The best part of retirement is that you can determine your own schedule. No alarm clock, there’s time for an afternoon nap, and entire days can be dedicated to reading a book, watching movies, or working in the garden, if that’s all you really want to do. It’s just lovely.
The alarm was set for 5:30a on Saturday. We had studied the weather patterns and plotted a strategy to maneuver last Saturday’s 20-mile run around the backlash of Hurricane Matthew. The key was getting an early start. By the time I accepted that the run had been rained out it was 6:30a, we had already had our coffee, and I had already been wearing my running clothes for a solid hour.
The alarm was set for 5:30a on Sunday. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was a pleasant 40 degrees, the wind was steady at 15mph with gusts strong enough to blow me over, and my fall running gear is packed up in boxes somewhere at our new house.
About 5 months ago we packed enough clothes to last the summer and moved back to Western North Carolina where we feel most at home. For me, this meant running in the place I feel most at home with all the things, good and bad, that go along with living in the mountains.
This year’s marathon training has been measured in feet rather than miles. It was a strategy that evolved because our little cabin (and temporary home) sits conveniently off the all familiar road leading up the mountain. Week after week my plan was to drive 20-30 minutes across town for a better (flatter) running route. Then the days would get busy and I’d drive to the end of our road, run up the mountain and back down again to save time.
Three years ago, marathon training carried me 11,700 feet uphill. The marathon of 2014 included 1,438 feet of total elevation gain (with 1,439 ft of loss), and I still can’t believe I survived that race. This season’s total training exceeds 30,000 feet of total elevation so far.
The strategy of all of these uphill runs wasn’t meant to just build strength and (hopefully) speed, but to practice the downhill part of running. . . and adjust to its undeniable abuse. My left calf was sore for several weeks early in the season, one knee or the other hurts from time to time, and the top of my right foot has become sore – the latter two issues courtesy of the extreme camber of these old, mountain roads.
Fortunately, my marathon training program includes a 3-week taper that begins this week. The ever-dwindling mileage scheduled throughout the taper gives my poor body plenty of time to recover before the marathon, and while we’re waiting on recovery there will be plenty of time to organize my new home. . . alarm clock optional.
There seems to be two ways to approach remodeling a house: while you live in the house, or while you wait to live in the house. I can’t think at the moment which approach is most preposterous. Nor would I dare offer a recommendation on whether this house of chaos should be visited daily or never, although there is a strong argument for maintaining a minimum one-million mile distance from the rubble.
My husband and I took the approach of “while you live in the house” twice and it was not pretty. During another remodel we lived three stories below, and yet another one we spent a year in the little guest house behind the remodel.
Last year we drove six hours round trip once a week for the remodel, although we drive an hour round trip every day to visit the current one. The value of the weekly visits is that there is almost always clear progress while for the daily visits. . . let’s just say progress can be more difficult to discern.
Take the Floor
This project started with great momentum. The kitchen was demolished the first day – even before the first coffee break. The bathrooms crumbled almost as fast. We’ve learned it is much easier to destroy something than to build it back up.
Every project seemingly comes to a screeching halt, however, when the heavy lifting is over. In our case, new walls have been built, plumbing moved, electricity pulled to new locations, hardwood floors installed. . . and now we wait.
There was linoleum in the kitchen, green shag carpet upstairs, and an assortment of ceramic tile in the bathrooms, but it was the beautiful hardwoods we wanted everywhere.
Our calendars were cleared for this past Friday to move furniture from all corners of the house to its final resting place, and there was a mad dash to install the new hardwood flooring to meet our ‘moving day’ deadline. Then the floor finisher arrived and informed us these new floors would cure for a solid week. Under no circumstance would anyone walk on these new floors, and no furniture would be moved for another whole week. . .
although this has not prevented us from stopping by to admire those new floors.
After measuring the new parquet tiles for the kitchen and master bath, there were tiles left over. We considered addding one or two in the center of the foyer, but just one and even two looked incomplete. Four tiles were situated exactly center and we all studied them for at least a week. I lost a good bit of sleep worrying over cutting into the middle of the foyer’s hardwood floor, and we were still unsure (although totally committed) until we saw the finished product.
