Terrific Broth

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

The Dog Days of Summer


What a lovely summer we are having this year! Except a few hot days here and there, we are experiencing in general much cooler temperature and a lot more rainfall than previous years. Bright morning sun and afternoon clouds kept plants and wildlife happy. It is seriously the best year for gardens and lawn since we moved into the house.




Besides abundant flowers from returning perennials, we got many blooms from this year’s planting as well. Remember the Chinese Snowball Viburnum I planted near the patio planters? It did not fail to impress:


Next to the Snowball Viburnum I planted a patch of garden Cosmos. Raised from seeds they were pretty pathetic when planted, but look at them now! Honestly I was just short of perennials and tried to fill the new patio garden with random annuals. But these cosmos really exceeded my expectations.


And I had sunflowers for the first time! Planted by visiting birds they just came up one day on their own. I had no idea what they were, but decided to keep them out of curiosity. What a nice surprise! They are looooved by bees.


Speaking of birds, we seeded a patch of grass in the backyard early summer which accidentally created a buffet for a family of American Robins. Apparently when you lay down compost on the ground and water a lot, earthworms come to the surface. And these robins just feast on the worms.


Every time the sun sets Slav waters the newly seeded area. In a few minutes these two robins will show up for dinner. I think they can sense the moisture in the air. We had a lot of fun watching them hunting worms: they carefully listen to the movement under the soil, then snap at worms risen just below the soil surface.


Once they get a bit of a worm they pull it out of the soil completely, crop it into pieces, then fly away with a mouth full of worm to enjoy in their nest.



Besides worms they also steal my strawberries…but that is it. Interestingly they do not eat any grass seeds, nor any of my vegetables. Robins are steak-and-dessert kind of bird I guess.

What has been stealing our vegetable harvest is the Cottontail Gang. Look at this cute monster waiting for us to go inside so he/she can start supper:


This is the first summer I got bunnies in my backyard – my dogs must have made a deal with these adorable little thieves to exchange my lettuce for their poop. Bunny poops are like M&M to my dogs – they just could not resist licking the last drop clean.


Compared to the neighborhood bunny gang, the resident squirrels carry themselves with dignity. I keep some bird seeds and occasional sunflower heads in an old bird bath in the front yard. The resident squirrel couple show up in the mornings and eat quietly by themselves. They live in a big tree across the street and have been challenging our squirrel-proof bird feeder every winter. So far I am winning. So I understand their urge of getting fat during summer months and I am OK to lend a hand.

As our garden matures and expands there are more and more wildlife visiting. We saw many more native bees, a greater diversity of birds, and increased number of rabbits and squirrels hanging around. It is interesting to see wildlife crossing path and foraging next to each other. Like birds eating from the bird feeder at the same time when the squirrels are around, and they hide in the same tree when we come out of the front door. Lately, a couple bunnies visit in our front yard every morning, often during the time the squirrel family eats from the bird bath. They sometimes get as close as a couple feet to each other. It is so nice to watch them peacefully eating their respective meals side by side.

havest 1

Despite the bunny interest the garden is doing well too! Above is a shot of my cucumber plant about a week ago, and now it has climbed to the top of the trellis. I have already harvested a few rounds of radish and greens. And 75 heads of garlic came out just after July 4th:

Harvest 2

Last week I cut my herb garden back and gave all the trimmings to my co-workers. My car smelled like mint for days.

Harvest 3

We continue harvesting greens while beans, beets and zucchini come to season:

Harvest 4

Starting mid-July there has been a steady steam of onions, tomato, cucumber, and more zucchini…

Harvest 5

And even more zucchini…

Harvest 6

As you can see we are flooded with zucchini this year – they seemed to really like my garden so one plant is usually enough for two of us. However this year we planted four. I have donated lettuce and zucchini to food pantry twice, sent some to our neighbors, and made many, many meals with them:

Chinese zucchini pancake:

meals 5

Beef zucchini dumplings:

meals 2

Zucchini bread (with chocolate chips!)

meals 6

I even worked some into the sheet cake I baked form Slav. Zucchini is an amazing flour substitute and we can barely tell the difference!

meals 3

In the dog days of summer Slav and I celebrated our seventh anniversary. Seven years being married, and fourteen years being friends. I know this man well, but I am still discovering more. For example, I always thought he liked tiramisu and have been making it every year for our anniversary, only to learn that he prefers cheesecake…Oops. But we still enjoyed the cake which might be the only thing we had this summer without zucchini in it!

meals 1

How is your summer going?

