Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Tag: DIY (Page 1 of 2)

Building A Dream Patio – Replace An Old Window Well

Hey friends! How is your week going? It feels like a roller coaster ride here. I never knew that concrete demo could be this dusty – everything in our living room and kitchen was covered in a layer of concrete dust – even with all the windows and door closed! I caught Roxie drinking from her outdoor water bowl that was covered in concrete dust – and she was licking it because it was almost dry! I felt like such a bad mother and needless to say that she got some really good treats for being neglected.

With the framing in place and the concrete truck ordered, we did not just sit around and wait the magic to happen. There was yet something that needed our attnetion BEFORE the concrete could go in:

This window well.

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I knew that I have shown you the dirty carpet, ugly metal awnings, and the half torn garage. But believe me, I still feel embarrassed to show you this window well. I guess it is because that all the other things either have been upgraded, or at least their days are numbered. But we still have a whole bunch of these laying around, and sadly, without any plan to be replaced. There is just no point to change basement window wells until we enlarge the windows. But honestly, these window wells started bothering us more and more. With major exterior demo happening one after another, these window wells started to stand out and are definitely rising to the top of our “eyesore” list.

They deserve it. They are old, rusty, non-functional, and practically outdoor trash bins when we moved in. I will not be showing you what we have pulled out of these wells. This is a family blog – let us keep it classy.

But we will be replacing THIS particular window well today, because it will be enclosed in our new patio. It was enclosed in our old back porch, so this will be our only opportunity to replace it without breaking concrete ourselves.

Due to the concrete work, there was only a 24-hour window for us to get it replaced. And of course we had to find out that our window was not in a standard size…The window is only 32-inch wide, and our old window well was 33-inch in width. All the in-stock window wells we could get on the same day were 37-inch wide. So I spent some time googling “is wider window well a problem” but only found mixed results…

So should we go forward with a much wider window well? When there is no clear answer out there, it is time for my scientific training kicking in. All I needed to do was think logically:

  1. Is it necessary to get a perfect fit window well? No. Many egress windows rock much wider window wells. As long as the well is covered, with the sides sealed, it should protect the window as well as a smaller window well does. The only difference is cosmetic – it may look funny, or unfit; but functionally, there is no reason that a wider window well wouldn’t work.
  2. Do we want to wait for a few day in order to get a custom-fit window well? No. The concrete trunk is ordered and our contractor has other jobs lined up. Besides, even we could postpone the concrete work for a few days, the backyard is a dust bowl and my kitchen is covered in muddy paw prints. I won’t delay the work myself.
  3. Is a generic window well sufficient for our needs? Yes. The material will be the same as a custom-fit one and the price tag is actually much lower. Majority of this window well will be under the patio anyway, so instead of the looks, being strong and new are the most important things for us to consider.

We have been making many decisions during our renovation. Most of the time, we could base our decisions on scientific facts and experts’ opinions. This window well decision is an exception. Just like the work I do in the laboratory, sometimes you just have to make an educated guess based on the circumstances, when there was little previous knowledge you could trust. So I made my peace, padded myself on the back, and sent Slav to the big orange store for the most generic window well ever. He brought back this beauty one:

And this cover:

Classy. They are nothing exciting, but I actually think that they could blend in the concrete patio quite well. And I appreciate the fact that they are plastic and should never rust.

New on the left, old on the right.

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In the morning of the day of concrete work, we got up early and started digging.

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The new well is 4 inches wider, so Slav made a much bigger hole around it to make our work easier.

Just like other metal component we found on the exterior of the house, both the old window well and the screws holding it in place were badly rusted. Slav had to grind some screws off to free the window well from the foundation.

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Once the old well was off the house, we started to grading the soil at the bottom. Just like how we graded soil around the house foundation, the soil within the window needs to allow water to drain away as well.

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We then laid down two layers of 6-mil Poly. Now any water getting into the well should drain away on top of the poly layer, instead of seeping down. Some gravel will hold the poly layer in place instead of soil to facilitate drainage.

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Next, Slav drilled the new window well into the foundation.

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Then caulked the heck out of it:

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Do you see the red line on the foundation? It indicated where the top of the concrete patio would be. The rule of thumb is that the window well should be at least two inches above the finished surface (in this case, the top of the patio), and at least four inches below the bottom of the window sill. Our 24-inch well satisfied these requirements.

You may notice that there were some gravel at the bottom of the well too. We put down a thick layer on top of the entire poly layer until it reached the bottom of the well, So when we backfilled, dirt would not get into the well itself.

According to the instruction, someone need to “support the window well at all time during backfilling”. Guess who went inside…

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It took Slav about 10 minutes to backfill. He shoveled some dirt around the well, one inch at a time, then compacted it really well by doing a little dance on top of it. I, on the other hand, was busy at this one-woman show, pretending to be buried alive. So Slav started pretending he was preforming a sacrifice. It was too much fun.

