May The Muse Be With You

by Beth Diane Bradley

At first, it made my heart sing.  I couldn’t wait to share it with the world.  And then I found a typo.

I am a writer. The first draft of anything I write is like a newborn baby. It’s perfect until I take a second look, and realize it’s covered in afterbirth.

Like many writers or artists, I rely very heavily on the muse.  Some days the muse impregnates me with an idea so fully developed it just bursts on to the page effortlessly, taking on a life of its own.  But there are other times when the muse is nowhere to be found, and I wander alone in my head, despondent and barren of inspiration.

So where exactly does the muse go when we are not together?  Does it cheat on me? Is it off inspiring some other creative soul while I write paragraph after paragraph of meaningless crap until it blesses me once again with its presence – or should I say present- a piece I know I cannot write alone, one that will  surely become my new favorite child.

Are there gifts I could offer to bring the muse … milk and cookies, perhaps? Or gold, incense and myrrh? Maybe it would prefer soft music and candlelight, or Chinese takeout in those cute little white boxes. I’m flexible, really.  I just want to get a handle on the status of our relationship.

I know, I bet it would like some kind of burnt offering or sacrifice.  That idea does makes me a little nervous. I don’t want any bloodshed over my next writing project. If I swat a mosquito would that suffice? Or would a slightly charred burger on the grill be considered an acceptable offering?

I may never know the answers to these compelling questions. In fact, attracting the muse could just be a matter of luck.  In case that’s true, I’d better plant a bunch of clover, adopt a Leprechaun, and buy a rabbits foot.

You can’t just lob off the foot of any rabbit, however. It must be obtained humanely, from a rabbit that has agreed to be a donor, prior to its demise.  Because it just makes sense the muse will not emerge when there’s bad karma.

Maybe in order to research that theory, I should take a year off and go to India to meditate …. Um… wait a minute, I think that book has already been written.  Sorry Liz.

 

A Pack With Peppers

 by Beth Diane Bradley

Every time I take my dogs for a walk these days, I’m packing heat. To clarify, we’re talking pepper spray- and the alleged attacker would be an off-leash dog wanting to pick a fight with my two hound dogs that out-weigh me.

I sincerely hope I never have to use it, but I read the instructions just in case.  They said you need to pay attention to the direction of the wind, and shield your face before spraying it at the attacker.  I guess if I mess that up, I’ll be too busy writhing on the ground to worry about what I missed.

I have a special connection to these dogs because they originally belonged to my 20-year-old son and his roommates. But as I predicted, they were not ready to be parents for the long haul — so when the puppies needed a new home, grandma stepped up.

After all, replacing your grown children with pets can protect you from the shock of a clean house, more money, and extra time on your hands.

Being the only person in my household of three creates an interesting dynamic, not unlike being raised by wolves. I’ve picked up odd habits like leaving the bathroom door open to facilitate uninterrupted communication within the pack — and rearranging lamps, plants and other frivolous possessions, so my watch dogs have full clearance to do their job.

The line between human and canine space is blurred, since they leave their DNA on absolutely everything.  I see no point in keeping them off the furniture because I like to have my over-sized lap dogs by my side. This means I spend lots of time deciding which cover or blanket looks best with my décor — and I haven’t seen my couch naked since they came to live with me.

I also tend to keep some of their stuff mixed in with mine, which caused some confusion a couple of summers ago.  One day I came home with a sun-burned ear, and opened the bathroom cupboard to grab what I thought was aloe vera gel.  After applying a green substance to my ear, I started to realize I may have grabbed the wrong bottle.  Sure enough, I went back to check, and discovered it was flea and tick shampoo. At least I was able to assure my hair stylist I was critter-free.

Like in any pack, we have assigned duties that suit our individual personalities.  My job is to buy the kibble and hand out treats on demand.  Tucker is the union negotiator who verifies they get the correct number of treats specified in their contract. And Butters is the chief security guard.  When I’m not buying kibble or cleaning our den, I am also the doorman. I get tipped in wet kisses while leaning over to wipe their muddy paws.

