveling around a curve, the sun blinded an oncoming driver. He hit the boy's father and killed him instantly. No charges were filed.

Yesterday, teachers and students attended a Celebration of Life held in the school auditorium. Megan gave cards to each of her students so they could write notes to their sad little classmate. Megan can hardly speak on the phone. She chokes up.

"My trouble-making student is on medication and has calmed down. He's not as combative. He wrote the kindest note out of the entire class. He wrote, 'I know your father will live in your heart forever.'"

Now I'm choking up.

After the memorial service, everyone turned out for the first flag football game of the season. Selected by his peers, Ashton, my grandson, is quarterback for his 4th grade team. During yesterday's game, he threw a touchdown pass, made an interception, and completed an impossible catch. His team won 12-0.

Ashton has Perthes disease, a serious degeneration of the hip socket and femur bone. He's had surgery and time will tell if it's successful. Meanwhile, one leg is longer than the other and Ashton walks and runs with a limp. No problem in his mind, especially when he's on the football field.

"I wish he could play every day," Megan says. "People tell me, 'Quite an athlete you have there.'"

So many powerful emotions crammed into one day. Life doesn't get more real than this.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I am not even going to look into the game Candy Crush Saga. It seems a lot of my friends are lost in deep candy space.


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


Gravy * Happy Birthday, Jazz * Multiple Sclerosis * 9/11 * Where is Warren Buffet? * Holding It Together * Focus * George Clooney * The Milkman

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From the oldest