What Sonny Shared

by Beth Diane Bradley

I turned 57 in August, and was born in 1957.  I looked it up, and sure enough, that phenomenon is called the Beddian Birthday — after a New York firefighter named Bobby Beddia, who told mathematician  Rhonda Roland Shearer  he felt lucky to be living his birth year – It was his 53rd birthday and he was born in 1953. Tragically, he died later that day in the line of duty.  Shearer went on to research the mathematical theory behind this birthday, which not everyone will experience.

I agree with the late Mr. Beddia, this is a birthday of significance — although every birthday we have is special, compared to the alternative. But when it comes to the part about getting older, sometimes you have to try a little harder to see the up side.

When I look in the mirror, I see my mother or my aunt, or my older sister, but I can’t seem to find my younger self any more.  I don’t need to list the things that change over time – all we have to do is look to the advertisers hawking products that promise us a more youthful exterior, at least until the bottle is empty.

And apparently we are supposed to start buying those products before signs of aging actually occur, because the most popular age group advertisers want to reach is 25 to 54.  They must assume we all drop dead at 55.  At least it’s nice of them to want us to look good until our demise.

This societal pressure to remain forever young on the outside challenges us to think about all the good things about being over the proverbial hill. The most obvious virtue being the vast wisdom one collects over the decades.

I can’t say I personally experienced the 50’s, since I was three when they expired. But during the 60’s, I learned that peace, love and rock and roll were totally groovey.  I really wanted to go to Woodstock, but unfortunately it was past my bedtime.

In  the 80’s, I returned to college after taking a three year break  to contemplate my navel, as they called it back in the day .  I changed my major 5 times and finally graduated at 25, which earned me a lifetime membership in the late bloomer club.

I also got married and became a mother as the decade unfolded, and I started to realize I could learn a lot of things from my kids.  For example, I recall asking my 5-year-old son if he could show me how to use a mouse, since he used one to play computer games at his pre-school.  And if my kids ever want to know what it was like to type college term papers on a manual typewriter, all they have to do is ask.

I spent the next twenty years raising my sons, which gave me a nice combination of gray hairs, worry lines and plenty of free advice to share with anyone who will listen.  And when no one does, I’ve learned to be okay with that too, because we all have to learn things our own way.  That guarantees there will be a new generation of old sages to replace us.  And the beat goes on…


2014 Brought Me No “Grapes of Wrath”

by Beth Diane Bradley

I got out of bed this morning and threw on my old wool sweater with a hole in the elbow, before sitting down to cuddle with my dogs.  But then it occurred to me, I think it’s time to toss that sweater, it’s outworn its usefulness, and I have another to take its place. In fact, I’m making that my new tradition on New Year’s Day.  To symbolize the need to say good bye to old things, some of which might be holding me in the past, and be open to the promise of the new year.

I feel compelled to write a blog post every year on New Year’s Day, trying not to be too repetitive as I expound over why I love this holiday so much — and sharing what made the past year special for me.  But the biggest challenge for me as a writer – and recovering perfectionist — is my compulsion to post it on New Year’s Day, in its raw, first draft form – knowing if I let myself read it again, I will be horrified at the mistakes and want to edit the #$%* out of it for  at least a couple more days.

So let’s just get that out there – my New Year’s posts will always be like the chubby New Years baby in the top hat – who probably needs her diaper changed. But I feel the urgency to post today, because it’s my blog and it’s ok to do that – it doesn’t have to be perfect, or please anyone but me.  And tomorrow is just too late for a New Year’s junkie like me.

I find New Year’s Day to be profoundly spiritual, and delightfully flexible – requiring no decorating, baking, cards, shopping or expense – unless you choose to do those things. Not to say I don’t enjoy the trappings of Christmas — I love Christmas, but now it’s time to reflect, and relax in the afterglow.  But I’m guessing New Years lovers are a small club for sure, as it’s always in the shadow of the other holidays.

The past year was very good to me, but the most significant gift was my relationship that started up (again) in August.  Mark and I were together a few years ago, and this time around — I asked him out.  I could jokingly say I’m a glutton for punishment — and I know he loves to say that “Beth saw the error in her ways,” since I chose to call things off the first time around.

Anyway, we are like a batch of fine wine.  We opened the first bottle too soon.  Now it’s ready, and I hope there are many more bottles of this exquisite wine to enjoy.  When I find something I love, I stick with it.  And that would be obvious, if you saw that old sweater (circa 1994?) I tossed this morning.

