I Thought The Day Would Never Come

I thought the day would never come when we had the house painted all the way around. But it did! With the exception of a couple small spaces and a bit of trim paint, the outside house painting is DONE. Even the trim paint around the roof line makes a huge difference as you can see in the next two panorama photos:


Panorama -- 23 Feb 2014

Of course the outside of the house isn’t totally done. I still need to tile the front steps.


Panorama -- 13 April 2014

I spray the body of the house and Ramiro brush paints the green trim. We painted the wall under the carport:

We still need to paint the door hardware the dark green trim color.

Ramiro still needs to paint the door hardware the dark green trim color and I need to paint the triangle above the window. The chair is for the night watchman (Jabo). He feels just that much more human when he sits in it.

Container #4 is all painted:


When I took this picture this morning the sky was gray gray gray and ready to rain. It didn’t rain, but it will soon…

Here is a panorama photo of the back of the house.

Panoram -- 13 April 2014 2

Armando still needs to rock the foundation under the screened bump out on the master bedroom.

Some time ago we purchased an electric opener for the front gate. I decided to take a day and install it so that Cynthia and I wouldn’t have to flip a coin to see who would open the gate during a downpour. Poncho helped me dig the two-foot-deep hole and pour the concrete. The gate works great:


Now that I have electricity to the front gate, Cynthia and I can decide on light fixtures for outside on the columns.

Armando and Poncho are still rocking the house. In the next photo they are up to the bottom of the living room doors. They still have to rock the small area to the left of the doors and the large wall area to the right of the doors. Next week Ramiro will tackle the window trim paint and the roof rake trim as well:


I have to remember to punch a hole in the wall (to the right of the living room doors) for a vent for the half bathroom under the stairs. Please remind me before Armando gets all the way to the top of the wall…

One day I went to Armando’s house early in the morning. He had some ground cover plants and a couple hundred cintia plants that we could use to border the new path around the house. We drove back with the truck loaded:


We planted the ground cover plants (foreground) in the area over the septic drainage field. The roots won’t go too deep.

Armando and Poncho spread some new black soil and divided and planted the cintias at one side of the path. Later we’ll get a bunch of purple flowers similar to the cintias and plant them between the rows of cintias. And so begins the disappearance of the grass in the back yard:


Even though the weather is still dry, we had to move the plants from Armando’s house because he doesn’t have enough water to keep the plants alive. Who knew that the tropics could be so dry? But so far in this El Nino year our well is producing very well and we have plenty of water to keep the plants moist.

I gave the young Ballerina (Ramiro’s local, unofficial name for the tree) tree a good drink of water a few days ago and the flowers popped:


And this Roble (Oak) tree next door is all in bloom against a threatening sky to the east:


A few more of our exotic hibiscus (papos) collection have flowered:

P1010236-001 P1010235 P1010210-001 P1010209

Cynthia wants me to let you know that not everything is inexpensive here in Panama. Here are $5.50 worth of tomatillos. She makes a killer green salsa to pour over black bean enchiladas:


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Another Hangover And A Good Roughing Up

In our push to complete as many outside details as possible before the rainy season begins, this past week we focused on the north wall of container #4.

Ramiro and I fabricated and installed 21 support braces just like the ones on the hangover overhang at the front of the house. Here we are on the second day:


Ramiro is welding the brackets onto the container. After we had a few brackets installed, we lifted the 2″x6″ carriola into place and welded it to the brackets. This made aligning the remaining brackets quite easy:



When we had all the brackets in place, we ground the welds smooth with the angle grinder and prime painted them. While the paint dried, Ramiro sanded the side of the container. He used a wire brush on the angle grinder to remove the areas of heavier rust around dents and dings. Here is Ramiro hand sanding the container:


Ramiro gives the paint a good roughing up.

While Ramiro sanded, I took the last three hours of the day and hand sanded, two-coat primed, and two-coat finish painted (latex) the outside east wall of my shop. We still need to paint the window blocks the teal/green trim:


This is the same color as the rest of the house. In full sun the color looks blue-ish. In actuality it is a soft gray green, almost the color of sea foam.