Living with two dogs is also a good deterrent to keep the bad guys away. But there is always the chance a crafty crook will show up with Big Macs in his pockets, causing my security guards to go on strike.  In the event that ever happens, I’ll make him wish he’d gone to Taco John’s.

 

 

Becoming a Horse of a Different Color

by Beth Diane Bradley

I have a confession to make. I’m a clothes horse. And one on-going problem I have is a crowded closet – or stable if you will — yet I keep adding to it.

Occasionally, it’s time to be ruthless and purge everything that no longer works — like that ruffled multi-colored blouse that gave me a bad case of buyer’s remorse as soon as I brought it home.  How could I forget I’m allergic to ruffles? And colors that bold should only be seen on highway flaggers or deer hunters.

I’ve recently tossed things I’ve been hanging on to since National Velvet graced the silver screen.  I kept them in case they came back in style, or l found something new to go with them. But I decided to dig deeper this time, and it felt great.  Gaucho pants, mini-skirts — okay, I might be pulling your leggings a bit –but I did unearth some relics from the past.

Today it occurred to me I’ve been doing the same thing with myself for the past few months.  It’s almost like each item of clothing I gave away corresponds with some trait in my personality that no longer fits.

I need to have faith I will have the means to go shopping and buy a new sweater if I need one, because if something doesn’t work, I should let it go.  I need to trust I have enough clothes to wear, considering my career as a super model never really took off.

When I think of my closet minus those old relics, it seems symbolic I truly am leaving the past behind. I’d like to think of it as shedding some of my perfectionism, or self-doubt perhaps, that never matched a thing — and maybe some of that self-pity that was too tight. I don’t have the accessories to go with that pride anyway, so I tossed it in the pile as well.  And that envy was such an ugly shade of green.

I know I have to make closet cleaning a regular habit.  Both my closets and my life get cluttered and messy and frustrating — and then it’s time to push the reset button — or Google how to make a closet bomb.

So what should I do with all those empty hangers? Not a problem. I’ve heard gaucho pants will be back in style this spring.  I bet you a pound of sugar cubes there’s a clearance sale just around the corner.

 

 

Running On Empty

by Beth Diane Bradley

Turning 50 is definitely a milestone, and one common rite of passage is the colonoscopy. The procedure is a popular topic of discussion among middle-aged people — both for those who’ve already had one, and those who’ve been prodded by their doctor to schedule one soon.

The conversations often describe the days leading up to the procedure, including a slowly deteriorating diet throughout the week ending with a grand finale of a gallon of salt water laced with explosives guaranteed to make your insides as clean as new.

Some people like to scare the uninitiated with dramatic stories of writhing on the bathroom floor and losing all their innerds in the commode. I prefer to use a gentler approach of assuring my friends they will be just fine. Then I share some of my favorite recipes like chicken broth with a lime Jell-o twist or Popsicle parfait.

The prep is the worst part, as most of us nod off to sleep during the actual procedure, thanks to the amazing drugs they give you.  Some people wake up and see their colon on the monitor, but they are not alert enough to slug the person behind them busy robbing them of their dignity.

Planning the timing of your colonoscopy experience is not unlike planning a vacation. For example, avoiding blizzard season is a good idea, since it would be frustrating to go through the prep — only to find out you can’t get to the hospital. Fortunately packing is quite simple for this trip, as the wardrobe and camera are provided.

After you choose the right time of year, then you need to pick the time of day.  My preference is early morning, as I am usually anxious to eat real food.  One of my friends is more concerned about sleeping in and having her morning dose of caffeine.  So it’s important to get these things across to the travel agent –I mean nurse — who is planning your adventure.

Another important detail is to line up a ride home.  If you have a significant other, this won’t be a problem. Or if you’re single, it could qualify as a date, if witty banter is not a requirement, because the drugs are kind of like Ecstasy for senior citizens.

The bottom line is to get the risk of colon cancer behind you. So there are no buts about it, a colonoscopy is the way to go … and go … and go.

Bon Voyage, my friend.

 

Honey, It’s time … For Spring

by Beth Diane Bradley

The pains are getting closer.  It’s time to grab your bag and head to the hospital. Hopefully the labor won’t last too long. After your baby arrives, you will forget the pain of childbirth — and might even choose to go through it again someday.