Cheers!  My friends …. I wish you wonderful things in the coming year!





Fashionista Imperfecta

 by Beth Diane Bradley

Mark Twain said:  “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

That’s why I’m almost late for work most mornings. It’s my job to influence people, and therefore I must not be naked. But sometimes my attempts to be a fashionista fall flat – or down, despite my greatest efforts.

Take last Wednesday.  I threw together a new combination – a scarf I just bought on sale, last year’s clearance rack cardigan, and some black pants that fit fine the last time I wore them. When I got to the building where I work, I had two wardrobe malfunctions before I even made it to my office – a loose button caused my pants to practically fall off, and my new scarf got caught in the zipper of my coat.

I agree with Mark Twain. When you dress well, you feel more confident and things just go better — at least it helps when your pants stay up. But since shoes squeak, stockings run, and coffee spills, I find it quite challenging to look like a polished professional for an entire work day.

So I prefer to take a more philosophical approach to fashion, and just let go of all that pressure once and for all.

In many cultures, artists will intentionally make a mistake to symbolize that only God creates perfection.  The Japanese call it “Wabi-Sabi,” which is defined as “the art of finding beauty in imperfection.”

It feels good to put this issue into a cultural context, and know that any fashion mishaps that come my way have a deeper global significance. I’m not sure what we call it in North Dakota, but I know my less than perfect fashion statement definitely fits the bill.

The other side of this issue is the embarrassing clothing catastrophe that goes unnoticed by the wearer of the wayward garment.  When do you tell the person, and when do you ignore it?  My rule of thumb is based on how well I know them.  My motto has always been that friends alert friends when they have toilet paper stuck to their shoe during a cocktail party.  And strangers look the other way.  The same goes for open flies, broccoli in your teeth, etc.

If only we practiced Wabi-Sabi, friends could give each other high-fives after spilling salsa on their clothes, to show their appreciation of the artistic and spiritual value of the stained shirt.

While that could cause some backlash from the dry cleaning industry, I think it would be a healthy step forward for the rest of us.

The stain could lend itself to a number of useful applications — such as a Rorschach test, in case you are in need of a quick psychological evaluation by your friends. Or for those seeking to know their future, it could be read like tea leaves or cloud formations.

However, it may be awhile before our society evolves to that level of spiritual growth. Until then, we’ll have to continue using napkins, and follow more conventional paths to enlightenment.



Out of the Mouths of Bears

by Beth Diane Bradley

I had a dream years ago that I lived in a huge house with many bed rooms.  And there was a crying baby in each room.  I ran from room to room, feeding one baby after the other, and then I forgot which ones had not been fed, because they all kept crying.  I think I had the dream because I wanted to start a family, and I was apprehensive about my ability to care for a baby.

Since then, I have raised two children to adulthood, and I don’t recall ever forgetting to feed them.  They seem to have a built in alarm system when they are hungry, no matter how old they are.

Last summer, I was invited to a party at a house with an address that was familiar to me.  As I parked my car, I realized my hunch was correct.  It was the home where my babies were born nearly 25 years ago.  I didn’t know the owners, but I had to tell them my story and ask for a tour.

Obviously, after all those years, there were a lot of changes made to the house. But the most important room to me was the nursery.  I visualized the crib and the “big-boy bed” side by side, with the rocking chair in the corner.  I especially loved to rock my babies, so I stood there basking in that memory as long as I could.

The room is now occupied by a miniature schnauzer named Stan, and he is apparently not a fan of “Winnie The Poo,” as the nursery décor I had chosen was gone.

When I think about their childhood, I wonder if I forgot to teach my kids something important — like not preparing raw meat and fresh produce on the same cutting board.  And I can’t help chastising myself for not making them floss their teeth as often as they should.

Parents often say there is no job bigger or more daunting than raising a child. Being president of the United States might be the exception.  However, that job doesn’t last 18 years.  Even so, I think Congress should go to time out until they learn to play nice.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned to look back on my parenting performance as being the best I could do, at the time.  A wise soul once told me … if you enjoy being around your kids, you are doing a good job.

And considering how much I look forward to spending time with my adult sons, I would have to say I agree. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, “Some people care too much.  I think it’s called love.

I bet even Stan would wag his tail about that.

If You See A Bear, You Go Girl!

by Beth Diane Bradley

Women have made many advances in equality over the years, but men will always have an edge when it comes to peeing in the great outdoors.

