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

Category: Life Page 1 of 20

Family | Dogs | Thoughts

Welcoming the New Season

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you are well rested after the holiday break. Slav and I went to Poland and spent Christmas with his family. While we were there, we travelled around by train and visited the Malbork Castle, the largest castle in the world. We enjoyed every minute of it.

In late 2022 I took a long break from the blog. It was a much needed rest after the kitchen renovation. But we did not stop renovating. Since the inside of the house was mostly updated (the kitchen was the last room renovated), we turned our attention to the backyard, and completed several landscaping projects before the winter hit. These projects largely changed how we utilize our backyard in the future. I cannot wait to show you these projects here on the blog.

I certainly did not document 2022 as much as before. It has been a weird year to remember. Hopes were high for returning to normal at the beginning, and we kinda did at the end, just not the live we had before. The first big impact to our lives in 2022 was Charlie’s passing. It was just the beginning of February, the second day after Chinese New Year, Charlie went to the vet and never came back. We were all heartbroken for weeks, including Roxie who became very inactive and was visibly depressed.

We knew the only way out was through. So while giving lots of attention to Roxie, we threw ourselves into work and renovation projects. The kitchen renovation started in March and kept our minds occupied for months. In early July, as soon as we wrapped up the kitchen reno and put the first floor furniture back to place, we knew it was time to bring a new dog to our pack. It did not take long before we welcomed Banana peels, a hound/Labrador mix from Soul Dog Rescue to our home. We renamed him Charlie to remember our old friend, and the new Charlie has kept all of us active, busy, and happier since.

Besides losing and adopting pets, we’ve seen more from the circle of life in 2022. In Spring, our best friends welcomed their first baby to the world, a sweet little girl. Slav became a Godfather and attended the baptism. Since then, we facetimed with her often, and had such a joy watching her grow. Unfortunately there was loses as well. Just before Thanksgiving, Slav lost a good friend, who was about our age. This accident shook us. We spent so many nights talking about him, his life, and reflecting on ours. We felt so grateful to have each other, and nothing like losing someone you love makes you reevaluated your own life choices.

2022 was an extra challenging year at work. The good part is that we both made big strides at our respective workplaces. We both took on management roles and became more involved in decision making and strategic planning. But at the same time, new responsibilities resulted in more fragmented time schedules, more stress and anxiety, and urgent demand for new skills. These was more pay and more excitment at work, but also more trial and error which definitely flared up my inner imposter syndrome. We did our best, barely kept up, and communicated as much as we could (not enough!) with each other.

We had a busy year at home. The first half of the year was devoted to the biggest house project to date – the kitchen gut-renovation. It was definitely the most complex project to us, but we managed to produce a splendid result without much chaos. We then finished several big projects in the backyard, which included some labor-intensive hardscaping and planting the last bare spot in our yard. It was however, very satisfying to finally put our touch on every square feet of our property. It felt like such a splendid ending on this multi-year project.

I’m proud of us for the year we’ve worked through. But I also believe that we could do better in the new season. 2023 will be our year of evolving. We will establish a new work-life balance, develop new social circles, and improve our relationship with each other as the circumstance changes around us. We will be married for 10 years this summer. And for a large part, we rely on each other as collaborators – supporting each other’s career, co-managing the dogs, and partnering in house tasks and renovations. Now, we have created a life and a home filled with the people and the things we love. 2023 should be the time we start enjoying it as hard as we were working on it. Maybe 2023 will be the year we become friends again, just like when we first met, to explore the great outdoors we moved here for together and to make new memories. Maybe 2023 can be the year for new hobbies and experiences, in which we spend more time on what is fulfilling, but not out of necessity.

2023 also marks six years on this blog. Always and forever, thank you for being a part of our lives. Sharing our stories has been a joyful journey and an important outlet for me. I hope it brings you happiness and comfort in watching our growth as well. I want to wish you a happy, healthy, and hopeful 2023. We will be here, and I hope you will too.

Suddenly, the Tiger Year

Suddenly, we entered another lunar new year. And suddenly, we lost our beloved black lab, Charlie to old age.

Losing Charlie has changed our life significantly. We have been caring for Charlie during the last year and half, including daily medication, frequent vet visits, and a couple major surgeries. Now suddenly, our responsibility as pet owners was reduced to the bare minimal, just providing Roxie some dry food and water. It almost feels like we have no one to care for.

It has only been a few days since Charlie’s passing. His paw prints are still visible on the snow in the backyard, and his medication are still in the fridge next to the ketchup bottle. We are trying to get used to the life without Charlie, with all the difficult first times – the first dinner without him drooling next to our feet, the first morning without him greeting us on top of the stairs, and the first weekend without his loud snores and warm cuddles. I have the urge to adopt another dog immediately, just to fill the void left by Charlie. But we also know that we should wait, at least for a few months, until the kitchen renovation is finished.

Yes, we have made plans to renovate the kitchen in Spring. We have come up with a floor plan, purchased the cabinets, researched the appliances, and even booked a contractor. I was eager to share all the details with you in January – I even wrote a couple posts for the blog. But then Charlie passed on the 2nd day of Chinese new year, and suddenly 2022 became unexciting and loathsome. Understandably, it was hard to finish these drafts I wrote just a few days ago, which were filled with excitement and hope for the new year. However, I will come back soon with the new floor plan for the kitchen. It is gonna be a great space, I promise. 

