Terrific Broth

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

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Adding New Planting Space to Our Front Garden

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After an uncommonly wet Spring, we welcomed the heat of summer. It has been over 90 degrees (32 celsius) for the past two weeks. Despite of daily thunder, there was very little rain. Our garden immediately reacted – all the cool weather veggies lost their cool, and the lawn started to turn yellow. Without the leisure of natural precipitation, we started to spend our evenings dragging around hoses and watering different parts of our yard.

Backyard bee garden – the 2nd year:

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I had every intention of giving you a garden update before leaving for summer vacation, at which time the lawn was still green and the new growth on perennials were tender. But several unexpected incidents kept my up to my neck. First, our basement renovation hit some major road block, which we are still clearing away till this day. Shortly after, several wishful attempts at my day job did not work out as I hoped. Around the same time, my mom fell and broke her ankle back in Beijing.

Awakening climbing rose, the 2nd year:

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This might have been the first time I lost so much control of my life and in almost every aspect of it. To make peace I walked out to the garden. Chinese proverb says “谁非过客,花是主人”, which literally means “we are just trespasser on the land owned by flowers”. There is some truth to it, right? I am pretty sure that bindweed is the real owner of our property. Jokes aside, watching life rise and fall in nature did give me a fresh perspective on accomplishments. Not everything will work out, and too much attention might in fact stunt the growth.

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The Mailbox Underplanting

Have I shown you the small flower bed under the mailbox this year? It was a little dirt patch filled with weeds when we moved in two years ago.

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Last summer, we got rid of the weeds and created a mowing strip with brick pavers.

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And this is the same space today:

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Salvia, lily bulbs and grasses were planted this Spring to hold down the fort at this possibly the toughest spot of the whole property. The red rose are the only thing we kept from previous owner’s flower bed.

Salvia

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Black Lily

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Creeping Stonecrop ground cover

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Creating a New Flower Bed

Since returning from our summer trip, I’ve been slowly working on a new flower bed in our front yard:

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This area is around 12 ft x 4 ft, and located right in front of our DIY horizontal fence on the north side.

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See the dry creek in the picture above? The new flower bed is located to its right and in front of the fence.

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We decided to replace the lawn with flower bed here for two reasons. First, it is hard to maintain this patch of the lawn. It is so close to the house that we had to water it by hand. It is also on a steep slope and hard to cut with our lawn mower. Second, we would like to soften the fence with some plants.

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I started by removing the grass and moving the edging separating the lawn and the old flower bed forward. Three blue avena grasses (helictotrichon sempervirens) were planted in a row a few feet from the fence. They are supposed to get 4 feet tall in a few years and will provide some soft texture in front of the fence. Along also planted was an iceberg climbing rose. We are lucky to have nurseries selling plants that have adopted our high country climate.

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We have pretty bad bindweed issue in this area, so I covered the area with my favorite landscape fabric. We have used it in our front yard flower bed and under the southern fence with success. It is worth the initial investment.

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I found the edge of the landscape fabric along the dry creek, and continued the  fabric to cover the entire new flower bed. I use this landscape staple to secure the fabric.

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The next step is to run drip irrigation, which we installed in all the perennial flower beds. It does not only water more effectively, but also avoids hard water deposits on the foliage of the plants from overhead watering.

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Running drip irrigation is easy and fun, like lego for adults. With the existing drip tubing nearby, I simply T-off the existing tubing and added emitters close to the root balls of the new plants:

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I also added two mist emitters to water the lawn immediately adjacent to the new flower bed:

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Fresh mulch makes everything look better:

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New plants in their happy home:

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Now when your walk around the corner, the view of this new flower bed replaced yellow and overgrown grass:

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The two emitters linked to the drip irrigation tubing will give plenty of water to the lawn between the dry creek and the evergreen pine. Our current lawn sprinkle does not reach this corner.

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We still have plenty of room for plants in this flower bed. I am taking my time to find plants I truly love. I am considering Arctic Fire dogwood for some red winter color, however a close contender is Chinese peony, if they can handle the beating afternoon sun and strong wind in this area. What do you think?

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How do you like a new flower bed? As I finished spreading the last bag of mulch, I realized how much creating a new flower bed meant to me. It is a new start. It is a new opportunity to succeed, a new battle to win. It is something I may start taking back the control I had been losing since the beginning of this year. I still might not succeed, but at least I am giving another shot. And this time, I need to let go all the expectations and just enjoy every inch of growth it gives, however small it might be. At the end, I am just trespassing on this land of, hopefully not bindweeds, but flowers.

