Among the features I love about my Van Buren home are the big front porch and the backyard deck and patio.

The backyard allows space for all the play activity that comes with having teenage boys as well as my own need to escape from the busyness of work and life in general. At least that’s how I saw it when I signed on the dotted line to become a homeowner.

Maybe it was the welcoming front porch swing. Maybe it was the inviting bistro table and chairs placed there--more for decoration than for daily use. Or, maybe the hanging baskets of flowers and windchimes. Whatever the reason, the front porch became our favorite spot for family gatherings. It is our family’s go-to place at the end of the day.

Shortly after moving in I was off to Lowe’s for more outdoor chairs. My mom became a frequent porch visitor--along with my daughter and granddaughter. As the boys made new friends, they too became porch people. And always, there’s somebody sitting on the stoop and porch rails.

Our times here are mostly spent in small talk about the happenings of the day. Or the “remember when” stories that erupt in laughter. Then there are the stories that bring quiet reflection. The night sounds become more pronounced during those moments.

Even on the cold nights of winter you’ll find us gathering on the front porch. We bought a firepit to warm those nights. Our neighbors must think us crazy. There’s a big back yard, yet here we are, gathered on the front porch!

Life is good on our front porch. These are the times when I most enjoy being a mom. These are the treasured times. The times when we connect as family. The times when we share what has been, what is and what is hoped for. Perhaps these are the most important times I will give my boys.

Growing up we gathered in the backyard. We lived out on highway 45 going to Hacket. It was before Golden Living and the build up of Fianna Hills. Back then we were enjoying country living. And our backyard was much like my front porch.

Our congregating point was the pool--with patio and decks. My brother and I spent most of our day there with friends, indulging in crazy childish antics. After dinner the pool would still beckon. Not as a swimming hole, but as our family gathering place. “Family” included any friend who hadn’t been swept away by parents.

Cicadae and whippoorwills were the background music. And, just like my front porch, there were the stories of “remember when” mingled with laughter, silence and reflection.

Whether it’s a front porch or backyard, it is important for families to have a gathering place. And it’s important to gather often. Our children need to hear the stories of our youth. They need to hear the stories of their grandparents, and the generations before them. They need an opportunity to recount their own stories. They need an opportunity to dream--and share those dreams. And they need our time and attention.

We as adults need a place to replenish our own spirits. A place that is removed from the wasteland of drama, technology and work. A place that is “far from the madding crowd” (Thomas Hardy). We need an oasis, a place that is fertile with the richness of the past. A place that nurtures the present and encourages the future.

It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to create your own outdoor oasis. It doesn’t matter if it’s the front porch or backyard. It only matters that you create a space that is inviting.

If you don’t already have such a space, take a look around your yard. Build a swing that hangs from a branch of that sturdy oak tree. Add some yard chairs, maybe a small table or two. Stretch a hammock between two trees. Throw in some color with a few potted plants.

Working in the yard is healthy--physically and mentally. It clears the cobwebs of the mind. It helps you create a real relationship with nature. It gets you back to your roots.

Our family finds relaxation in water and fire. The sound of water trickling over rocks is soothing. And, it provides just the right noise frequency that allows mental clarity. Throughout history water has been revered for its ability to not only sustain life, but offer spiritual renewal. The dancing flames of fire mesmerize - taking our thoughts beyond the realm of the moment. Fire and water are common elements that run through ancient religion.

Renewal is important for the human soul. “Far from the maddening crowd” can be as close as your own back (or front) yard. You, as well as your family, deserve a place where you can retreat and recharge. You deserve your own outdoor oasis.

However much time and money you invest, there is one thing for sure. The creation of an inviting gathering place will add value to the home you are creating. And you’ll be all the healthier for the effort.

Get the family together and build a rock waterfall or fire pit. Plan the space together. It will give you a talking point, build camaraderie, and get you out of the doldrums of daily life. Get your hands dirty--play in the dirt. Build a flower bed or put in a garden of herbs.


However much time and money you invest, there is one thing for sure. The creation of an inviting gathering place will add value to the home you are creating. And you’ll be all the healthier for the effort.

By Alex Ashley

Alex Ashley is completing her final semester at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. She graduates in December with a Masters in Education, Workforce Development. She works at Shannon Nelke CPA firm in Ft. Smith. As the mom of 3 she knows a thing or two about juggling work, family and time for herself.

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