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.


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.


(revised 1/6/14)