Stories from middle America

I love having new contributors! And today I’m excited that my new studiomate, Daphne Eck, is sharing an insightful and honest observation of herself that sparked while working on a DIY backyard project. Daphne is a writer and creative strategist at She mostly lives in Omaha, Nebraska right now, where she takes on house projects that are beyond her actual skill level. Her husband, Caleb Coppock, currently has custody of their two sweet and slightly crotchety sister cats, Carol and Nancy, in Portland, Oregon. Daphne visits her three Portland loves quite often; you can almost call her bi-regional. Or would that be mid-coastal?

My DIY Backyard Patio

This spring, I built a retaining wall in my backyard and made it into a little patio area. When my husband and I moved into our house four years ago, the backyard was a long, narrow hill with a chain link fence bordered by a sad little row of daylilies and hostas. The first two years, I added more plants bit by bit. Last summer, we replaced the broken tin shed with a new one and had a flat patio area dug into the hill. Winter came and the project was still in progress, turning it all into a muddy mess. Meanwhile, my husband, Caleb, took a kick-ass job in Portland, Oregon, and we became a couple with a LDR.

With Caleb on the west coast, I continued the project on my own this spring. I built a retaining wall – all by myself! – then got a professional to pour a concrete pad. I filled everything in with so much dirt, planted a little sod, split a bunch of perennials from my own yard and pilfered a bunch more from my neighbors (with their blessing, of course). Now it’s a peaceful spot where I feel surrounded by beauty, yet set apart from the world. I’m so proud of what I’ve done!

The project has been well timed on a personal level, too; with all the changes that were happening with our now two-household lifestyle, I realized I needed to recalibrate some things. I began to receive all the time and space I had been given for what it really was – a gift. A chance to choose (again! always again!) the way of living and being that I really want for myself.

The outdoor physical activity and alone time was just what I needed while I processed and practiced my new ways. I had a lot of time to think as I dug trenches and learned how to level the ground. I listened to music, podcasts and books while lugging concrete blocks from the shelves at Lowe’s to my car to my backyard to the slowly growing wall. My muscles and my psyche both grew stronger as I shoveled and hauled and dumped what felt like a hundred wheelbarrows of dirt. One day, on the recommendation of my therapist, I sat in the backyard and watched this brilliant little video of Brene Brown spewing some wisdom about boundaries. And then I stayed a while longer to ponder it all. Turns out this DIY project had as much to do with my life as it did with stacking concrete blocks into a retaining wall.

patio before patio progress daphne patio progress patio after

A Garden With A Wall

When you realize that you’ve spent too long
Believing not-nice things about yourself.
When someone you don’t even like anymore
Told everyone that you’re to blame.
And you went ahead and believed them for a while,
But at the same time tried to prove them wrong.
And the I’m-not-right-inside feelings
Have festered inside and gripped your belly
Then bubbled up and out your throat,
Spilled onto those you love the most.

When you let your boss or pastor or weird idea of god have the deciding vote.
When you’re good and helpful and on point with all the things
Then are mean to your husband
Because dammit you’re tired of the striving,
And mad as hell about what you gave away,
And can’t he get with the program for once?
When “compassion” looks more like resentment than love.
When you don’t know what you’ll allow and what you won’t.
When you’re Nebraska Nice but way off track inside.

One friend tells me she’s not sweet, but she’s kind.
Another one says she’s never kept a boundary that felt too tight.
My neighbor told me she’d rather show what she believes than say it.
Someone I met the other day is certain their partner is doing their very best.
This other lady I know isn’t gonna make her sister-in-law prove shit.

What if I mustered the best thought about you that I could?
What if I went a little wild and did it for myself, too?
What if I just assumed the best of us all?
What if I only worked in the wholehearted variety of yes?
What if I allowed my “no” to resound?

What if I took this project on?
Created it from a picture that’s inside my head.
The neighbors couldn’t see it yet,
But I knew that it was gonna work.
I’d get my strong hands and back and arms and legs and YouTube to help.
I’d build a wall,
Not the kind to keep people out
But one to situate myself within.
I’d ground myself in the earth
Right here under the canopy.
Imagine it into existence,
Sketch out my plan on paper
(And even with the garden hose in the dirt).
Decide where to build it up,
And what to shovel out.
I’d dig the stone blocks in, almost a foot beneath the soil,
Build on that foundation,
Just high enough to create a cozy spot.

I’d make a garden out of it
Grow what comes to me–so long as it’s beautiful and free.
I’d dig out roots from my very own soil.
And gratefully receive others from my friends.

I’d water the new plantings every day,
Kill anything that didn’t belong in the sacred space
Then once it’s done, I’d plop myself down in this chair
And look at what I’ve done.
Take a minute with it.
Let it really soak in.

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