I’ve decided that must be the mindset we use in North Dakota to survive the frigid months between fall and spring.  Each year we struggle through extreme temperatures, bloated wind chill factors and swollen heating bills.

Winter brings on mood swings sometime after the holidays, and as the piles of snow grow taller– the labor pains begin. But when the cord is cut, we become absolutely giddy about spring — leaving all thoughts of winter behind — as if it never happened.

Do we move? Of course not.

We try to lose the weight we gained during the months stuck indoors, forget the pain — and nine months later we go through it again. Maybe Mother Nature needs to use birth control.

Here in the north country, we take pride in our ability to tolerate the pain of winter — because we feel it builds character.  I would hate to be sitting on a beach somewhere in January, when I know I could be a much better person if I were stuck in a snow bank instead.

Another popular retort I’ve heard over the years is that cold weather “keeps out the riff-raff.” According to Merriam-Webster, riff-raff describes someone who is not respectable, and has very low social status. I guess there’s a rapper from Texas who calls himself Riff Raff.  I have no idea if he is respectable, or if he’d even want to come to North Dakota in the winter.

I always say shoveling my driveway is a “free gym membership.”  But there is plenty of research indicating that shoveling snow can cause cardiac arrest and back problems.  And I was hoping I’d have Michelle Obama’s arms by spring.

Frigid weather causes us to assume a hunched back posture and cover our heads up like mummies, making us barely recognizable to our friends and neighbors. But it still brings out the best in people as we try and power through it together.

It’s not unusual for a neighbor to come by with his snow blower and lighten your load. And when your car needs a jump or you go in the ditch, someone will usually show up to lend a hand, or at least hold your hand until real help arrives.

So how do we survive winter since we stubbornly refuse to leave? Some people have figured out how to have fun in the snow on those not so blustery days with ice skates, skis, snow shoes, and snow mobiles.

Personally, I lack the balance and coordination for skating or doing anything that involves staying vertical while on a hill — and every time I’ve been on a snow mobile, it’s tipped over on me.  I much prefer walking my dogs and watching them scamper through the snow each year as if they’ve never seen it before.

Those who have endured too many harsh winters start doing crazy things in the name of fun — like driving their half-ton pickups onto a frozen lake to set up a shack or tent and drill holes in the ice, staring aimlessly for hours until a fish finally shows up.

During the long wait, some will drink alcohol, play cards and eat junk food. On a good day, they catch fish, and on a bad day they just lose things down the hole like fishing poles and small children. Don’t worry, the kids usually climb back out, at least mine did.

For people who don’t enjoy convening with nature in her most brutal form, sitting by the fire reading or playing scrabble is a nice alternative. A blustery day can be a good excuse to stay home and enjoy being a hermit – although too much domestic bliss can quickly turn into a rabid case of cabin fever.  Then it’s time to hide the knives from those who say they love you the most.

But no matter how much some people might enjoy winter activities, I’ve never heard anyone say they wished winter would last a bit longer. And that is also just like being pregnant.

Some years, when it’s time for Mother Nature to give birth to spring, her water breaks.  Then the labor lasts even longer while sandbags are filled and dikes are built. These activities help us meet any neighbors we missed while we were stuck in the ditch.  So by the time spring is born, we’ll all be one happy family.

Romancing The Rotor-Rooter Man

by Beth Diane Bradley

When you don’t have plumbing, it’s usually considered a bad thing, unless of course you’re camping.  Then all of a sudden not having plumbing becomes desirable. For some twisted reason I actually like camping, but only for a couple of days – then I start fantasizing about hot showers and toilets that flush and I want to go home.

Whenever the plumbing in my house fails, I think about the time I was raising my teenage sons as a single mom in a small house in an even smaller town.  In the eight years we lived there, it seemed like I called the plumber more often than my mother.  I swore if I heard any more gurgles and moans followed by a tsunami spewing from the floor drain, I was going call an exorcist instead.

