Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Tag: Kitchen

Doggies Use Backdoor

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When it comes to how to use our house, we always keep our pups in mind. It is their home too and we want to make their lives as smooth as possible. Roxie and Charlie prefer outside. So one of the renovation goals is to give them free backyard access.

As soon as we got Roxie, we considered installing a doggy door. In fact, we bought one and have been hoarding it since 2013!

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The storm door we had in NC was made in metal, which meant the installation would be permanent. Being a rental property, we were not sure if the future renters would like to have a doggy door, so we did not install it. Now we could use the house however way we want. It became a no brainer to install the doggy door we had.

Our back entrance situation was not good (is there anything?). For one, this was our back storm door when we moved in:

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Gorgeous, wasn’t it? It even came with a “built-in” “doggy door”.

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In case that you could not see, the entire bottom panel was missing. The previous owner had a small dog who could easily go in and out through the opening.

However, it would not work for us. Charlie and Roxie flat refused to even give it a try. And the opening totally defeated it purpose of being a storm door.

Slav hated this old aluminum door from hour 1. And by hour 18 after moving in, the door had been taken off and loaded on the trailer. We were left with a solid wooden door:

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Not so hot either. This door was really the second biggest eyesore with our back entry. It makes my blood boil – could not wait to refinish it.

Slav and I brainstormed a little on what type of door(s) we want at the back and where to install the doggy door. We could

  1. Get an exterior door that could stand water as our only backdoor, and install the doggy door on it. Our neighborhood is really safe and we have a wrap around fence, so there is little chance that anyone would break in from the backdoor. On top of that, our neighbor is a Policeman and he parks his police car in front of our house every night. It helps. 🙂
  2. Get a new storm door and install the doggy door on it. We could lock the wooden backdoor for safety when we are out, and leave it open so the dogs have access to the backyard when we are home.
  3. Install a new storm door, and put the doggy door on the wooden door we have. Pop the storm door open and lock the wooden door when we are out, so the dogs can have access to the yard when we are not home.

After balancing security concerns, the option of having screen/windows, the way we use our backdoor, and the price, we chose the option 2. We plan to put a french or sliding door back here when we redo the kitchen, so it does not make sense to waste a brand new exterior door as in option 1. Storm door do lock, but the locks on them are very weak. So we were not comfortable with opening a hole that a skinny person can squeeze through on the solid wood door, as described in option 3. The only drawback in option 2 is that the dogs will not have backyard access when we are out. But Slav is home 95% of the time, so it is not as big of a concern.

So Lowe’s we went. And by the evening, the doggy door was installed!

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Above is the view from the inside of the door. We put the doggy door on the left, away from the hinges.

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We love this doggy door, which has a clear plastic curtain with a magnetic strip at the bottom. The length of the plastic curtain can be adjusted slightly to ensure a perfect seal along the sides. And the magnetic strip makes sure that the curtain stays in its place.

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The doggy door also has a cover. It is a snap on and easy to take on and off. We will use it in winter to eliminate cold draft.

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Roxie, the smart one, figured out how to use the doggy door immediately. As usual, Charlie learned much slower. After watching Roxie going in and out for hours, and mommy waving some delicious treats on the other side, Charlie finally warmed up to this new black hole…

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Now we can take the wooden door off and refinish it! It was A MESS. This door has been painted many times over the years. I am almost certain that it contains lead paint.

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Our back entrance makeover list now looks like this:

1. Replace the old storm door with something new
2. Install a doggy door on the new storm door
3. Take down the wooden exterior door (done!)
4. Clean, patch, and paint the flaky door frames (in progress)
5. Strip paint off the backdoor
6. Refinish the backdoor with stain or paint (depending on the condition of the wood)
7. Rehang the backdoor and replace the weather strip.

Small Project, Big Impact

Roof, fence, patio, sewage…the ranch renovation list continues. Demo work and big projects are dusty and they take days to weeks to complete. Doing big projects one after another inevitably made a big dent on our patience and comfort. One day we got up and just craved some easy projects – the ones take half an hour to complete but can greatly improve the look of a room.

Here are the four things we did in two hours for some instant gratification:

1. Replacing the stove drip pans

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This is our kitchen right now. It was dark, and foot traffic from garage and backyard keeps it dusty. The choppy layout does not make things any better – I dislike it so much that I’ve not started cooking yet! Since we are not gonna tackle the kitchen anytime soon, we HAVE TO improve it a little bit, at least to the level that I can stand cooking in this room.