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Master Planning

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How are we in June already? The days in April and May were such a blur. We spent most of the April researching about basement renovation, interviewing contractors, and comparing bids. May was entirely devoted to making decisions on everything basement bath-related. Slav has been busy with his work during this whole time, and somehow we still managed to celebrate a birthday with friends.

The basement reno has picked up the pace. I’ve shown you the demo in the living room, bedroom, and bathroomthe installation of the egress window, the new electrical panel and recessed lighting, and how we sound proofed the basement. This week we crossed finishing line of framing and plumbing, which gave us a lot better idea of the new layout.

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1. The bathroom

To expand the bathroom we demoed the hallway closet, which I briefly talked about here. The goal is to accommodate a double-sink vanity in here.

The shower area

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The shower will remain at the end of the room, with the shower head on the left side. A double-sink vanity will be placed next to the shower on the wet wall, and a medicine cabinet will be installed above the vanity and under the soffit.

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The toilet will locate under the air duct and close to the doorways. I am not a big fan on having the toilet next to the door, but we’d rather place toilet but not the vanity under the low ceiling.

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We are in the process of picking out the tiles for the bathroom. We have basically narrowed down to using two tiles, a large dark one on one wall and the floor, with a white subway tiles on the other three walls.

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2. The master bedroom

By removing the closet wall used to divide the two bedrooms, we created a big and long bedroom. The I beam has been boxed in and will be drywall-ed over, which creates a natural divider to separate the sleeping area from the closet area.

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Under the egress window will be our sleeping area. We decided to put the king bed on the wall adjacent to the backyard for less noise, more fresh air, and east facing windows. The bed will be centered on the east wall of the master and flanked by the floating nightstands I built last year. The column to the right envelopes of the supporting columns for the I beam. I am considering putting a skinny bookshelf on the left to mirror the column on the right, which along with the I-beam creates the look of a sleeping nook.

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This is the view from the living room, through the two bathroom doors, into the bedroom. It will be a simple but comfortable space to nest.

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The front side of the bedroom, which is next to the front yard and under Slav’s office, will become a closet area. We plan to align wardrobe cabinets along the wall on both sides, which will provide more storage space than we currently have in the bedroom closets.

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3. The utility room

The last big changed we made is to remove the wall between the living room and the utility room. Remember the old laundry/utility room when we moved in? It was just a small hallway and hard to even open the dryer door. We first demoed a bedroom there to open up the utility area, and now with the living room wall coming down, we have the entire place opened up to the living room.

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We do plan to frame an utility room closet down the road to enclose the furnace and the water heater, and add a countertop on top of the washer/dryer. The small closet under the stairs will remain as a storage space.

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4. The living room

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Compared to other rooms, the living area changed the least. Aside from losing a wall, the only change is to add recessing lights and sound proofing in the ceiling. Instead of making this another living room, we will likely using it as a media/reading room. Before the sound proofing material went in the ceiling, electrical and Ethernet for TV box and projector had been put in. Slav has big plans for this space, and all I am responsible for is choosing a big and comfortable sofa down here. It will be a great room for late evening movies and friends to gather, but for rest of the year this big and empty room will probably remain big and empty.

The month of June will be hanging the drywall and tiling the bathroom, which will be done by a contractor. We will take the torch in July, after the drywall is finished.  Before moving down here we still need to paint, figure out clothes storage, and hopefully install some flooring at least in the bedroom before we move down here. We are far from fruition now, so it is hard to imagine to have smooth drywall and functional toilet again. There are still lots of decision to make (paint! shower doors! floors!)  and lots of little things to consider (tower bars! toilet holders! bathroom storage!). And I am trying to pump the optimism by keeping myself busy shopping. Cannot wait for everything to be over!

OMG OMG OMG We Got New Windows!

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Hallelujah, we finally updated all the windows!

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We used to have aluminum windows throughout the main floor of our ranch. Since day 1, Slav has been wanting to replace them. I do not blame him. The old aluminum windows lack both form and function. They are dingy, hard to clean, and do a terrible job insulating the cold/heat and noise.

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The pictures above show the old aluminum windows on the back and the north side of the house. These are windows in the kitchen, our bedroom, and the office:

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The previous owners added more layers to insulate, which made it impossible to clean between the layers:

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Some of the windows are so rusted that they do not open. During winter months,  condensation formed and mold was growing along the window frames:

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Colorado is so dry that we do not usually deal with mold problems. But these windows were exception. Needless to say that we were ready for this upgrade for a long time. So when DesignCrew, who did our basement egress gave us a very reasonable quote, we jumped on it with both feet. Their quote does not only include replacing 7 old aluminum windows with custom vinyl windows, but also includes the cost of making the office window bigger.