In a town of 700 people, there is typically only one plumber.  And ours was territorial in nature. He worked 8 days a week to prove it wasn’t necessary to call for back up from the larger community down the road.  I didn’t know the rules at first, and had the audacity to call an out-of-town plumber. But after being properly put in my place, I maintained my loyal citizenship by waiting my turn.  No matter how long it took, after all he was a busy guy.

That loyalty eventually gained me a small swimming pool in my basement.  Apparently the local plumber went on vacation but left no message on his voicemail explaining he was out of town.  I waited patiently for three days, and avoided using any plumbing connected to the ailing drain.

On day three, my oldest son called me at work to tell me the basement family room was full of water.  I came home to check out the disaster and started looking for plumbers that work after 5pm on Friday. In 15 minutes, a plumber from the neighboring town arrived with his rotor-rooter and brought us back to civilization once again.  I had thoughts of asking him to marry me, but turned my focus back to the pool in the basement.

I knew I had some tough decisions to make.  Could I turn myself into a mermaid, or is getting rid of this water the only practical choice.  Since I knew I would have to file an insurance claim, I decided to call in the professionals.  An hour later, a restoration company came over with several industrial fans, dehumidifiers and water extractors.  They did a great job, but left behind enough energy sucking equipment to leave us in the dark for a several days.  Hanging out at the laundry mat and eating peanut butter sandwiches by flash light was a humbling experience – like camping, but without the Kumbaya.

This may have been the most expensive and inconvenient plumbing disaster, but it was definitely not as amusing as what happened to the basement toilet the previous summer.  My youngest son was 13 and just passing through a typical boy stage where anything that could be lit with a match was an obsession.  He called me at work to tell me his friend, Steve, had tripped on the toilet and broken it, and water was everywhere.  He assured me that Steve escaped without injury and they were cleaning up the mess.

Somehow this explanation just didn’t hold water. Big brother called me a few minutes later and coughed out the word fireworks under his breath.  Since these same boys had lit the railroad tracks on fire the previous summer, I wasn’t exactly surprised.

I came home to assess the damage and saw the back of the toilet had been blown off, leaving tiny flakes of porcelain everywhere. Realizing I knew fireworks were involved, my son confessed they were just wondering what would happen when you put a bottle rocket in the toilet.  They had hoped to create a nice fountain effect.

Maybe I should have called an exorcist after that incident, because I’ve been told it’s impossible for a bottle rocket to blow off the back of a toilet.  But if I had all the demons in my house exorcised, I would have lost both my kids and my dog.  And then I would not have been a happy camper.

End

(revised 1/6/14)

 

 

 

Getting a Jump on the New Year

 by Beth Diane Bradley

How many public broadcasting employees does it take to jump my car on New Year’s Eve?  Three: One to provide the jumper cables, one who knows how to use them, and one to supervise. So it’s come to this – my life is now officially a joke.  But since I’m a writer, I prefer to call it divine inspiration.

It was a typical New Years Eve in Fargo with temperatures that are only pleasing to polar bears and those proverbial Eskimos who do not need any ice. I asked some co-workers if they’d like to go out for a drink after work at the Radisson lounge, a bar that is accessible by skyway from the office. Everyone agreed that staying put was a better plan than hitting all the so-called hot spots as the temperatures continued to plummet.

After we consumed an acceptable amount of festive libations for a bunch of middle-aged public broadcasting employees,   I decided it was time to go home, went out to the parking ramp and discovered my battery was dead.  I was grateful there were still a few friends left at the bar. Fortunately one had jumper cables – and the empathetic comment that this was no way to begin the new year.  I told her not to worry, as we were still busy ending the old one.

I love the New Year’s holiday for many reasons.  I thrive on recalling the events of the past year, and viewing the promise of the future as a clean slate, or a clean diaper worn by a chubby baby with a top hat on his head.

2013 was a big year for me.

I took a trip to Los Angeles to visit my son, to prove to myself I could navigate the LAX Airport alone without too many anxious moments. I rode the subway, saw the ocean for only the second time in my life, and tried to be okay leaving my baby in a city known for violent gangs, crack dealers and questionable plastic surgeons.  But you’ve just got to love the weather there.

