Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Tag: Backyard (Page 1 of 3)

Ranch House Tour – Our Yard

Ladies and gentlemen, it is house tour time!

Since moving in mid-June, we have been working very hard on our ranch. It has been 7 weeks today! I am happy to report that we had just reached a sweet spot yesterday, where all the major eyesores of the house were gotten rid of, and our main living area was cleaned up. That means we can sleep and cook in a clean house like a normal family, instead of just creating more dust and more chaos each day. I am sure that the pups appreciate it! Charlie and Roxie were really not fans of loud noises and sharp tools.

Our timing could not be better – I will be starting a new full-time job tomorrow, and Slav is picking up the pace of his business. For the next month and half, we will focus 95% of the energy on our work – the work actually brings in money rather than burning holes in our pockets! We also cannot wait to experience our neighborhood – shop at our neighborhood farmer’s market, start doing yoga again (for me), subscribe to local newspapers, and have Sunday brunches. You know, like actually live in our home, not just working on it.

But do not get me wrong, the projects are still happening. There has been so much we’ve done and I’ve still not told you yet! To be clear, I am not holding any information back intentionally, it is just that we’ve done so much and so quickly, and this one-person blog could not keep up.

Now the ranch house no longer offends people’s eyes, I think it will be fun to shoot some video tours and show you what it looks like now. This is the “after” to the “destructive” part of our renovations, but a real “before” to any of the “constructive” renovations we will be doing. I will show you our yard and exterior of the house today, our main floor living space tomorrow, and our basement and garage through the rest of the week. I will also share with you our plans for each space. So get cozy, grab a cup of coffee, and read along – it will be a fun week!

Without further ado, this is our back yard:

I made a mistake around 1:15 in this video calling the chain link fence “east side”, it is actually facing west (the front of our house). You can see our site plan (and floor plan) here:

Ranch Site Plan

The back patio has changed since I made the site plan. Here is what the site looks like now:

Ranch Site_2017 Summer

Since move-in, we have

  1. trimmed the dead trees and random bushes and gotten rid of weeds;
  2. power-washed the back fence;
  3. gottten rid of the satellite dish on the roof;
  4. installed a new back storm door with a doggy door on it;
  5. Installed new electrical panel at the back and raised the electrical pole on the roof;
  6. demo-ed the old patio and the metal awning;
  7. replaced an old window well; and
  8. built a new concrete patio and brought in a new grill and patio seating.

Slav also started to refresh the shed we inherited, which was badly rotten and used as a construction trash dump:


And this is the backyard now:



Yesterday, after the video was filmed, I spent 12 hours weeding in the backyard and probably got rid of 1/4 of the ground coverage there:


See all the weeds on along the fence? All gone!


The northern side of the yard were taken over  by little tree sprouts:


And it gets really bad near the shed:


After 12 hours of work:



It was not cool to see bare dirt, but not all the green plants are good and some of them just had to go.

Roxie does not seem to care about the dirt – this girl just needs her sunbath:


Besides finishing shed, our plan for the back yard this year is to replace the chain link fence. Here is our foreseeable backyard to-do list:

1. Mowing and weeding the yard to maintain the sod we have;
2. Renovating the garden shed;
3. Replacing the chain link fence;
4. Fixing the wooden fence on northern neighbor’s side so we can take off the chain link fence there;
5. Starting composting;
6. Fixing faucet leaks;
7. Grading along the back of the house;
8. Finding an outdoor sectional and a fire pit for the patio;
9. Landscaping and gardening next spring.

We have also done a lot to the front of the house and front yard. Shortly after we moved in, we trimmed the pine tree so it stopped scraping the roof, weeded the yard, and got rid of a problematic flower bed.  More recently, we improved our curb appeal by cleaning up our porch, taking off the metal awning and demoing the old patio. Just last week, we refreshed our front entrance, which really made a difference of our curb appeal! And here is what the front of the house look like today:

I totally choked on words towards the end of this video, because we really did not have a clear plan for side and front yard. We knew that we would like to bring in evergreen shrubs – arborvitae and red berry holly would be lovely. I would also love to have climbing roses on trellis as well.

After the fence is complete, the side yard next to the garage will be enclosed into the backyard. We will put in a big gate in the front and potentially make a side patio next to the garage for Slav to park his trailer. We also tossed around the idea of a trellis roof for growing grape vines:


The northern side of the yard slopes down significantly to our neighbor’s driveway. It would be nice to plant a line of arborvitae along our property line to add some height.


This side of the foundation are exposed due to the yard slope, providing an opportunity to carve out a private entrance to the basement suite or installing egress windows:


We constantly walk around this tree at the corner and you can already see our footprints on the lawn. It is a natural choice to build a stepping stone path here:


We love holly trees and the red berries they put out in winter. It would be nice to have them as a low hedge along the sidewalk.


As far as flower goes, I love the simplicity and elegance of an English garden. One thing Slav and I both want is climbing roses on window trellis and potentially above the garage doors. It will soften the long straight lines of the ranch as well as bringing some colors to the front yard.

