Terrific Broth

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

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The Dog Days of Summer

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What a lovely summer we are having this year! Except a few hot days here and there, we are experiencing in general much cooler temperature and a lot more rainfall than previous years. Bright morning sun and afternoon clouds kept plants and wildlife happy. It is seriously the best year for gardens and lawn since we moved into the house.

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Besides abundant flowers from returning perennials, we got many blooms from this year’s planting as well. Remember the Chinese Snowball Viburnum I planted near the patio planters? It did not fail to impress:

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Next to the Snowball Viburnum I planted a patch of garden Cosmos. Raised from seeds they were pretty pathetic when planted, but look at them now! Honestly I was just short of perennials and tried to fill the new patio garden with random annuals. But these cosmos really exceeded my expectations.

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And I had sunflowers for the first time! Planted by visiting birds they just came up one day on their own. I had no idea what they were, but decided to keep them out of curiosity. What a nice surprise! They are looooved by bees.

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Speaking of birds, we seeded a patch of grass in the backyard early summer which accidentally created a buffet for a family of American Robins. Apparently when you lay down compost on the ground and water a lot, earthworms come to the surface. And these robins just feast on the worms.

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Every time the sun sets Slav waters the newly seeded area. In a few minutes these two robins will show up for dinner. I think they can sense the moisture in the air. We had a lot of fun watching them hunting worms: they carefully listen to the movement under the soil, then snap at worms risen just below the soil surface.

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Once they get a bit of a worm they pull it out of the soil completely, crop it into pieces, then fly away with a mouth full of worm to enjoy in their nest.

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Besides worms they also steal my strawberries…but that is it. Interestingly they do not eat any grass seeds, nor any of my vegetables. Robins are steak-and-dessert kind of bird I guess.

What has been stealing our vegetable harvest is the Cottontail Gang. Look at this cute monster waiting for us to go inside so he/she can start supper:

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This is the first summer I got bunnies in my backyard – my dogs must have made a deal with these adorable little thieves to exchange my lettuce for their poop. Bunny poops are like M&M to my dogs – they just could not resist licking the last drop clean.

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Compared to the neighborhood bunny gang, the resident squirrels carry themselves with dignity. I keep some bird seeds and occasional sunflower heads in an old bird bath in the front yard. The resident squirrel couple show up in the mornings and eat quietly by themselves. They live in a big tree across the street and have been challenging our squirrel-proof bird feeder every winter. So far I am winning. So I understand their urge of getting fat during summer months and I am OK to lend a hand.

As our garden matures and expands there are more and more wildlife visiting. We saw many more native bees, a greater diversity of birds, and increased number of rabbits and squirrels hanging around. It is interesting to see wildlife crossing path and foraging next to each other. Like birds eating from the bird feeder at the same time when the squirrels are around, and they hide in the same tree when we come out of the front door. Lately, a couple bunnies visit in our front yard every morning, often during the time the squirrel family eats from the bird bath. They sometimes get as close as a couple feet to each other. It is so nice to watch them peacefully eating their respective meals side by side.

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Despite the bunny interest the garden is doing well too! Above is a shot of my cucumber plant about a week ago, and now it has climbed to the top of the trellis. I have already harvested a few rounds of radish and greens. And 75 heads of garlic came out just after July 4th:

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Last week I cut my herb garden back and gave all the trimmings to my co-workers. My car smelled like mint for days.

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We continue harvesting greens while beans, beets and zucchini come to season:

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Starting mid-July there has been a steady steam of onions, tomato, cucumber, and more zucchini…

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And even more zucchini…

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As you can see we are flooded with zucchini this year – they seemed to really like my garden so one plant is usually enough for two of us. However this year we planted four. I have donated lettuce and zucchini to food pantry twice, sent some to our neighbors, and made many, many meals with them:

Chinese zucchini pancake:

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Beef zucchini dumplings:

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Zucchini bread (with chocolate chips!)

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I even worked some into the sheet cake I baked form Slav. Zucchini is an amazing flour substitute and we can barely tell the difference!

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In the dog days of summer Slav and I celebrated our seventh anniversary. Seven years being married, and fourteen years being friends. I know this man well, but I am still discovering more. For example, I always thought he liked tiramisu and have been making it every year for our anniversary, only to learn that he prefers cheesecake…Oops. But we still enjoyed the cake which might be the only thing we had this summer without zucchini in it!