This kitchen’s dated past was evident when the cabinets were removed, but all of that is history. Scott, our contractor, laid the parquet to ‘dry fit’ them to the center of the kitchen. We didn’t want the tiles to end up being underneath the cabinetry so they were centered with hardwood planks filling in around the outer edges.
Four houses ago we lived in a townhouse with a three-story spiral staircase that begged for a black & white runner. We sold that house before we ever got around to adding the runner, but when I saw this house I knew the time had come for our black & white runner. Although the white background of my inspiration photo runner (right photo) scares us to death with three dogs, the black bannister is perfect.
We obtained an estimate last week for the black & white runner – it was $1,000 installed ($600 for a 100% polypropylene runner, $400 for installation). Then I happened onto a DIY runner makeover from Target for just $140.
We went back to the drawing board and found a 100% Wool runner from Target that fits our vision perfectly – total $345.
Tahla Dhurry Rug by Safavieh at Target.com $59.59 for a 2’6″ x 12′ runner less 10% during the FALLHOME sale.
Our shopping list has dwindled to mostly kitchen items: the sink, faucet, backsplash tile, and those dreaded drawer pulls. The stove has been picked out and just needs to be ordered, the vent hood has already been delivered, and the last light fixture arrived this week. Hopefully the waiting is almost over. . . we’re ready to go home.
My husband (very reluctantly) sent me a CNN article this week about Ultra Marathons, “Ultramarathons go above and beyond.” The author compared the 100-mile run to a relationship. “It’s great at first, and then you have your ups and downs. Near the end, you tend to hate everything about it. And when it’s over, you forget how bad it was and sign up for another.”
Marathons can leave us mere 26.2 mortals feeling the same way, and whether it was just a bad day or training error we almost always believe we can do better if given just one more chance. Here I am 33 days from one more chance.
I corrected the errors in my training program, and then wisely corrected them again.
My plan was to peak at 55 miles per week with three 20-mile runs before I redacted everything in my calendar four weeks ago. Now my calendar includes no more than 35-mile weeks, no more than 4 days of running each week, and one 20-mile run.
Having already completed a 16-mile run before the redactions, I found myself with oodles of time to reach that pinnacle 20-mile run. To fill in the blanks, I’ve run a second 16-mile run, two 18-mile runs, and the lone 20-miler is next weekend.
The benefit of downsizing from a 6-day running schedule to 4 is that there is energy to spare (runners don’t do well with spare energy). Enter intensity.
Weight-lifters add weight. Runners add hills.
I’ve traditionally been a fan of the theory that running flat surfaces builds running economy – and it’s been a conveniently comfortable theory to hold onto – but plenty of coaches recommend hill training to build strength and speed; a strategy reinforced for me when I ran with my friend in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya where the marathoners use the road leading up the mountain for their speed work.
So this season I’ve added hills. The mostly downhill long-run route has been reversed once a week for repeats up the mountain, and because my next marathon is predominantly downhill, half the repeats are run back down. (Total elevation gain over the 2.5 mile uphill climb is 457 feet.)
The following week I go to the track for level footing.
My long-run route challenges have been well documented by now, and I reluctantly write one further word. Adding miles to the pleasantly shady/quiet/blissful/if not steep first half of my run continues to be an issue, however, and this week I had the idea to run the same 2-mile stretch that was added to the last rather disdainful 18-mile run twice. Unfortunately, my little water bottle wouldn’t take me this far.
The new solution was to begin the normal route, add the 2-mile stretch along with a new 1-mile section, then back up the mountain where extra water and Gatorade was left in the Jeep. This unknowingly added an additional 450 feet of elevation for a total of 1,200 feet of elevation with several 6- 8% grade hills in the 18-mile run.
Those first few miles were really tough, although I felt strong through the rest of the run (and there were 2 successful potty breaks along the way if you must know). Still, it’s unclear if this route will remain in the portfolio of long-run routes. . .
This season has reminded me of the importance of the one-stressor-at-a-time rule, something I had failed to incorporate into last season’s training. If not for the reduced mileage my body would never survive the hills, and if not for the extra rest days my legs would be toast.