The whole landscaping thing is really new to me. Fortunately, Slav’s mom has a magical green thumb and our neighbors all have lovely landscaping and free plants to offer. If you guys have good ideas and suggestions, help me out!

Here you have it, our yard tour and garden to-do list. Come back tomorrow for our main floor living space!

Building a Dream Patio – The Reveal

Hello friends! Welcome to our new back patio!


34′ x 10′ patio provides lots of space for outdoor dining and seating


Patio seating from Habitat for Humanity


Back door area (and look! Our new electrical panel! Look at it!)

Our meter is still not installed, which means that we are still enjoy free electricity! “Shocking!” flower lady says.


And here is the window well embedded:


Last time I showed you the back of our house, the concrete patio was just poured and it looked like this:


According to our concrete guy’s instruction, the patio needed to for 2~4 days before we could walk on it with soft bottom shoes. I think the wait easily ranks the hardest part of the renovation to date. It looked so tempting!

We closed off the doggy door and borrowed a neighbor’s snow fence to keep the dogs off the patio. On the third day though, I found Charlie taking a sweet nap on the uncured concrete… Oh Charlie. He is so beautifully dim. I think black Labradors are either very smart or very … slow. And Charlie is undoubtedly the latter. It took him a good few days to learn how to use the doggy door, and suddenly, he was not allowed to use it anymore… It was just too much to learn for Charlie in a week.

And now look at him, drinking from his outdoor water bowl on the new patio:


And chilling on it… Charlie seems to like the concrete surface – maybe it reminds him our last home (our NC apartment has concrete floor)? He flaps around on the concrete like a fish out of water, which is so funny to watch. There is never a dull moment living with dogs!


Please allow me to remind you where we started:

The Before –



This picture was taken on the inspection day. You can see kid toy next to the sinking back patio, on a piece of dirt along the house. We actually found some broken glasses and old light bulbs there – I guess Jesus took the wheel from there and kept these kids safe…(they have crosses on every wall but left broken glass in kids play area?!)

The second photo was taken on the day we moved in.

There were so many things staying in between this patio and our dream backyard experience – the broken backdoor, the rusted window well, leaky facets, the sinking patio, the ugly awning, the broken grill, the dirty floor mat, the wooden pole (for tie their dog onto), the plastic furniture, and that satellite dish on the roof whose cable went into every room in the house…

We rolled up our sleeves … (it was over 90 degrees and we wear T-shirts to work – there was no sleeve to roll up)… and jumped in with both feet … (cannot do that either. The patio was uneven and we would have broken our ankles). Slav removed the weird dog pole, removed the metal awning, replaced the back storm door, and took down the satellite dish. We also replaced the old electrical panel and added a new outdoor outlet. The electrical work raised the incoming electrical wires higher, which was a nice bonus.

The Progress

Fast forward to the morning of patio demo day, the back of the house looked like this:


Much. Cleaner.

Then the demo happened, and things looked a little worse for a while.


We took the opportunity to replaced the old window well which would be enclosed into the new patio:


Soon enough, the concrete was poured. And the waiting game began. We had to water the concrete twice a day for four days and wait for it to cure. But after what seemed to be forever, our back patio is open for business!


And I meant business:



Isn’t it neat? With a 34′ x 10′ footprint, we are hoping to set up an outdoor grilling/dining area, an seating/fire pit area, and lots and lots of planters. Oh the planters – I cannot wait to build them!

The Seating Options

I started thinking about patio seating as soon as we settled on the patio design. Down the road, we would like to have an outdoor sectional with a fire pit in the middle, a dining table/bench combination, and a couple lounge chairs. But right now for two people, all we need is a couple chairs that are not camping chairs. For a while, I was considering IKEA KUNGSHOLMEN:

Pair with the HALLO cushions and pillows:


They look lovely, but the price tag is a bit higher than we would like to spend at this stage. We still have soooo much to do to other parts of the house, $90 a chair feels like a lot right now. Nevertheless, we checked them out on our recent trip to IKEA, just to see how comfortable they would be. When we were in line for check-out, I wandered off to the AS-IS section. Guess what I found in the fabric bin?


Discounted HALLO cushions and pillows! There was nothing wrong with them – they were 60% off just for being floor display pieces! I could not grab them fast enough.

So the first day after our concrete was ready, out outdoor seating area looked like this:


Good enough. We actually laid on them one night watching the night sky. These cushions provided a lot of support, very comfortable to touch, and kept us cool.

I was thinking then we could build some patio furniture according to the size of these cushions, a project down the line. The next day, we stopped by the Habitat for Humanity store in Littleton, something we do periodically. This store is not the closest H for H to our home, but it has the best collections of furniture. And we saw these:


A pair of wooded chairs in awesome condition. They gave out just the right amount of the cabin vibe, and they were $15 each. The cushions on them were gross, but they were the exactly same size as the HALLO cushions and pillows we already had! It felt so meant-to-be.

