Terrific Broth

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

Category: Life (Page 1 of 15)

What’s in Store for the Ranch House in 2018

Hi, family and friends! I hope your holiday break is treating you well. We are soaking up the peaceful winter nights at home with music, hot pot dinner, and sparkling drinks. Last night, we baked dozens of cookies for our close neighbors, hoping to deliver some holiday joy and catch up with them.

Looking back, 2017 is undoubtedly our best year yet. Leaving our jobs and moving to Colorado was scary, but everything worked out better than we expected. Living in our mountain rental for a few months while searching for a nest made us realize how much we love mountain living. And after buying our first house together, we dived into non-stop renovations and learned a lot about construction and ourselves. We are grateful to celebrate the first holiday season in our ranch house – it feels so good to be exactly where you want to be.

But we think it is safe to say that the best is yet to come. We have so much planned for the ranch house in 2018, and these projects are incredibly fun! What we did in 2017 focused mostly on essential fixes – roof, patio, foundation, drainageelectrical, HVAC, water heater, washer and dryer. We also got our garden shed and garage in working order. In 2018, we plan to shift gear to make the living space truly ours. That means changing floor plans, assigning function to each room, furniture DIY, new paint and adding lighting and new accessories. We hope to optimize our ranch for the exact needs of our two people + two dogs family, and bring our style into it.

Below is a list for our 2018 renovation goals. We will be picking projects from the list to do, depending on weather, material availability, and our mood and priority. It will be fun to see how much we complete off this list 365 days from now!

1. The Insulation

Colorado winter is cold. We only have R-19 insulation in our attic, which is far from the suggested R49 value. We’ve been working on preparing our attic for blow-in insulation, which will happen during the first week of 2018.

While we are beefing up the attic insulation, we will be insulating the shared wall between our unheated garage and the house as well. Our garage has only R13 insulation on the two exterior walls, but nothing on the ceiling or the door. It results in a great deal of heat loss from the house. Because the roof trusses are framed with 2″ x 4″ lumber, there is really no good way of insulating the garage ceiling. So we decided to insulate the shared wall instead. We will be tackling this huge insulation effort in a few days, DIY-style!

2. Slav’s Office

This house offers a big upgrade from our past rentals – Slav has his own office now! However, except removing the carpet and moving in his desk, we have not done anything more to this room. Even worse, this office has been used as a dump ground for books, small electronics, and off-season clothes. As our first interior project of 2018, we will freshen up the office with wall-to-wall library shelves and a new corner desk for Slav. This guy deserves a room to call his own!

3. The Basement Guest Suite

Many of you may know that we are using only half of our house’s square footage right now. It is our intention to live small and simple. However, we do have plan to use the hidden half of our house – as a guest suite! Our basement is exactly the same size as the main floor and almost the same floor plan. We plan to remove the stingy carpet, add a kitchenette, and completely finish it as a two-bedroom apartment with its own entrance. We will use it as a guest suite for our friends and family, maybe short-term rental in between. It gives us a great opportunity to create as well as to experiment with new styles which we hesitate to try in our own living space. It will expose us to new tasks such as plumbing, windows and doors, and kitchen building. We will be applying these skills to main floor remodeling down the road.

4. The Fence

The last thing we’d like to complete in 2018 is to replace the chain link fencing with wood fences. This task has been on our mind since we moved in. However, with many more urgent and essential fixes in the way, replacing fully functional fencing does not rise to the top of our priority list. We’d like to tackle the fence project when next spring comes around, which will dramatically improve our curb appeal and add privacy.

Here you have it, our renovation wishlist for 2018. Every subject on this list will take considerable amount of effort, money and time. We hope to cross three, if not all four of them off our list – starting from insulation! We retrofitted rafter vents into our attic today, which rocks a 4:12 pitch roof and is filled with loose fiberglass insulation. Let me tell you, not my favorite renovation task. But it means that we can finally blow all these cellulose into the attic that has been sitting in our garage!

The Art of Airing Out

“Airing out” by Ka Fisher

I am letting out a big secret today – I don’t wash my clothes after each wear.

Of course I wear fresh underwear and socks everyday. But for pretty much anything else – pants, tops, skirts, jackets, as long as they are not visibly dirty or smelly, I do not wash them after just one wear. What I do, is to hang them up, and air them out between use.

