We worked in the backyard and on the deck this past weekend. Man, there is nothing like having friends over to inspire a little scrub-a-dub-dubbing. We want to put our best foot forward, don’t we? Or at least not have our friends concerned about whether they should call the DEQ about our living conditions, right? You can bet if your friends have to ask for a garbage bag to sit on their chair, they’re probably not coming back for dinner anytime soon.

So we set about sprucing up — raking and planting, planting & raking. Here a mulch, there a mulch, everywhere a mulch-mulch. I will say, for all of my gardening woes, there is a little bit of an adrenaline boost that comes from potting a few flowers, planting tomatoes (for Jimmy) and peppers, trimming the rosebushes and such. It appeals to our love for instant gratification… you know, going from drab to fab in a weekend.

Now, from the plants’ perspective, if they had feelings, ending up at my house would feel sort of like being sentenced to death row. They know the end is coming — the sun beating down on them in the middle of July, kind of like that chain gang scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou — just withering in the heat of a Mississippi summer. The lantanas might be drought-tolerant enough to tough it out, but I’ve given up on ferns and petunias… they can’t hang.

For many years after we moved into our house, we went through an annual exercise in gardening futility. My mother in law had a knack for plants, and she loved them. She loved the instant gratification, and all of the bright blooms and the different varieties – and so on. She’d drop by for a visit at some point in the spring and sigh wistfully at our empty front porch. It runs the length of the front of our house and seems to beg for hanging baskets with Boston ferns to decorate the spaces between the columns. She’d trot off to the garden center, returning with ferns for the porch and petunias for the flower bed – an Easter “happy” is what she’d call it. It seemed like a misnomer to me, but I went along with it. She’d hang them and stand back, proudly admiring the scene, asking if I liked them. And I did, I really did. But I knew what was coming. My relationship with the ferns every year started out all warm & fuzzy in April & May, me with my watering wand, and them drinking it in. Very kumbaya-ish. Then… July. Duhn-duhn-duhn. Suddenly it felt very adversarial, like a Jackie Chan movie.

Before I knew it, I had a fight to the death on my hands. It seemed that no matter what, I was destined to kill both the ferns and the petunias. It was only a matter of time before Jimmy’s mom dropped by and shook her head at me, with a “bless your heart” in her eyes. Everybody who’s ever lived in the South knows that look, and they know that “bless your heart” isn’t the sweet pat on the arm you at first think it is. And so I’d take the botanical walk of shame, carrying the brown, leafless baskets with fern stems more scraggly than a bad home perm. I’d tote them out to the curb for their final ride in the big green garbage truck, headed to the great compost pile in the sky, admitting another summer of defeat.

Oops – I got caught up in my sidebar there. Sorry.

Back to my pretty spring fresh deck… and the scrub-a-dub-dubbing. It was genuinely satisfying to sit down for a moment late in the afternoon, with the sun starting to set and us looking around at our handiwork — the fresh pots of marigolds, mosquito plants and lantanas scattered around in pretty pots, with my little herb garden and pepper plants freshly watered and ready to get busy growing. Maybe this is the year they make it all the way through the summer. Hope blooms anew, right?

Whaddup, little herbies?

We finished up and headed inside. I stood at the kitchen sink, scrubbing the dirt from under my fingernails as I looked out the window at the freshly scrubbed deck. It was stubborn, not rinsing away easily. I grabbed the dishwashing sponge, and with the scrubby side, I went to work in the crevices and around my cuticles. It took some elbow grease to come clean. Which brings me to my “bit” for today. The elbow grease, the effort – it’s hard work sometimes, but man, is it worth it. It’s evidence of the labor, how making something beautiful (of yourself, or in your yard) sometimes requires hard work and a lot of clean up afterwards. Whether my DIY project is on myself or in my yard, it’s sometimes messy – I have to be willing to get in there and get my hands dirty to make a difference. Those seasons of change are uncomfortable, and I often just want to get finished and get washed up. I want to tie things up in a neat little bow and be done. I don’t always get to choose though, and I get dirt under my nails occasionally. Thank goodness for literal and figurative scrubby-sided sponges. Yay.

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