Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Spring, Dry Wall, and Allegies

Spring is finally here in the ranch house. In what seems to be overnight, our crab apple tree put out thousand of flowers:

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The weather is still too cold to plant vegetable gardens, but it is warm enough for perennials:

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I selected these sweet white flowers for the spot under the crab apple tree, and paired with them with some color:

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We also planted rosemary and lavender around the mailbox.

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The plants might be small, but I trust them to fill in nicely with refreshing aroma and green foliage in a few years:

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Just to remind you, this is the same spot last year when we moved in:

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We removed all the weeds and transplanted roses from the front flower bed.

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And one of these roses survived. Its new leaves just peeked out of the mulch.

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Our indoor plants are also all happy and growing well:

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I am propagating some succulents I brought back from Southern California, hoping to use them as ground cover someday.

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Spring also means allergy. And I am hit. Flu-like symptoms kept me down, and drywall work inside does not help either.

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It has been over a month since we hung the drywall. So it is nice to finally get them finished. However, finishing drywall sucks. It is slow and messy, and because this is Slav’s first time doing drywall, it is slower and messier. I wish I could hire it out – but we have just a few seams so no professional will take such a small job.

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We would have finished it by now, but Slav found black stuff in our drywall compound and it turned out to be mold. Yes, that drywall compound we bought was contaminated with mold. 🙁 So instead of having the wall ready to paint this weekend, we are chipping everything off and restart.

I have to admit, when Slav told me that he decided to restart I was like 99% lost it. It has been two weeks since Slav started finishing these nine seams, and now we are back to the starting line. To pick myself up in the midst of this conundrum, I started choosing paint colors.

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The living room and office will remain white. And I want to use a subtle pink color in the bedroom:

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I like the slightly purple/lavender one on the top. We have lots of grey and blue in the bedroom and this color speaks to them. It also looks good in the closet:

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All the trims will go Ultra Pure White by Behr in semi-gloss. And ceilings will be covered by SW’s Extra White in flat. We might use SW Extra White on the walls too, just in eggshell. Now we just need these damn drywall to be finished.

I know there is light at the end of the tunnel. I just can’t see it yet.

Back Home and 2018 Spring Yard!

After a week of travel and some catching-up at work, I am FINALLY back to the blog. Thank you so much for continuing to read and check back. It is very encouraging for a new blogger like me to see the blog traffic did not drop entirely down to zero. 🙂

I spent the last week of March in Southern California for work. For the most part, I stayed in Riverside, where Slav and I got our PhDs (in Neuroscience, in case you are wondering). I got to visit the houses we lived in, dine with old friends in our favorite restaurants, and walk around the campus in which we spent 5 years learning, doing research, and teaching. Walking down the memory lane was fun and gave me deep appreciation for how far we’ve come, but I also missed home terribly. Maybe age has something to do with it, but I do not enjoy being away from home for this long.

One thing I never paid attention to when I lived in SoCal, is its mission-style, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It turns out that the ceramic tile roof, the white stucco wall, and the arched front porches totally burned into my mind and have been subconsciously influencing my design decisions. Remember the phase II plans for our back patio? That is pretty much what Spanish Revival porches look like. Interestingly, we also lived in North Carolina for equal amount of time (>5 years), but I’ve never developed the same interest in Federal and Georgian-style southern houses.

Spring Cleaning – Pantry Closet

Since coming back, unsurprisingly, I was swamped with work. But we did manage to work on a few small things in and around the house. For example, as part of the spring cleaning and purging effort, we reorganized our pantry closet.

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It does not look like a superior product, but it is a lot more functional than the before:

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The original closet lacks shelving, so things tend to pile up and hard to find. One night, as I was cooking dinner, Slav added a couple shelves above and below the existing shelves. Adding these shelves could not be simpler: the cleats were already in place, and we have some leftover 5/8″ plywood from making the floating nightstand. Slav ripped down the plywood to size and popped them over the cleats – no nails or screws needed. This upgrade almost doubled the holding power of our pantry, so everything we store here can be organized to one layer and easy to find:

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To top shelf holds plastics. We are trying to cut down the plastic use, so I intentionally put them up high and make them hard to reach.

Dog treats and medicine were stored on the second shelf – We have a treat jar for dogs in the kitchen so these are just refills. The medicine is bulk ingredients for mixing Charlie’s joint supplement. If you have an older dog and want to make their joints healthier for longer, I highly recommend to mix your own joint supplements opposed to buy from pet stores. You can find all the pure ingredients online in bulk and in pharmaceutical grade. It is not only cheaper, but also you can control exactly what and how much your pet is taking. This sheet shows what and how much we give to our 10-year-old lab Charlie, you can use it to calculate how much your pets need based on their weight.

