Pergola Makeover, A Family’s Creative Project



This ivy and rose covered pergola stands in our yard, a mature vision of the former owner’s dream.  When we bought our home thirteen years ago, the structure stood bare, with a single stalk of a thorny climbing rose, and a pot of English Ivy at the base.  A decade later, it became a mass of leaves and blooms, so lush and full as to inspire a daily retreat into the arched garden.  I loved it then.  I loved it when it was a bare thing waiting for leaf children to climb on.  I always thought it was a romantic sort of thing for someone to build.  A bit of poetry inside a chain link fenced yard.

Last year when mom came to visit, we discussed the idea of removing the ivy because it was a struggle to keep clipping back.  At one point the ivy from the top would reach down and touch the ground on the back side.  Mom thought it was beautiful and said try to keep it.  And I agreed.  Then this year, I noticed the entire structure start to sway in a strong breeze.

It turns out, English Ivy, so romantic of vines, is also a destructive force of weight and a hide-out for chewing, munching, wood hungry ants.  And the thought of losing our beautiful little pergola, which for some reason I’ve always called “the arbor” sent me on a mission to the garage for a shovel, some clippers, a hatchet and gloves.  And this is what I found:


And underneath that,



With the help of my husband, who said a few cuss words and threatened to get out the saw and bring it all down, we worked for days removing and burning the old ivy.  Getting to this point was a huge relief.  Almost like a psychological cleansing.  A clarity of mind after a meditation.  A sigh of relief.  Whew!


But that is not all.

I have become more aware about the magical power of intention when it comes to projects big and small.  That my focus has a tendency to draw me nearer to manifesting my imagination.  And the way Spirit provides things that I might want to make use of.  First to arrive was a gorgeous, heavyweight, textured cotton duvet from an overstuffed rack on the back wall of the Goodwill.  A couple of small stains meant it was perfectly acceptable to use it outdoors and was meant for my project.  A few days later, I was on the hunt for some hooks to hang curtain rods.  Elliot, patient, tolerant son, who was nonetheless pulling on my sleeve, bumping my side, gently prodding me like a herding dog to leave the second hand shop when we didn’t find hooks, got a lesson in treasure hunting.  “See, Elliot!  See how this works? I had an intuition that there was something in here we can use.”  Our treasure?  An old brass chandelier!


A few days after this, four white flat sheets arrived like magic for 2.25 a piece!  The basic elements were in place.  I worked for a few days at the sewing machine and came out with four white panels for the back of the pergola, and two heavy duty drapes for the front, with fabric leftover for new chair cushions.  I even had some leftover fabric paint to make my own designs, and that turned out to be a fun day making art in the back yard, the sweetest therapy there is. Elliot enjoyed using the spray paint on the chandelier, which was his reward for being so patient while I treasure hunted.





Richard even contributed by bringing home some galvanized pipe and hooks for hanging the curtains and drapes.

I wonder if this ever happens to other folks when they are working on a project.  Everything starts to come together, piece by piece.  The anticipation for completion builds.  Excitement is high.  Then, there happens to arrive something to thwart the completion, just in the last push to the finish line.  For me this is usually a knotted thread on the sewing machine, a crazy grinding and humming and slow to respond computer issue, a big distraction that requires immediate attention, or a mistake caused by the increased momentum and speed of the work as it comes to a close.  This time, that Canadian cold front brought us big gusty breezes, which on a sunny spring day can be so absolutely wonderful, especially in a subtropical, dense humid climate. But yesterday it was really giving us fits!  Trying to hang curtains in the gusts was testing all of our nerves.  I ended up sewing a wide hem on the bottom and Elliot helped by hunting for rocks, washing and drying them, and placing them inside the hem to weight the light cotton back panels.

And then it suddenly came all together at once.  Richard brought out the handpainted pillows and our plastic wicker chairs, followed by our old iron table that he resurfaced with tile.  Elliot brought a washcloth to wipe the dust and pollen from the table, then said, “We need flowers!” And so after wiping the dust, he brought a sad little pot of yellow marigolds for our centerpiece.  Richard, being the tallest, hung the chandelier.  I snapped a few photos, and we went inside to fix our Sunday chicken dinner.

But excitement was still high.  After dinner, guess where we went?  Not to the living room to watch a movie.  Not to our tablets or phones.  Not to the road for our evening walk.  We went on a mini vacation on a Greek Island formerly known as our back yard.  And we read about Shakespeare’s language in the sunset.




And just in case you were worried, the rose bush was saved.


As the moon shone above us and the candles flickered, Elliot asked, “Did your mom ever do magical things for you when you were a kid?”  And I said, “Yes. Yes, she did.  She was the one who taught me how to make the perfect blanket fort.”



Saturday Night Skate

Do you keep an unfulfilled desire under the heap of life that has to come first?

One of these loves will pop to the surface, just when you least expect it to appear.

When I was a kid, my parents gave me a pair of royal blue roller skates for my sixth birthday.  And because we had an unfinished basement with a cement floor, I suddenly felt like the richest girl in the world.  With the gift of those skates, I had just inherited something else: my own private skating rink.  Complete with a record player and my mother’s albums; music ranging from folksy Peter Paul and Mary and John Denver to my favorite beach album: Dead Man’s Curve by Jan and Dean.

Since our basement was not as large as a real roller rink, I was continually skating around a curve, increasing my speed till I risked crashing on my own “dead man’s curve.”  In the dim light of our basement, sheltered from the ice and snow of a Michigan winter, I rolled and sweated and took flight in my heart.