So one morning, while I was sipped on my morning tea, I asked myself – what is the one thing I could change to get the biggest bang for the buck?

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The drip pans! It was foil-protected, which I hate. But as soon as I started peeling off the foil, I realized why – the drip pans were all terribly rusted.

A 10-min drive to Lowe’s fixed it immediately:

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I started cooking Chinese food now!

2. Fixing broken window screens

Our window situation is a big mess. We have new vinyl window in the living room and basement bedrooms, but most of the main floor rooms have old aluminum windows. Quite a few window screens were missing on the old windows, and some were torn on the new windows:

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There are not nearly as many bugs here as in NC, but there are still flies and mosquitoes. While door-hunting in the Habitat for Humanity, we picked up a few screens to put up on the old windows. We could finally open the bathroom windows now!

Unfortunately, for the basement window shown above, there was nothing that fits. So we picked up a much larger one for the material.

Front, our broken screen panel; back, the $5 old screen we bought.

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The frame of our broken panel was still in a good shape. What’s broken was the seal strip.

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We bought a screen that used the same seal strip:

Left: our broken screen; right, new screen

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I started by using a fork to pry the broken seal strip out of its channel, which freed the broken screen.

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Then I used the fork to take the intact seal strip and screen off the panel we bought, and fit them into our small window frame:

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Last, trim off excess screen.

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Taadaa!

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Opening all the windows invites fresh and cool air into the rooms – I do not feel the need of air conditioner at all. Cannot speak the same for Slav though.

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3. Taking the satellite dish off our roof

The is the current state of our back porch. See the eye sore in this picture?

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Which one? You may ask. Well, I am gonna ask you to please ignore the porch itself, and the low hanging telephone wire, and the camping chairs and plastic cooler, and the paint-peeling backdoor. Bring your eye up to the roof…

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The satellite dish! The previous family living here wired telephone and satellite into EVERY ROOM. which made many holes on the exterior walls and there are black wires EVERYWHERE.

Slav pays close attention to anything tech and this satellite dish really bothered him. So he took a ladder and his drill to it, while I was working on the window screens:

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He first took down the wires held to the roof soffit, then freed the satellite dish on the roof:

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Gone! It took him like 15 minutes (due to rusty screws).

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Better, right? OK, I’d admit that as soon as Slav climbed down from the ladder, he said, “now the porch cover is a real eye sore”. Without the satellite dish, every other eye sore just grew much bigger. Well, one thing at a time.

4. No more carpet on the stairs!

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If there is a bigger crime than carpet over hardwood floor, it must be carpet over stairs.

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Even worse, in our case, this is the only set of stairs going to the basement, where the laundry room is. It is also right next to the backdoor and the garage door. Let me tell you, it is impossible to keep it clean!

I intentionally looked away during the whole first month we lived here, which was very hard for me! It helps that I do not go down basement except doing laundry. But lately, with warmer weather, I started sensing a pee smell brewing near the backdoor. And after sniffing around (gross, I know), I narrowed down to the stairs! I suspect that the small dog used to live in this house used this stair as a wee-wee pad.

So on this small project day, I got on it:

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The carpet were installed in small sections so they were really easy to pull off. After gaining some experience from pulling off the main floor carpet, the process went pretty fast:

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The underlayment was not even continuous, making things much easier. It took me about 5 minutes to pull them off and to expose the staples and tack strips:

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Doesn’t it already look better?

I took the staples out while Slav worked on the tack strips. Within an hour, the stairs went from dirty carpet to this:

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Some TSP solution made it instantly one shade lighter:

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The stringers are in white color, whereas the risers and treads were painted yellow. Just like everything else in this house, the paint job shows zero craftsmanship.

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We plan to paint the thread a darker color and the risers white, AFTER we find a way to keep the dogs off these stairs. The dogs each picked a bedroom downstairs to sleep (yes there are very spoiled), so they are the real users of the stairs. Charlie comes up from his nap every a few hours to beg for treats. And Roxie, OMG. This girl absolutely adores stairs – she runs up and down every ten minutes! She runs down to check on Charlie, she runs up to check on what we are building/cutting/demoing, she runs up to the backdoor to keep an eye on squirrels, and she runs back down again to let Charlie know about the squirrels… Could I train dogs to use only one half of the stairs? What do you think?

Here they are, our four small upgrades in two hours. As you can see, we are still at the demo phase – Nothing new is coming in yet, Everything we have done is to take things down! And let me tell you, the next one to go will be some thing big and ugly, something made in metal. Care to take a guess?

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.

01 before

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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