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The next two shelves hold our dry goods, sauces, and spices. We are eliminating some upper cabinets in our kitchen soon, so this pantry has to work harder to hold our spices. Putting sauces on Lazy Susans makes everything we need visible and easy to reach. For $10 a pop, they are god-sent.

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Pasta, grains, and cleaning supplies are located at the bottom. Pretty neat, right?

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We also added shelves into our toiletry closet next to our bathroom. Giving everything a dedicated and relatively permanent space not only makes keeping track and finding supplies quicker, but also makes cleaning inside the closets a lot easier. It is our intention to have a low-maintenance and low-consumption style of life, so there is less stress and more time to create. Having well-organized closets with spare room shall help.

Planting Fruit Trees

In addition to cleaning, Spring is also time to plant. We are currently experiencing a massive attack of analysis paralysis due to lack of landscaping experience. Yard work was easy last year, because all we needed to do was to fix obvious problems, such as getting rid of overgrown bushes and dead trees, power-washing the fence, and doing a gut-job on our garden shed (including demo, rebuild, paint, organization, and finishing touches). But this year we need to create, which feels like a much bigger responsibility.

There is no right way for gardening, so we decided to just follow our heart and plant whatever we want, starting with fruit trees.

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We planted five trees in total, including a Honey Crisp apple, a nectarine, two different cherries, and a peach. These bare-root fruit trees are only $12 a pop in Costco, making them good subjects to experimenting with.

Slav picked the cherry trees. One of the best memories from his childhood was climbing onto his parents’ cherry tree and eating fresh cherries. Apparently, his childhood cherry tree no longer exists. 🙁 So this 36 year-old man decides to recreate this magic happiness in our yard.

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We also got a honey crisp apple, a nectarine, and a peach, all of which we love and purchase constantly. They will likely spend the first a couple years growing to full size, and start producing delicious fruits in year 4. We planted them 14 feet apart to allow them to come to full size. By lining them along the back fence, we hope the mature trees also function as a privacy fence and hide the mix-and-match back fence.

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This is our first time growing fruit trees, so we followed the instructions to a tee. Fingers crossed!

Other Gardening Plans for 2018

We also plan to add a privacy hedge along our northern fence. This portion has double fencing – our neighbor’s wood fence and our chain link fence, with quite a few trees in between.

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The tree root started damaging neighbor’s wooden fence, which prevents us from taking down the chain link fence that we deeply hate. Since these trees do not provide flower or fruit, and appear to be quite invasive, Slav made the decision to cut all of them so he can fix neighbor’s fence, take down our chain link fence, and plant a privacy hedge instead. It will be a fairly big and expensive operation for which we need to coordinate with our neighbors. But if we could pull it off, we will have complete privacy in our backyard in just a few years.

The last thing we want to do this year in our yard is to experiment with vegetable gardening. Colorado receives only 8″~15″ precipitation each year, most of which during winter. So replacing turf with urban farming and Xeriscape is one serious matter to us. Among drought, heavy clay soil, and wind and hail, gardening vegetable will be a very different experience from what we had in North Carolina. This year’s goal is simply experimenting different methods of amending soil and watering, in preparation for bigger garden next year. To set us up for success, I ordered a veggie garden starter kit from Resource Central, which includes starter plant that are drought-resistant and locally raised. I also ordered their honey bee heaven garden kit to bring more pollinator into our yard.

Being warm and nice outside today, I shot a short video of our yard and explained our landscaping goals for you. Among the fencing, privacy hedge planting, and veggie and perennial beds, we will be busy as a bee!

 

Finishing What I Started – Floating Nightstand Build

Have you ever started something with great momentum, worked through 90% of it, then “took a break” that lasted forever? This describes half of my renovation projects, which are mostly done but not completed:

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There are many hypothesis on the psychology underlying the inability of finishing tasks. One theory is that the procrastination is actually fueled by perfectionism and the fear that the finished product will not impress. People who are good at seeing big picture have a hard time to break it down into manageable tasks. For me, it might just be simply short attention spin. I got excited at starting a new thing but lose interests quickly during execution.

It dos not help that I live with a very accommodating partner. Slav, my housemate of 8 years and husband of nearly 5, is one of the most mild-tempered individual that you’d ever meet. He nods to every new idea I had (exciting!), cheers along every project I started (Oh! I did not think it would be so hard!), and most gratefully, tolerates all the almost-done projects I failed to complete (I will tackle it next week, I promise!). He thinks everything I did in the house is an improvement, “although incremental”. However, as a neuroscientist, who is fully aware  my own psychological shortcomings, I cannot let myself slip into this chronic procrastination crack. I need to overcome my own laziness and bring some project, a project to complete completion.

