Sometimes life doesn't turn out exactly as you plan it. Reverses and set backs in the economy or in your personal life has you so busy making ends meet that you have no time or money left to indulge yourself.
You certainly don't have the funds to invest in your backyard which is usually safely hidden from public view. It just languishes from year to year as you do your best to ignore the ugly old bushes, rusting furniture and less than inviting overall atmosphere.
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We heard lots of those stories in the entries submitted for the recent "Get Your Summer On" outdoor makeover contest.
Jennifer Ness of Lake Zurich
Our grand prize winner, Jennifer Ness of Lake Zurich, said it best.
"We have been in our house for nine years. Each year, we set aside an outdoor entertaining jar to save money for a new patio set and fire pit ... Unfortunately, that money always goes to another more important need. For example, having to purchase a new hot water heater, fixing one of the cars or cleaning up from water in the basement," she wrote.
"We purchased our current table and chairs on clearance from Dominick's almost six years ago. With the Chicago winters, it has seen better days. We love to entertain and have friends over throughout the summer, but with the state of our backyard, we do it less and less," Ness admitted.
Ness and her husband, Jason, have three young children who are at the prime ages to enjoy a nice yard so they were thrilled when they heard the news that they had won.
"My husband had no idea that I had entered. I was hoping to surprise him for Father's Day. He works so hard in order for me to stay home with our three young children. His hours are long and he never complains," she said.
She and the children were shopping at Costco when she got the email that she had won.
"I just started screaming and showed the email to my 10-year-old daughter and she started screaming, too," Ness recalled, laughing. "We scared the three-year-old who started crying. People were really looking at us."
Ness had the children tell their father, a local high school principal, that they had won a $3,000 gift card from Viking Patio in Barrington, a $2,000 lighting package from NorthWest Lighting and Accents in Mount Prospect, $500 gift cards from Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights, Hearth and Home in Mount Prospect and Lurvey's Garden Center in Des Plaines and a $100 gift card to Binny's Beverage Depot, for a grand total of $6,600 in prizes.
"He was flabbergasted. It was so nice. Now we can't wait to go shopping at those stores," she said.
"During the contest, the experts from Viking Patio said that our jelly-bean-shaped patio will give us room for a large dining table with chairs, as well as some nice furniture to lounge on with an umbrella for shade. We also hope to get a new grill because we love to cook outside and we have always wanted a fire pit," Ness said.
They will also be able to spruce up their plantings and then light up the entirely new look for fabulous evening entertaining.
Susan Sampson of Itasca
Looking for help in making her deck more inviting, Susan Sampson of Itasca entered the contest and ended up taking home $3,600 in prizes including a $2,000 lighting package from Northwest Lighting and Accents of Mount Prospect, a $1,000 package for a Kamado Joe smoker and accessories from Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights, a $500 gift card from Lurvey's Garden Center in Des Plaines and a $100 gift card from Binny's Beverage Depot.
"When we moved into our house 15 years ago, we were excited about our large deck and backyard and looked forward to spending our summers entertaining. This was especially true as we met all our neighbors and settled into the community," Sampson wrote.
"However, we quickly found that there was nothing welcoming about the deck or the yard. While large, the deck is not cozy. Instead of being a space to be with family and friends, it remains a place where no one wants to be. We would love to be able to bring some character to our outdoor space and make it a destination for our kids, friends and neighbors," she continued.
"We were very excited to win and are looking forward to hearing suggestions about enhancing the space with lighting, something we haven't given a lot of thought to. Right now all we have out there are white holiday lights that we string along the railing during the summer to give us light," Sampson admitted.
They are also looking forward to using the garden center gift card to add some plant material to enhance the yard and are hoping that everyone will enjoy the meals they plan to cook on their new Kamado Joe.
"We can't wait to get started," she said.
Kate Anderson of Hanover Park
"Twenty-four years ago I moved in as part of a happy family with husband and kids, with dreams of building a deck, doing some nice landscaping and being able to have family and friends over and entertain out back during the warm months," Kate Anderson of Hanover Park wrote in her "Get Your Summer On" entry.
"Well, things did not go as planned. I ended up raising the kids on my own. We were able to stay in the house, but never got to fulfill the dream of the deck, landscaping, flowers, plants, nice patio furniture, etc. due to lack of money," she explained.
"The deck timbers are now 24 years old, the patio set is a hand-me-down from my parents, as are the plants. And you can see that the yard is bumpy and has brown spots," Anderson added.
The $2,800 package she won will give her a nice start toward improving that backyard environment. Anderson has won a $1,200 Toro lawn mower to replace the ailing, hand-me-down push mower that she and her sons have been using to keep the lawn trimmed.
She has also won $500 in gift cards from Lurvey's Garden Center in Des Plaines, Hearth and Home in Mount Prospect and Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights, as well as a $100 gift card from Binny's Beverage Depot so that they can celebrate when they have everything in place.
During the contest, experts from RYCO Landscaping and RYCO Design Group suggested that she plant some larger trees surrounding her seating area so that she doesn't have to wait for spindly twigs to grow into shade-giving canopies. The Lurvey's gift card should be able to help her achieve this.
In addition, the prizes from Hearth and Home and Northwest Metalcraft will allow her to purchase some much-needed leisure furniture.
"I am going to be looking for recommendations from the experts at these stores," Anderson said. "I am totally excited. God heard my prayers. I have never won anything before."
She admitted that she immediately called her father who has been helping her as she has raised her two boys alone. He was just as thrilled as she was, Anderson said.
"Everything I own came from a garage sale or a thrift store and I have a weird-shaped house and a small patio. In addition, I don't really have a green thumb. I was excited when I just filled in some of the holes in my yard with grass seed and dirt," she admitted.
Nancy McCorvie of Hoffman Estates
Nancy McCorvie has been waiting 25 years for a deck.
"When we bought this home, my husband promised me a new deck if I settled for a house that was in less-than-mint condition. Although many improvements have been made to our home through the years, the patio and landscaping always seems to be neglected," she explained in her entry.
After 25 years, they still don't have a deck. "Not even an improved patio. Same cracks, same wooden flower beds, same area under the eaves where nothing seems to grow."
"Our son, an airman in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Alaska, is coming home this summer with his new bride. I would love to be able to welcome our new daughter-in-law to our home and introduce her to his friends and neighbors and entertain them in a style and setting much more fetching than this," the new mother-in-law pleaded.
"My spouse is great with the lawn and trees (he is a forester, after all!), but not so good with the landscaping. According to the original residents of the neighborhood, our home was once beautifully and professionally landscaped. It would be wonderful to see our yard restored to that original beauty," McCorvie wrote.
You won't see much of that aging patio once the McCorvies pick out the $1,500 worth of new furniture that they have won from Viking Patio in Barrington. They will also be able to enhance their yard with a new grill and maybe even a fire pit using $500 gift cards from Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights and from Hearth and Home in Mount Prospect.
The $500 gift card from Lurvey's Garden Center in Des Plaines should help them to replace that outdated landscaping.
Finally, they have received a $100 gift card from Binny's Beverage Depot so that they can toast their son's new bride when he brings her home from Alaska.
"I love that I won. I have no clue yet what I am going to do with everything, though. I will have to go shopping soon." McCorvie stated.