I grew up airing out my clothes. My family did not have a washing machine when I was little, so all the clothes, towels, and bedsheets had to be washed by hand. Every Sunday, if there was no rain in the forecast (we also dried all the clothes outside), my grandma would pull out a big wooden bucket and a couple washboards. My grandpa would fill the bucket with water, and they’d sit down and wash for hours. The labor and the wear to clothes discouraged washing them after just one use, and this habit lasted in me even after I had washer and dryer. I still have an old picture showing the 4-year-old me washing handkerchiefs next to my grandpa. You can see the excitment on my face that I was finally trusted to take on such a big responsibility. I must have begged them and practiced so many times before my grandparents finally trusted me to wash handkerchifes for the family!

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I also grew up airing my bedsheets. I was taught to open the bedroom window and make my bed every morning by folding my comforter outwards, leaving the side touching my skin at night facing out. I was supposed to place the folded comforter under my pillow, so every inch of the bed that had been covered at night could be exposed to fresh air. It is considered sanitary to let the moisture out of the sheets, comforter, and pillows during the day. A light dusting before going to bed in the evenings should remove any dust might have accumulated.

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Such traditions may not make much sense nowadays, but I still live out of my old habit. When I arrive home after a day in the office and take off my jeans, which often still smells like laundry detergent, I do not think it belongs to the “dirty” laundry basket just yet. Even though this pair of jeans is not going to be washed by my grandma, with her hands cracked from using the harsh soap and her back hunched, it still feels like a waste to me to wash something that is mostly clean.

I know this is considered lack of personal hygeinge in U.S., so I am careful not to wear the same top to work two days in row. This results lot of worn-only-once clothing all over our bedroom. So last weekend, I brought in an old ladder to help with the mess:

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I bought this ladder in North Carolina back in 2011 to use as a towel rack in the bathroom. Once Slav moved in, this ladder became too small to dry two big towels. so we kept it as a drying rack for delicates in the laundry room. It was in a rusty red color, which is really cute. But I want to keep our bedroom mostly monochrome and calm. So I painted it black to match the bed and the mirrior.

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I do not think I’ve showed you this IKEA mirrior yet. It was only $30 and I like how simple and big it is. We like to keep the bedroom dark with only accent lighting, so I wrapped some solar-powered string lights around it to dress it up a little.

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It works pretty well as a night light – just bright enough to walk around with, but not too bright to interrupt our sleep.

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This light pretty much operates itself – the solar panel has a sensor, and we mounted it against the window facing outside. It will turn on by itself after sunset and off with sunrise. Since it uses solar, I do not feel guilty leaving it on all night long. For just $13, I think it is a great hand-off solution for bedroom lighting.

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We also had this metal deer antlers mounted in our bedroom.

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And lately, it has been used to air out Slav’s wifebeater:

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I know, what a ridiculous name. Wifebeater. OMG. I tried to call it “undershirt”, but Amazon does not give me the right search results unless I use the old terminology. I got Slav these in black since he likes to wear them for sleeping – I think they look a lot less offensive than the white ones, what do you think?

Here you have it, our little airing-out corner of the bedroom. It is cozy but not messy, jus the way I like it. I know that airing out clothes is not everybody’s thing, but we have been doing it for years and no one has ever complained about our smell. Besides, our dogs love it. Charlie loves napping under my pajamas. I think it is so sweet!

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A Beginner Minimalist

creat more consume less

On Holidays

I adore Christmas. Growing up in China and now living in the U.S., Christmas is the holiday that resembles Chinese New Year the closest – week-long break from school, cold air and warm blanket, comfort food, and hot tea. Christmas traditions spark joy and holiday spirits in me just like Chinese New Year does, even through they are celebrated very differently.

Christmas has carols, lights and a tree, whereas Chinese New year is celebrated with red lanterns, hand-cut window grilles, couplets flanking the front door, and lots and lots of fireworks. The biggest difference between how American and Chinese celebrate their holidays, is the gift giving. Chinese holidays involve no gift. There was not even birthday gifts (yes, you heard it right). Holidays in China are celebrated by the whole family gathering around and having a nice meal together. So understandably, even after 12 years living in the States, I still have a hard time choosing and receiving gifts, both of which give me lots of anxiety.

But nevertheless, the holiday shopping season comes in stronger and stronger force every year. As soon as we took the last bite of the Thanksgiving turkey, this world is all about shopping for Christmas. All the sudden, headlines like “10 gift every husband wants”, “must-haves in 2018 for empty-nesters”, even “the complete gift guide for all the people on your list” are all over the internet. Do I really need to buy gifts for all my girlfriends? What about co-workers? Does Slav really need a cigar box with his name carved on it? And I am supposed to gift myself now? OMG. I feel anxious just to type these words!

