Slice of Life...Musings on Renewal

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their blog to read other slices and leave a few comments for the other bloggers.

I sighed with resignation as I looked over at my garden from the patio last night.  "Here we go again," I thought to myself.  I was  upset as I looked at towering weeds and felt defeat grab hold of me.  I had told myself that this year was going to be different.  I was going to keep on top of the garden.  I envisioned a Better Homes and Garden kind of backyard oasis where my raised beds would be weed free as they provided the perfect environment for succulent vegetables to ripen in abundance.  Instead I was staring at looming weeds and hours of work ahead of me.  This was not going to be fun.  

Gardens at Inn at Cedar Falls

Last week I was fortunate to attend  a writing retreat for contributors to Choice Literacy.  Brenda Power is the perfect editor turned hostess as she creates an environment that is free from distractions so that we have time to slow down, think, write, and eat a lot of good food that we don't have to cook or clean up.  

Central Ohio Choice Literacy Contributors

  As Brenda handed us the book A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, she talked about our theme, Renewal.  Every single thing Brenda mentioned - slowing down, taking time to rest, finding
what brings happiness - were things I had pondered over the last year.  I wondered if she had somehow peeked into my life and designed this retreat just for me.  (Not to worry, I'm not vain enough to really think that.  We all need time to renew, regardless of our stage in life).  She tasked us with finding our own beautiful question.

I dragged the hoe behind me as I trudged out to the garden last night, thinking about the retreat.  The remnants of the messages I heard nudged me forward, giving me hope that I'd be able to rescue my garden from the stranglehold of chickweed and who knows what else was out there.  I couldn't bear to begin with the large bed in the back, so I got to work in the smaller beds.

Much to my surprise, they weren't as bad as I thought they would be.  I could do this.  I hoed, I pulled, I dug.  Then I got to the radishes.  Oh my!  I hadn't thinned them at all and they were crammed together, pushing against each other for survival.  Larger red tubes shoved against the smaller ones as if to say, "Get out of my way.  I'm in charge here."  

 "This was my life up until last year," I thought to myself.  I had jam-packed my life with busyness.  Since I didn't have kids to raise anymore, I busied myself with work.  I read professional books.  I signed up for conferences.  I scheduled every single minute with something to do that would push me forward.  

And then in May of 2013, crisis hit and I knew I had to make changes.  My busyness came to an abrupt halt.  I began to ask myself whenever I wanted to start a new project, "Why am I doing this?"

In A More Beautiful Question, Berger pushes his reader when he asks, "Why are you climbing the mountain?"  He describes those "who are trying to do everything - attend every conference, take every call, answer every message, read every tweet, seize every opportunity - not so much because we want to, but because we feel we must, just to keep up." (Had he been peeking into  my life too?)

He prods his reader further by asking:
  • What is waiting for me at the top?
  • What am I going to do once I get there?
  • Am I enjoying the climb itself?  Should I slow down, speed up?
  • What am I leaving behind, down below?
Such great questions.  Although I didn't ask these questions so eloquently, these questions are the backbone of what I have been asking myself this past year.  In order to unearth some answers, I gave myself permission to not be so busy.  I stepped back...I said, "no," to some opportunities,  I made time to go for walks and to just sit and be quiet.  Oh, that was hard! But in the process, I discovered joy.

After thinning the radishes, I prepared myself for the back bed.  From where I stood, the weeds looked to be about hip high.  Dread and determination battled in the pit of my stomach as I trudged forward.  Pulling grasses and wide leafed invaders from the ground, I realized that what I originally thought were weeds, were actually my zucchini and summer squash plants.   Watermelon and cantaloupe wound their way through the bed too.  Yellow blossoms peeked through the canopy of green, bringing promises of a heavy harvest.  In the past, I had crammed my vining plants into the small beds, thinking that they would have enough room.  This year, I decided to put these plants in a bigger space to see what would happen.  They were growing by leaps and bounds.  

