• cherylsilver

APPRECIATING MY OUTDOOR SPACE by Ellen Donker

But mostly my family

A product shot of our new backyard furniture. Although we don't have this lovely backdrop, maybe next year we'll get close.

This past May our family was supposed to go on a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. My daughter, Madeline, and I had it all planned out day-by-day on a Google spreadsheet. When we realized we’d be vacationing in Maplewood rather than Jackson Hole we felt the need, like so many others, to spruce up our back yard. It was a modest upgrade – a sectional, chair and a few small tables. Had we known the future, we might’ve sprung for a heating tower too.


While we wouldn’t be making memories visiting Old Faithful or the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, we’d at least have a comfortable place to sit and read a good book or contemplate the state of the world, if we were feeling brave enough to go there.


I gave Madeline and son Christian the job of measuring the space and figuring out the best way to orient the furniture so we wouldn’t be staring straight into our neighbor’s back yard. Then we went to work Googling endless images of sectionals for the patio and determining which sizes and configurations would work. Christian just wanted to order whatever he thought looked nice, but I was emphatic about measuring properly. I did not want to have 10 boxes appear at my doorstep only to find out that the furniture wouldn’t fit. That’s how I take the fun out of shopping.


When we finally put the order in, it seemed as if the four-week delivery date would never arrive. But then one sunny day in June (which mercifully seemed to be the norm all spring, summer and fall) a truck pulled into our driveway and the driver deposited the ten boxes on our grass. He offered to set up the furniture for a price, but I declined his services. I had staff: Madeline, Christian and his friend Liam, who happened to be in our back yard – socially distanced – at just the right moment. In no time at all, they unboxed the tables, chair and sectional, zipped up the cushions and voilà! Our new living room was set up. Liam even thanked me because he knew I had bought the furniture with him in mind as he’d be spending a lot of time sitting on it.


Sure enough he did. In the evenings Liam and Christian would often hang out in the back yard, watching movies (once Christian got us a better wi-fi signal out there) and trying to socialize properly during a pandemic.


Tim often got home from work after dark and initially wouldn’t sit on the couch. Perhaps he was making a statement – that I had spent unnecessarily – and the picnic table was sufficient for his lounging needs. Kids can be weird that way. But then his friend Aidan commented that he’d be sitting on the couch all day if he had one in his back yard. A few minutes later, Tim was relaxing on one end of the sectional with his feet propped up.


The kids went back to their respective colleges in August, and now that holiday time is approaching, they’re asking how our family will be celebrating. Can’t our cousins come over? What about Grandma and Uncle Bruce and Aunt Janet? Won’t we host our annual Christmas Eve party for the 24th consecutive year?


Tim suggested that we celebrate outside. What better way to put that sectional and the fire pit to work. But I don’t see that being an option. This year our family of five will have to do for merriment and, perhaps, we’ll have small outdoor gatherings when it makes sense. And that’s okay with me.

Life has a way of pushing us to adapt in ways we never envisioned, opening the door to new traditions, and making us grateful for what we have. Perhaps we can even have an attitude of expectation for joy.


I can’t anticipate how we’ll be celebrating next year, but I do hope our larger family can all be together again. By then we may even have a heating tower so we can extend the party outside.