It has been said many times that marathon training should be tougher than the race itself. It’s great at first, and then you have your ups and downs. Near the end, you tend to hate everything about it. And when it’s over, you forget how bad it was and start the process all over again.
There’s a slight coolness to the morning air, and the pumpkins have already been harvested from the farm along my long run route. I first claimed this route for all my long runs four years ago when we moved back home from Ecuador, and in four years it has never changed. The first 8 miles are sheer bliss, and one mile further is just torture.
After all these years, my husband can calculate to the minute how long it will take me to finish the long run. Once we have done the math and agreed on a time to meet at Lulu’s for lunch, I head to the top of the mountain.
Granted, the down side of a point-to-point run and our agreed upon meeting time (and the fact that I don’t run with a phone in my hand) means there is no dilly-dallying. I keep a constant check on my pace, and no matter what goes wrong I keep myself moving for fear I don’t make that meeting time, give or take a few minutes, and my husband goes into a lunatic-worry over what has happened to me.
Beginning at the Balsam Community Center, this run takes me past the historic Balsam Mountain Inn, local fly-fishing spots, and the Moonshine Creek Campground.
The creek rushes down the mountain 30+ feet below the road on my left while the rock face extends 30+ feet up to my right. Houses are scattered here and there, a train pokes along its track high above the creek, the wooden planks of one-lane bridges crackle under my feet, and farms glisten in the bright sunshine near the four-lane highway where Dark Ridge Road meets Skyland Drive, and the sheer torture side of this run soon begins.
Last week when my calendar turned up an 18-mile run, I had the idea to extend the blissful part of the run by as many miles as I could piece together. I don’t particularly like running new routes, lord only knows how many free-range dogs live on these roads, but it didn’t take long before I came on a new road that would add two miles to this blissful side of the run.
So, I’d like to say I have a proven theory on why this happens, but if I’m going to need a potty break during a run (of any length really), this becomes apparent very early in the run. It was barely a half mile into this 18-mile run that I knew I would need to find an early potty break, and all the unfamiliar sights and sounds of this new route were lost due to the endless search for a good potty spot.
There’s the 30 foot drop on the left that intimidates me, and even in the few places where I could walk over and put my toe in the creek, my Outdoor Leadership training kicks in and I wouldn’t dare “go” within 20 feet of the water. So I keep searching.
There were the two rocks I used a few weeks ago to drop down below road level and back up again, but adding the 2-miles to the early part of the run skewed my memory of exactly where those two rocks were, and every time I thought I’d be brave and just duck behind a tree. . . a car came along.
By mile 5 the situation had become urgent and I walked for a moment to compose myself. I knew there was a bridge overhead just down the road, and although it would not be nearly as private as I would have hoped for, I vowed I would stop behind the big concrete foundation of that bridge. A few minutes later, I turned the corner and could finally see the concrete footings of the bridge. . .
There was no warning trickle, and it took a few seconds to actually accept what had happened. Then there was the briefest “What now?”
Many years ago I read a hilarious account of a brave runner who described his not-so-fortunate “accident” and this was the thought that came next. Immediately I realized I am not the only runner that has suddenly lost their bladder. In fact, as my husband and I would later say to each other, it could have been much worse.
My accident happened just after mile 6. There were 12 miles to go. It was too far into the run to go back up the mountain to the safety of my Jeep, I still needed to finish this long run, and the clock was ticking – my husband would be waiting for me. There was nowhere to go but forward.
Maybe that’s the point. . . sometimes, no matter what has happened, there is nowhere to go but forward.
“Shopping“ punctuates every remodeling project, and eventually takes on a life of its own. So far our shopping list has included toilets, sinks & vanities, faucets for the sinks, shower and bath, a kitchen countertop & kitchen cabinets, the refrigerator, stove & vent, dishwasher, washer & dryer, marble for the shower walls, bathroom floors & kitchen backsplash, paint for the walls, ceiling, trim and doors, doorknobs for every door, a heating & cooling system, a fence, propane tank, and light fixtures for nearly every room.
And with every project, there’s something on my shopping list that proves totally elusive. . . wearing my patience thin. In our last project it was the drawer pulls for the kitchen cabinets. This time it was the sconce for the powder room, although I haven’t gotten to the drawer pulls yet.