The next morning we slipped pieces of roofing metal, that I had previously cut, into place on top of the brackets:


Armando and Pancho joined Ramero and me to mix and place the concrete slab above the roofing metal:


I used the 2″x6″ metal carriola instead of a 2″x3″ so that we could have more thickness and build in a drainage channel on the top of the slab. Here is the finished slab:


It is hard to see the channel. The next photos show it more clearly.



I cut a six-inch hole in the roofing metal and inserted a PVC pipe as a downspout to carry off rainwater.

We finished the slab at 11:00.

The back garden was filled with weeds so I asked the guys to weed for an hour and then they could take the rest of the day off.

At noon, Armando took a shower (now at the end of the dry season there is very little water at his house) and he and Pancho left right at noon. But Ramiro said that because he arrived a bit late that he wanted to work a bit more. I told him it was okay if he wanted to leave, too, but he insisted on working for another hour.

The garden now looks like this:


Cousin Christine — this is the palm that you gave us (in a small pot) a couple years ago.


And Christine T. — even though the dirt is dry, dry, dry, your plants are growing by leaps and bounds. One of our neighbors told us last night that this plant is in the taro family and that the young leaves, stalks, and roots are edible. The grasshoppers sure love to eat it!

Here is a panoramic view of the back garden from the roof. We need more plants!

Panorama -- Garden --031

A couple hibiscus bushes have bloomed, including this dainty one:


And this big yellow flower:P1010185-002

Armando and Pancho have been rocking the container support columns:



And Cynthia, after placing an order on January eleventh, finally* received from the States two spray cans of mold release for use in slumping glass. She is going to make lamp shades for the lights over the kitchen counters. Stay tuned.

*The mold release took two-and-a half months to arrive because it had to be routed through the Panamanian Pharmacy and Drug agency (among others) because one of the many ingredients in the spray could possibly be used in the production of illegal drugs. Really? I mean really?

Tomorrow Ramiro and I plan to paint the north wall and its windows and then move on to other exterior walls.

I think that’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by.




Exterior Paint

We can see it. We can smell it. The rainy season is on its way. With virtually no rain since mid-December, now early mornings are overcast with light rain. Dark clouds gather in the northeast in the afternoons. It won’t be long now.

Even though we want to finish tiling the kitchen floor, the push is on to get as much done on the exterior as possible before the heavy rain arrives.

You can see the change in the past two weeks by comparing these two photos:

Panorama -- 23 Feb 2014

cropped-Panorama-23-March-20141.jpgAfter sanding and cleaning the siding, I loaded the HVLP spray gun with an oil-based polyurethane paint:

Panorama --026

And then sprayed the front of the house. In the next photo I am using an ancient hovering/floating technique that I learned as a young child from a mystic in India:

Panorama --028

Oh wait, sorry, that photo was sideways:

Panorama --034


While I was sanding the above wall, I came across a really beautiful (huge) spider:


Ramiro followed behind me, painting the trim dark green/teal. In the next photo is a closeup of the house where you can see that Armando and Francisco, after working all of February and half of March, have finally completed the garden path around the house. The total count is five yards of stones, twenty-five sacks of cement, six yards of sand, sixteen yards of gravel, and fifty-feet of sixteen-foot-wide weed cloth to cover the path. Whew! We think that it adds a lot to the landscape:

Panorama --032

A sharp eye will notice that we just completed some concrete edging at the bamboo window box planter and at the top of the stonework on container #1. When the rains come, we will be planting a lot more plants and getting rid of most of the grass. 

Now the only painting remaining at the front of the house is the rake board (facia) at the roofline. It will be the dark green/teal.

With all the smoke in the air, there have been some beautiful sunrises:

Panorama --029

The early morning light illuminates the glass block wall in the kitchen:

Panorama --030

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Stairs, Glorious Stairs

The big item on this past week’s to do list was to mount the handrail on the staircase wall. Sounds quick and easy, yes?