Resource and Reuse

One thing I did not expect before renovating our ranch, is how much material this rebuild consumes. A 100-ft section fence needed hundreds of pickets and dozens of posts; thousands pounds of concrete were poured into the soil. The roof on our small house took thousands of shingles, each consists of multiple layers of different natural and synthetic materials. Layer of plywood went under our feet, and the amount of 2″ x 4″s we hauled back from Home Depot can only be counted by trailer-load. Before owning this house, I never thought about how much material goes into building a house, nor how much more it takes to renovate one every a few decades, or more frequently, every times it changes ownership.

It prompts me to think in a larger scale, how much we as human, affect the world during our expansion and development. How much we took from the Earth, how forcefully we invaded the Nature, and how many wild life we have terminated, although not deliberately, for our comfort and convenience.

More I think about it, more I regret some decisions I made during the renovation, such as putting in a big concrete patio. Of course, most decisions we made for the house are good for the environment and wild life, such as planting hundreds of trees and perennial shrubs, as well as making our house more energy efficient. But we can do better. Moving forward, I would like to be more conscious on the environmental impact of our renovation decisions. A good place to start, is to reuse and repurpose materials from our own demolition.

I have noticed the amount of solid waste generated during demolition, pretty much as soon as we moved into our houseConstruction and demolition (C&D) waste represents a big part of the solid waste generated in US, and 90% of the C&D waste is generated during demolition. Since we demo by hand, we have an opportunity to save some material by carefully taking things apart. These materials and parts, otherwise going into landfill, is now returning back into the circulation. And reusing our own material will form a even small cycle compared to the process shown below, going from step 7 straight to step 4:

Most of the material we have saved are lumber and occasionally hardware/screws. During our last big renovation project, namely the basement reno, we were left with lots of framing lumber. We took the nails off them, and stored them over the garage roof trusses.

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Do you label your lumber? #woodworking #reclaimedwood

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This Spring, I started using them for indoor and outdoor projects whenever we need 2″ x 4″s. I know, 2″ x 4″s are dirt-cheap (probably cheaper than dirt at this point…have you paid for good dirt lately?) and readily available in big box stores. However, the goal of reusing these lumber is mostly saving them from landfill and conserving the energy and virgin resources used to produce new materials, rather than saving on the project costs.

The addition advantage of using older lumber – in our case, dated back to the 1950s – is how well they match our original framing. The picture below shows a piece of modern 2″ x 4″ on the left, and a piece of old 1950 2″ x 4″ to the right. The difference between them are so apparent!


Compared to modern 2″ x 4″s, the 50s 2″ x 4″s are 1/8″ wider and thicker and with straight edges. They are also a lot denser and harder than their modern counterparts.

Because of dimension difference, these 50s’ 2″ x 4″s are excellent for creating new framing that has to marry the old framing. Using these lumber with exactly same dimension helps everything line up more evenly. We also notice that there are very little bow on the old lumber.

Old 2″x4″ on the top, modern 2″ x 4″ at the bottom:


Because of the different density, the old lumber offers the same expansion/contraction coefficient and should be more compatible to the existing framing. I expect less issues down the road joining similar material together.

Over a weekend, Slav and I frame the closets in the retreat room. The old lumber we used came out of our basement, with a few from the very closets during the demo last week.

Before demo:


After demo:


In preparation for the Murphy bed installation, we need to add more framing on the lower part of the closet so the Murphy bed has something to attach to.

Before putting in new framing, Slav patched the missing floor boards with leftover from the office project:



Then we started with the closet to the right. Here is the before:


With new framing:


As you could see, another layer of 2″x4″s were added onto the existing framing. We did a short wall at the bottom and created a new stud. At the top and side, we attached pieces of 2″x4″s for future side panel to attach.