The other major event was my sudden decision to become a home owner again.  I was seduced by historically low interest rates and the lure of a fenced-in backyard for my dogs.

The rest of the year was all about moving, getting settled, and adjusting to lawn mowing, pulling weeds and shoveling snow. The transition from a life of landlords and coin-operated laundry to property taxes and appliance repair bills has had its moments, but I’m glad I made the change.

I should probably write my new year’s resolutions before it’s too late.  I think I’ll keep it simple.  Number one:  Buy jumper cables.  Number two:  Learn how to use them.  Both are symbolic of some of the things I’ve been working on, like moving out of my comfort zone and learning to trust my own instincts. But it’s great to know when all else fails, I am truly blessed with friends who can serve as a power source when my life needs a jump start.

end

 

If A Tree Falls … In The Living Room

by Beth Diane Bradley

Long before the advent of Christianity, people believed that evergreens would protect them from ghosts, witches, evil spirits, and illness. For that reason, the pilgrims considered Christmas trees a pagan tradition that made a mockery of the sacred holiday.

Of course pretty much everything has changed since the pilgrims ruled, and Christmas trees come in as many varieties as puppies at the pound.

Throughout the holiday season, discussions about what type of tree is best are popular. And ultimately, the correct answer depends on your lifestyle.

I grew up in an era when almost everyone had real Christmas trees. But over the years, artificial trees have become more realistic, and thus, more popular. The early ones tended to resemble a large collection of designer toilet brushes.

My ex-husband was a firefighter, so we always had an artificial tree for obvious reasons. He just didn’t want to bring his work home with him.

As a single mom, I continued that tradition until the year my oldest son came home from college for the weekend with the suggestion we go to a nearby farm and harvest a fresh tree. I was delighted with his idea, imagining a holiday reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After just the right amount of hunting, we captured our verdant prey, brought it home and put it in the garage. My son had to leave for college, so he told his younger brother to bring the piney hostage in the house and put it in the tree stand. I winced, recalling a vision of my parents wrangling a wild tree into submission.

There is definitely an art to the process and I wasn’t sure my 16-year-old son was ready for the challenge. Sure enough, he brought it in the living room, stood it up in the stand — and it played dead.

Santa’s reluctant elf called me at work to explain the feisty fir was resisting domestication. I told him he needed to cut off a couple of branches at the bottom and maybe saw the trunk so it was flat.

When I got home, it was apparent I should have been more specific.

The tree looked like it was wearing a mini skirt. And frankly, I’ve never met an evergreen with the gams to pull that off. Despite the extreme makeover, it still wouldn’t stay erect in the tree stand, hanging what was left of its branches in shame.

Let’s not skirt the issue. This balsam has seen better days. I told him to put the poor thing out on the boulevard and maybe someone will take it home for spare parts. We’ll just put the fake tree up again this year.

My oldest son was not very happy when he heard what happened to his special gift to me. I assured him I didn’t need a tree to make me happy. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

Both my boys are grown now and live out of town. Every year I question whether I want to bother putting up a tree.

But I do it because Christmas trees proudly display all the memories of the past. My trusty artificial tree looks beautiful wearing the ornaments made by my kids, handed down by my parents or given to me by friends.

And regardless of what kind of tree I have, silver stars and frosted pine cones are a much more becoming coniferous fashion statement than a mini-skirt.

End

Some Recipes Are Considered “Notoriously Unreliable”

By Beth Diane Bradley

I came home from work one day to the smell of smoke in my garage and some black spots on the floor. Despite implementing the interrogation tactics used by most suspicious parents, I wasn’t able to extract a confession from my two teenage sons.  If I recall back then, it was always the brother’s fault, or his friend’s fault, or the dog’s fault.  So the incident ultimately ended up in the cold case file, left to smolder for a few years.

One of the perks of parenthood is enjoying your progeny once they have grown up into responsible adults.  But there is an experience most parents have – usually when their kids are somewhere in their early to mid-twenties.  It’s the time when they insist on coming forth with tales of things they got away with during their teenage years – really bad things that would have given you “the big one” and caused your hair to turn white or fall out all at once – if they told you at the time it happened.

