A House Update, Including Lilacs

Lynne Kiesling

I haven’t written much about the house, largely because KP is meant to be primarily a professional outlet, but since it’s been the thing that has consumed most of my emotional energy over the past three months …

It’s coming along. This weekend was the first time that I could actually say that I was enjoying the house. Between the end of July and now it’s been putting shelving in closets, unpacking boxes, sorting through piles of papers, dealing with unanticipated repairs/hardware needs, cleaning up after our wall/wood contractors who did not clean up after themselve (so much so that the stain they used ran down windows and made them look like stained glass), painting the built-in that’s in my attic office, and so on. And the basement, while brighter now with the addition of lighting fixtures, was still filthy and smelly, and sent its smells up to the first floor.

This weekend was a watershed in the enjoyment of the house. I spent Saturday morning organizing and vacuuming the basement. While it still needs a good power washing, it’s an order of magnitude better than it was. And the KP Spouse spent Saturday being the masterful amateur plumber, installing the finicky pedestal sink and the way-cool Toto toilet in our powder room. Until we bought this house I never knew that toilets could be cool …

It also helped that the weather was stunningly beautiful this weekend. Mid-70s, clear skies, no wind. So I spent Sunday outdoors all day on two big projects: removing storm windows, cleaning them and the windows, and replacing them, and digging up day lilies and replacing them with lilac trees.

Until buying this house I never realized how important small details can be, particularly clean windows. We have a window at the base of the stairs, near the front door, and it was so filthy and neglected that both its storm window and its screen had multiple moth carcasses stuck to it and in it. Eeeuw! My attitude about the house in general and being in the kitchen, for example, has totally changed now that the windows sparkle.

The lilacs … I am a half-assed gardener, as my parents can tell you from years of trying to get me to help enthusiastically when I was young. But there are three must-haves that I identified when we decided to get a house with a lawn: basil, tomatoes, and lilacs. The basil and tomatoes went in early, back in early June, and we are enjoying the delights of pesto, caprese, and gazpacho from our own backyard. But I had to think about the lilacs. We finally decided that a row of lilacs along the garage would help to shield the fact that it’s an unattractive structure. That meant pulling up day lilies and decades worth of accretion of neglect in the form of weeds, dog chew toys, pieces of plastic and glass, and rocks. Day lilies, being approximately weeds, are robust and hearty things, so they shoot out satellite plants all the time. Getting their roots, especially the bulb and its close ganglia, is only a start at removing them. I liken it to electrolysis — once through ain’t gonna do it; we’ll probably be pulling them out next summer too, if they make it up through the mulch (and they will).

So yesterday was physical labor day, digging up lilies and planting lilacs. The variety I got, Miss Kim, grows to about 7 feet if you don’t prune it. I like a bushier lilac, so they’ll be pruned to stay a bit shorter. And the fragrance … mmmmm. I hope that planting them in the fall will bring us blooms in the spring, without having to wait another year. And there are six of them, which should generate some seriously good perfume.

So the last of the big jobs in the house for 2004 are now done, and it’s finally beginning to feel like home.