We did the same to the left side of the Murphy bed closet. Since this part of the framing was pretty weak, we added more horizontal bracing to reinforce the structure.


As you may notice, we also took down more drywall in the left closet. This closet will be lined with plywood, and it does not make much sense to have the drywall sandwiches between plywood and the framing.


Since the left side will be used as a closet, we just beefed it up by adding 2″ x 4″s along the edges.


After patching the flooring and framing, Slav repaired the drywall around the closets:


And repaired the bedroom doorway with drywall:



Since we plan to move the bedroom door to the hallway opening, this doorway would just become a walk-through. So Slav patched it with leftover drywall and finished the corners.


We are in process of sanding and painting the newly patched walls, then it will be time for the Murphy bed build! It is nice to cross off four items off the list!

1. Patch missing floor boards;
2. Repair and finish drywall edges against the closet wall;
3. Reinforce the closet framing;
4. Murphy bed construction and installation;
5. Wire the electrical outlet to face the bed;
6. Construct guest closet, and shelving unit in between;
7. Construct and install closet doors;
8. Trim out the closet wall;
9. Caulk and paint the closet wall wherever necessary;
10. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
11. Construct a window seating next to the desk;
12. Adding necessary storage behind Murphy Bed area for bedding and pillows;
13. Repair and finish the original bedroom doorway.

Inspiration, Details, and Preparation

Happy July 4th everyone! This extra day off came in handy as we started working on the retreat. Today, we will get into the detailed plans,  reanalyze our decisions, as well as discuss problems we have to solve to get the look we want.

The big picture

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I’ve shown you this image before. This is the inspiration photo that sets the tone for the entire renovation. The layout works for the room, and the contrast between the floor-to-ceiling closets and the low-height desk is adorable. The color of the walls, floor, and windows already match what we have in this space, which makes it a breeze to imagine the outcome of the renovation.


Due to the size of our room we will not have the chairs in the middle of the room like in the inspiration photo, only the closets and the desk. Above is a photo of the room I took today. As you can see, we have already cleared out the room and marked where the furniture would be.


The desk will end just outside of the floor register, leaving 4′ of space at the southeast corner. I’d like to create a built-in seat there, similar to the image below:

The design of the window seat without the chaise. use grey curtain to make the curtains and bolster pillows

Our built-in seat will end at the wall without a chaise. We need to leave the south wall empty for the sake of the future bathroom renovation. At the mean time, I would like to try a yoga wall as shown below.

The room is mostly empty when the Murphy bed is not in use. The desk only comes off the wall for 2′, which is nothing compared to the 10.5′ depth of the room. But having a mostly empty room is precisely what I want, both for guests to relax and for e to focus.

The closet wall

After deciding on the layout, it is time to look closely to each major elements in the room. The first being the closet wall. I prefer the look of built-in and have applied this concept to the library wall in Slav’s office. It is always the first thing people comment on when we have visitors.


Below is my inspiration photo. Compared to the look of two closets, The key is difference is that the built-in look utilizes the same material to cover the entire wall, as opposed to just installing closet doors within a boundary of dry wall. It does not only unite the Murphy bed closet with the clothes closet, but also make the space less like a bedroom.

Color of the closet. Lower drawers in the middle shelf unit. One of them can be a faux drawer with table top to serve as a nightstand extension, which can be lined up with the nightstand cove inside.

Above is the main inspiration photo for the closet wall. Below are photos I am drawn to:

Floating closet

Keep Murphy bed and adjacent closet floating? Can finish the floor and appear lighter.

I initially considered floating closet design. It is more common in eastern cultures and creates a calm feeling effortlessly. However, the Murphy bed construction prevents us from raising the bed that high from the floor. After more research, I discovered another look I like:

Color of the build in, and the idea of building a display shelf in the middle with light color wood. It can become the side of the bed and also can open to the side at one level to serve as a nightstand.