But first we had to make a dozen handrail brackets and weld them onto the handrail. In the next photo, we still need to cut the long ends to length. We bent the one-half-inch square steel with the oxy-acetylene torch. These brackets aren’t as beautiful as what blacksmith friend Smyth Boone would have made, but they look industrial and fit the bill:


Here is a video showing how we bent the steel bar:

But before mounting the railing on the wall, it would be much, much easier to paint the wall first. We chose some paint, a rich, dark grey. To refresh your memory, here is the big wall:


But wait. Before we paint the wall, it would be smart if we cleaned the dried mortar from the steel staircase. I bought a gallon of muriatic acid and a few boxes of baking soda (to neutralize the acid when we did the final wash). I also bought two pair of long, acid-resistant gloves.

I mixed a ten-percent acid/water solution and also a bucket of clean baking soda water in case we splashed any acid on us while we worked. I mounted a new wire brush on the small angle grinder.

Ramiro and I donned the rubber gloves and rubber boots. We started at the top of the stairs; I applied the acid solution, Ramiro operated the grinder, and I cleaned up behind him, washing the clean stairs several times with the baking soda solution. It was a long, hard day bending over the stairs:



Here is a video of the process (sorry about the bad audio, must be a problem with the camera…:

With just one more wash to go, the cleaned stairs look like this:


Now for the fun part — I sent Ramiro home and before a new coat of rust could form, I spent another hour applying a boiled linseed oil finish. I wiped the oil on with a rag, then wiped the stairs dry with another rag. The completed stairs are quite glorious if I do say so myself. Here are some photos:


As I finished, the late afternoon sun started streaming in the window at the top of the stairs:


And got even better a few minutes later, the stairs gleaming a rich, dark patina:


Next it was time to paint the walls on either side of the stairs. With the high ceiling, this big room is very spacious. Cynthia and I thought that if we painted the walls white that people would feel lost in the room. The two, floor-to-ceiling window walls bring in a ton of light. So we decided to paint the walls a very deep dark grey to give the space a cozier feel. Spacious and cozy, if you will.

Finally, days of work after just wanting to hang the handrail, it was time. This morning, Sunday, Cynthia and I brought the long, intricate handrail back into the house (it was outside for painting) and screwed it to the wall. Ramiro and I had already drilled and installed plastic wall anchors at the appropriate locations for screws, so the install took only a few minutes. Here are the painted walls, the handrail, and the oiled steel staircase. A new mirror makes the look:


The mirror frame has the same bronze-y brown tones as the oiled stairs.



In my free time this week, I took a day and completed the kitchen stove exhaust fan. I had built the hood, but still needed to install the fan motor and duct work. I started by making a six-inch round outlet hole in the shipping container wall. I used a combination of one-quarter-inch drill holes and a saber saw with a metal-cutting blade. I left two tabs to bend in and secure the duct. Here is the hole almost all cut — I think that it looks like an evil smiley-face icon…:


I tried to use some of that aluminum Slinky hose, but it was seven-inches and the motor was six-inches. I was also concerned about grease building up in all the crevices. This is the stuff:


The more I worked the uglier the mess got, so I threw it aside and made my own ducting. Using pop rivets, I made a triangular aluminum diamond plate box. and cut two, six-inch holes in it. (Yet another use for my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake.)


Next, I couldn’t make a round duct, so I made another aluminum box to complete the ducting. In the next photo you can see the hood, the triangular aluminum transition box, the exhaust fan, the other aluminum box, and a sound muffler:


Finally, I wired the fan. With no adjacent wall to install a switch on, I chose to use an X-10 wireless remote control unit. I plan to Velcro the wireless switch inside a drawer next to the stove so that it is easy to reach and won’t get lost.

This exhaust fan moves a lot of air. It isn’t as quiet as we would like, but we don’t smell any gas fumes regardless of how many burners are being used.

While I was working on the exhaust fan, Ramiro finished installing the angle iron trim on the inside of the windows:


Armando and Francisco are moving into the home stretch with the garden path, nothing four more yards of gravel can’t cure:



When the rainy season arrives, it is goodbye grass and hello gardens. We have a lot more plants to fill out the gardens.

