Warming Up

I don’t know where to start, so I’ll start here, with this cool morning that made me pull a sweater Stuck writing? Start with where you are.over my pjs, at least outside on the porch. I curl my hand around the smooth glaze of my coffee mug, the curved walls fit my hand perfectly. I feel the warmth, watch the steam rise up.

I take a bit of bagel, crisp then chewy and taste the sweet then bitter peach marmalade. More coffee. My eyes are still grainy with tiredness. I know more coffee isn’t the answer, but it’s warm and says wake up if only by routine.

There is a high, vibrating noise in the distance. I think alternately coyotes and a swarm of bees, but now it has settled into music, closer. And then again, far away, the high pitched yelp, and above me, “Caw, caw, caw!”

I’m distracted by cold feet, but I won’t go get socks, not until the kids wake up. I want this quiet time, but still, that vibrating hum far away, and within me. I’m restless, feeling the change in the air, school starting, new routines. I’m ready to settle in, get back to writing, back to running or walking, back to knowing when my work time is. And I’ll miss the lazy mornings, when we stayed in pajamas and read book after book and wandered out in the dewy garden.

I look up from my journal. The paint on the porch is peeling, white chips fallen or waiting to fall, patches where it’s been scraped already. It’s supposed to be painted this summer, one more thing of the endless to do list. Over the railing, the garden waits to be weeded. I see the last zucchini plant, shrived and brown taken down by powdery mildew.

And then motion. A bit of red. Hummingbird. I watch it hover, wings abuzz. Does it ever get tired of so much motion?

I hear the feet on the steps before the, “Mom?” at the screen door. And then it opens and a new part of the day begins.

I’ve been reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, and she talks about five-finger exercises and how even the pages that you throw away have purpose. This idea that writing is like running or playing the piano or any thing you do that you need to practice and keep up with isn’t something new. It’s something I know, something I’ve said, and sometimes I still need that reminder.

It’s been a busy summer and I’ve fallen out of practice with many things, writing among them. So I’m here, doing my finger exercises, getting back into the habit of sitting down and putting words on the page. I almost didn’t come here today. I thought, “Next week, when both kids are in school,” but I’m tired of waiting. I’m doing an exercise challenge with my sister, and this morning I can feel in my legs handful of lunges I did last night. I need to feel my writing muscles again too. So I’m here, and I’m writing.


What are you warming up to do again?

It’s not work

My garden is a mess. The kind of mess where you can hardly find the things you planted. I spent the better part of Sunday working out there.

A little order amid the weeds

I turned over new beds and planted chard and more carrots. I tied up peas and tomatoes. I weeded and weeded and weeded. Spending time in my garden was a perfect way to spend my birthday. My back would tell you I worked outside all day, but it’s not really work.

I love gardening for the fresh cilantro I pick, wet with dew, for my breakfast burrito and for the golden cherry tomatoes warm from the sun (it’ll be a while, but they’re coming).

I love when my big girls says, “Can I make a salad for dinner?” and then collects and spins and chops (and eats!) it.

I love my peonies, heavy headed and drooping after the rain, and the feathery cosmos that settled in on their own and are starting to announce themselves.

But it’s not just what comes out of my garden. There’s something about the the planting and weeding and tying and checking, something about the process, that soothes me and refreshes me.

I came in Sunday, feet and hands black, face smeared with dirt. My back was tight, but my shoulders were loose. My garden is still a mess, but I wasn’t.


That evening my friend threw me an impromptu party with ribs and margaritas and for dessert the simple version of this cake and this ice cream, both of which I made because I love the rhythm of the kitchen (when it isn’t grumbly get dinner on the table time) as much as I love the rhythm of the garden.


Sunday I found more strawberries hanging like jewels under green leaves. I ate one and shared the rest with my girls. There’s spinach almost ready to pick again and the first tomatoes forming. And, I noticed with surprise and glee my garlic is beginning to get scapes, so I’m dreaming of pesto and pizza and lazy summer dinners. The garden is a lot of work, but it feels more like rhythm and dreams and rewards and hope.It looks like like work, but it's not when you love it.


What do you love doing so much it doesn’t feel like work?

What you need

I need to move slow today. I wanted to run, but my body said, walk.
And I listened.

I’m not always good at that. Even today. It told me to lie down, take a nap, but I pushed on, sitting in front of my screen try to get the words out. Not so productive.

I’m good at to do lists and getting things done. I’m good at what I have to do, but not always at what I need.

