A MOTHER'S DIARY by Dede Ranahan FEBRUARY 8, 2014 - FEBRUARY 21, 2014

Life and Umbrellas * Stalling * Love This Place * A Very Good Day * Happy Valentine's Day * Getting Organized * Stuff * Conflict * Interview * Missing

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: Barb Watson/flickr

Photo credit: Barb Watson/flickr


I'm headed to Nevada City to attend David's grandmother's funeral. I didn't know Grandma Joyce, but I want to be present at her service for my son-in-law and for his mother, Michele, who is Joyce's daughter.

It's raining cats and dogs — the heaviest rain we've had in a year. I throw on my raincoat and grab my perky black umbrella. It's perky because it has little red, yellow, green, and blue polka dots on it. It looks cheery. And it's easy to spot in a stand full of black umbrellas.

I risk life and limb driving Highway 93 to get to the funeral home. I hang up my raincoat and drop my umbrella onto a pile of black umbrellas. I sign the guest book and give Michele and David a hug.

A family friend conducts the memorial service. He tells the story of a little girl, young woman, mother, and grandmother unfamiliar to me. Kerry presents a video of family photographs displayed in a sequence timed to music. Joyce loved Frank Sinatra. The music swells to Frank's "My Way." I was fine until now. Other people were fine until now. Everyone is pulling out tissues and wiping their eyes.

We have to walk from the funeral chapel to another building behind it for the reception. I slip on my raincoat and pick up my umbrella. That's strange. The button on the handle that opens and closes it is missing. It's difficult to open my umbrella with its button missing. I have to push from the bottom and pull from the top. I don't remember my umbrella being this small in circumference.

I walk to the reception area and try to set my dripping umbrella on the floor. It's a fight to get it to close. The room's packed and warm. Kerry and I wait for the food line to thin. I'm standing with my back to the dessert table. Kerry waves at me from across the room.

"Look behind you," she mouths.

I look. There's a tall man. What's Kerry telling me? Am I blocking someone? She keeps pointing. I turn around, again, in time to see a sweet-looking old lady leaving the reception. She's tucking a  black umbrella to her side. Her umbrella has polka dots on it. Her umbrella has an open/close button on its handle. My umbrella. The sweet-looking old lady has my umbrella.

Too late. She's gone. I can't get to her without stomping across a table covered with cookies and cupcakes. Kerry's laughing. I'm laughing. Seems like the thing to do. After pasta salad and sliced ham, I hug David and Michele goodbye. I don't want to be on the road in the dark and with glare on the pavement from the rain. For crying out loud. I have to wrestle this impostor umbrella into my car because it's impossible to close. If someone's watching, they'll call 911. They'll think I'm struggling with an attacker in my front seat.

I'll get a new umbrella. I'll donate this annoying one to the thrift shop. On second thought, it's not good enough for the thrift shop. When I get home, I'll stash the darn thing in the garbage can. A fitting end. In my opinion.

Kerry sends me a text. David's father's umbrella is missing. He's not laughing. Whoever took his umbrella didn't leave a replacement like the sweet-looking old lady who took mine. I hope she enjoys her new, bigger, automatic open and close, perky polka dot umbrella. I hope it helped David and Michele a little that I attended Joyce's service. Life is too short.



I'm taking The Jazz for a walk in the cat stroller. It's a warm 62 degrees. No rain. Of course, I run into my next door neighbor as soon as I push the stroller out the side gate. I was hoping I wouldn't see anyone or they see me.

"I'm taking my cat for a walk."

"That's okay," he says.

"Doesn't it seem a bit eccentric?"

"Look, living here, anything can seem eccentric."

"So you won't say anything?"

He laughs.

I can't tell if The Jazz likes the ride. She's not meowing. She's looking out the back, front and sides. I unzip the stroller's mesh cover on our return. She doesn't leap out right away. May mean she likes this contraption?

I'm in the den organizing the paperwork for Mom's rental house. She's got all her tax stuff together. She's raring to go. She wants me to set up an appointment with the tax preparer. Now. Walking the cat will not get me off the hook.



Here I am again — at Snap it Up. I love this place. People are grateful and unpretentious. They like to talk.

"I used to have a lot of money. I don't anymore and I'm managing fine."
"I bought a Ralph Lauren blouse here last week for one dollar."
"I make little cat beds. Would you be able to use them if I bring them in?"
"That cat in the adoption room is sweet. I hope someone adopts her soon."
"Do you have yarn? I want to get some for my friend who knits sweaters for the homeless."
"How much is this belt? If it's a dollar, I'll take it."
"I'm going to Weight Watchers. This is the perfect place to buy clothes as I'm changing sizes."
"Keep the change. FieldHaven does good work."
"I love that chicken but it's fifteen dollars. Guess I better wait."
"I found this poster of San Francisco. It's perfect for my mobile home."
"I better stop shopping. My husband's waiting in the car. I'll take these tops because they're a dollar."