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How is your summer going?

Home Stay + Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning at home

Hi friends! I hope you all had a good weekend, at least as good as it could be. It is hard to ignore the crazy pandemic, but we managed to stay stress-free and did not run into any trouble shopping. We do, however, start working from home in response to the “social distancing” order, which saves me hours on commute. With nothing else to do I got into Spring cleaning – for the first time in my life! All the surface was wiped down, every blanket was washed, and bathrooms got their fair share of scrubbing bubbles. With 60 degrees and sunny weather I had the windows open for the weekend. It feels like Spring!

After cleaning inside the house I quickly moved onto the garage. Our garage is a true work horse especially in winter months. Without working in it we just use it as an enclosed dumpster. Winter sport gear, shoes, tools, construction material and demolition trash are everywhere. It needs an organization badly.

The dump ground – we are animals

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Lots to store

I spent two days just to sort things out. Every storage box was open and every item now has my finger prints on it. Disposables, out to the trash/recycle. Donation items, out into my car. Gifts, packed and shipped! The garage started looking a lot better, but the real devil is how to store all the rest.

We had organized our garage before and divided it into multiple zones: paint storage, car repair and DIY tools, sport gears, and mud room area. But the recent basement renovation left us a lot of materials we have to keep. For example, the leftover tiles, paint, drywall, and flooring, all of which should be kept in case of future repairs.

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In addition, we also plan to keep the lumber from demolition.

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For the basement reno we also acquired more tools, including a Dewalt miter saw + saw stand. We had already owned lots of tools, both for DIY projects and for car repair/maintenance. And they have been piling on top of each other and getting lost in deep drawers.

I spent the entire third day getting everything out. Dust, categorize, and re-organize them into drawers and onto shelves.

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We had one of the wall organizers (left) which works really well for storing small parts. I got another one (right) and have everything labeled.

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Aside from general storage, I mounted several magnetic racks to hold small tools in open.

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Now at least I know exactly what tools we have and where everything is. Hopefully it will save us time and money from going to stores to buy things we already have.

Adding more shelves and create a wood working station

Shortly after moving in, we mounted a series of storage shelves on the southern wall to hold paint supplies, which have worked wonderfully.

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Soon after that, we added more shelves on the other end of the southern wall for seasonal storage, which we use to store things related to specific project – cycling gear, dog stuff, etc.

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To create more storage like this, I extended the upper storage shelf to run above the garage window for mostly wood working tools.

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Below the window used to be our construction storage. Now all the lumber was moved away, I took the opportunity to carve out a space for wood working. We regularly use the Bosch table saw and the Dewalt miter saw. They are wonderful tools, but difficult to setup. Sometimes we opted out using them purely because we were too lazy to set them up. To make sure these tools are readily available, I placed them next to each other, right under the garage window.

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This is a great spot for wood working tools. The lighting is good with the window (the white board is there temporarily). There is a wall outlet right between them, and the shelves holding all the paint cans and wood treatment are just an arm away.

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We have a piece of pegboard left over from the east wall project. Adhering to the “use it or lose it” rule, I mounted it under the window and it fits perfectly! It is a great spot to store protective gear for wood working.

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Keep the north wall for sport storage and as a mud room

The last wall in our garage is the north wall, shared between the garage and the living room/kitchen. It has been used for winter gear storage with a DIY ski rack:

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next to which is hanging space and shoe storage as a mudroom area.

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What is next?

Now the garage has been organized again, in the best way I can, we have yet to find storage for two more categories of things: Christmas decorations, and lumber.

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So naturally, I decide to use these lumber to created more storage in the garage for Christmas stuff – a one-stone-two-birds approach. Why not? And we happen to have this ugly corner above the roof trusses to cover up…Do you see where I am going with this?

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My next project will be to created storage above the trusses using the lumber we have, not only to conceal the electrical wires, but also to provide space for Christmas decors. Hopefully by the end of the week, we will be able to park a car, maybe even two cars, back to the garage again! Who would know?

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The Utility Room Reno Starts!

Now the dust has settled (literally) in the master suite, Slav and I ask ourselves, “what’s next?” Without hesitation, we both knew it will be the utility room.

