You painted what? You're darn right I did!

Few things are bound to get certain types of people (and by that I mean men, but I don't want to be totally stereotypical about it) as wound up as messing with their electronics. And few things are bound to get certain other types of people (and by that I mean women) more irritated than messing up their new room with ugly electronics.

So what's a girl to do? Well, I'll tell you, but let me back up first.

For whatever reason, we decided that the middle of a massive renovation was a really good time to get a new television. It's not like we didn't need one (we were still firmly rooted in the massively-heavy-very-much-not-at-all-flat-screen era), but you would think we'd be thinking of other things. I left the television and sound system picking out to Mr. Much More Patient but accompanied him to the electronics store on an early mission to scope out the options. And here's out that went:

Mr. Much More Patient and sales guy: Blah, blah, blah, blah, LCD, blah, blah, blah 1080p, blah, blah, blah, remote, blah, blah, blah surround sound.
Sales guy: How does this sound system sound to you, Erin?
Me: Do the speakers come in white?
Sales guy: (Jaw drop)

Yeah, I wanted white speakers. I'm sorry but we just paid a lot of money to have our newly smoothed walls in the living room painted and you want me to stick a pair of black boxes on them? I don't think so.

So here's the deal we made: Mr. Much More Patient got to pick out a television (of a size I did not agree with) and all the necessary accoutrements with no input from me as long as he understood that I got to paint the speakers.

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New speakers ... straight out of the box!


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They stick out like a sore thumb!


Yep, paint them.

I'll be honest, I chickened out for awhile. It's one thing to take something old and give it new life with paint, but it's entirely different to take something brand new and do something to it that might make it great or might ruin it.

But it's been bugging me and I wanted to cross a lot of the little projects off my list this weekend. Well, that and Mr. Much More Patient is coming home soon and I'll never be able to do this if he's home.

So I did it. And here's how you can do it too.

First of all, I should mention that these were hardly top-of-the-line speakers. They were part of the "package" deal with the TV so they are probably not the best things in the world. Had they been something special I probably wouldn't have had the guts to do this. Also, they had a metal mesh on the front instead of fabric. I think I read that the speaker fabric comes in multiple colors so I would have explored that if it had been, but I lucked out by having a paintable surface. Also, it should be noted that I'm pretty sure painting your speakers voids the warranty, so keep that in mind before you break out the Krylon.

1. Figure out how to open up your speakers. This was by far the hardest part. I tried in vain to pry off the mesh cover for almost an hour before I got smart enough to start looking for screws. In my case, I had to take out two screws in the back and then another four on the inside to free the mesh screen from the working bits of the speaker.

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I cut two pieces of paper to length then put them in the hole to protect the working bits from the paint coming through the mesh.


2. Then I cut two pieces of paper to size and slid them in to prevent paint from transferring through the screen. I'm sure all speakers will vary in this, but the important part here is to cover anything that looks like it's important to the operation of the speaker.

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If it looks important, put tape over it. I taped the label on the back of the speaker with the serial number, etc., on it. I also taped the area where the speaker wires go in on the bottom.


3. Next, tape off anything that looks remotely important. Anywhere a wire goes in or gets connected to something needs to be masked off. Use the good tape and use lots of it, because if you screw up this step you'll be buying new speakers.

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The Krylon Fusion for plastic worked great: no priming, sanding or scuffing needed.


4. Then just give it all a good spray paint. I used Krylon Fusion for plastic which requires no sanding or priming. Just make sure the surface is clean first, so if your speakers have been collecting dust for awhile it would probably be a good idea to clean them well first. The important thing is to not try to lay too much paint on at once. You want thin coatings vs. one thick one that is going to get runs and probably gum up something important.

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Do several light coats of paint vs. one or two thick ones.


5. I let it dry overnight for the first one and all day for the second (I did one first to make sure it would work before I ruined two speakers). Put it all back together and you're good to go!

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And here's the after. You can still notice them but not nearly as much as when they were black.

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A close-up of the speaker. I should have painted the speaker wires while I was at it.

And that's it! I think it's far less distracting than the black. I realize this is small potatoes compared to some of the projects that people take on, but it was a big move for me to grab something that was perfectly fine and attempt to make it, well, finer.

What do you think? Ready to start spray painting random electronic equipment?