With this many things to buy at once, the name of the game becomes budget.
We’ve driven to the other side of town to plunder marble remnants, made a trip to the appliance clearance corner at Lowe’s every week (we found our washer for $300 – a savings of $700!), and waited for the deal of the day to pop up everywhere and anywhere. The biggest impact to the budget, however, can be made with the one item that shows up most often on my shopping list: light fixtures.
This house had just three original fixtures that could be kept, which meant we needed 14 new fixtures. Ten choices have been made. . . four to go.
We bought the chandelier for the kitchen before we had officially bought the house (I wish I could say this was an unusual thing for us to do). Now this chandelier is in one of the many boxes stuffed between the remodeling debris, and I can only describe that it has beautifully colored crystals of clear, pink, red and purple (as best I remember).
The upper cabinets have been removed above the sink, which overlooks the keeping room. Then the price dropped on these Pottery Barn crystal pendants (from $299 to $103) and a pair of them will hang over the sink cabinet.
Gray cabinets were spot checked to be sure they wouldn’t clash with the cobalt blue of the refrigerator. Red velvet drapes match the red velvet bar stools, which I hope will also match the new chandelier, and the table and chairs we used in our previous kitchen.
The Keeping Room
Several months ago E.J. Victor held a warehouse sale at a non-descript warehouse in Morganton, N.C. We wouldn’t dare miss it. . .
Two upholstered chairs sat in a separate room from the case goods typical of these sales. Although we noticed them immediately, they were blue. . . not our go-to color. Nonetheless, they were shockingly beautiful and I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
I’ve tried not to let the chairs dictate the light fixture for this room – it is possible the chairs could wear out before the fixture needs to be replaced some dozen odd years down the road – but I can’t help but see the chairs and the room as one.
We’ve blown our budget a bit to secure fixtures that would help make the old paneling in this room sing (my husband hated the paneling). Swing-arm lights will be added over each of the three bookshelves, along with one somewhat modern yet stunning flush mount.
The master closet (shown at the far end of the photo) has been demolished with that space being added to the master shower (on the other side of the wall). Both windows include window seats, and an opportunity for seat cushions with fabulous fabric.
Rosie 5 Light Crystal Pendant by OK Lighting (Wayfair: $118) Anichini Tapestry Linens (The Red Collection $200)
A full set of Anichini’s tapestry linens showed up at my favorite consignment store in Greensboro, N.C. (The Red Collection) for just $200 (retail value: $1000+). The perfect chandelier showed up on Wayfair’s clearance rack for $118 (retail: $195) where the copper finish and smokey grey crystals will compliment the linens and new wall color (Sherwin Williams Buff). Hardwood floors will replace the green shag carpet.
I found the large gold chandelier for the dining room at a consignment store for just $45. From top to bottom left, fixtures for the guest bath, upstairs office, and guest room – each one $100 or less.
We had intended to add can lights to the barren living room ceiling until we met with the electrician who enlightened us to the consequences of those can lights – he would have to drill into the lovely crown molding. Our fallback plan is to add several well-placed sconces, although we don’t know that any one of the six light switches along the interior wall will actually control anything we add to this room.
Not every room can support my idea of the perfect light, my own design decisions have put restrictions on the perfect choice for some rooms, and the very fact that the price has dropped significantly is what makes other fixtures perfect.
In the ideal renovation where we have stripped the walls down to the bare studs, there are few compromises. Every fixture contributes to the ideal plan. Sometimes life isn’t ideal though, and in those cases isn’t it nice to know we can still find the light of our life.
There comes a time in every home remodeling project that I ask myself why on earth I thought I was qualified to undertake this project (eerily similar to what I say at the starting line of every marathon). There’s been hours of middle-of-the-night worry over some odd decision, or quite literally inches here versus inches there.
In every house I’ve remodeled, the overall design practically appeared in a flash. Seems I could see the furniture, the style, colors, and how we’d live there the moment I set foot inside the doors. Maybe because I have promised my husband this will be our last remodel (at least in the foreseeable future), or maybe just because it is one of the most special homes I’ve come across in many years. . . this house scares me half out of my mind.