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The picture above shows the old office window on the left, and the living room window on the right. You can see the office window was shorter. To bring some symmetry to the front of the house we wanted to make the office window taller so it would match the height of the living room window.

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Making this window taller requires cutting the brick window sill off, removing a few rows of bricks below the sill, and building the sill back up again. The DesignCrew guys subcontracts the brick work to a masonry contractor so the quality of the brick work is professional.

In the morning of the window installation, we pushed everything away from the old windows and covered our stuff.

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The crew arrived after 8 AM and worked their way from the inside out, so they can clean after themselves effectively. Lee, the father of the company started to enlarge the front office window (the left window in the picture above) right away, while Ryan (one of his sons) worked on the smaller window on the north side (the right one in the pictured above).

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The bricks were removed before the windows were taking down. Lee, the guy in the picture explained to me that doing things in this order prevented the dust from entering the house. I really like how methodical and organized these guys work. Cannot recommend the DesignCrew enough!

Within an hour the bricks demo was done. Lee then removed the window and trimmed the wood framing to meet the new opening on the exterior brick. You can see how much we were lowering the sill from the picture below:

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Before noon, the new opening was done and I had a rare opportunity to peak into our exterior walls.

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Apparently our brick house was constructed in the following layers: a layer of brick, a layer of insulation board, then interior wood framing. There is no insulation between the interior studs as we discovered during the ethernet cable installation.

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It is so cool to be able to look into the walls – I love the mechanical aspect of the house a lot more than the finishes. Maybe one day we will build a house from scratch!

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The rebuilding of the window was pretty quick. I snapped the last picture above and went for a walk in the neighborhood. By the time I was back, the new window was up!

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The new and bigger window let in so much more light and the office was instantly brighter:

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And we can see a lot more of the front yard garden now with a lower sill. All the flower beds are visible as soon as you walk into the office. This new window has become my favorite spot in the morning. I love sipping my tea while watching birds and flowers in the comfort of my pj.

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All the new windows facing the front and back are double-slider windows – both glass panels are movable and can stop at any position along the window track. The panels can also be pop off easily from the inside for easy cleaning. Each window comes with a bug screen which is a continuous one-piece. The screen can be removed for clearer view. This feature is useful during winter months when we do not open the windows.

Lee saved all the sill bricks during demo so the masonry contractor could re-point them back onto the wall.

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He also replaced the bricks on the side that were cut into halves with bricks taken from the bottom of the window, so the wall on both sides of the new window looks seamless.

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And this is the new look in the front of the house! Doesn’t it look much better with both windows at the same height?

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Compared to this:

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So satisfying!

While Lee tackled the office window, Ryan worked on replacing the two small windows on the north side.

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We rarely open these small windows due to the furniture placement. All they are there for is letting the light in. To have a better view we opted for awning windows, a decision we are so happy with.

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We anticipated that awning windows will appear bigger, but we did not think it would look THIS much bigger and better. The unobstructed view out of these windows looks like a picture and instantly made the rooms feel more finished. In the bathroom downstairs we chose a hopper which is also without the middle frame. For small windows I highly recommend this approach. It also made the windows look bigger from the outside.

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And there will be no more mold!

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Also replaced are the kitchen windows:

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Which Roxie is clearly excited about:

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And the other window in our  bedroom. Directly below is the egress window DesignCrew put in for us back in January.

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A much better view of the backyard from our bed:

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The last window we replaced is in the garage! The old aluminum one was completely rusted and could not open.

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And here is the new one:

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We have been living with the new windows for a couple weeks now and really like them. We no longer hear traffic on the street, and every room is a lot brighter. The temperature inside is a lot more stable, and opening and closing the windows have been a breeze.

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In addition to the comfort, upgrading the windows brought such an instant upgrade to our curb appeal. We keep asking ourselves why we had not done it sooner! After removing the old front porch, installing a new roof, putting in new landscaping, building a new horizontal fence, and now with brand new windows, we finally checked off all the big items on our exterior renovation list. Remember the front of the house when we bought it?

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A very different view today:

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Now we can finally move into the decorative elements for the exterior. Slav has been wanting to add stone veneer to the bare foundation, and I’ve been dreaming about climbing clematis on over-window pergolas. Slav is also very motivated to paint the gables and the garage door darker to better match the bronze trims and gutters – or I should say, to let me paint the gables and the garage door darker. This summer will be full of small and fun projects to continue improving our curb appeal, and I cannot wait!

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