If you follow the blog on Facebook you could have been teased on this project for months. Don't you want to be teased and see my random ramblings? Of course you do! So check out the Facebook page and tell your friends.

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Gallery wall love

Gallery walls are all over the place these days, and I'll admit that I've succumbed to the gallery wall hype. I'm actually working on a mini gallery wall in the upstairs hallway. I'm going to attempt to use both color and black and white photos and possibly multiple color frames. I hope I'll be able to pull it off.

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Source: Elle Decor

While scouring the Internet for inspiration, though, I came across this photo and I have to say, I'm absolutely mad for this hallway. It would never work in my house because I just don't have a hallway like this, but I just love everything about this. By using the same frame and limiting the photos to black and white photography they are all cohesive, even though they are all different sizes and they aren't even lined up on the wall. See how the doors are painted black? Isn't that just the perfect finishing touch?

I love how the photos go all the way to the floor. I think this would be absolutely perfect in a family cottage, where memories are preserved for generations. Imagine how utterly boring this hallway would be if it weren't for this wonderful display of photos.

What do you think?

The house where Christmas went to die

So let's be clear on my position on Christmas decorations: There is a time for them. And when that time is over, they need to be gone. Personally, I like to see them gone on about January 1, but I understand that a lot of people follow the 12 days of Christmas thing, so decorations stay up until January 6. I'm OK with that too.

What I'm not OK with is Christmas trees up in March. Or really, in mid-January.

So imagine my surprise when I was walking through my living room last night and realized that this is what my fireplace looks like.

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 I'm ashamed.

In my defense, Christmas was sort of a non-event for us this year. With Mr. Much More Patient flying in just for the holidays before jetting off for work again, all of the people coming in and out of the house all day and us just suffering from renovation fatigue. We didn't put up a tree. (That was a first for us. Even the year we flew home from the Caribbean on Christmas Eve, we put up a Charlie Brown tree.) In fact, the only decorations I put up were finished on about December 23.

And of course, there was another murder in our house. I guess it has become a tradition: Some people make ornaments every year, others pose for a holiday card. I kill poinsettias. You might remember last year's victim. This year's was so pathetic that it shed every petal/leaf when I picked it up to bury the body.

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Now, if I were an overachiever like the kids over at Young House Love  (seriously, they are awesome, but they put the rest of the world to shame when it comes to almost anything related to house sprucing up, organization and especially list-making), I would have taken the sad Christmas leftovers down and promptly whipped up a beautiful mantlescape worthy of a magazine. But I'm not, so instead I laid down on the couch, cowering under the blanket while I waited for the thermostat that I had just cranked up to heat the place to something beyond frozen tundra. Eh, I'll get to it soon. Honest.

They do exist, they really do!

Companies who pride themselves on customer service that is.

Let me just fill you in on a little bit of the background that I, um, glossed over in yesterday's post. I mentioned that the first countertop company I talked to sort of left me hanging when they told me my project was too small for them. What I didn't mention was that I whined about made a comment on the Caesarstone Facebook page about this and immediately got a response from them. The main contact person was on vacation but a couple other people in the company tried to help me, including giving me the suppliers in my area for me to contact. I did contact almost everyone on the list, which ultimately led me to the place that I'm getting the counter from.

Fast forward to this morning. Olivia from Caesarstone not only commented on the blog, but also attempted to reach me through Facebook and at work. Keep in mind, this is all for an eight-square-foot countertop, which is a big deal to me because it happens to be in the closest thing I'll ever get to my dream bathroom, but it's hardly a big deal for a company that routinely outfits high-end custom kitchens that are probably the size of my entire house. Olivia told me she wanted to do whatever she can to get me the countertop I really wanted.

What followed over the course of the next couple hours is actually pretty amazing. Ultimately I got a call from Chuck, my go-to guy for the countertop, who told me that Caesarstone, the supplier (the name of which I completely forgot right now, unfortunately), Midwest Tops (the wholesaler that I'm going through) and even Chuck himself, were all doing whatever they could for me to get the countertop I really wanted. And then they offered me a price on it that was about 50% higher than the remnant piece I had ordered, but it wasn't for a remnant. In other words, a lot of people were bending over backwards so that some whiny Midwesterner could have what she really wanted.