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Isn’t it beautiful? I could not believe how intimated we were about installing it and how easy it actually was! We filled the well with the rest of the gravel and cleaned up a little:

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Yes you are looking at the finished patio around it! We got the concrete poured and it is curing now. I cannot get over how beautiful the whole back patio is! Here is another sneak peek:

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I will be back tomorrow to show you the process of pouring concrete and finishing the surface. The big reveal will be on Saturday (hopefully we can get our furniture here on time). Are you ready for some mimosas on our new patio? You bet I am!

Home-made Bone Broth for Dogs

After weeks of snow, hail and rain, we welcome a gorgeous sunny day here in Evergreen. Blue sky, beautiful clouds and cool breeze make it a perfect day of driving a convertible (borrowed from a friend).  We also set out for a BBQ on our newly finished patio. Roxie and Charlie, of course, are sunbathing by our side.

Besides enjoying fresh air like us humans do, dogs sunbathe for a particular reason – getting their Vitamin D. According to a recent study, most of the domestic dogs do not get enough Vitamin D, which is associated with multiple diseases in dogs, including heart failure and cancer. Neutered male dogs have the lowest blood serum level of vitamin D compared to other dogs, putting them in highest risks to diseases.

Vitamin D is mainly responsible for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body. Insufficient amount of Vitamin D leads to bone deformation and bad teeth. These are a couple ways of supplying your dogs Vitamin D, including home-cooked meals and fish oil/salmon oil supplement, both of which are pricey/time consuming.

We turned to another effective way to protect our pooches from Vitamin D insufficiency – home cooked bone broth. Bone broth does not contain Vitamin D itself, but when cooked right, is enriched with calcium and phosphorus. Mixing bone broth with our pooches’ dry food compensates for potential Vitamin D insufficiency. Over the last four years, we have tried different cooking method with different kind of soup bones, and developed a simple method to supply our pooches rich broth every day. Just like the home-made joint supplements we wrote about a few weeks ago, this home-made bone broth for pooches is simple, cheap, and requires only about an hour of your time each month to prepare.

1. Supplies

– Soup bones. We find that the neck or spine soup bones in Asian/Chinese market are the best for this purpose, because:

  1. Smaller bones for complete cooking – Asian stores have neck bone or spine, and they will chop it for you into small pieces. Comparing to leg bones or hip bones you see in the American stores, these from neck or spine fall apart nicely after cooking, resulting in richer broth with more minerals. Lots of nutrition in the bone will remain in the sediment after cooking. The sediments from neck or spine are relatively soft and in small chunks, so you can easily break them up and incorporated into the broth.
  2. Budget-friendly – neck or spine bones (usually from pigs) are usually $1.19 ~ $1.29 per lb, makes the bone broth super cheap to make. We usually get 3 lb and cook it with an average size of slow cooker, and the broth from these 3 lb will last us for 3~4 weeks.

– Ice tray (similar). For easy storage/distribution of the broth. We find the quick release ones with silicone bottom and rigid sides work the best. (We got ours from Walmart.)

– Sauce/Gravy Ladle. For transfer broth into the ice trays. Regular ladle or spoon works too, but we find the ones with a lip on its side helps preventing spills.

– Plastic Food Wrap and Freezer-safe container. For any big piece of left over bones.

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2. Simmering the bones slowly, for a long time, gives the best result.

To ensure the broth is enriched with minerals, the bones needs to be cooked until they fall apart and the bone marrow dissolves. We usually use a slow cooker on high overnight, for 8-10 hours. Simmering the bones on stove also works, but it will take longer to soften the bones, usually 16-20 hours.

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The finishing product should look non-transparent and with lots of grease on the top. Keep the grease – it is good for the hair and the nails of your dogs.

3. Ice tray method makes it easy to store and access for the broth.

You can store the broth in any container you like, just make sure that you keep it in the freezer. Over the years, we used to yogurt containers, take out boxes, paper cups (which you can peel away for a quick release), and ice trays. We found ice tray works the best because we can easily calculate how many days of broth we have, and these silicone bottom ice trays really made popping out ice cubes super easy. the only drawback of cooking a huge batch of soup is that these trays takes up quite a lot of freezer space – we have 8 of these trays, and gives pups 4 cubes per day (2 per dog, and they only gets broth with dinner dry food), which give us 24 days worth of broth. So if you only have room in your freezer for 4 of these trays, you will need to cook broth twice a month for two dogs, or give the dogs a bit less each day.

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4. Use ladle to carefully transfer the broth from your pot into ice trays, and leave them in freezer for a couple hours before stacking them. Remember to stir frequently during transfer, so the grease on top and the sediments at the bottom will evenly distribute into each cube of the broth.

