"I think what Extreme taught me is that as an artist, what you create with your hands has a lasting difference and actually makes someone's life better," he says of the show. "It's something that I'll always be proud of."
The series recently returned for four special holiday episodes, the last of which airs tonight on ABC and features a military family and celebrity guest J.R. Martinez. Pennington says that after Monday's show, there aren't any plans for future episodes.
Does he miss Extreme? "Of course, are you kidding me? That's my family," he says. In fact, Pennington says he's working on finding a more affordable way to do the show, so one day it can return to the air.
The charismatic carpenter, 48, spoke to PARADE about the end of the show, his plans for the future, and how he likes to celebrate the holidays.
On the end of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
"My friend recently said, 'Oh my God, dude. You look rested.' Now, I actually have a chance to try to get some of the things in my life in order. When you're on that show, you're literally traveling every three days. Everything is on hold until you can get back to it. So I'm trying to reconnect with my own family and breaking ground on a sustainable home I'm building for myself in northern Florida."
On working with J.R. Martinez.
"He was great—such a cool guy. He has a really strong connection with the family that we helped, who was a burn victim. J.R. Martinez was a real hero and an idol to our family. Having somebody like J.R. be able to say and show that life does go on was pretty special."
On how he likes spending the holidays.
"I think what's fun about the holidays is the funny things that happen, whether it's a disaster in the kitchen or it's the personalities. I have a very funny family with a really strong sense of humor, so to spend time with them is a lot of fun. That's what I miss. It's the Christmas disasters that are the ones you remember the most and I love that, whether it's a cat jumping into a tree, knocking it over, and turning it into a small house fire that you have to put out, or the dogs urinating all over the presents. I look forward to that."
On the best gifts he's received.
"When somebody really puts their time into making something and personalizing it, I think those are the best gifts, even if it's a bad piece of pottery. It's the fact that somebody took the time to do it. I'm a really tough person to get stuff for, because chances are I could have made it. I really like rare, vintage things, like a hard-to-find Beatles record—something where somebody really does research to find something special for you."
On his New Year's resolution.
"My New Year's resolution is to slow down to the point that I can enjoy life and spend time with people that mean the most to me: my mom, my brother, and the friends that I'm really close to never spend enough time with because I'm always working. In the long run, it's the personalities that you surround yourself with that really make you who you are, and when your work takes you away from that, you can get lost on exactly what your identity is. And also, if you're always racing to accomplish something, you can never really realize what you're missing. I want to learn to appreciate not going full speed all the time. I'm like the energizer bunny."
On what he wants to do before he turns 50.
"I'm planning to do a feature on my website called 50/50—50 things I want to do before I'm 50. It's not that far away, so I'm going to have to get busy. I want to try swimming with whale sharks, coaching a Little League soccer team, and maybe taking one of the kids on the team to see a World Cup game. I'd like to go white water rafting down the Snake River through the Grand Canyon and build a tree house that's beyond any other tree houses you've ever seen."
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