That’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by.

All Glassed In

This past week Ramiro and I installed all the remaining glass in the living room/dining room. It was a lot of stressful work because the one-quarter-inch thick panes are heavy and we spent a lot of time on ladders and scaffolds.

First we would dry fit each pane to make sure that there were no problems. We had to grind a couple of bumpy welds smooth so that there was no stress on the glass, but the panes mostly fit perfectly.

Next, Ramiro would hold the glass pane aside while I applied a line of bedding caulk around the angle iron pieces. Then we would place the glass against the angle iron and push the glass into the caulk. Here we are working on one of the living room sliding doors:

The glass company wrote the dimensions of each piece of glass right on the glass. This, combined with my drawing of all the pieces of glass made figuring out what went where very easy.

The glass company wrote the dimensions of each piece of glass right on the glass. This, combined with my drawing of all the pieces of glass made figuring out what went where very easy.


Fitting the glass into place…

The pane of glass at the top of the stairs was particularly challenging. Because the wall for the staircase was in the way, we had to install the glass from outside. Ramiro and I set up a scaffold and two ladders and then called Armando and Francisco to help. The next photos tell the story of installing this piece of glass:

Do you see the glass?

Can you see the glass?


It took the four of us to raise the glass to the second floor one ladder rung at a time.


So far so good, but it was a struggle to get the six-foot by six-foot piece up and over the ladders.

Almost in place, but one corner of one of the columns was slightly twisted, preventing the glass from seating into place.

Almost in place, but one corner of one of the metal columns was slightly twisted, preventing the glass from seating into place.

Armando persuaded the metal with a few good slams with a small sledge. Don’t drop the hammer Armando!


The glass finally fit. We removed it so that I could apply the caulk. The wind was quite strong and one time we almost lost it...

The glass finally fit. Then we removed it so that I could apply the caulk. The wind blowing through the house was quite strong and one time we almost lost it…

After I applied the caulk, we slipped the pane back into place and pressed it into the caulk. Even with the wind, the caulk held the glass in place until the next day when we could install the outside angle iron trim.

After I applied the caulk, we slipped the pane back into place and pressed it into the caulk. Even with the wind, the caulk held the glass in place until the next day when we could install the outside angle iron trim.

All the panes are now in as are all the pieces of angle iron on the front wall. Tomorrow we will tackle the west living room wall angle iron. Then just the minor details of cleaning the glass and painting the trim inside and out. The front of the house now looks like this panorama photo (ignore the curved roofline…):

Panorama -- 2 March 2014

It is a good feeling to be able to close the front door and have the house all locked up. No more glass-less windows for someone to climb in…

Here is a picture of the high windows in the living room taken from the loft landing:


The floor-to-ceiling window at the top of the staircase is particularly exciting:


One afternoon Ramiro and I (almost) completed the three doors for the pantry in the kitchen. I say almost because there is still a coat of paint to apply on the door frames and I need to install some guide wheels at the floor. Here is a photo of the doors to date:


Cynthia wanted to be able to let cat Bob explore the rest of the house. To date, he has been confined to the bedroom part of the house. The only thing standing in the way of this was the doors in the living room; I still needed to fabricate brackets and install wheels and door stops. So Ramiro and I spent a day buttoning down the six doors. Now the doors can be closed without the wind banging them back and forth. Here are some of the wheels and door stops:


Armando and Francisco are still working on the garden path, probably another week or two to go…

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


At some point during construction, a Project becomes a House. Later, when the floor coverings and furniture and other creature comforts are in place, it becomes a Home. Yesterday, some of the glass for the living room/dining room arrived and although we have been camping here since September, we felt a very real emotional shift from Project to House.

