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

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Family | Dogs | Thoughts

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?

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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