practicing the art of practicing

I ran across this the other day.

fortune
Back when I liberated it from its cookie prison, probably after some orange chicken, I read it out loud and sighed. I believe John’s fortune said, as they usually do, something like, “Everybody admires you. You’re handsome AND smart! Keep up the good work.”

My fortunes are notorious for reading more like conversations with a pesky neighbor:

“Lawns don’t mow themselves.
Trees don’t trim themselves.
Leaves don’t rake themselves.
You should really try exercising and also, eat less orange chicken/read more/talk less/spend wisely/maybe go back to school.”

When I ran across the “Keep your expectations reasonable” fortune from a meal long past, I was unpacking the house…again, as we had moved…again.

I frowned. Why had I kept it? And not only had I kept it, but I packed it, then paid some guys to move it in a big truck. This wasn’t the message that I wanted framing our start in a new town, with our boys tucked away in the new schools that we’d reluctantly left the city for. Doesn’t everybody deserve to at least feel capable of doing great things? Why do the fine people of the Panda Express Fortune Writing Team think that I shouldn’t expect the very best from myself?

I let the paper sit a day on my nightstand, mingling with some hair ties and a few stray business cards while I focused my efforts on looking for one kid’s shoes, and the other’s backpack that I still have not found, probably due to my unreasonably high expectation of finding it. I was busy, and tired, and felt like I wasn’t making a dent in all the of things I needed and wanted to do. And then, when I was looking for my keys (again!), I ran across the “fortune.” But this time, instead of frowning, I felt encouraged.

Sure I still needed to find my keys, but I suddenly realized I didn’t have to be the one person on this planet that never ever loses their keys, or that freak of nature who’s never lost an entire box of their kid’s shoes. I didn’t have to feel so terrible about the inefficiency with which I was currently going about my days. I had simply fallen out of practice on life stuff.

Between the suddenness of the move; a dreamy lobster roll, cheesesteak and Dunkin’ Donuts-fueled family trip along the East Coast; and the fact that summer required me to attentively parent all day long, every day, I hadn’t written anything. I wasn’t cooking, grocery shopping or keeping track of keys with the regularity and enthusiasm I was known for. The upside-downness of this summer gave me permission, nee necessitated, that I delay most generic life business to a non-specific date in the future when everything would be calm, and settled and perfect for re-engaging in whatever it was that I used to do.

But with my renewed love of reasonable expectations, I realized that falling out of practice, meant that I could climb back in, and with regular practice, could once again manage day-to-day life business. Things will be fine; not perfect, but probably pretty OK. (Is “pretty ok” reasonable enough for you, Panda Express?)

So I practice writing. Because like piano, and baseball, and conversational French, writing takes practice, and sadly, discipline. When you practice baseball, your stats improve; when you practice piano, the music sounds better; and when you practice French, you get to have philosophical conversations while eating almond croissants and wearing a Givenchy cape. Writing success (for me at least) means you’ve forced yourself to sit in a chair for more than 10 minutes in a row, slogging through meandering, bloated, run-on sentences, tinkering with them until you hate yourself what you’ve written a little bit less. On the very best day, it means you have also somehow avoided both eating a family size bag of wavy potato chips and memorizing the inventory of Etsy while “writing.” Watching somebody (me) practice writing is not pretty.

So now instead of cooking, I’ll practice cooking. It might start with toast, and hot water for tea. But with some elbow grease and a little can-probably-do attitude, I’ll work my way back up to hot water for spaghetti, and maybe after that, hot water for linguini. We’ll see.

I’ll practice making sandwiches and side dishes and sack lunches without having to remind myself to do it, and then without having to remind myself how to do it, and then how to do it without having to totally psych myself up first.

I’ll practice groceries, which requires I find a new regular market that is on the way home from the places that I’ll go….places I don’t currently know exist, let alone why I’ll go there. With a little hard work, I’ll someday be able to run in and know exactly where I can find a basketball team’s worth of Gatorade. I’ll know which checker is the fastest, or nicest, or the best at small talk. I’ll practice buying fruit, and then two days later, I’ll practice remembering there is fruit in the house before it gets brown and squishy.

I’ll practice putting my keys and the mail in the same place every day. I’ll practice checking in on homework while still somehow conveying to my darling sons that I fully expect them to be on top of their own homework without my intervention, which goes the same for the next morning, when I ask about whether or not the homework has made it into the backpack. I’ll practice promising myself that tomorrow, we’re all getting up 10 minutes earlier. I’ll learn how to set the new shower to keep from scalding myself and also what combination of light switches need to be on for the garbage disposal to work.

I’ll practice looking out our new front window at a new view.

And before I know it, I’ll be juuuuust functional enough, because as we all know, practice makes perfect for reasonable outcomes.

You can find me on Instagram @Colleenweems

the sun is but a fickle muse. especially when there is ice cream involved.

ImagePeople who fancy themselves writers, or painters, or poets, or photographers are often inspired by the power of the ocean; the pulse of the city; the majesty of the mountains; the starkness of the desert; or the simple beauty of rolling fields and a golden countryside.

