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

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Family | Dogs | Thoughts

We Are Not Done with Plumbing Yet…

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Hi all! A couple weeks ago I was happy to announce that we were done with plumbing work in the main floor bathroom. But little did I know, plumbing was certainly not done with us yet! A few days after, on a Thursday night, as I was showering in our master bathroom, water started coming up from the basement shower drain as well as the floor drain in the utility closet. The water quickly got under the new flooring in the utility room, which fortunately held up well after drying. But boy, was it a scare.

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As any good home owner would do, Slav went to the big box store, rented a drain snake, and tried to clean out the sewage drain himself. Poor man worked over the entire weekend in snow and cold, only to make the situation worse by having the head of the snake stuck in the sewage pipe, under the house! Sunday night, we finally called an emergency plumber in, who ran a camera through all the drain pipes. The diagnose? A piece of old cast iron plumbing pipe under our house rusted through, and the snake head hooked to the side of this broken pipe.

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To give you a reference, above are the utility closet and laundry niche. The floor drain is located inside the utility closet, and our master bathroom was behind the wet wall. The snake head stuck right underneath the wet wall, somewhere behind the washer.

When we upgraded the bathroom plumbing and later the utility room floor drain, we did not replace all the cast iron pipes under the basement slab, only the drains that connected the utilities. Now looking back, based on how bad these cast iron connections look, we should have anticipated that the underground pipes were in pretty bad shape as well.

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And this is what the underground pipe looked like when our plumber broke the concrete slab and cut it out! The bottom of the pipe was completed rusted through. And the snake head probably finished the job of splitting it open.

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Next to the rusted cast iron pipe you can see one of the connectors. This portion of pipe was immediately downstream to the vertical kitchen sink drain, which we later learned that are usually in the worst shape for any house with cast iron drains.

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In the picture above is the kitchen drain. As you can see, we have replace the old pipes with new PVC ones till just above the basement slab. This upgrade was done when we upgraded the water lines for the basement and the kitchen, which was before the utility room was framed and drywalled. We did not want to go through the trouble of breaking the concrete slab then due to the cost, and now we have to do it – by breaking into the finished framing/drywall and with finished flooring! Guys, learn from our mistakes: do thing right at the first time, as early as possible, even it seems costly. It might not be the easiest decision to make, but you will not regret later!

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On the other end of the broken pipe there is the main connection under the house. Both main floor and basement toilets and the floor drain tie into it. Fortunately, it is in fairly good shape and our plumber was able to tie the new PVC pipe into it without replacing this piece.

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Below is the shot I took from the utility closet side. The plumber only needed to open a small portion of the dividing wall and remove very little framing. We were so happy that we did not need to replace this main connection, which would have required to demo some of the tiles in our master bathroom…

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The last connection the plumber had to address is the shower drain connection. The vertical pipe serves the main floor shower drain, and the bottom Y connection goes out to the basement shower drain as well as connects to the main drain line. By taking out the old pipe, we have to connect the showers back to the new pipe. At some point during the demo, it looked that we would have to demo part of the tiled master shower in order to replace this connection… But fortunately, our plumber was able to dig carefully under the master shower, and eventually replaced this connection without breaking the shower floor and wall tiles!

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After removing all the rusted pipes, our plumber finalized his shopping list, picked up pieces needed, then rebuilt our plumbing.

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Then he mixed some concrete and buries everything back up – After a 8-hour day of work, we have our laundry niche again minus some drywall:

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Now the pipes from the kitchen sink and main floor shower are completely upgraded to PVC! We could finally shower and use toilet at home again after days of gym showers and grocery store bathroom breaks…

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Slav reconnected the water and dryer vent. Now I could do laundry again!

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It was a huge undertaking plus lots of mini heart-attacks. but our plumber did a very good job to preserve our finished surfaces. At the end, we only had a few pieces of drywall open, and a small hole between the laundry niche and the utility closet. Inevitably we have to do some touchup paint work, but I was very grateful that we did not need to tile the master bathroom again.

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Our plumber also did a good job setting up protections around the work site. We did cover all the furniture in the basement with tarp, but the confinement kept most of the dust away from the media room so the final clean-up was surprisingly easy.

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It was a hell of week. On top of the plumbing issue, our dryer broke around the same time the plumbing issue happened. Fortunately, Slav was able to fix the dryer himself with some cheap replacement parts. And $4000 later (the emergency plumber/camera work + underground pipe replacement) we finally got some normality back into our lives. I have to say, this Spring has been tough. Probably because I was having high hopes for a “normal” Spring after the tough 12-month. Apparently, the difficult time is not over yet. Do not celebrate too early!

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Fortunately there was beauty in our lives too:

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My hellebores are blooming for the first time. How exciting.