Nonetheless, at the risk of divulging some design faux pas that only I have yet to see, here’s the design strategy for our new home – now nearly halfway finished.
Provençal. . .
A personal struggle ensued from the onset between the idea of French Provincial and French Country design. Nothing about this home felt country. Then my Aunt decided to sell her remaining parquet tiles, and the whole-house design seemed to take off from there. Finally, I could see a very elegant interpretation of Provençal developing.
The 28×28 tiles are made from different wood species giving them a unique design when stained. There will be enough tiles to use in the kitchen, entry foyer and master bath. (The finished floor in the far right photo is the finished version of similar tiles used in our last renovation.)
Powder Room. . .
Not one inch will be sacrificed in the design of this home, and this was especially critical in the downstairs powder room. The first toilet ordered left little room between the seat and the wall. We moved onto another room while we waited on a replacement, smaller toilet.
The pedestal sink needed to be just 17″ deep to allow ample passage to the new toilet. The wall color was a safe choice but one that seems to fit well, although I do believe there may be another paint/glazing process in my future to give the color more depth/age. Add an impact piece of art and I think this little bath will turn into wow.
Taking the walls of your house down to its very studs is so much easier for creating the perfect lighting plan. We did not take this house down to the studs.
I wanted a ‘statement’ light for this little room, but one 40-watt bulb wouldn’t shed enough light for the whole room, and the perfect fixture (top right) was too large. The crystal-laden sconce has been ordered, but will require the outlet be moved off center several inches. . . something I’m not sure is yet possible.
Guest Bath. . .
My Guest Bath Inspiration room. . . and the real pink bathroom.
Saving the pink bathroom is proving the most challenging of all tasks. We found a fabulous vanity that fit the design I had in mind, Hollywood glamour, at only $400! (HomeDecoratorsCollection) The first delivery wasn’t even attempted because the vanity was damaged so badly, so we moved onto another room while we awaited the replacement vanity. It arrived a week or so ago – in two boxes. . . in other words, assembly required.
We spent a day or two in shock. I spent another day or two re-thinking the entire design, specifically a simple 2-legged porcelain sink with the carrerra marble we’ve added to the floor taken all the way to the ceiling – although this would have been a budget buster, I was wondering why I hadn’t gone that route in the first place.
Our contractor called one evening and talked us off the ledge, and now we’ve finally made the move forward with our original design.
The vanity is exactly 61 inches wide, the space where the vanity will sit is 61 inches, although the space in the middle of the bath where it needs to be assembled is just 60-1/2 inches (thanks to that pretty, pink tile on the walls). To add to the drama, the original vanity supported one sink – our new vanity is a two-sink version, and now we worried about re-working the plumbing and lifting the vanity up and over to sit it flush against the wall in place. Ugh.
The plumbing has already been re-worked, and my husband immediately began stripping off another wall of the lovely pink tile to give us that precious 1/2 inch. This week we’ll assemble the vanity in–place. Thewalls are destined for a lavish coat of Ralph Lauren metallic white (Lustre). Everyone’s holding their breath.
Master Bath. . . the room that will change the most.
Master Bath: ‘Before’
Master Bath ‘In-Progress’
The vanity on the right (‘Before’ photo above) has been removed to provide a doorway into the adjacent bedroom, which will become the master closet/laundry.
Moving the toilet to the far wall (where the bathtub was) gives enough room for a 60″ vanity. We splurged on the vanity (having reduced our budget with the assembly-ready guest bath vanity!), and I found fabulous faucets at LightInTheBox.com for just $99 each.
With the walls open, we can put the lighting anywhere we choose. You’d think it would become a simple decision.
I love the look of a pendant over the sink, but they do cast a shadow on the mirrors and I’ve sworn them off in this house. Sconces by the mirrors are quite beautiful, but I wasn’t sure whether we should use one large mirror or two narrow mirrors, and there’s hardly room for sconces, mirrors, and electrical outlets anyway.
The right choice seemed to be a sconce over the toilet that picks up the white of the vanity countertop, also providing much needed lighting throughout the room.
We discovered 18×18 black marble for the shower walls in a local tile warehouse, which will also be used as a border around the parquet tiles (similar to the picture above). White carrerra marble will be used on the shower floor, and, of course, the vanity top. I’m thinking of a pair of simple, wood-framed mirrors over the vanity, but the jury is still out.