The really happy ending to the story would be that I said yes and took the Caesarstone at a higher price. And had this all happened a month ago or so, I probably would have done it, but I simply can't justify an additional 50% for the countertop, even though I know it was probably a good deal and I know a lot of people went out of their way to make it happen. I actually felt like a bit of a schmuck turning down such a nice offer, but honestly, the whole experience has restored my faith in businesses.

And that makes me:
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And here's the thing: We're going to be getting new kitchen countertops within the next year or two (don't mention that to Mr. Much More Patient though; it'll be our little secret, OK?). Who do you think I'm going to go to for that? I'm happy to pay a little more for great service and with what happened today, I know exactly where to go to find it.

The dirty little secret about countertops

It's probably a sign of the times that I've been flummoxed by a countertop for the bathroom vanity.

We live in a time when you can get almost anything you want, and usually pretty quickly. So perhaps I was being presumptuous when I assumed that the way one went about getting a counter for a vanity (I assumed since I've never purchased a counter for anything before) was to pick out what you like, have them come measure, pay them and ooh and ahh over your new counter.


Craftsman Green Renovation contemporary bathroom
I just wanted a bathroom that felt like this one from Houzz.com.


Apparently this is not how it works.

Before I get into it all, let me tell you how my mom designed one of the bathrooms in their house when they built it in the 1960s. The tile guy came one day and said "Do you want yellow tile or blue tile?" She said yellow and has been designing around 4-inch yellow tile ever since.

I guess I thought those days were over, but maybe not so much. Here's how the countertop issue has played out:

When I was in the throes of making decisions for this renovation, I started planning the bathroom with a sink. And then I worked on the counter, and believe it or not, the rest came from there.

I went to a local stone countertop place, looked at samples, and got a quote on Caesarstone quartz for our smallish vanity (I need about eight square feet of countertop). I specifically asked if the size of the vanity was a problem and was told, "Nope, you just pick what you like and you pay for what you use. If we have a remnant we'll use that, but if not we'll order what we need." Any maybe answers like that are why that salesperson was no longer there when I went back two months later to refine my decision.

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Caesarstone Organic White: I love the "blobs" in this quartz. I've been told they are "particulates" but I prefer blobs. This is what I fell in love with and it's still my favorite, I think (the darker part of the blobs matches the wall tile almost perfectly), but alas, it was not to be.


Since I had picked out a different color of Caesarstone and since it had been two months, I needed a new quote. Since the vanity was already installed I also needed them to come measure, the sooner the better. I never did get the quote. In fact I was expecting them to come measure that day when I got a voice mail at work informing me they wouldn't be coming to measure because my job was "too small for them." I was welcome to come choose from their remnant pieces but they would not bring anything into stock for me.

I figured this place must be off their rocker so started calling other stone places and got similar answers. Some would sell to me, but because they didn't have a smaller piece of the color I wanted ("Organic White") I'd have to buy a half slab for $1,600 or so. Before fabrication. At some point we'd like to replace the kitchen counters so maybe I could just use the rest of the half-slab for that. "Oh no. You pay for the slab but you only get what you use."

Say what? So I pay for a huge chunk of quartz and you get to keep what I pay for, meanwhile I'm paying more than $200 a square foot for my vanity counter? Oh sure. Makes perfect sense.

Obviously, that's not going to do. Even if we weren't already horribly over budget (which we are) on this project, there's no way I could justify that kind of money for any countertop, no matter how badly I wanted it. I finally called an area stone yard to inquire about remnants. They, in turn, told me they are a wholesaler, but hooked me up with a very nice guy who they work with (as far as I can tell, he's nothing but a middle man. I've talked to him on the phone, send him the money, but the wholesale fabricator does everything else from the measuring to the counter, to cutting it, to installing it). After that I went out to the stone yard to look at remnants. Unfortunately they didn't have what I really had my heart set on, but I found several other options. In the end I narrowed it down to two colors of quartz that I never would have considered otherwise.

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Option 1 of the remnants (Hanstone Biano Canvas). It's amazing to me that even though Quartz is manmade (well it's mushed up bits of quartz mixed by a human with resin so sort of half manmade, half Mother Nature made), that slabs can vary so much. The actual slab we looked it was exactly the color of the wall tile, but far smoother in texture than this photo shoes.