And there I was again...comparing myself to my garden.  When I gave myself time and space this year, I grew.  I discovered joy again.  I quit trying to climb the mountain and I paid attention to what brought happiness to my life.  I've had a blast writing with the other teachers for the Troy Hicks' book.  I rediscovered my joy in creating meals as I experimented with ingredients.  I read books for pleasure and met new authors.  I had fun exploring digital writing with my students.  I relished quiet times with my husband.  I found time to garden.  

Which brings me to completing Brenda's assignment - my own beautiful question.  I struggled for a bit, and kept coming back to my journey this year.  I had come a long way and I didn't want to veer from that direction.  What question would propel me forward?  

My question began as,

How do I ensure that I am making time to do the things that bring me joy?  

After listening to a few others at the retreat incorporate their OLW into their question, my question evolved into,

What will I discover as I make time to do the things that I enjoy?

As you can see, there are still weeds to eradicate.  There always will be.  I've come to accept that there will always be those weeds in my life too.  Things will come up, I'll be overwhelmed and overcommitted.  But this time, there's a difference.  I've tasted the joy.  I've experienced what it feels like when I slow down and give myself space.  I don't want to lose it.  

So, I will continue to ask myself, "Why am I climbing this mountain?"  "Am I enjoying the climb?"  "Do I need to slow down or speed up?" "Am I making time to do the things I love?"

And most importantly, "What new things will I discover on this journey?"

Thank you Brenda for this incredible experience.

For added inspiration, watch the documentary Happy by Roko Belec where he investigates the science behind happiness.  


  1. "When I gave myself time and space this year, I grew. I discovered joy again. I quit trying to climb the mountain and I paid attention to what brought happiness to my life. "
    This goes into my writing journal today, Julie. So glad that the retreat was so filled with rich learning and community for you. And I love the metaphor of the garden - which we must tend to with patience. Those radishes are, by the way, amazing!

  2. This is such a beautiful piece of writing. I love how you move back and forth between the garden and the reflections from the book and retreat. I'm at kind of one of those crossroads in my life right now. Think I need to get hold of this book! Thank you!

  3. "I've tasted the joy. I've experienced what it feels like when I slow down and give myself space. I don't want to lose it."

    This is something I'm working on this summer. I've become too busy. Time is going by so quickly, and I've been too busy to enjoy it. Even when I'm working on a task, I don't take time to enjoy the journey. But I'm trying to change that.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Very inspiring.

  4. I am so glad that I have read this piece, and I am marking it as one to come back to. I am guilty of scheduling too much, trying to fit too much into days and life, and I love the analogy of the melons, growing so much better when they have space. Thank you for all of the reminders to do what makes us happy, brings us joy. Beautiful writing and beautiful ideas, Julie.

  5. My comment disappeared into cyberspace somewhere. When will I learn how to do this?
    Anyway the gist of it was thanks for writing this today. I love how you used weeding as a metaphor for your beautiful question. I needed this inspiration today. I haven't written my slice yet because not much is going on. But now I see I can be OK with nothing much going on.

  6. Loved reading this---I'll be back to reread it about mid-October and mid-March, when the stresses of the school year seem to peak. I loved the message and admire the form you used to communicate it!

  7. Beautifully written, and important to read...over and over again! Your analogies are spot-on.

  8. "How do I ensure that I am making time to do the things that bring me joy? " I think this is my journey this summer. Thank you for writing such insightful post. Our journeys are all about asking questions and then changing direction as needed.

  9. So glad I read your slice today. I agree with Mary Lee--an important post to read over and over again! Presence, stillness, quiet... so hard yet absolutely essential if we are to understand anything about the journeys we're on.

  10. I, too, lamented when I returned from my week at the TCRWP Writing Institute and found my herb garden overgrown with weeds. There were weeds everywhere and I only pulled what I could. {Sigh.}

    I'm going to put A More Beautiful Question on my TBR list right now. Thanks for sharing a bit about it.

  11. LOVE this metaphor, Julie! I really need to clear some weeds in my life this summer. Love, love, love!!!

  12. just a fabulous recap, reflection, and forward thinking - I'm glad I was part of your writing journey.


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