I find three tops myself — one from Coldwater Creek, one from J. Jill, and one from Talbots. All are like new. All are one dollar. Like I said, I love this place.



The heating and air conditioning man arrives for the annual heater check-up. Everything looks good, but... Here comes the but: "The capacitor that helps the fan is testing below the recommended range of 7.1 to 7.5. It's testing 6.6. As part of our recommended preventative maintenance, you probably should replace it before it dies and causes damage."

"How much?"

"It's one hundred thirty-one dollars, I think. We had a price change yesterday. Also, your drip pan doesn't have a switch to turn the unit off if it's collecting too much water."

"How much?"

"One hundred thirty-eight dollars. It's not code or anything, but when our company installs a new unit, we make sure the pan is equipped with a switch."

Hmm. Everything's been working fine. "You know, I don't go up in the attic. I have to take your word for it."

"You trust me don't you? I can bring the capacitor down and show you."


The technician, a very personable, pleasant young man, attaches his gismo to the capacitor. It reads 7.0. It reads 7.0 three times. Hmm again. "Thanks, but I think I'll wait on this and see how it is in a couple of months when you come back to service the air conditioning unit."

I may have to rethink this bi-annual heating and air check. I'll clean the filter myself. Thank  you very much. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Pat arrives to do his laundry. Lexi bounds in. She still doesn't know how to walk. I give her a dog biscuit and she runs around the coffee table 15 times. Pat fills out an insurance form to give me power of attorney on his car insurance account. I pay this bill monthly and it's always getting mucked up because he hasn't completed the power of attorney form. Pat folds his last load of laundry.

"C'mon, Lexi." Lexi accepts the leash and pulls Pat out the door. She's happy to come. She's happy to go.

I'm at Mom's delivering her very specific staple requests. I give her a new bottle of homemade Irish cream like the one I gave her at Christmas. As I suspected, she has the empty bottle, from Christmas, ready to return to me.

"Have you made an appointment with a tax person, yet?"

"Well, no."

"I really want to get my taxes done and get my money back."

"Okay. I'm on it."

I stop at Kerry's to drop off Ayla's belated birthday gifts — a book about bugs and a birdhouse you attach to a window so you can watch the birds nesting inside. We skim through the bug book. A picture of an ugly scorpion reminds Ayla of something.

" I ate one of these."

"You ate a scorpion?"

"Yes, and it licked me on my cheek."

"Did you swallow the scorpion?"

"No, because it was licking me on my cheek."

Kerry joins  us. "Did you know Ayla ate a scorpion?"


"I didn't eat it, Mim. I was tricking you."

Ayla's a storyteller. "I want to be a bug catcher when I grow up."

"What will you do with the bugs?"

"I'll give them to the birds."

Home again. The heater's humming softly. This morning I saved myself $269 that I didn't spend on my AC unit. This afternoon I caught up with my son, mother, daughter, and granddaughter. All in all, it's been a very good day.



In the gym with Deanne, she's setting me up in a seated leg curl machine. She's adjusting the weights and the position of the leg rest. The bar that holds my upper legs in place isn't very tight. Should it be?

"It's fine. It's not tight because you have thin thighs."

I catch my breath. Oh my!  Stop the presses. Deanne says I have thin thighs. No one's told me I have thin thighs in 40 years. I ask Deanne to say it again.

"You have thin thighs. You're thin."

I knew I loved this woman. She may be my new best friend.

At the Family Mental Illness Support Group meeting, we have a new person in attendance. Each month we have at least one new person. I let the group know that I've been asked to meet with Lincoln Hills Foundation grants committee. "Do you have suggestions for what I should present to the committee?"

The group suggests mentioning in-kind donations such as my time and the use of Raley's conference room. We agree that we don't want to spend money simply to be spending money. We want whatever money we receive to be put to work.

There are eight people at the meeting today, each of us making a difference for each other. A small group impacting a small group. What's that Margaret Mead saying? "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Happy Valentine's Day.

PATRICKS FACEBOOK POST: Happy S.A.D. (Singles Awareness Day). I celebrated by taking myself out to lunch and enjoyed a mushroom burger among all the paired up sweethearts.


The Jazz

The Jazz


The Jazz is ensconced in a basket on top of a trunk in my closet. Her from paws stick out over the basket's edge. She raises her head so she can see over the side. Nothing moves but her eyes. I'm being watched.