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5. Freeze left over bones.

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There is always some left over bones, and they contain quite a bit nutrition as well. We usually separate them in small chunks and wrap them tight, then freeze them all in a container. Each night, when we pop a few cubs of broth, we will take out one portion of the bones and thaw them as well. Mixing them into their dry food while your pooch(es) drooling next to you.

Below is an example of the leg bone after cooking. They are too big and tough to fall apart. We decided to use them as Kong toy and freeze peanut butter in them as a treat, but soon found that they are too hard for our dogs teeth. We eventually threw them away , and stick to the smaller neck bone/spine since.

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6. Monitor your pooches after they eat bone soup.

Our dogs love the broth and look forward to dinner everyday. They never had bad reaction to the soup. But if your dog has a sensitive stomach, monitor closely the first a few days when you start giving it the broth. Some dogs may have softer stools.

Roxie and Charlie gets lots of praise for their shining fur and energy. We think having the broth every night helped. They only eat inexpensive dry food otherwise (from Costco). Their two meals are at 7 am and 7 pm. And you can see how much more eager they are before dinners, compared to breakfasts. By 6:50 pm, Roxie and Charlie will be sitting nicely in the kitchen, looking at us intensely, sometimes whine a little bit, to remind us the spoilers. If you give this recipe a try, let us know how your pup loves it. We’d like to know!

DIY Kitchen Island Top

before and after

I am lucky to live with a handy man. Slav and I like to make our living space nice and clean. Even though we are renters, we have never hesitated to make improvements on our rentals. Over the years, we upgraded window treatments, painted walls, refreshed bathroom fixtures, and planted gardens. We cannot wait to have a place to call our own and work on it!

From day one, we knew the Evergreen rental was just a temporary stay. We did not even unpack our books, pictures, and decorations, anticipating another move in a few months. By no means we are living in a rabbit hole – we HAVE to make any place pleasant to live, even just for a week! Since moved in, we finished the brick porch, set up an outdoor water station for our pooches, and planted a sunroom garden. We try to keep the cost down, of course, but these small improvements brought so much joy that they are well worth it, including the DIY kitchen island top we finished a couple weeks ago.

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If you have watched our video tour, you might recall how small the living room is. With a full mattress as sofa, Slav’s standing desk, and a coffee table, even the smallest dining set could not fit in the living room anymore. The first a couple weeks after we moved in, we ate our meals standing around the kitchen island. We immediately started hunting for a small dining set, but a dining set-for-two was really hard to come by.

Then I had an idea – why don’t we make the island top larger? Paired with a couple bar stools, we do not need a real dining set. We did some research and set on just plain plywood to save the cost, then I got to work.

1. Basic shape of the island

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The existing size of the island is 49.5″ x 24″. As you can see from the pictures above, the chimney is a foot wider. Extend the island top to span the whole width of the chimney will create sitting space for at least two people on the left side of the island, and extended it by a foot lengthwise or so will provide another sitting at the end of the island.

2. Using cardboard boxes to map out the shape

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I prefer a curved island to one with corners. To make the design process easier, I used cardboard boxes and simply cut the shape I wanted. At the right side of the island sits the stove. I extended the island a bit more to make a round corner, which not only allows another sitting spot, but also make the end of the island a bit wider for computer use.

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We got a pair of red stools off Craigslist while planning for the new island top.

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Using cardboard helps me to get a good sense of the space. I originally wanted to make the island top a foot longer – the current island is 49.5″ and the new one will be 62″ long – but it made the path between living room and kitchen too narrow. So the final length of the new island was 59.5″ instead of 62″. We also refined the shape of the future island on the right side, to provide more space for cooking.

3. Cutting and sealing the new top

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With the template in hand, Slav bought a piece of plywood (cheap!) and start cutting.

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Freshly cut plywood has really rough edges, which needs to be sanded later.

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After a couple round of sanding:

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In the picture, we already applied the first coat of wood stain. We want to keep it simple and Slav likes the look of wood grains, so we decided to stain instead of paint it. We did three coats of stain, then sealed the top with three coats of polyurethane sealant. You can see that the top got significantly darker.

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4. The result!

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We love it! It is spacious, easy to clean, and fits the space perfectly. We only have two stools but this island can seat four comfortably. With more space to spread out, we have eaten hotpot almost every night. It feels so good to finally sit down for dinner.

After a week of use, the new island top now hosts a record player, our microwave,  and during the day, serves as my work station. The height of the island is perfect for me to work on my laptop standing up, and of course I can seat on the stool if I want to. This is how it looks now:

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This island top is our simplest DIY yet, but it changed our living space so much for better. Want join us for a hotpot dinner? Come over (and bring your own stool)!

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