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Remnant option 2 (Hanstone Ruscello Aspen). The texture is about right on this one, but the remnant we looked at had very little or none of the brownish color that is coming through. It was sort of a warm gray, that just happens to be the color of our floor tile. 
In the end, I decided that I needed some texture as almost everything else in the bathroom is very smooth and solid. So I'm going in a direction that I never expected to: quartz that (sort of) looks like marble, but I never realized it looked like marble until someone mentioned it looked like marble.

Whatever. They are coming to measure on Monday. It's time to get this show on the road.

Still, I'm starting to think that maybe "yellow tile or blue tile" wasn't such a bad way to design a bathroom after all.

Houston, we have a problem

I don't think I've mentioned all the issues with the vanity, mostly because they are one of the more unsavory parts of this renovation. But it's a good dose of reality for anyone considering a renovation or building and certainly bumps in the road are part of the process. It's disheartening, however, when the finish line seems so close. When we started planning for this renovation, well over a year ago, one of the instructions we gave the designer was to use standard sizes whenever possible. We knew that custom anything equals big bucks. Unfortunately, we just couldn't get the bathroom design to work in a way we were happy with by using standard sizes. And that's how we ended up with a custom shower and a custom vanity.

The benefit of the custom vanity was that we could design whatever our hearts desired and not be constrained by having to find something pre-made. So Mr. Much More Patient and I spent a lot of time designing a vanity and linen unit (I call it a unit because it's more like a bookcase) that would give us the style we wanted and lots of storage (in a small house you have to take every opportunity to find storage where you can).

Our general contractor suggested a woodworker who he frequently uses and I gave him our Google SketchUp drawings and told him to tell me the things that wouldn't work or could be done better (I'm not a furniture designer). The cabinetmaker had recently experienced a horrible family tragedy so I wasn't surprised or upset when it took a few weeks for him to get back to me. Unfortunately, when he did, he had essentially redesigned our design. What followed was a sort of bizarre exchange about why did he change it and the price, etc. He clearly hated the design. He said from the get-go that it wasn't his style and used the phrases "Euro-trash" and "ugly" more than once. It's not worth getting into, but in the end I said, just please make what we designed, and if you don't want to or can't, just let me know and I'll have it made elsewhere.

The side note to this is that the cabinetmaker who made our kitchen banquette (a different guy) is a great person to work with, fairly priced, talented and NICE. The only reasons we didn't go with him were because he has a full-time job as a cabinetmaker so projects like this are side jobs for him and therefore it can take a little longer and at that point we thought the bathroom would come together much more quickly than it did and because any time we don't go with our contractor's chosen subcontractor, we end up managing that aspect of the job, and I just couldn't take on managing one more thing.

So we stuck with the original, if unhappy, cabinetmaker. After all, our contractor, who we trusted, told me over and over again that he trusted this man and knew he would do a good job. And in the end, that's what matters, right?

Fast forward a few several weeks to install day for the vanity and linen cabinet. I took a quick peek at the vanity and was very happy with what I saw. It looked beautiful. Then I went to work, leaving Mr. Much More Patient to stay at home in case there were any issues. I got the impression by this point that the cabinetmaker really didn't like me much and I was afraid that me being around would stress him (and me) out.

Two hours after I left the house I got a call from Mr. Much More Patient.

Him: "There's a little problem."
Me: "Oh no, what? And how little?"
Him: "Three-sixteenths of an inch little."
Me: "OK, well that's not much."
Him: "It is when it's a leg. And it's too short."

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It's not much, but the leg closest to the camera is shorter than the rest. You can also see how the one drawer can't go in because the plumbing is in the way. On the far right side of the photo you can see where the heating vent comes out of the bottom of the linen cabinet where there was supposed to be a toe kick. Looking at this photo I see another little thing that bothers me. The outlet and light switch on the wall was supposed to be tucked up right next to the linen cabinet but since the vanity got longer, it's not. Minor, but still irritating.


OK, so I'm no woodworker, but can anyone tell me how one leg ends up 3/16ths of an inch shorter than the other four? Because that sort of seems like woodworking 101. The easy solution, of course, would be to cut 3/16th of an inch off the other three legs. Unfortunately we had planned the entire bathroom based on a certain height. And that height determined where the stripe of accent tile was in the entire room. The entire, already tiled room. We think we can solve the problem by raising up the top a little and putting the counter on there, but we're not positive.