Eight years ago at this time, I was listening. During my first pregnancy, I really listened to my body. I rested when I was tired. I walked when that felt good, went to yoga, ate lots of protein because that’s what I craved. I cut back on sweets only because for the first time in my life chocolate had not appeal. I’d like to be able to listen—and respond—like that again.

Sometimes those to do lists get in the way or the should do things. Sometimes I think I’m too busy (and slowly remember how not to be). Some days I manage to listen.

I need to be outside. I need to smell the earth and see the bits of green—garlic, spinach, lettuce—poking their heads up to the sunshine. I need to move—walk, work—and then be still.

What do you need today?

Share what you need in comments—and take care of yourself.

Grow is an online writing retreat—www.sarabarry.com

Make time and space for what you love and what you need. We’ll use writing as a tool to notice, nourish, and nurture.

Registration for Grow ends Saturday.

Please join me!

What you don’t have time for

Feet together. Hands together.
Sweep arms up.
Flow down into forward bend. (God my legs are tight. I used to be more flexible.)
Breathe. Look up. Fold back down.
Palms to the floor (kind of)
Step back to downward facing dog. (Tight this way too.)
Keep going.

I’ve been doing a little yoga sequence in the morning. And by little, I mean 5 minutes, maybe 10.

I’m starting my day with movement and a stretch. I’m feeling a little more energized. It feels great. Well, except that part about how tight I am and that ego part about how I used to be able to bend further more easily. But I’m doing something. Instead of saying “I don’t have time,” I’m making this time.

I’m not any closer to getting back to that hour (or longer) class I used to love. I’m not even close to doing a half-hour routine at home. But this little bit that I’m doing is waking me up, reconnecting me to my breath and body, making a teensy bit of room for something I love in my life again.

That’s how I started running. It’s how I always start when I’ve gotten off track with writing. Do just a little. Remember it feels good. Do it again. Commit to that little bit. And build from there.

That little bit feels good. Is good. As you practice again and again, you train your body. You get into it more easily. Even then, sometimes you’re just tight or the words don’t come. Even then there are days you procrastinate about getting started. But you do because sometimes, as you stretch, you go deeper. Sometimes you get someplace new. A release. A connection. A realization.

What don’t you have time for? What little bit could you do today?


Grow is an online writing retreat—www.sarabarry.com


Are you ready to stretch and dig deep? We’ll start little and build. The Grow retreat starts next Sunday. Register here.

Row by row, bit by bit

row by row, bit by bit; take time to smell the flowers—and watch the beesI’m on the porch watching a butterfly and bumble bee dancing through the rhododendron. My knees (and shins and feet) are still dirty from the garden. The garden that I thought would never get planted is a sea of green, the peas and greens and broccoli lost among the weeds. I look at all those weeds and think of the laundry piled up and the bags still to unpack from my weekend trip and the make up work that got sidelined as I focused on my dad’s health and my mom’s retirement party, and I’m overwhelmed.

My kids are exhausted and volatile from staying up too late the past two weekends for family events. My big girl is at the end of preschool. I don’t know if this transition is more momentous for me than her. And they are out of sorts, not quite getting the seriousness of the situation with my dad, but sense my stress and distracted attention.

So I look at that weeding that needs to get done and the laundry piles and the bags to be unpacked. I look at all the items that got shifted from my to-do list to my do-later list. I’ve barely written the past weeks, and I didn’t run at all last week, even though I know these two things help keep me balanced.

I don’t even know where to start, so I start small: two loads of laundry in the morning, one bag unpacked and tucked away, the quick emails and check ins for work just so I can cross multiple items off the list. Then I went for a run because my body needed it and my mind needed it. I came back with less time to get things done, but more focused, less overwhelmed.

I look at the garden again and decide I’ll start with the peas because they need it most. I work my way through one row and start the next, while my big girl cuts lettuce for a salad. Every time I look up at all the weeds to pull (and the flowers to deadhead and the green beans to plant and . . . ) I take deep breathe and refocus on the row I’m working on. I take a sip of my ice coffee and savor the shade as I dump the weed bucket. I take a break to push my garden helper on the swing, and when her TV show is on, I sit on the porch and watch the butterflies and the bees and take a minute to write, because we both need a little down time. It will all get done—one row, one bag, one load at a time—or I’ll figure out that some of it doesn’t need to get done at all.

Take a minute to write, Just Write.