We still need an outdoor table. The small drum we had there is too precious to stay outdoor. But it felt sooo good already sitting here and watch Slav grill. He made one of the best burgers I’ve ever had today! After non-stop demoing and dust for a months and a half, we are so happy to have a finished and clean space to relax in the evening. It feels so rejuvenating.


And it just felt so good to go from this…


to this!


Do you have a back patio/porch? What kind of patio furniture do you use? Any furniture recommendations? We are still looking for an outdoor sectional and a fire pit. If you have a favorite, do tell!

Building a Dream Patio – The Concrete is In!

Welcome back, friends! For those of you who are following along our back patio renovation, thank you so much for your support and encouragement! In the last a few posts, I’ve showed you how we removed the ugly metal awnings covering the patio, demo-ed of existing porches and the new patio plans, and replaced an old window well. All these effort led to today – when the concrete was poured and our patio appeared in front of our eyes!


In the afternoon of the day we replaced the window well, the concrete guys showed up around 5 PM to double check the level of the ground and remove large debris. They had scheduled the concrete trunk for 5:30 PM sharp, at which time our future patio was completely in shade and the outdoor temperature has cooled down a bit. This condition allows the concrete to dry fast enough to pull the frame off the same day, but slow enough for the crew to finish it before it was too hard to work on.

We removed a good portion of the chain link fence so the concrete trunk could drive right next to the work site.


It is interesting for us to learn how the business works – our contractor, who demos, frames and finishes concrete actually does not own the concrete truck nor mix the concrete themselves. They order just right amount of the concrete from another local business, whose worker drives in this truck with concrete mix and water tank equipped. The concrete business does not do any demo nor framing – all they privide is X amount of the concrete. As soon as the concrete was mixed in the truck and spilled down the slide into our contractor’s wheelbarrow, it became our contractor’s responsibility.


See the young guy in construction vest standing next to the concrete slide? He is the driver of the concrete trunk and all he is responsible for was to turn on the mixture, let out X amount of the concrete (one wheelbarrow at a time), and clean up his trunk afterwards. That is why it is so important to order just right amount of the concrete – any leftover concrete mix needs to be washed out of the trunk and disposes at the job site (on our lawn for example). So if our contractor had ordered too much concrete, they would have to haul the leftover away after it had dried on our lawn.

First wheelbarrow went into the future stair in front of the backdoor:


And as soon as it was full, one of our guys went in and compacted it with a small trowel:


Then barrows after barrows of concrete were poured carefully into the frame, starting on the far end of the patio. Two guys were transporting the wet concrete mix with two wheelbarrows non-stop while the third contractor of ours leveled it with a shovel.


After a couple minutes, one of the guys stopped transporting concrete mix and started packed down from the far end:


As this point, one of our contractors was pouring wet mix in to the frame, another leveled the wet mix with a shovel, and the third person packed every bits down. The whole action was well-coordinated.

It is amazing how fast the pouring process went. Before the whole thing started, our contractors, the father, son, and son-in-law trio all got ready as if they were in a race. And soon I realized why: it was indeed a race – a race to achieve a solid and leveled base before the concrete started to dry.


As soon as the whole frame was filled, while the other two of our guys were still busy packing down the last corner, one guys already started smoothing the surface:





See the small portion of wet concrete on a piece of plywood? That is how much leftover we had. It was THAT precise. And even this tiny bit of concrete did not go to waste – they were later used to fill the holes after the framing around the stairs were removed.

After the whole surface was packed down and smoothed out, one of our contractors started to further smooth it with a smaller trowel:


From end to end:


At this point, the surface was already pretty nice. It was still too soft for the broom finish, so our guys caught a moment to rinse off the wet mix on their tools and in the wheelbarrows, and paid for the concrete delivery truck.


As soon as the surface got a bit harder, the framing around the step were taken off and the holes from the vertical studs were filled with leftover concrete mix. The whole stair were then finished on all sides.


This was also the time to put in the expansion joints, which are these straight lines to allow the concrete to swell and shrink in different outdoor temperatures.

The final step was finishing the surface with a big broom. For a broom dedicated to concrete work, it was surprisingly clean and well maintained. Apparently these guys rinse it off carefully after each job. Watching them rinsing their tools reminds me the paint brushes we inherited from my late father-in-law, who was an experience contractor – his used paint brushes were all clean and soft, carefully wrapped in their original packaging to protect the bristles, and neatly organized in a soft-bottom brush bag. Good workmanship requires good care of your tools.


The broom finish step took a long time. It was done in multiple passes. It was just amazing to see how detailed this part was – all the edges and seams requires very precised movement of the corner of the broom, which means that the guy moving the broom sometimes needed to hold it up while rotating it gently. This part definitely needed muscle strength!


From the time concrete trunk arrived to a finished surface, it took about two hours. Most of the time was spent on finishing and detailing. While our contractor had some spare time, they also patched some gaps in the existing concrete walk way with leftover concrete. We appreciated it!


The new patio will continue to cure for a few days before we could walk on it. To prevent dogs from scratching the patio, we locked the backdoor and completely fenced off the patio. It was a paws-off zone here!


This is how the patio looked the next morning – it was so hard not to walk on it!


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