Unfortunately I would find out later that that wasn't the only problem.

Here's a quick summation of the other "minor" issues:
1. The vanity will end up cutting into the window trim because it is apparently too big. The countertop will cut even further into the window trim. This is ironic since we actually moved the bathroom window to avoid something like this.

3. The shelf on the right side of the unit goes directly into a light switch. How this happened I have no idea since I actually spoke with the cabinetmaker about this and he even told me we had to change the height of the linen unit to accommodate the light switches and have all the shelves be equal in height.
4. There appears to be no plan for how the recessed puck lights will fit in the top of the unit.
5. There is no toe kick under the linen unit which would look a little odd normally but is truly ugly since we have a heating vent coming out of it.
6. All of the lighting was designed for a 48-inch long vanity. Unfortunately the vanity is 53 inches long, which is nice to have a few extra inches, but the pendants that will flank the mirror were in the wrong place and had to be moved.

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The shelf on the right where the paper towel roll is sitting is a stand-in for the glass shelves. You can see how it lines up with the light switches.


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Functionally, it actually works, but if you ask me it looks really stupid. That shelf should be between the light switches and the thermostat for the floor.

I'm sure there are solutions to all these problems, and these are all things I would expect to have to work around if we had started with a stock piece and worked from there. But I thought avoiding these things was why you got custom pieces to begin with?

We're at something of an impasse with the cabinetmaker. I've stopped going in the bathroom because all of these little things—things that by themselves wouldn't bother me too much but when there are so many of them it drives me nuts—make me a little sick to go in there.

At this point, I've presented three options to our general contractor (who is forced to play the role of the mediator now):
1. Fix it to our satisfaction for the original fee we agreed upon. This may not be possible anymore. The vanity into the window trim is a major issue for me and that cannot be fixed without a complete rebuild.
2. Walk away now and give us a lien waiver for the other 50% of the project that we still owe him. We'll hire someone else to fix it if we deem that's possible.
3. Give us back our deposit and take it away and we'll hire someone else to do it and build it from scratch.

Frankly, none of the options are great. No. 1 will still be a compromise for use. It won't be perfect. I'll know that forever. Whether it will bother me forever, I don't know. No. 2 also means a compromise. No. 3 isn't great either because it further delays the project and on top of that, it sticks the cabinetmaker with a piece he'll have a very hard time selling to someone else. I truly think this is a nice guy going through a great deal of personal turmoil. Everything we've been told about him tells me this is not typical behavior for him.

In hindsight I should have heeded the alarm bells going of in my head and hired someone else to do it. But hindsight isn't worth much right about now.

Of course now this is holding up everything. The electrician can't finish everything up until we know what we're doing with the top of the linen cabinet because they have to install the puck lights. The plumber can't finish up until the countertop is in so he can put the faucets in. And the countertop can't be measured until it is in place and not moving.

Construction update No. 12: Pergola sitting pretty

I bet Mr. Much More Patient had never heard the word pergola until about a year ago when I said, "Ooh, we should have a pergola!"

His response was, "What is a pergola for?"

Now that we actually HAVE a pergola, I thought it would all be clear to him. So when it was assembled on the deck last week he called me at work to let me know it was going in. The conversation went something like this:

Him: "The pergola is going in."
Me: "Awesome! How does it look?"
Him: "Pretty good I guess. What is this for again?"

Our next door neighbor has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the pergola because he has pergola envy. A friend we saw at a holiday party lit up when I mentioned it. Her husband said "What do you need a pergola for?"

I guess you either "get" pergolas, or you don't. The answer to the question "What is it for", by the way, is nothing. In this case, it does nothing. We don't really need shade on this east-facing deck. I just like it.

I also think it serves the purpose of breaking up a rather large expanse of house that rises much higher than two stories normally do because our foundation is raised out of the ground quite a bit.

So here's what it looks like (at 4 p.m. on Sunday when I got around to getting outside to take some pictures):

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It's smaller than I think it was supposed to be, but it's OK and I'm to the point where I'm not sweating the small stuff. Yes, I would have liked it better had it been another foot or 18 inches bigger, but it's OK the way it is too.

It's not very impressive when you look at it from that angle, but here's how it looks from the yard.

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As an aside, do you know how excited I am to start planning the landscaping around it? I can't wait!