I'm sorting through my clothes and have  filled up three large bags with pants and tops that no longer fit. There are a half dozen mistakes in the give-away stuff — what-was-I thinking garments that I've never worn. This sorting process will help me be more focused when I'm clothes shopping. As I decide what to keep and what to get rid of, I remember five getting-dressed rules I picked up from Andy Paige in her book, Style on a Shoestring:

1. Use lipstick.

2. Wear outfits that give me shape — clothes that define a middle in my torso.

3. Carry a statement-making handbag. I'm weak here. I generally use one handbag at a time — an all purpose bag so I don't have to switch contents.

4. Select fun shoes and funky socks. I try but I no longer wear heels because my ankle has a steel plate and six screws in it. My favorite shoes are my sea-blue tennis shoes with white polka dots on them. (What's with me and polka dots?) And I practice sock awareness. I try to match socks to my outfit with color, design, and wit. I like to wear witty socks.

5. Add something unexpected. This is my favorite rule. This can be a pin, a scarf, a pair of earrings. Something that says, "This lady was thinking when she put herself together."

My closet's shaping up. There's still one thing I haven't attended to. Maybe that's why The Jazz is staring at me. "While you're in this mode, ahem, there's a litter box in the laundry room that needs your attention."

Getting organized can be fun. Mostly.



Continuing my spring organizing, I'm at Target picking up a few things — hangers, storage containers, makeup, hand towels, pillows for the guest room, and a wallet. Somehow this adds up to $121.82. How do a few minor items cost this much?

Mom calls. "Have you set me up with tax person yet?"

"No, I didn't call anyone today because it's Sunday."

"What about the bank? Did you look into CD rates?"

"No, not yet."

Mom's getting antsy. "What if the tax person has steps into her office? I won't be able to go up the steps. What if she charges too much to come to my place? Or to your place?"

I better get on this.

Well, the good new is the wallet doesn't work. Once you put coins, cash, and credit cards in it, it won't close. I'll take it back and knock $14 off the $121.82 bill. My old wallet is good enough. I'll go back to getting rid of things instead of acquiring things. 

Who needs all this stuff anyway?



I'm at the movies to see The Monuments Men. It's the story of US and British soldiers charged with retrieving European art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Critics aren't giving this movie top reviews. The theater, however, is packed.

When the credits roll at the end, the audience has reflected on artwork and culture as evidence of humanity's collective soul, and a time when humanity seemed hell-bent on self-destruction.

World War II combat in Europe ended in May 1945. Since then, the US has engaged in wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iran, and Afghanistan. Today, as we withdraw from Afghanistan, we're witnessing uprisings around the globe — in Egypt, Syria, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Congo.

Conflict is the ongoing human drama. Each of us has our own hot buttons. Familial dysfunction is the stuff of storytelling. Countries are macrocosms of individuals and families. Why does equilibrium — personal, tribal, global — forever elude us?



The Lincoln Hills Foundation grants committee is asking about my application for $1,000 for the Family Mental Illness Support Group. They're exercising due diligence.

"What's your background and professional experience?"

"I'm a family member and retired policy director for NAMI California."

"What is the groups' geographical outreach?"

"Lincoln Hills."

"What are the groups expenses?"

"We have none. We'd like to buy some books for the group and pay for a few speakers."

"What is your main purpose?"

"To provide support for family members who have someone coping with serious mental illness."

I have a few questions also. "People from outside Lincoln Hills have asked if they can join the group. Do you have any objection?"


"What kind of expense reporting do you need?"

These retired volunteers explain their process and give me an hour of their time. They're trying to make a difference in our community. Whether or not they decide to give us a grant, I respect the work they're doing and the responsible way they're making funding decisions.



A photo's missing. I found it a few weeks ago as I was rifling through some files. It's a candid snapshot of me when I was about 36. I don't know who took the photo. I think I was at a writer's conference. I'm wearing a name tag, a dark silk blouse, and a white blazer.

I like the way I look, at this moment in time, captured on black and white film. The skin on my face appears soft and moist. My features aren't as angular as they are now. My lips are full. My eyes have an intelligent, I'm-listening-to-you gaze. They're big and brown. I have thick, dark-brown hair in a stylish short cut. I look like someone I'd like to know.

I'd planned to make copies of this two-by-three inch photo and give one to each of my children. They have no pictures of me as a young woman. I tucked the photo into the corner of a framed photo on my bookshelf. Now, it's not there. 

This is troubling me more than I want to admit. An irreplaceable little keepsake of what I looked like once has vanished. I think I'm mourning my own disappearance. A time when not only my photo but I will be missing.


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

February 22, 2014 - March 7, 2014: Congratulations, Aidan * Water * News * Over Doing It * Home * Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss * Air Raids * Mom's To-Do List * Windows

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