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These hellebores were planted in the Fall of 2019. They did not bloom in 2020 which was a huge bummer. But this Spring, they showed me their beautiful faces:

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It will still be a few weeks before all the buds completely open. But they have already made me so happy in these cold Spring days that we had to pee behind our garden shed, along with the dogs.

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There is hope, guys!

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A Minimalist Retreat

Looking back I realized that I never gave you a full reveal to my retreat room – we worked on it last Fall and I am really proud of the DIY projects here. So without further ado, here it is:

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This room had served as our bedroom for a couple years before we moved into the basement master. Since then, we thought hard about what to do with this space. We needed a place for guests to sleep, but did not want to dedicate an entire room for this solo purpose. Then the pandemic hit and I started working from home.

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As you can see I really needed a home office at least a desk. So we designed this room as where I can write and read in peace, take video conference calls, exercise, and relax. This room offers the best lighting in our house. So we left plenty of space for our houseplant haul. I think in the end, we achieved all the goals and really turned this room into a multi-functional retreat. Let us take a look around, shall we?

The closet wall

When you walk into this 10.5′ x 11′ room, immediate to your left is the closet wall. To the left side, we built a full-size closet for winter gear and sport equipment.

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Slav DIY-ed the plywood doors since we could not find doors in this size without breaking the bank.

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The right half of the closet space was converted to house a full-size murphy bed.

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The full-size murphy bed frame we got fits into the closet perfectly. We also had a full-size mattress in hand which is the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on.

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I added a wedge bolster pillow as headboard. Slav installed an outlet next to the bed for charging electronics. I think our guests will be pleased.

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The north wall and the corner desk

Being able to tuck the guest bed away saves lots of floor space in the room. When the bed is down and in use it extends half of the window on the north wall. But when it is up and hidden, there is a perfect spot for our Norfolk pine.

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The picture window looks out to blue sky and neighbor’s spruce trees. In summer, this north facing window let in plenty of cool and fresh air, making it very comfortable to sleep under.

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Moving clockwise, sitting at the northeast corner of the room is my desk. Oh my desk! It is no doubt my favorite furniture in this house. We built it with butcherblock and motorized legs we already owned. I spent majority of my time at home here reading, writing, planning, and drawing. This corner desk does not take much room at all, but creates a perfect home office with views to my backyard.

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Speaking of backyard views, my favorite feature of the room is the window facing the backyard, which is packed full with fruit trees, perennial flowers, and a vegetable garden. I added a peony garden last year and cannot wait for it to bloom next Spring.

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The art work

To create a cheerful workspace I added lots of colorful art, decorations, and plants to the room.

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This wind chimes is a gift from my mentor. One of my favorite decor in the house.

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Pictures of Roxie and Charlie are must-haves. I created the travel log below using map and push pins to label the space we have visited and desire to be around the States.

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Slav took this picture of Mt. Baker during a ski vacation. A magical winterland indeed.

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Slav’s zodiac animal is the dog, and I am a goat. 🙂

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Can you tell the violin in this picture is assembled with surgical tools? I work in medical field and cannot resist this nerd art.

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The south wall/exercise space

We originally planned for a seating area next to the desk, but soon realized the need for more storage and additional space for house plants. Hence the bookcase.

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Practical and cute, this small bookcase became a mini nursery for young cuttings and provided a much less offensive spot for the router.

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Above the bookcase is a portrait of my immediate family – parents, sister, and my two nieces when they were still kids. Now both of the girls are in college!!!

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We have created a library wall in Slav’s office. So this small bookcase only houses my gardening books, seed collection, and some keepsakes.

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Such as my favorite picture of Slav’s. This photo was taken in 2007 shortly after he started graduate school, during a visit to his home country and taken by his childhood friends. I love how fearless he looked in this picture.

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Next to Slav’s picture is a silver mug I was given when I left my previous job. My mentor and colleagues engraved their wishes into the mug. The best farewell gift ever.

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The last wall in the room was intentionally left empty for yoga/inversion practice. The space above the doorway provided a perfect spot for my hang board.

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During the demo we took down the bedroom door. The future bedroom door will be mounted onto the doorway closer to the living room, which will help to create a guest “suite” that includes the bathroom. Slav patched the original doorway and it is like there was never a door here!

Here it is…

My retreat room – how do you like it? It is airy, it is bright, and it is comfortable. I am definitely more productive with a dedicated space to research and create. I cannot wait for the time when I can see all the blooms and fruition in the backyard from my desk. We still yet to refinish the original hardwood floor here and add baseboard which is on our 2021 renovation to-do list. But for now, I enjoyed immensely having my own space. A big thumb up to Slav, the man who made it happen!

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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?

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