The new closet door entry on the left, and the makings of a laundry closet on the right.
Elsewhere around the house. . .
The guys have so willingly worked around our ‘stuff’ to paint all the walls my favorite color of pale yellow (Sherwin Williams Buff). Since this photo was taken the beautiful crown molding has also become a shimmering, pure white. Hopefully by the time I write about this subject again, we’ll be looking at finished rooms.
Most photos are courtesy Wayfair where I have purchased many of the items, or from my own camera role. My inspiration room photos have come from Pinterest. Please send me a reply if there’s a specific photo you’d like to know more about. thanks for reading!
I missed a full week of training. I’ve never missed a full week of training. Things started with a migraine-style headache that led to nausea followed by several days of fever, chills, and lots of sleep. Day after day I promised my husband, and sometimes my Dad that I would visit the doctor. By Friday I was feeling better though, and I volunteered to take the early shift of meeting workers at our new house – giving me the opportunity to finally uncover the beautiful swan on the patio wall.
48 hours later. . .
The poison oak was evident along both arms, although my left arm took the brunt of the blow and was swollen twice its size replete with welts and blisters. I remembered from EMT training that poison is basically a chemical burn – I had a 2nd degree chemical burn on my left arm. It was the first day I was to get back to my training schedule, so I dutifully strapped my watch onto my right, less affected arm, and went for a run.
For all the miraculous benefits of modern medicine, I still consider it a last resort. I managed to control the urge to scratch the poison using topical creams, although that poison has taken its dear, sweet time to heal.
Meanwhile, the contractor finished installing the fence around our property, which includes a generous parcel of land up the hill behind the house that is all forest (and a good bit of our neighbor’s yard debris). We loaded the dogs into the Jeep that Saturday after my long run, and let them explore what will become their new territory. The boys were a little timid, so Dakota and I walked to the edge of the forest to show them there was nothing to fear.
24 hours later. . .
. . . the itching began. It was everywhere – on her stomach, ears, head, feet. I couldn’t see a thing, but she was obviously miserable. I held a cool cloth on her stomach, rubbed her with ointment, and tried my best to have her swallow a small piece of Benadryl. She was in such misery I couldn’t bear it.
I held her in my arms while she nestled her head under my chin and we’d walk around the house until she fell asleep in total exhaustion. Sleep lasted about an hour and we’d start the process all over again. I didn’t know whether to cry or scream.
It was chiggers, and every one of those nasty, little devils must have jumped off her and onto me. She was all better the next morning while I had red itchy bites everywhere – down my back, on my stomach, both arms and legs, chiggers on top of poison, but mostly on my neck and face. Whatever control I had over itching the poison oak was lost on these damn chiggers. They are surely the worst demons on earth.
I have learned everything there is to learn about chiggers, tried every remedy (including turmeric, which turned my fingers orange), spent inordinate amounts of time at the pharmacy counter, and I’ve taken enough Benadryl to kill a horse. I jumped out of bed at midnight the first night, stripped all the linens off the bed, stuffed them in the washer to contain the miserable critters, sprayed the whole house with bug spray (which I’m told will kill those still lurking in the shadows), and took a shower believing I was being attacked all over again. I won’t admit how many times this process has been repeated in the days since.
By this time my face and throat feel more like sandpaper than skin from the remedies that best relieved the itch. My face is red, sensitive to the sun, swollen, splotchy, and hurts so bad that I haven’t been able to run for three more days. I can honestly say I would have never believed there would be a time I couldn’t run because my face hurts.
My husband has spent the past few days in Chicago babysitting our dog that became an only child (who is doing absolutely fabulous by the way), and I’ve been relieved he hasn’t been subjected to the sight I have become.
Today is the last day I could withdraw from the upcoming marathon, but I have decided to refuse to give in. Who could have known just how far it would go when I decided to cut back on my training this season?
My husband and I have decided that if I survive this marathon, it will be an incredibly eye-opening experiment as it relates to how much training is enough, but if nothing else, this experience has given me an entirely new appreciation for “an ounce of prevention.”