7 min read


Literal and metaphorical.
Tom Morgan (of Bud, Branch & Blossom Landscaping) and the new trellis.

Tuesday night, that tremendous storm front blew through, spawning one tornado north of us and one south. I woke up to the sound of hail and thunder wondering if both 615 and my own house might end up damaged. I was trying to decide whether I had been a fool to purchase the house next door, a whole 'nother structure to worry about when storms come.

But then I remembered why I did it: the opportunity to have great neighbors who, like me, will worry not just about the roof but about the people, the birds, and the trees.

The photo I'm leading with today captures what a gift this project has been. Where that new trellis stands, there used to be an older one that was quite literally falling down when we bought the house. It marked the path through which our dear neighbors and we would travel to see each other, to borrow tools from each other, to meet for afternoon drinks, to take each other's garbage cans out when someone was away.

Working on 615, I am feeling the grief of losing Val and Ken to California. But at the same time, as my friend Stu reminded me yesterday (as he kept me company while we filled a second dumpster), grief is a gift, because it reminds you of just how full your life once was of someone wonderful.

The old trellis – where the new one now stands – didn't have to be replaced. It could have just been tossed. It was an unnecessary expense on this job. But I asked Tom Morgan, our landscaper, to replace it because I have this great hope that the path is going to become a two-way route of friendship again.

The other key component of the photo I want to point out is Tom himself. I think we met Tom (Tommy, then) when he was five years old. He and my son were good friends and Tom was already into landscaping! He had such a love for it, I remember my spouse saying to me that he wished our son had a passion so great. I laughed and told him, "Wait."

As it turns out, our son Kepler did have a passion just as great – for engineering. And it showed even then. When the pair of five-year-olds asked me what they could work on, Aron suggested that they dig a French drain on the north side of our house to try to stop the water from seeping into the basement over there. He explained the principle.

I'll be darned if those two kids didn't do it – they built a functional French drain, with notable improvement in the basement! I still refer to it as "Tom's first job," although as I recall he was paid in ice cream.

I was reminded of that project when, this week, Tom rebuilt the collapsing retaining wall along our own driveway and put in a proper drainage system for it, so that hopefully it will not collapse again for a long time. I figured now's the perfect time to get that fixed since we own both properties and so we don't have to negotiate with neighbors about digging into their side yard.

This photo shows the retaining wall drainage system being built along our driveway. (You can see a bit of Bob the Oak in the upper right.) The rocks create a channel for the water to drain down the hills rather than pushing on the wall.
The completed retaining wall now has an honest to goodness drainage system.

Tom now owns a very successful landscaping business and, as I mentioned in a previous newsletter post, he was the only one willing to take on 615 for me. I sometimes wonder if he did it as a family favor, although we did pay him appropriately for it.

The ability to use this job to channel future income on the house to great contractors like Tom is a key part of why I decided to take this on. The people who are our landscapers, electricians, plumbers, garage door replacement specialists, and on and on – these are people who are doing honest work that brings them joy and satisfaction and will bring a future owner comfort and safety. How lucky I feel to be able to do this.

When it's a sunnier day and things start to green up, I'll post more photos of what Tom's done with the house, but here are two quick befores and afters on the front yard:

January 2024
March 2, 2024. The new plantings include oak leaf hydrangea (near the sunroom front), boxwood, rhododendrons, and Lenten rose. Also transplanted from our yard: hostas and ferns. Preserved from before: a dramatic burning bush, an azalea, spirea, and, of course, Bob the Oak.
January 2024
Tom planted a new Japanese maple just to the south (side) of the sunroom. The houses to either side (including ours) have Japanese maples in the front yards, and this will make a lovely flow of reds all down the street, when they are all leafed out.

I forgot in January to take photos of the backyard, which had become extremely wild from neglect over the last few years. I asked Tom if he had a shot and here is the one he found:

The backyard at 615 before we bought the house.

You can just see to the right a little bit of the shed. The photo gives you a sense of what was there, including a bad tangle of invasive vines and a buckthorn tree – thorny, nasty, and invasive. Underneath the tangle was a collapsed raised bed.

The after is more like a slate waiting for the new owners. Of course we are hoping to attract someone who will put in a vegetable garden like the one that used to live here.

Tom removed the large (invasive) buckthorn and the invasive vines and cleaned it all up to make it manageable for the new owners.
We left the mature bushes along the fence but had Tom put in a clean border between those and the rest of the yard. He mulched along the bushes to give it a really nice cleaned-up look.

So, we're staying on track with the "keys" to this project – the trees, the people.

This week, though, I did struggle with literal keys....

The first money I spent on 615 besides on the house purchase was to have all the locks changed. I had Secure Locksmith change all the external locks so they would all match. I made four keys. One went to the neighbor on the other side of the driveway, one went to a contractor expected to be inside soon, one went to the person the former owners had hired to clean out the last of their stuff, and the last one went to me.

The new key cylinder was inserted into the old hardware. How's about that doorknob patina?

On Tuesday afternoon, in advance of that crazy storm, it was 73 degrees and I was opening windows in the house to warm it up on the cheap. By Wednesday morning, it was around 28 degrees with a fierce wind. I put on my winter coat to walk downtown to get some groceries, and I put my key to 615 in my left pocket, thinking to myself, "I should put the key in my jeans, because the pockets in this coat go sidewalks, not down, and things fall out."

But I was too cold to undo my coat and put the key in my jeans.

Yep. By the time I got home, the key was gone. I tried retracing my steps to no avail. So, I temporarily took back the neighbor's copy of the key, went to Ace at Frandor (a mile away), and had four more copies made. I gave the neighbor back her copy and put one of the new ones on a twisty-tie.

The next day, I cleaned up more demo debris in the house, came home, threw my jeans in the wash, and...opened the washing machine to discover the key on the twisty tie lodged in the front gasket. Just as I tried to retrieve it, the key dropped down into the innards of the washing machine. Two keys gone in two days!

Whether I've managed to break the washing machine by dropping a key into it remains to be seen. If it did break, well, it's just a thing, and things like washing machines can be fixed or replaced if you're as fortunate as we are. They're not the key.

But I'm going to put the next key on a real keychain too big to fall into slots.