Approximately four years after my oldest son – we’ll call him Bill — graduated, I made dinner for my boys and some of their friends, and they decided it was time to tell all.  Bill was always interested in science, which seemed like a wholesome pastime.  The worst trouble he ever got into in grade school was making up his own science experiments in the bathroom with soap.  Needless to say, by the time he got to high school, he had graduated to the hard stuff.

Let’s go back in time to that day I smelled something burning in my garage.  I was a single mom, raising my two boys in a small town in northwestern Minnesota.  Our house was a half a block from school, which made it the gathering place for most of the kids, most of the time.

Apparently Bill and his friends stumbled upon an internet “resource” called The Anarchist’s Cookbook.  The title sounded cool, so they just had to test out a recipe or two.  How about homemade napalm?  It just uses a couple of ingredients found in most kitchens such as Styrofoam and gasoline. For those of you who aren’t familiar with napalm, it’s a jelly-like substance that is used in some bombs and flame throwers.

Their confession had caused me to fall out of my chair and assume the fetal position, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.  Oh dear God, can you imagine the terrible things that could have happened?  There were at least three kids standing around making this stuff in my attached garage.  The whole house could have exploded, maiming or killing them all. Of course the kids found it amusing they almost blew off the roof that I worked so hard to keep over our heads. Wait until they have kids of their own! Insert evil laugh here.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and in the interest of public safety, I hope that’s all of you – here’s a summary of what Wikipedia has to say:  The Anarchist’s Cookbook contains instructions for the manufacture of explosives, hacking devices and other “items,” but was denounced by a rival group as failing to promote freedom or challenge repressive power—oh, that’s too bad – and most of the recipes in it are considered to be notoriously unreliable.

Really?  I was considering ordering a copy for myself, but this is a concern.  Who wants to trust a “notoriously unreliable” recipe when you need to bring a dish to share at the church potluck?  Personally, I think I’ll stick with Betty Crocker.

end

 

 

 

 

 

The Party’s Over But You Don’t Have To Leave

by Beth Diane Bradley

“If you are reading this, I must be dead.”  It’s the latest trend in social media sites … a Facebook for the afterlife. Originating from the UK, a site called Dead Social allows you to prepare on-going communication to be released after you die, by a designated administrator.

There are other sites that attempt to address the issues of managing digital property, but DeadSocial focuses specifically on communicating with family and friends, sort of like tweets from heaven.

It does have a valid purpose, besides supersizing the menu for all the vampires and zombies we know are lurking around in cyberspace. The intention is to take care of the electronic loose ends that have been “left behind.”

My reason for joining Facebook was to keep track of my young adult sons.  When they get too busy to call me, I can at least assure myself they are alive and well by stalking or, um … visiting their Facebook pages.

But now that I have DeadSocial at my disposal, I can tell my kids not to worry about their mother.  When I die, they will receive a nice evite to my funeral, complete with reminders to wear clean underwear and wash behind their ears.

The possibilities are endless as to how sociable one wants to be in the afterlife.  According to the site instructions, you can create ongoing greetings for every occasion so your friends and loved ones will hardly even notice you are gone.

I suppose you’d have to be a bit vague as to why you aren’t actually showing up at all those weddings and birthday parties. Perhaps simply stating that you are “just buried with work these days, and you really need to start thinking outside the box or you will never get out of the hole” would put an end to their curiosity.

The ability to send emails after you die also gives you an opportunity to say things you would never say while you were alive. You can kick up your heels because really, what can they do other than push delete, and that kind of already happened, didn’t it?

Like with anything online, there’s always the chance of a glitch in the system. If your cyber death accidentally starts before your real one, things could get complicated. You may wish you hadn’t told your boss what he could do with your job in such a colorful manner. Or your spouse might decide it’s time to cash in on “till death do us part” and run off to Figi with the insurance money.  Um, OMG! LOL?

I think I’ve decided to pass on DeadSocial, at least until they get the bugs out. I really don’t mind if my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts rest in peace when I can no longer use them. If you agree, click “Like” and Share.

end