On Consumerism

The gift shopping and receiving is especially hard for me because I practice minimalism. I am not a minimalist by the strict sense – I do not have a sterile apartment or a capsule wardrobe. But I do follow two self-imposed rules when it comes to possessions:

1. Only keep things we actively use or strongly appreciated; and

2. Never buy a thing we do not need/use, just because “everyone else has it” or because other people/ads tell me that I “should have it”. 

These rules are simple, but they take some will-power to follow through. When my parents visited me from China, they were shocked that I, a Chinese woman who eats rice almost everyday, did not own a rice cooker. Their disbelief was so strong that it made me question myself for a brief moment. I was almost convinced that I should go out and buy one. But I soon remembered, we had not had a rick cooker for 7 years! We cook rice perfectly using a regular soup pot. The expectations of following social norms was so strong, that convincing my parents not to buy a rice cooker for me was unpleasant, grinding, and totally made me look like an unreasonable and stubborn bitch. (And when my mother-in-law visited, despite my protest, she just bought one and put it on my counter. Oops.)

We now live in a world that we are expected to own certain things, such as a standard mixer in the kitchen, a big TV in the living room, and a guest bedroom that remains unused 350 days a year. We own them not because we actually need them, but rather “we should have them”. Slav and I have decided that we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t pay for things we don’t use. We shouldn’t live our lives for anyone’s expectations. Therefore, we do not have a TV or a sofa. What we do have, is over 1500 physical books and a big vinyl collection. Because those are what we use and what we love.

On Managing Possessions

A couple years ago I decided to dress with less. Even though I was not aiming to make a 50-piece wardrobe, I did get rid of a lot of pieces. A lot of pieces I held onto just because I had the space. It was surprisingly easy once I set my mind on it. A trick I used for pieces I payed a lot for, or pieces I hoped to wear (but never would), was to put these items into a big bag and tossed it in the trunk of my car. After driving around with them for weeks, I did not miss them at all. So I donated them the next time I passed the PTA. It is a good trick to get rid of things we think we would need without the fear of regret. When I have a hard time to let it go, I always ask myself, “Will another person need, want, or appreciate it more than me?” 

After moving into this house, we do face the need of furnishing the space. Slav and I decided to do it slowly – so instead of going out to buy a bedroom set, a sofa and an entertainment center, a dining set, we bought a storage bed, a dining table, and two chairs – the minimal requirement for living comfortably. We want to learn what we actually need, and what will look good in the house. Six months later, we did not feel that we need anything more, and I love how our 850 sqft ranch feels spacious and cozy at the same time.

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The surprising side effect of my minimalism practice, is how much I started to appreciate the few things we own. I have only one decorative item on my desk, which is this mouse sculpture. We saw it in the thrift shop for $20, which was not cheap. But I adore it. I work with mice everyday and have scarified hundreds, if not thousands of them for research. I would like to have something to remind me their contribution to science and medicine. Looking at it brings me a sense of responsibility and gratitude towards my work.

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Similarly, this Buddha sculpture is the only decoration in my bedroom. It is a cheap find for $2 in the grocery store discount bin, but it reminds me the Chinese teachings I grew up with. I see it every morning when I get off the bed, when this Buddha head is bathed in the morning rays. It makes me feel calm, acceptance, and grace. It also reminds me the suffering the humanity faces, and brings a sense of responsibility of making the world better, which fuels my day.

On Free Time

The most unexpected gift my minimalism gives me, is free time. With smaller house to clean, few dishes to put away, few appliance to maintain, Slav and I have very little chores to do. We are able to focus on things that are important to us: health, hobbies, our dogs, and lots of time for each other. Each day, we spend hours in the evenings to relax and just talk. Through these talks, we learn about each other’s past, passion, and preferences. It helps us every step along the way to realign our priorities as a couple. In fact, that is how we decided to move to Colorado together!

A rule in Chinese ink painting is called “liu bai”, meaning “leave some space unoccupied”, based on the believe that imagination and creativity rises from unoccupied space/time/mind. I find it is very true. By leaving our house most unoccupied, we come up with creative ideas for the space. By leaving our time unoccupied, we discover what we do and do not care about so we can set our priorities. For me, practicing minimalism is all about to reassessing priorities. I apply it to material things, but also to how I spend my time and energy. What do I want to accomplish the most today, this week, and this year? Where should I spend my money/time/attention that is the most valuable to my family, my community, and the society? I set my intentions in the mornings, then just focus on giving it 100%. By the end of the day, successful or not, there is no guilt, no worry, and I am not overwhelmed. Living with intentions helps me to let trivial things go, and focus on making progress on things truly matter to me. 

Being a minimalist may be hard, but practice minimalism is simple. Do you agree? What is your own way of practicing minimalism?

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