Monthly Archives: December 2013

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As a little girl I insisted winter was my favorite season. I think that’s largely because I have a tendency towards contrariness; every other child was chirruping “summer!” But also: I loved fireplaces and flannel-laden beds and afternoon reading on a snow day. I loved the sight of dramatic black branches of trees against the winter sky and how cold air on my face made me feel alive.

I suspect responsibility eroded my love for winter’s pristine flakes and early nights. Trudging out in a snowstorm to defrost the rabbits’ water bottle. Scraping ice off the car window. Leaving for, and coming home, from school or work in the dark. Then there was Georgia and Texas, where winters are an afterthought. I more or less forgot the season existed.

In Dayton, winter is not an afterthought. We’ve had below-twenty days and iced cars. We also had our first snow day. Godiva was amazed by the new world before her:

And after she’d become acquainted with the fresh world and our walk was done, Kyle and I debated our next move. A whole day to renovate! How unexpected!

Instead? We slipped down the sidewalk to the local coffee shop, snow dusting our hair, and ordered two sloshing mugs of hot chocolate. We cooked and we read and we played with the dog. I’ll admit it: I fell in love with winter again.

I know I’ll be yearning for the sun come February and that winter can be a real pain. But if you’ve ever watched children or pets enjoy a snowy day, you know winter isn’t the problem. We are. We don’t like nature telling us what to do. Everything about winter–the long nights, the weather–tells us to cozy up at home, rest a little more, and move a bit slower. Winter, I think, has a grandmother’s soul. Instead we slap snowtires on cars and throw salt on the roads.

This winter I am doing my best to lean into it. Catching extra sleep in a nest of blankets. Spending more time in the homes of family and friends. Making vats of filling soups. Relaxing a little more. And that’s why this post is about how we spent a day doing absolutely nothing on our house and how wonderful it was.

Happy holidays. And happy winter, too.


I am obsessed with ZPD. Zone of Proximal Development, for those less-obsessed (basically, normal). The ZPD is that sweet spot in learning, located between “too easy” and “save me,” where a student will succeed with some help.

We talk about it a fair amount in elementary school education, mostly in terms of reading. Students who don’t read their “just right” books typically fail to progress or give up in frustration.  I would say the same is true for exercise habits and studying and all sorts of things. It’s a fine balance, the ZPD: stretching ourselves enough to grow without breaking our elasticity.

Now for an example of not finding the ZPD. Imagine that a couple with virtually no renovating experience buys a 160 year-old house that is falling in on itself. Imagine that the back of the house looks like this:


This isn’t happy grow-yourself-land. This is “the only way out is through” territory, grit your teeth and get there.

We are not done with the project yet. Months lie ahead. But with the onset of winter and the absence of a heating mechanism in the Old Girl, we’ve decided to get started on our new home.  After Thanksgiving Kyle and I wandered into the downstairs unit and took a survey:

Bathroom hallway view kitchen

Time to take up carpet. So this:

carpet on the way out

Was soon this:


And the bathroom came down to the studs easy (wimpy drywall! Milt Finch and I are feeling especially vindicated about plaster):

down to the studs

And we even found some brick hiding behind there, which we are hoping to leave exposed:


Turns out that what is now the bathroom once had a chimney in it. The Secret Lives of Old Houses.

Seven months ago we considered a week spent laying engineered hardwood flooring our most miserable and challenging household endeavor. Our current venture? Not even breaking a sweat.

Vygotsky, the ZPD guru, isn’t a fool. Overshooting your limits is overwhelming. But it isn’t necessarily terrible. Or, at least, it’s only sometimes terrible. If you survive it, simple luck or sheer tenacity, your limits are forever changed.

New Home!

For the sake of Kyle and our agent, I pretended to talk reason. Made calculations, considered worst-case scenarios. But the truth came out anyway: “I just want her because she’s pretty,” I said.

It’s true. I love the limestone slabs in the walkway, the sprawling tree in the yard, the exposed brick inside. Love the symmetry of this 1880s house.

Our real estate agent, who seems to spend a large portion of time giving wise counsel to the crazy, looked a little disappointed. But then he said, with a sigh: “Well, I guess Kyle might have said the same thing at some point.” Which is sort of sexist, but also sort of sweet.

We went under contract. And we waited. And then we waited some more. But as of the week before Thanksgiving, we have a New Home:

New Home!

“New,” of course, is relative. First of all, even though it’s younger than our other house by at least 30 years, it’s still plenty old. Second of all, we’ve been renting and living in the top unit for several months now (the house, built as a duplex, is now a triplex). And, third, I’ve been obsessed with this house since before we got to Dayton.

It took over a year from first glance to purchase. We gave up on the house for months. By the time of our first visit to Dayton, it was already under contract. Besides, it was a short sale. Our real estate agent, knowing we wanted to move into something immediately, steered us away. (And then we bought our first house, which at almost seven months in is still missing windows. And floors. And part of the wall. Hah.)

It was an unlikely happening that brought us back to the New Home. The sister of one of Kyle’s cadets from Texas State moved into our neighborhood, and in a passing conversation on the street, mentioned she and her husband had abandoned their wait for “this short sale.” Which, it turns out, was this pretty cream-colored house, and which the agent hadn’t even had the chance to list again.

Our agent called up and the house is ours. The random events that brought this to close makes it feel like fate, but I am reminded of the words of one of my brilliant friends: people in love like to confuse coincidence with fate. Regardless, fulfilling a delayed dream is especially gratifying.

And then, you know, a little overwhelming. We are still working on the other house, and while half of the New Home is fairly updated and happily rented, the other two units need a refresh. As my sister said: “I hear it’s always a good idea to fight a battle on two fronts. Or three.”

We’ll be fine, though. One of my favorite psychological studies points out that the happiest couples are those with positive illusions, which makes sense to me. Realism isn’t enough to fuel most of life’s big projects, not marriage or renovating or novel-writing. I look at our houses, chipping paint and aching old wood and (in some cases) missing walls, and all I can see is potential.