At the end of this post, I want to share a song from “Guardian”, a thriller I enjoyed a few years back. The show is about trust and sacrifice among people from different worlds, and the lyrics of the song is in Mandarin. I think it says something like this:


Yesterday in the past, memory plays like reality

回想起一篇篇, 在这模糊了双眼

Looking back the time with you, through my tearing eyes


Letting the hustle and bustle continue, carrying me forward

妄想着路尽头, 你能回头看着我

Dreaming in vain that you will be there waiting, when I reach at the end of my path

还是会想起, 那时的场景

Thinking over and over, the seasons we’ve shared

原谅我只是想, 这世界还会有个人, 能为你哭泣

Not letting it go, for still someone crying for your absence


Parting is inevitable, so let go I love you


Right now, I just care a little too much.

Sorry I still care a little too much.

4 Years in the Ranch and a Patio Garden Update


We moved into our ranch house 4 years ago. Four years! We started renovating the house from the day we moved in, and have made it so much better both appearance and functions. Besides the house itself, we also planted lots of trees and perennials, and turned these old weedy yards into beautiful flower beds and edible gardens.


The most recent improvement of our backyard landscape is the patio garden. There used to be a straight line dividing the lawn space and the raspberry patch. Last Spring, I cut out a curved flower bed at the edge of the raspberry patch, and planted it with peonies:

2020 Fall:


I am happy to report that all the peonies have come back this Spring! We even got flowers from some of them:





This is my first time growing flowers with big petals. While I was excited to get flowers, I was so surprised watching peony flowers changing color over time:


This one flowers coral pink when the flowers first open:


which fade into a light pink:


In between the peonies, I planted Russian sage. They are supposed to fill in the space between peonies when the peonies are done flowering, with a sea of purple flowers. They were such baby plants when I put them into the ground last Fall, and did not show up until mid-May, which really got me worried. But now they are getting bigger each day and I know they will be holding up well:


Behind the patio garden is our raspberry patch, which just explored this year. Not only they came back earlier and grew fuller, they started developing young shoots all around the original plants, expanding into the pathways surrounding the patch.


One of the varieties has already flowered – we are getting raspberry soon!


One end of the patio garden reaches all the way to our back patio. It touches the cedar planter I built last year, which houses our strawberries:


This Spring, I added a pot of wild strawberries at the end of the patio garden. They are supposed to be excellent groundcovers.


On the other end, the patio garden wraps around the future shed patio, and connects to the flower bed along the back fence. That is how this garden beds got its name – it extends from the back patio to the shed patio! This area will see some disturbance when we build the shed patio, therefore, I did not plant anything precious, but only irises we got for free from a neighbor:


The picture above was taken last summer, right after planting. And this is how it looks now! All the irises came back and some of them have flowered:




I did not know the exact variety of these irises when planted them, and happy to see that they flower blue and purple. I have white and light purple irises in the front yard, and these two varieties fit well into my garden color theme. And both of the varieties smelled amazing.


I also planted an apple tree! It is the only permanent planting I did here (away from the edge of the shed patio). It was very healthy when it arrived last Spring. So I am not surprised that it branched out early this year, and already looks so full in early summer. I think we are gonna see some fruit this year!


Although I do not plan to put more perennials yet, I am comfortable using this space to grow annuals. This Spring, I interplanted squashes and zucchini among the irises. I raised them from seed myself this Spring, so they are the perfect filler for this area for next to nothing. And they will add some much needed height and color to this space once the irises are done.


In between the shed patio garden and the raspberry patch is our herb garden! This is the first flower bed we planted, back to 2018, so all the plants have matured and got super big this Spring.


Tarragon sits at the very tip of this oval garden, then there are oregano, lemon balm, and sage.


There is also an Egyptian walking onion. I had lots of fun watching it grow and “walk”.


Apparently, some of other herbs “walk” too! I think it is charming to have a bit lemon balm spilling over onto the pathways. Besides, when I walk on them and crash the leave, it smells amazing.


We started this flower bed with a garden-in-a-box kit, so there are some flowering plants here too:




These tall purple stalks are all from one catmint called “walker’s low”. It is seriously the best plant I’ve grown: it stays low, spreads far, flowers all Spring and summer, and it is a true pollinator magnet. There are always bees buzzing around these stalks, and this Spring, two hummingbird moths found it too:


A mature garden not only has plants, but also inserts, birds, and even mammals. We have noticed bunny dropping in the backyard, and recently, we started to see two cottontail rabbits hanging out in our backyard.


These two rabbits happily share the backyard with each other, and with the dogs. Amazingly, they do not escape when we walk onto the lawn! I think they have figured out that we mean no harm, so all they do when we got close is to hop away a few feet and watch us. Luckily, they do not touch the vegetable garden or any of my flowers, only eating grass. So there is no reason for us to stop them from coming into the yard either. In fact, I think one of them made a nest behind the garden shed, and the other one lives under the raspberry bushes.


Recently, we decided to push the kitchen renovation to next year, which is the last big-ticket items on our renovation list. This decision freed us this summer to enjoy the fruit of our labor for the first time. It has been a lot of work during the past four years to get to this point, the point that we allow ourselves to slow down without rushing ourselves, the point that we can put work aside without feeling guilty. Today, at the 4-year-annivesary of our home ownership, I am looking at the work we did, and truly appreciating the comfort and beauty we created together. Happy anniversary, house!

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