Instead of having void at the bottom, the “shelves in between closet” design incorporates shelving units vertically in the closet wall. It offer a different way to break up the closet wall and make it visually lighter and more interesting.

IKEA Hacks: DIY Ways to Make Cheap Wardrobes Look More Expensive | Apartment Therapy

I adore these shelves. They adds depth, shadows, and a place for accent colors. Having small voids really makes the closet wall more interesting.

As of inside the closet, I would like to try the look of lower drawers. I found this image online without the finished product. I like the look of the drawers with variable heights, and appreciate the utility of them as storage.

The light wood color inside. can be build all with wood

Due to the limited width of the closet I plan to leave the middle divider out, only keep the two sets of drawers at the bottom of the closet.

The Murphy bed closet will be kept very minimal. Similar to this:

DIY light

The desk and window seating

The design of the desk will largely follow the main inspiration photo, in which the desk is in a L-shape and sitting at the corner of the room between two windows.

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We plan to use motorized legs on the desk, so it will have no drawers or storage units underneath. However, I do want to add side to the desk to conceal the motorized legs, similar to this:

Desk has a side or the seating has a side?

Similar to the image above, a low bench seat will be installed next the desk, in our case, to the right. Contrasting the desk, the bench seat will have drawer storage underneath, similar to this design:

Having sofa-like inserts on either end of the bed, making it more like a deep seating than a bed

A small “C” table similar to the one below is desirable for the seating area, which can also be used as a nightstand when the Murphy bed is down.

Window seating with light grey cushions

From the three pictures above you can see the color combination I have in mind. The desk and window seat will be kept in light color wood color, and the seat cushion will be in grey. Both wood and grey colors will be used on the closet wall, similar to the photo below. It provides enough variation for such a large piece of furniture without being too busy. I want the color in the room to create a calming feeling without being too light, and feeling minimalist without being too sterile.

Color of the closet. Lower drawers in the middle shelf unit. One of them can be a faux drawer with table top to serve as a nightstand extension, which can be lined up with the nightstand cove inside.

The Demo

I am sure we will be modifying our plans as we go, but you get the idea. In preparation for the Murphy bed installation we need to do a little bit demo, mostly on the closet wall.


I started by emptying the closets:


Took off the curtains:


Then removed the trims and shelves:


To get the built-in look the drywall around the closet opening also needed to go:


The Murphy bed kits calls for a wider and taller opening than the current framing, so I took the drywall facing the closet as well:


Then marked with tape where the framing needs to be for the Murphy Bed:


At this point, the man came in with his sawzall and took down the framing within the blue tape mark. He was not interested in all the drywall demo but you can always count him to show up when cuts need to be made. 🙂


I also removed the bedroom door and some of the door trims during this process. It makes demo easier and we will be refinish this doorway nicely as part of this renovation.


Unlike other demo mainly done by Slav I took my time taking everything down. It is fun to pause to assess, think, and redesign between each step.


Revealing the framing behind the wall really helped in planning the details in this bed construction. As you can see, we have a bit floor patching to do before the bed installation.



And we got to peek into the exterior framing! The right side of the Murphy bed closet is our exterior wall and taking the drywall down there confirmed our guess that our brick house was not insulated. We will be filling this portion of the wall with insulation before closing it back up.


With the demo done we are almost ready for the Murphy bed construction. Here is a rough list of what’s in store for the retreat. I know that every line is a lot of – a week or two of – work now we are both working full time. But I am looking forward to the finishing product. Wish us luck guys!

1. Patch missing floor boards;
2. Repair and finish drywall edges against the closet wall;
3. Murphy bed construction and installation;
4. Wire the electrical outlet to face the bed;
5. Construct guest closet, and shelving unit in between;
6. Construct and install closet doors;
7. Trim out the closet wall;
8. Caulk and paint the closet wall wherever necessary;
9. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
10. Construct a window seating next to the desk;
11. Adding necessary storage behind Murphy Bed area for bedding and pillows;
12. Repair and finish the original bedroom doorway;
13. Get seat cushion, pillows, blackout curtains for the room, decor and finish.om doorway.

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