Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Outdoor Living (Page 1 of 3)

The Small Project Continues

Hi friend! Happy Monday! We had another busy weekend here in the ranch house. We got a fire pit off Craigslist and picked up some free firewood in the area. Loading, splitting, and stacking firewood took a lot of time! Slav definitely got his workout in this weekend.

I, on the other hand, am recovering from the first week from work. Not working for 5 months really made a difference on my energy level, and driving 45-minute each way has taken a lot out of me. My did manage to take the Basic Life Support (BLS) and got certified! The BLS classes at my work are offered by American Heart Associations (AHA) and teach people how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use automated external defibrillator (AED) on adults, children, and even infants. I hope that I would never have chance to use my training – because that would mean someone is in trouble – but if there is an unfortunate situation, I could potentially save someone’s life!

Without my help, Slav still did plenty of updates on the ranch house. Some are big and some are small. I adore small updates, which could really make our life easier (I’ve shared you some before here). So I am excited to share the second round of small updates with you today!

1. Upgrade the backdoor lighting

Since we moved in, we have improved the function of the back entrance a lot by installing a new storm door. Demoing the old patio and metal covers and building a new concrete patio certainly helped too. However, the porch light next to the back door was till this giant stadium lighting:

It is 600W (!) and lights up not only ours, but also our neighbors’ backyards.


Because of its blinding power, we tried very hard not to use it. Slav finally could not take it anymore and bought this light from the Habitat for Humanity:


It can be mounted in three ways. We decided to honor the wall mount tradition. Since it was never used, all we needed to do was to install a LED light bulb (also from habitat for Humanity, for only $1.50 a pop!).


And this was what it looked like 20 minutes later:


Easier on the eyes, right?

2. Moving Dog leashes to the garage

As I told you before, our kitchen is a high high high traffic zone. From basement to the main floor, from garage to the living space, going out of the back door… to get anywhere, you would have to pass the kitchen. So it quickly became a messy drop-off zone. To keep the kitchen neat, I decided to find everything a designated place. That means shoes off in the garage, keys and wallets goes to the front entry, etc. This week, we moved the dog leases out of the kitchen to the garage. Our kitcken immediately looked cleaner, from this:


to this:


The leashes are now hanging on two hooks next to the garage-kitchen door , on the garage side:


I picked up these two lovely hooks from IKEA last time we stopped by:



I wanted these hooks years ago when they first came to the market, and finally had an excuse to get them! Yay!

3. Hang the closet door in Slav’s office

When we first moved in, we took all the main floor carpet out. And we removed the closet doors in the bedrooms to make things easier:

01 start from bedroom closet

After we removed the carpet, we did not bother to put back the closet doors. In our bedroom, we hung a pair of IKEA curtains instead of the doors:


But in Slav’s office, it looked like this for quiet a few weeks:


The closet is organized, but it still made the room look busy. So we decided to add the doors back on:


As you could see, I painted them white to match the wall color. Eventually we will reverse the closet to face the bedroom and dry wall this side, so I wanted to create a feeling that there is not a closet from the get-go. Now when we walk into the room, our eyes no longer land on the clothing in the closet, but more focus on the desk and the computer. I hope it will help Slav to be more focused when he works here.

4. Switching out all the baseboard vents and grilles

We have 6 baseboard vents and two return grilles on the main floor, and they all looked like this:



Two baseboard vents



Return Grilles

Since we were in the process of installing a central AC, we replaced all the old metal vents and grilles with these plastic ones from Lowe’s:


Slav spent a couple hours switching them out. The old metal ones were rusted and some screws were stuck. So it took some force to wrestle the old vent covers off. There was also a lot of dust tucked in these vents! So Slav vacuumed them all out. It made me feel so good knowing that we are no longer breathing these dust!


New vent in the bathroom


New vent in the kitchen



New return grilles in the living room

The crisp and bright white vents and grilles certainly made the floor look a lot worse. LOL. That is the story when you renovating an old house, anything new just makes the old stuff next to it 100 times worse! I am not bothered by the floor as much as Slav is, but we definitely want to refinish all the floor on the main level soon. More furniture we have here, more difficult the refinishing would be. So before we start knocking down walls or work on any build-ins, we will have to work on the floor first!

Here you go, four recent small updates! We are discovering small stuff to do everyday and I will come back to tell you more when we have a few done. Don’t you just love these small upgrades? Have you done any lately in your home?


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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