Twenty minutes before the alarm went off this morning, I slipped my arm around my husband's middle. Some seconds later, he rearranged himself, and I wondered if my arm was in his way.

Twenty minutes before the alarm went off this morning, I slipped my arm around my husband's middle. Some seconds later, he rearranged himself, and I wondered if my arm was in his way.

"Do you want me to move?" I said.

"No," my husband answered. "I don't think I could handle the house payment all by myself."

Of course, I thought when I had finally composed myself again (my husband's talent for making me laugh can be a mixed blessing) our so-called house payment would have long since been a memory, like leg warmers and pay phones, had we not added on and installed various improvements late in the game, so to speak.

Not that I'm complaining about the improvements. One of them was to double the size of our living room, so that we now have bookcases where we used to park the car.

Since our old living room was just a little larger than a standard shower stall the house's former owners were hard workers who had no time for living - the new living room was hardly gymnasium-sized. Nevertheless, it made a difference. These improvements were begun, oh, years ago now, roughly when our older daughter left for college, which I understand is when many people go in for big-money projects, but my appreciation for this no-longer-as-new-as-all-that living room continues unabated.

Of course, having seen it done once I find myself speculating about more undertakings: doubling the size of the dining room, say, and while we're at it knocking out the west wall of the kitchen and building it up again some eight feet closer to the asparagus patch.

All this is unlikely to happen, however, partly because we have no more daughters about to leave for college and partly because any serious talk of home renovations brings up the harsh facts of that difficult time: having no place to hang out after dinner and before bed, having all the living room furniture piled in the dining room, which not only eliminated any possibility of hanging out in the dining room instead but also made what was now our only path to the stairway almost un-negotiable.

Furthermore, we had dust. Not dust dust, which I began to regard almost fondly, as a person regards mice after tarantulas invade, but spackling dust, the very worst kind. It covered everything: furniture, walls, ceiling, doors, fixtures and anything else we were so careless as to leave out.

Add to these the inevitable delays - days during which our contractor worked other jobs, days spent waiting for an inspector's OK, days during which our carpet was supposed to arrive and didn't - and you may wonder how we survived, why we didn't surrender to degradation and death, like the Donner party.

Even as I write, I can hear my own daughters chiming in. "Yes, Mom, why didn't you?" they're saying. I'm reminded of the first time we showed them our slides - yes, slides, which we keep next to the tintypes - of our house just after we bought it, when it was devoid of paint, plumbing and the kind of electrical wiring that doesn't kill a person.

They'd asked to see the slides, and all was merry and noisy as we set up the equipment. Then the first pictures came up, and they were shocked silent. They were stunned, we saw - stunned that we had purchased this house, whose most recent occupants had been a swirl of feral kittens, a house that looked like one that Scouts selling candy bars would skip, just to be on the safe side.

I don't deny that I was a little rattled myself - the house in the pictures looks so extremely needy - but then I bucked up. It doesn't look all that needy now, after all. We have plumbing and appliances. We have electricity flowing in on wiring manufactured after the Eisenhower administration. We have a garage and new siding and a living room larger than the house's former occupants ever imagined it would be.

Even more important, it's our home. We've raised two daughters in this house, even as the well ran dry - once on Christmas Eve - and snowdrifts closed the driveway and crickets appeared every fall as if invited.

Both daughters chose to be married here, out in the yard where guests gathered under trees since lost to lightning and age. A beloved dog is buried near a patch of wildflowers.

It might have been easier to buy a new house, a house that was less trouble, whose pictures didn't cause the blood to drain from our daughters' faces, I thought. But we couldn't. This was our house.

Then the radio made a clicking sound and the alarm began to blare. It was time to get up.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at