There is no shortage of contenders, as shown above. And the winner is…

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Floating bedside tables for our master!

The design evolution

I have long wanted floating nightstands – shall we call it “nightfloats” for short? The most important reason: cleanliness. We have a Labrador who sheds non-stop (but he is cute! And we love him very much). A couple days without vacuuming, you can see black hairballs rolling along the baseboards (eww). Floating furniture allow us to vacuum every corner of our rooms. So, when I made our headboard during Christmas. I also designed a sideboard/nightfloat combination for both sides of the bed.

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This SketchUp image shows how I designed the nightfloats originally. The side panels, which are as deep as the headboard, will be standing on both sides of the bed and secured to the wall. Two nightfloats and two sconces will be mounted on the side panels, which hide all the wires behind. The blue rectangle represents a window above the bed.

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As you can see, there is not a lot of room on either side of the bed. I decided to make the side panel/nightfloat 19″ wide, which is the distance between the bed and the wall to the right.

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However, when I actually pop a big piece of plywood next to the bed, the room felt so… filled up to the brim. The bed assembly took over the entire back wall, making the room feel cramped. With a king and storage bed, it is so critical for us to keep everything else light and minimal. Hence the choice of curtains on the closet, the ladder for clothes drop-off, and the minimal decor. We quickly nix the idea of side panels, and decided to only make the nightfloats.

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Without the side panels, one drawer nightstand looked a bit too skinny. So we opt for a more balanced two-drawer design. This guest post from The house of wood confirmed that this is the look we wanted. Although I did not follow their plan and building material, the dimensions and building process is fairly similar.

Building the carcass

With SketchUp plan in hand, I started cutting all the pieces to size.

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I usually do not keep a cut list, but rather try to use up various pieces with minimal waste. After building two nightstand, I have only waste some trimmings that could be picked up by two hands – I’d say that it is pretty good!!!

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I also collect all the sawdust for composting later. We keep a small bin in the kitchen for collecting green waste. Layering in sawdust kept it odor-free and dry. A win-win in my book.

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I decided to join all the pieces with pocket hole joints.

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Slav gifted me these quick release bar clamp (similar here) which are life savers for a one-man operation.

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Ta-dah!

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Drawer build

Now it comes my favorite part: building the drawers. There is something very comforting about the repetitive process of assembling drawers. I can build drawers everyday. If you are in the Denver area and want a few drawers built, let me know!

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There are also many ways to build drawers which I am having fun trying. The first drawer I built uses butt joint and screws, and my second batch was built with butt joint and brad nails. For both cases, the drawer bottoms were screwed/nailed directly onto the bottom of the drawer frame. This time I used pocket hole joints for the frame, and cut grooves with the tablesaw on all sides of the drawer frame to sink the drawer bottoms in.

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The groove were cut to fit the 5 mm plywood I had on hand (left from this project). I used a piece to make sure the groove lining up perfectly while jointing pieces together:

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For small drawers like what I am building, these plywood sheets are rigid enough and should not bend easily. If you are making drawers than exceed 2′ on one side, much wider drawers, I will recommend a center support.

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After inserting the drawer bottoms, I closed them off by joining in the last side. These drawers felt super solid and I am very happy with them. 🙂

The assembly

I attached all the drawer slides which is pretty straightforward. I maxed out the drawer depth by having very limited space between them, but math worked.

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I cut a piece of plywood to cover the whole front (including the frames), then sliced it into two pieces where the drawers divide. The cut took off 1/8″ of plywood horizontally, which left a perfect reveal between the two drawers while keeping the wood grain continuous.

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Slav helped me to mount them in the bedroom. We used the Hangman french cleat for our headboard and it was rock solid. So this time we used two of this smaller version for the nightfloats.

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Finished around 10 pm, perfect timing for bed:

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As planned, the nightstand on Slav’s side fits like a glove.

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And them just cleared the storage bed drawers:

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Customer Review:

We have used these nightfloats for a couple nights and they are perfect. The top provides plenty of space for lights, clock, and a glass of water much needed for sleeping in such dry climate. The bottom drawers are reserved for undies and socks, and the top drawers are perfect for ear buds, night guards, and glasses.

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We love the seamless look in the front so we will not be adding hardware to the drawers. They are not difficult to open – all it takes is a firm grip on both sides. We might add finger pulls down the road if we see something we like enough.

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We do however, plan to paint the nightfloats – should they be white as the walls, black as the bed frame, or grey as our headboard? (Apparently there are only three color in my world!)

These drawers remain empty until we paint the nightfloats. It is funny that I have added nine drawers – nine! – to our house within the last a couple weeks, yet none of them got filled. Should I celebrate our lack of stuff, or be charged of overbuild?

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