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It is time to tiny up

Do not get me wrong, there are quite a few rooms that need attention. But the utility room rise to the top of the list as soon as rest of the basement was finished. After all, it is the last room to remodel in the lower level, and it is connected to the finished media room with a big opening.

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The rough state of the utility room actually prevents us from using the media room as it’s intended. Knowing there will be more drywall dust when we renovate this room, we do not want to furnish the media room just yet.

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Quite frankly, walking downstairs and still seeing bare studs and furnace ducts are getting old. It downplayed all the hard work we’ve done in the rest of the basement. “Curb your enthusiasm” it does.

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Longest in making: the initial demo

Interestingly, this utility room is the longest in making among all spaces. When we moved into the house in the summer of 2017, this space was divided into two rooms, a laundry niche and a bedroom painted purple.

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This bedroom was not up to code at all. And we do not need 5 bedrooms (!) in this house. We started demoing this space shortly after moving in, starting with the HVAC installation to accommodate the new ducting. It was 2.5 years ago!

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Soon after, Slav removed the dividing wall between the laundry niche and the purple bedroom. Finally, doing laundry with washer and dryer doors fully open!

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I immediately started brainstorming what this room could be used for. The first plan came to mind was to add a small kitchenette. You can see my blue tape on the wall indicating a sink cabinet.

We also proceeded to remove the drywall and soffit on the utility wall to expose the plumbing. It made the master bath renovation later a lot easier.

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Just like that, I had the luxury to do laundry in the most spacious utility room I’ve eve had. This utility room measures 12″ x 16″, bigger than any of our bedrooms.

Create an open floorplan

Fast forward to a year ago, before renovating the basement, we removed the drywall between the media room and the utility room to expose the I-beam.

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Then the framing below was gone too.

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As part of the media room finish, the drywall was back up and a new opening was established.

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It already looked a lot better, but we are ready to get it completely polished. If you have lived with renovation, you will likely agree that having a finished space that can be completely closed off from construction zones is essential for one’s sanity. Finishing this utility room will give us a finished basement that is isolated from the main floor, which is just that.

Kitchenette or not, it is a question.

To date, the utility room houses the furnace, the tankless water heater, and the washer and dryer.

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On the other side of the room, a closet hosts the new electrical sub-panel for the basement.

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For the longest time, I was convinced that we should turn this space into a dry kitchen. If you are not familiar with the concept of dry kitchen – it is very common in some culture to have two kitchens, one for washing and cooking, which produces moisture and smoke, and one for serving drinks and snacks, which remains relatively clean and odorless. The latter is called a dry kitchen. Small appliances such as microwave, toaster, and coffee machine can stay in the dry kitchen for easy access, whereas refrigerator and cooktop usually remain in the cook’s kitchen.

These two kitchens are often connected. The cook’s kitchen can usually be closed off with french/pocket doors from the dry kitchen when guests arrive. In our case, I imaged the upstairs kitchen to be where we cook, and the basement kitchen to serve more like a dry bar and place for snacks and pizza for movie/game nights.

With a dry kitchen in mind we started getting quotes. What we quickly learned, is that kitchen is expensive! Even so tiny, quotes we got were somewhere between $20000 to $40000. $20000, for installing a sink, some cabinets and countertop, and tile some backsplash! As you could imagine, we quickly nix the dry kitchen plan.

How we will go about finishing the utility room now?

We decided at last, without a clear vision for the purpose of the space, is to finish the room the simplest way possible. We can always come in with some DIY effort later, but for now, getting this space dust free is the priority. Below are the main steps we plan to take:

1. Demo the remaining purple drywall and drywall in the closet;
2. Replace plumbing needed and move the floor drain;
3. Framing walls, soffit when necessary, and add a pocket door to the closet;
4. Frame a floor-to-ceiling utility closet to conceal the furnace and water heater;
5. Electrical work necessary;
6. Drywall the ceilings and walls;
7. Paint the ceilings and walls;
8. Continue the NuCore flooring from the media room to the utility room;
9. Trims and baseboard – the entire basement;
10. Create a laundry nook with cabinet storage.

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So here they are, our current plan for attack in the utility room. We are still talking to a contractor about his availability, and this project will likely last the rest of the winter. But when it is finished it will be a great relief to us. We have started the plumbing work and I have been putting the progress on IG stories (under the highlight “AllAboutPlumbing”). Check it out, guys!

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