I like those things. Ok, I like most of those things. But a few times a year, I feel as if I can’t write about anything, until I write about the weather; yep, the very weather that is the cliché calling card for people who simply have nothing else to talk about. If you’ve been reading along with me over the last few years, you may have realized before I ever did, the seasons are my collective muse. Spring, summer, winter, fall. Or in California, sprummer, summtumn, autinter, and winspring.

There is something magical about the changing of the seasons; the marching-on of time; the promise of something exciting, yet familiar, just around the corner. The evidence of change pops up all around us. Menus change. Wardrobes change. The telltale pain in my knee emerges as the barometric pressure shifts. The knick knacks in my house get rearranged, and at some point, I remind my kids how my knee knows when it’s going to rain, while acknowledging that yes, it’s weird.

As any change of the season approaches, I declare the upcoming season to be my favorite. The best! The most wonderful time of the year! Think of the sun dresses/white pants/boots/sweaters! Think of the seasonally appropriate treats I plan to make, but probably won’t! And now, September is here, and as I now live in San Francisco, I can finally write about how much I love summer.

Not to be a show off, but it’s been sunny, for like eight days in a row. This stretch was balm to the soul after a summer marked by oppressive fog. In August, I wore the very same outfits I wore at Christmas time. On those days, I thought back to the Fourth of July sunburn that I acquired in another town, and I could not imagine what that must have felt like. Hot, maybe?

The fog-free streets have been teeming with people, happily standing in line around the block for ice cream – not just any ice cream – but a compostable cup full of honey lavender, balsamic strawberry, basil, or blueberry cheesecake ice cream. If you are my foodie son, you wait for fresh peach ice cream topped with a drizzle of olive oil; or if you are my chicken nugget, noodles-and-butter-with-nothing-green-in-sight loving son, you stand in line for “chocolate.”

Our family went to a baseball game – at night, in San Francisco – and I did not put on a sweatshirt, and even more telling, I did not make my deliriously happy 8-year-old wear a sweatshirt.

I broke a sweat the other day, and it was kinda awesome.

Fall is lurking though, like a bully, trying to usurp summer and kill my sunshine buzz. I was forced to make my annual TV watching, DVR matrix, with a detailed chart of new network shows I want to try, because as we all know, good TV waits for no one. And with three guys in the house, football is the topic du jour, every jour. The September calendar page is full, and I’ve started writing things onto those little squares in October. I try to put off thoughts of pot pie, and caramel, and cider. I know, pumpkin-flavored-everything is already on menus, but for this brief moment in time, I’m thinking about watermelon. Does anybody know where I can get some watermelon?

Image

*In the photo up top,  the idea was that I would capture the cool play structure at the new Exploratorium in SF with Coit Tower artistically hovering in the background; but mostly I took a picture of the blue sky. It felt like I was getting a picture of a unicorn being walked by a leprechaun. The baseball photo, is pretty much the same thing. I think my kid’s in there somewhere.

**Between when I started writing this post, and finished, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and I broke down and made a mug of tea. Stupid hot tea.

interlude

Between lying in the Disneyworld sun (it’s like they have their own sun!), and lying in bed melodramatically clutching Kleenex in each hand, and lying on the couch surrounded by work notebooks and papers and sticky notes with cryptic half-words scrawled on them, I’ve been occupied. Indisposed? (Either way sounds bathroom related. Everything sounds bathroom related when you’re surrounded by boys all the time.)

I of course would be completely honored and totally surprised if anybody noticed it had been a while since I posted anything. But I noticed, because small funny illustrative moments kept happening, and I couldn’t take advantage of them like I had grown blissfully accustomed to. And I didn’t take notes like I promised myself I would. I’ve walked by my laptop, and run a finger along the top, wistfully recalling how once upon a time I could sit over there *points* typity type type typing the night away while uncharacteristically letting shows stack up in my DVR. (I would very much like to tell you, and in short order, about my waterpark temper tantrum, the bodyguard in the Gucci sunglasses with the book of Sudoku puzzles, Ponce de Leon, the art of confiscation and a less than magical turn on the Magical Express.)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity and emotion that have included a blinding flurry of work and work functions as well as the sun soaked giddiness of a much appreciated vacation and getting to see old friends…all accompanied by the intense desperation for a nap, a mug of tea and a decongestant.

I had a feeling it was bad when three people walked past my office door in a day, gave me a cursory glance and wave, then doubled back to ask if I was ok. I caught a glimpse of my reflection. Wild haired and tired eyed and sorely in need of lipstick.

We’re all victims/offenders of busy (depends on how you look at it), but what’s so acutely new to me this time are the byproducts of being a kid of aging parents and a parent of aging kids. Every conversation in our house is anchored by preschool and or 5th grade “graduation” and what’s next for the boys; what’s next at work; or what’s next as we navigate the unfun health stuff of one of our parents toward what we expect to be a positive, and frankly, more fun outcome.  And then there’s the part where we remind ourselves that it could be a lot worse, and it’s actually the perfect time to count our blessings, and then I feel junky for feeling sorry for myself in the first place. (I just cannot be the only person who does that.)

As I sit in the middle of happy and hard things last week, this week and next, I’m hopeful for the return of the sun, and maybe some sense of normal. I’ve asked for prayers without hesitation, and bent many an ear, and look forward to returning the favor.