Monthly Archives: January 2014

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The arctic outbreak came and it didn’t take us with it. It came close. Godiva, overwhelmed by the -15 degree weather (-45 with windchill) threw herself down in a snowbank. Not in fun, but in Cold death, take me now! mode.

Kyle and I, on the other hand, attempted stoicism. We walked to dinner, huddling into a warm restaurant for crispy pizza and gingery beer. The walk home was miserable, cold working its way through scarves and gloves, but we made it. So, you know: that’s how it’s done, dog!

And renovating continued. Kyle lifted drywall (with his head), sweated copper pipes, redid electric. Otherwise made the world his. Steadily and patiently working on, he made the bathroom of our downstairs unit look like this:



Meanwhile I painted, teetering on a rickety ladder inherited with Old House. We joke that it is the Balsley Ladder; the brick mansion of John Balsley, inventor of the stepladder and recipient of the first patent for the safety ladder, is just down the street. Balsley’s biggest contribution to safety was turning ladder steps into actual steps, rather than round rungs. A ladder you can move, steps you can stand on: we are lucky to live in our easy world.

Ballsley Ladder









In actuality the ladder is probably only a few decades old, but it’s decrepit enough that a splinter shoved its way into my finger as I moved it. I  kept painting anyway. I am tough. I am strong. The house began to go greige:

painted kitchen

And then later my finger began throbbing, and I started to consider all the ways I might die. Toxic shock syndrome. Tetanus. Diptheria, whooping cough, polio: whatever disease was making the rounds when that ladder was shoved into the Old House basement years ago. I  may/may not have found myself lying on the floor, woozy, in Splinter death, take me now! mode.

No one seemed impressed by the gravity of my condition. Mango, unperturbed, stayed tucked into a cozy little knot at the end of the bed.

mango unimpressed

What an unperturbed (and extremely handsome) cat looks like.

When I showed the splinter to Kyle, he squinted at my finger. “Oh, that’ll come out,” he said. Then his voice tilted, sounded genuinely disturbed: “Wait, is that the only splinter you’ve gotten so far?”

Godiva, at least, had the decency to sniff me and cozy her head on my shoulder. That animal and I, we understand each other. It’s easy to find comfort in similar creatures.

But while I spend the next three days in bed (swine flu, it turns out, not a deadly splinter) I have plenty of time to think about how good the different is. My fever hums on and I daydream. I can hear Kyle working in the apartment below; persistently, methodically, reshaping what he sees.


While I’ve persevered in my fight to save plaster, I’ll also admit I get a thrill from demolition. More specifically, taking things down to the studs. More specifically, saying (with authority), “Yeah, we pretty much took it down to the studs.”

I’ve been thinking about why, of all construction terms, this has become my favorite. And I think it’s because it implies the possibility of truly starting again. My first, last, and only new beginning came 31 years ago; it’s no wonder I’m entranced by the  notion.

Sometimes we say people have gotten a “fresh start,” but we can’t, not really. We aren’t houses; we have memories, habits. We are always stuck building on the human we were just a moment ago.

That’s why I still have some sympathy for our former handyman, even after he took our truck and pawned some of our tools (I still have anger, too). When he returned from his journey he shook while he worked on our house, the addiction back in full swing. Change is hard. He tried. He failed. We all do, often enough.

Still, while “to the studs” implies the possibility of a Phoenix-like transformation, I don’t want to glorify it too much. Remember how we took the bathroom in our rental down to the studs?


Still down to the studs. Plus a new fan. Rebuilding is the hardest work of all.

Meanwhile, our easy fixes fly along. For example, our kitchen cabinets are happy in their new coat of white (we also pulled up carpet, took down cabinets on the one wall to replace with shelving/seating, and sold off the old appliances):







So I’ve been thinking about this whole “to the studs” thing, and maybe it’s not that amazing. Or, maybe it is amazing. But maybe the most important thing is any change, no matter how small, that takes us in the right direction.