So - in my everyday life I live in a small apartment with a tiny front yard and a medium-sized dog who makes the word "energetic" seem laughably inadequate (he's a blue-heeler German shepherd cross and I love him to bits but there's no denying that when you research the breed online the phrase you will see most often is "not for the inexperienced dog owner". Which of course I am - he's my first dog - and sometimes it shows. Also when we leave the dog park in the mornings, instead of calling out "have a great day" - the usual parting words - other dog owners shout "good luck!" encouragingly.)
So when I heard that a friends of mine who own a house in the tidy, sleepy, suburbs were going on holidays, I leaped at the chance to house-sit (and when I say leaped, I mean LEAPED - I was here before they'd even left and then was so embarrassed I tried to just drive right back out of the cul-de-sac - then of course they saw me and called me back in - mortifying - fortunately they are the sort of gracious people who would never make me feel ridiculous!)
I knew exactly what that house-sitting gig would look like. I pictured myself in their spectacular woven lounger, sipping a frosty glass of wine, leisurely throwing a stick for Anu (my dog – Anubis) on occasion, slipping into a flower-printed sundress and wide-brimmed hat to water flowers and herbs, smelling of tomato plants and lemon balm, working from their glass topped patio set in the mornings with a steaming cup of French press coffee . . . . I pictured it being so divine that I would dread leaving, that I would come back to my little apartment thoroughly dissatisfied with its meager offerings.
Now of course the reality, as I am certain you have guessed, was markedly different. For starters I couldn't get the wireless internet to work until four days in to my visit, so working outside became toiling halfheartedly from the refrigerated (well, felt like it) basement until I felt so pitiful - like a character from Dickens, shivering in cut-finger gloves - that I had to come back upstairs. I don't own a flowered sundress - I should, I wish I did, but I don't - so my lady-of-the-manor gardening was conducted in a long t-shirt that didn't quite cover my bum (thank heavens for those tall fences). The wide-brimmed hat I borrowed was a bit too small and smushed my hair unattractively and left a mark on my forehead that stuck around for hours. The woven lounger gave me a neck-ache which led to a headache, and I couldn't sip wine and lounge at the same time without spilling it all over myself. I do smell like tomatoes and lemon balm but I wasn't really thinking that would end up being the only part of my vision that came true.
My friend has a tremendous knack for 'things'. Not in a materialistic way - it's not even just that she's doing 'interior design' (hate that phrase, always reminds me of those mail away courses they advertise in magazines and calls up an image of a living room in 90's muted peach with flower print borders and mint green accents, eeugh!) - it's that she finds small accents and lamps and vases and napkins that lend themselves tremendously toward warm yet elegant hospitality. I have never visited her and left empty-handed - and I mean that quite literally, not in the sense that I leave with wonderful memories! So to be here was to feel graciously hospitable - or so I thought. The reality is that these are her things, and it is her knack - it's not mine. I felt like an interloper when I tried. I don't know what exactly my 'style' is, but it's not one to be learned through imitation.
And to get back to the POINT of this long ramble - there have been times in this whole visit where I have felt terribly ungracious: I have felt silly and fraudulent; I have felt exceedingly angry with my dog, who has started countless "bark-fights" with all of the neighbouring dogs in the next yards - and some in the next cul-de-sac (if you research the breed online you will also learn of the blue-heeler bark which is apparently famous - as a word to the wise, don't click on any 'sound-bytes' if you have, are feeling the incipient tightening of, or have ever in your life experienced the phenomena known as a headache). I have thought "this could have been a gorgeous experience but instead it's a giant disappointment". I have sat in the sunlight with half a glass of wine surrounded by basil and cherry tomato plants, and been aware of only the sunburn on my bum, the uncomfortable grid-mark pattern on my legs from the lounger, and the half glass of wine that I was unfortunately wearing, feeling abused and disillusioned by the frustrations of life.