Later, the actual roller rink experience during adolescence was a bigger thrill.  Colorful lights and blasting pop tunes, cute boys and girls with feathered hair that lifted like sails on a windswept lake as they glided past me in effortless strides.

I loved to skate.

One year my father made an ice rink in the back yard.  I will remember that winter forever.  And how my brother could skate backwards and perform spins and jumps.  He was athletic and intelligent and daring.  On the ice, I felt wobbly and sore; ice skating was fun but the blades required much more balance.

I should have kept on skating when I moved out and entered college.  Why was I so easily distracted from my passion?  It must have been my desperate need to fit in.  Rollerskating seemed childish and out of fashion.  Roller blades were the popular choice, but I hated them.  Wearing a pair of those early versions of rollerblades felt like strapping on downhill ski boots and trying to move gracefully.  They hurt my feet and felt all wrong.  So I abandoned my skating and went on to parties, and guys, and later, motherhood.

For a brief time, my daughter loved skating.  On Saturday nights we would go to the rink.  It was just as I remembered it, and soon I was floating and gliding like my childhood self.  I wanted that to last.  But as time went on, she lost interest and for some reason I thought it would be awkward to go to the rink by myself.

One year I discovered that there was an adult’s night at the rink.  I went by myself.  It wasn’t as fun.  The regulars had formed a group and skate danced around the rink to form a kind of rhythm train that rushed past me.  It felt intimidating so I didn’t return.

Yesterday, on a whim, I walked into a sporting goods store and found a pair of skates in my size.  I bought them on the spot.

Last night, in the rough parking lot of the nearby elementary school, I was once again the richest girl in the world, with my own private rink.  (Until two guys showed up and let their huge Irish Setter out of the car, who immediately bounded up to me while I was relearning balance…)

But otherwise, it was blissful solitude on a humid night under a wild sky.








How Deep Is This Softness

Nine years ago, I was viciously attacked by my neighbor’s dog.  Weeks before, we moved into our new “old” house, a two story colonial foursquare with a lovely green lawn.  Our dream house was a reality!  What a heady time, a glowing time of new romance full of promise and discovery!  Full of baby boy arrival euphoria!  Elliot would experience his first birthday in our new place. We were elated at these blessings.  Eager begin our second chance at life as a family on this long and winding road near a lake with hiking trails.

But this house needed work and was a hard to sell property.  It sat empty for two years before we arrived.  The dogs that lived behind and next to our yard must have thought that our new yard, although fenced, belonged to them.  Seeing someone in this space was an invasion of their territory.  Every day, indeed for the last nine years, all the dogs around us charge the fence and harass us with barking.  Especially annoying are the little yappers who are incessant with their rasping sharp tone.  On the day of my attack, my new neighbors invited me over for a visit.  As I opened the gate I was greeted by threatening barks.  As I walked past a particular dog (there were at least six) I was greeted by nine bites and the terrifying experinece of being surrounded by a barking pack of viciousness.  The owner of the dog did nothing to stop the attack.

In that moment I prepared myself for the likely outcome that all the dogs would join in and rip my flesh until there was nothing left of me but parts.

And that my neighbor would watch it all passively.

One of the most difficult spiritual challenges in my life is to love my neighbor as myself.

Years passed and my fear of dogs remained.  Even the sound of a barking dog behind a fence rattled my nerves.  I visibly winced on walks with my husband when we encountered families walking their dogs on the trails.  Often, people would allow their dogs to go unleashed in the woods, though this violated the city ordinance.  I resented people who believed they were too important, that their dogs were too important, to obey the law.

Then, something in my heart changed.  We began homeschooling our son midway through first grade.  He was very lonely and feeling cut off from his classmates and friends.  We needed just a little more life and activity in this house.  I found a dog listed by the Surry county animal rescue group.  And by the grace of God this dog was as terrified of people as I was of dogs.

We’ve enjoyed this shy, tenderhearted Border Collie mix in our lives for four years.  Ozzie is gentle, loyal, patient and full of love.  He remembers people he cares about.  After not seeing my mom for six months, he jumped with joy to be reunited with her.  Ozzie rarely jumps and especially not for people.  Maybe for toast or a banana, but never for people.

He also remembers and loves the baby boy who lives next door (on the other side of our house).  When baby Turner was a newborn riding in his mother’s baby carrier, Ozzie would reach up to sniff and make gentle contact with those perfect little toes.  He surprised the mother with his curiosity.  Without the baby, he would never approach her.

This month, Turner celebrated his first birthday and began walking.  While my son and I were in our neighbor’s yard visiting, we left Ozzie at home, who watched us from behind the fence.  As soon as Turner spotted Ozzie through the fence, he pointed in his direction and made his best effort to get the dog’s attention.  I called Ozzie over.  He came close to the fence and sat down, pushing his fur through the wire, so that Turner could pet him.  And being one, Turner put out his index finger and poked Ozzie, curious to discover how deep was this softness.  Ozzie turned his head at being poked and Turner giggled with surprise and mischief.  I demonstrated a soft pet with flat fingers, then Turner poked Ozzie again.  Ozzie did not move from his spot, but turned his head toward the baby every time he got jabbed.  Turner giggled and bounced at this new game, full of baby joy.

No doubt Ozzie enjoyed this, otherwise he would have walked away.

I wish this could have been my family’s experience with our other neighbors and their dogs.  But it was not to be.  I might not have appreciated this moment so deeply had it been different then.   Something in this shared moment between a baby and my dog restored the balance and allowed me to reclaim my old self, the one who loved dogs, the one who trusts.