I just returned from a camping trip with two women that has become an annual tradition. One of the things we like to do is rent a pontoon. And we’ve always felt the need to monitor our beverage intake while on the boat, until the advent of the “Go Girl.”

The “Go Girl” is a female urination device, or “FUD” that allows a girl to pee like a guy … well, almost.  It’s made of medical-grade silicone and has a patented splash guard. So Portia bought one to bring on our pontoon ride this year and decided to try it out. It worked. Well at least for her.  Lori and I declined the opportunity, but appreciated knowing we had an emergency plan if the need arose.

Other than that, what makes our women’s get away different than the stereotypical male camping trip?  I’m thinking less alcohol and more visits to the area gift shops. Just a hunch.

We start planning in the spring, picking out just the right cozy cabin to rent for the night. And there are always discussions about plumbing — okay we’re back to that topic again.  Some cabins come with a nice bathroom, just like a hotel, but no kitchen facilities.  Others come with a kitchen and an outhouse.

So last year we gave that one a try, after a lengthy discussion about the outhouse — starting with the gross factor, of course. We decided we could tough it out for one night, assuming it was a 5-star biffy with a real toilet seat.

We also figured we’d need to pee in the middle of the night—and were concerned about running into bears on the way to the potty. The consensus was to BYOB – that would be bucket, in this case, and avoid those issues all together.

The fully stocked kitchen was lacking one thing – faucets.  I wouldn’t have noticed until I actually needed water, but my friends were more observant.  They didn’t say on the website you have to haul water in from the well.

So once was enough for that cabin, and this year we chose one with a bathroom – even if we had to wash dishes in the bathroom sink. You are supposed to cook outside, but we broke the rules and used Portia’s electric grill on the porch.

Between the three of us, we manage to build a fire to roast marshmallows every year for S’mores, which we enjoy with an illegal glass of wine or beer. And so far, we have not been caught for breaking the rules. Probably because the security guard is too busy keeping the bears away from the outhouse at the other cabin — and that was our plan.

After two days of hiking, boating, gift shops and more, it’s over again until the next year. We leave with lots of pictures, a few mosquito bites, some sunburn, and a list of things we should bring next time.  Oh, and whatever loot we managed to find at those gift shops, because after all, we hate to leave civilization too far behind.



I’m Curious, George … Can You Hear Me Now?

by Beth Diane Bradley

Although Darwin’s theory of evolution may not be accepted by everyone, the evolution of the telephone is clear as a bell.

The most primitive phone I remember is the “party line,” although my family didn’t want to monkey around with one of those. Then the Rotary phone remained the top banana for several decades, and every time I made a phone call, I felt a little bit like Jane Goodall.  After all, the only mistake I could make was to dial a wrong number.

I got my first cell phone in 1994. It fit in a bag that resembled a man’s shaving kit, was easy to use, and got excellent reception. Being somewhat resistant to technological change, I kept my bag phone until I saw one just like it in a museum. I then caved in and bought a smaller phone with worse reception. I wasn’t sure about this thing called progress, but I appreciated not having to check my phone at the airport any more.

I’ve gone through a few more cell phones over the years, but was still hesitant to buy a smart phone, because I knew it would make a monkey out of me. The sales people used gorilla-tactics to try and sell me the fastest, smartest phone available — but I went conservative, and chose a used Iphone with a pre-pay plan.

Thankfully, one of my sons has a phone like mine, and so does one of my friends — and I bug them both with questions frequently.  I’ve stopped by the store I bought it from on a weekly basis, and have also taken advantage of a class they offer for the technologically challenged.

I’ve set the bar low, so I don’t get too frustrated – if I can learn one trick a week, I will be happy.  At that rate, I will be swinging through the branches of the tree of knowledge just in time for the next generation of phones to evolve.

I’ve read one of the features of the smart phone of the future is called augmented reality, a process of laying digital images over the top of real locations through your phone’s camera view. There is already an app available that gives you GPS-enabled maps and on-screen recommendations of nearby restaurants, hotels, etc. using the camera view.

But before I can go ape over that app, I need to get my GPS to speak to me — because on my phone, Siri prefers to use the art of mime to lead me to my destination.

Alas, it seems evident it will take a village to teach me how to use my smart phone. And it might help if the mayor of that village is a man in a yellow hat.

 (No primates were harmed to create this essay)


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. However, that idea does make 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.