Then last night I had a friend come over for sangria and grilled coconut shrimp and a salad I should be famous for except that I'm sure someone else already thought of it and published it in a book and the defense that "But I still thought of it myself!!" doesn't hold water against that. This friend is the sort of friend that you could tell anything and she would not only never ever pass judgment, but she would also ask intelligent questions and help you sort through it and then tell a joke about it that somehow puts it all into perspective and makes the most terrible thing seem like something you are capable of not only dealing with but emerging from the experience revitalized and redefined.
We got to talking about another friend we have who is completing post-secondary studies in veterinary medicine - and my friend was remarking on the way that it seems that every time her situation changes (as it often does with internship placements, summer jobs, and university studies) our friend views it as another thing to just endure. Now, I'm not talking about enduring endless intern shifts; cramped, dank, windowless apartments; or summer jobs in a lab counting paramecium. The internship is at a small rural vet clinic. Accommodations are either in a spacious city townhome or at the family horse farm (and a small, hobby-esque farm at that, not a big working commercial operation - both owners have full-time jobs, if that clarifies). And the summer jobs - well, let's just say she spent last summer _literally_ riding the range out West. Obviously there are drawbacks, and obviously we can't know all that's happening behind the scenes, but it seems like even if there is a seedy underbelly we don't know about, there are enough positives that surely it's not unbearable. It doesn't seem like something that would require more than occasional moments where one feels as though one is 'enduring' the experience.
But the mentality is that we just need to 'get through it' to the other side. And I'm not about to repeat the truisms about life being about the journey, the grass is always greener, blah, blah, blah. But it occurs to me that even in my smugness I have been guilty of the same thing - and not just this week. What would have happened if I had just shrugged off the things that were not the way I anticipated? I have spent way too much time itemizing why things aren't right - "right" being what I want. Especially since when things do go the way I want, I realize that they are not what is right for me after all. Like the opportunity to entertain in gracious style - to work while my dog frolics in the backyard. Turns out my style of entertaining is different, and using another person's trappings for perfect hospitality just makes me feel fake and awkward. And my dog has spent most of this week barking like a lunatic at everything - the squirrels, the birds, the lawnmower next door, the neighbours for daring to move their patio furniture noisily across their stone deck .... barking at me for attempting to work instead of watching him chase around - maybe he's just not a backyard dog - at least not at this stage of life and energy level!
I realize this post is going to seem odd someday when people finally start reading this blog (lol, it could happen, I choose to hope) since the other two posts I've written so far are decidedly promo-fluff, advertising backyard escape design services - but maybe it can be a bit of both. Part of designing the perfect escape is realizing what you are escaping from - and why you are escaping. Otherwise your escape will feel like a high-fenced borrowed mistake that doesn't suit your or your family (or your dog!)
If you design your yard with an attitude of flexibility and self-awareness, your grass will be green enough that even when you look over at the neighbour's place, you'll still want to stay put. Because it's not about the colour of your grass - or other myriad ground-cover options :) It's about accepting imperfection, laughing at clumsy tumbles in a game of fetch, and reacting pragmatically when that frosty glass of wine ends up in your lap.
You don't want to endure the stages of your life - just like you don't want to endure the stages of your greenscapes, whatever form they may take. Gardens and gazebos grow and adapt and they lend themselves well to improvements and creativity over time.
I just want to make sure that I'm enjoying every minute of it (or nearly every minute). Because it's never going to be perfect - it's never going to be done. And I'd rather it that way. Because if I had gotten the backyard I wished for so mistily a short week ago, with the wave of a magic wand or winning lottery ticket, I would now be miserably chained to it. I'm so glad that I had this opportunity to explore not only the idea of the backyard, but the attitude I've been carrying around for years that as far as happiness goes, my life is one bloom short of a bouquet. And until I find it, the bouquet is barely worth sniffing, let alone putting in a pretty vase.
So now - if you'll excuse me - I'm going to go plant some tomatoes and lemon balm in my postage-stamp garden in my tiny front lawn at my so-much-more-than-adequate apartment. I'll probably wear shorts this time since I don't have a fence to hide behind, and tuck my hair under the Miller Genuine Draft ball cap I won in a raffle at a buck-and-doe last winter.
And I will be perfectly and incandescently happy.