yippee. this time it worked!
no idea why it didn't last time. thanks to everybody who offered help -- i learned a lot.
now i need to find something like adept (it says there's no adept-trinity, so i guess it's beendeprecated, and synaptic won't run via sudo, even with xhost + localhost) so i can go through and install the applications i want on the machine. and to dig up a working e1000 driver for the wifi.
but i have tde running, and my desktop configuration survived, even the xplanet-with-moon-map desktop.
thanks again, everybody.