To get a better feeling for how it helps this side of the house, here's what it looks like without the deck or pergola.

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And if you really want to have your minds blown, here's what the house looked like before we started all this.

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I really can't get over how different it is.

By the way, did you notice the railings on the deck?

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These fall under the "major score" category. We really wanted a railing that was sort of reminiscent of a ship railing. Since we'll be putting in cable railings (which look just like lifelines on sailboats because they ARE lifelines from sailboats) come spring, we thought a ship-type railing would look nice. As it turns out, hardwood railings are pricey items, and when you get to the end of an over-budget renovation it's hard to justify an expensive railing. So we had sort of given up hope, when our contractor called us and said he had found several lengths of Brazilian redwood (I'm sure that's a generic name for it) in the remnant bin at the lumber yard. It was all left over from a big deck job and there was enough for our relatively small deck. I think the cost was somewhere around $3.50 a foot, compared to the more than $10 a foot for Ipe.  Not bad huh?

I love the look. We almost put the kabosh on the deck when it was obvious we were going to go over budget but I'm so happy we didn't.  I think it's going to really expand the living space of the house and I can envision a lot of great parties on that deck when the weather warms up.

If you're interested in what else has been going on with this renovation, check out this post.

Bang! Kapow! It's a punch list

We are actually to the punch list stage of the project. Can you believe it? There are a lot of things hanging out there, including a "little" issue with the vanity and linen cabinet, but we're to the point where there's not much left for the general contractor to do and he asked me to get him a punch list. That's music to any renovator's ears.

So here it is:

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One of the items has already been crossed off. The bathroom door was installed yesterday.

Unfortunately I thought of another item that needed to be added. There are a few screw heads in the deck that aren't completely countersunk. You don't notice them until you try to shovel the deck and the shovel comes to a rather abrupt stop.

While I was in the list-making mode I made one for myself as well. I think it's probably a bad sign when your personal punch list is longer than the contractor's punch list.

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Anyway, that's where we're at. As long as I can keep up the steam we'll be plodding along here, but I can't wait for spring to get back in the garden and start enjoying a finished house!

Want to see how we got here? Check out these posts:

Construction Update 1
Construction Update 2
Construction Update 3
Construction Update 4
Construction Update 5
Construction Update 6

Construction Update 7
Construction Update 7.5
Construction Update 8
Construction Update 9 
Construction Update 10 
Construction Update 11

A new year's revelation

You won't catch me making any resolutions, but how about a revelation?

We were not supposed to be working on a renovation in 2011. That was never part of the plan. The plan, well, one version of it, at least, was to start this project in early May (2010) and be finished before the Fourth of July. Did you just do a spit-take? If you did, that would have been totally appropriate because anyone who has ever done a renovation or been following our renovation knows how ridiculous that is. The next plan was to start at the beginning of September (again, 2010) and finish two months later, at the beginning of November.

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Go ahead, spit out whatever you're drinking again.

So here we are, a whole new decade. I'm officially in the midst of a renovation that has spanned two decades. And it feels like it.

The good news is that we really are in the final stages. And I've learned a lot of lessons along the way (all of which will be shared with you, I promise). But when the holidays came and I looked at them more as a disturbance in my painting schedule than a celebratory season, I began to have a revelation (please forgive the cliche I'm about to lay on you):

Renovating is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Remember when I was all gung ho to paint? In fact I even posted on the Facebook page that I actually liked painting (note: my opinion on that subject is changing). I was making decisions like a mad woman. I was bound and determined to be on top of everything, and to know the answer before the question was asked.

And I did a really good job of that until about the end of November, three weeks after when I thought we'd be finished. By then I was burned out. The deadline I had set in my head had come and gone. Some things weren't going to get done when I wanted them to because Mr. Much More Patient was leaving town for an extended period of time for work, and I just stopped caring. I was on mile 17 of a marathon but I had been running a sprint. And I felt defeated.

Well, now that that pity party is over, it's time to wrap this thing up. My lack of action has actually put the project further behind, and I can't hold the contractor accountable when it's my fault that it's not getting finished.

So here we are at mile 22. And I'm going to cross that finish line running if it kills me. And if you ever decide to renovate here's my advice: pace yourself; the finish line is where it is and you'll get there soon enough.