Ramiro and I got right to work and installed the four panels that arrived Saturday morning. It was satisfying and rewarding to see reflections in the glass. In the next picture you can see the glass. You can also see that we chose a dark green for the trim color (also on my to do list last week). Eventually we will repaint all the window security bars and the front gate the same color:


While we waited last week for the glass to arrive, Ramiro and I made the hand railing for the stairs to the loft and roof deck. I want to install lights on the underside of the railing, so I decided to use 1.5″ x 1.5″ square tubing for the railing. Here we are cutting and welding:


And here is the completed railing waiting until I can find some hand rail brackets (or make them…):


After we install the window glass (so that rain won’t rust the stairs), I want to clean the steps with muriatic acid and finish them with boiled linseed oil to give a nice homey industrial feel to the metal. You can also see that Ramiro burned up a lot of welding rods — he ran continuous beads at the inside corner of all the steps. The steps sound much more solid now.

Using my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake, Ramiro and I fabricated the remaining pantry shelving in the kitchen. Plus, we made three, five-foot wide door frames for the pantry. One door is in the picture below, we still need to pop rivet the diamond plate aluminum sheets to the back side of the door frames once the paint is good and dry:


I still need to buy wheels for the three sliding doors. The doors will hang from the two tracks that run under the beams.

Additionally, we installed the ceiling panels in three of the five sections between the beams in the kitchen. We had to quit because my arms just wouldn’t raise over my head any more!

We chose to install a ceiling under the shipping container roof because the roofs in these containers had a lot of welded-on patches and were not very attractive. The suspended ceiling also gave me a good wiring and plumbing chase for the upstairs wires and pipes. Here is a photo between two beams:


The ceiling panels are 16-foot-long zinc roofing panels. We had to cut about 7-inches off the end of the panels. You can see a line of screws that screw up into the shipping container where the two containers meet.

At the outside edges of the shipping containers, we screwed a 1.5″ x 3″ steel C channel (carriola), on edge, to the corner of the container. The zinc panels simply sit on the lip of the carriola. Like this:P1010027-001

For another little task, I wanted to install a digital door lock on the front door. Standard door handle/lock sets are made for 1+3/8″ to 1+3/4″ thick doors. But I used 2″ thick steel tubing to make the door, one-quarter-of-an-inch thicker than the lockset would accommodate. I installed the lockset, but it wouldn’t lock or unlock. I determined that the little tab of metal that goes into the lock/unlock turn-thingy on the inside handle wasn’t long enough. So Ramiro and I welded a 1/4″ extension onto the tab.

Actually, in order to clamp and electrically ground the metal for welding, we welded on a piece much larger, and after welding I ground it to size with the bench grinder. The little extension is on the right side of the photo:


The little piece of extend metal on the right will now fit into the door handle lock thingy.

With the door lock installed and working, we will be all locked up once we install the rest of the glass.

Armando and Francisco worked four days last week, continuing on with the back yard path project. They still have at least another week to go, but here it is to date:



Note the hand of bananas that is developing.


Jabo at a gallop. Note that Ramiro has finished welding the top tubing onto the fence. He ground his welds smooth and applied two coats of paint to the welds.

So that was our week, more glass next week. Installing the glass is easy, just apply sealant to the angle iron and press the glass in place. But then we still have to make another set of angle iron for the inside of the glass and pop rivet it into place, quite time consuming. But that’s how you make a shipping container house. The hard way!

Thanks for stopping by. That’s all for now.

In The Kitchen Plus This, That, And The Other

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a few weeks now. I usually take Sundays off and write a post, but the last two Sundays I have been consumed with getting Cynthia into her new kitchen.

Last Sunday night she cooked her first meal in the new kitchen. There are still many, many details to go, but at least she is out of the wind and all her equipment and supplies are now in the same room. Here is how she had to cook in the camp kitchen:


You can see that I had to hang a tarp so that the wind wouldn’t blow out the burners.

On the checklist, the gas is now piped to the kitchen stove, the kitchen water heater, plus the clothes dryer and the water heater for the bedroom part of the house. I’ve installed the sink and the faucet. I installed the dishwasher. I installed the new gas range. I built an exhaust hood (but I still have to install the motor). I did a bunch of electrical wiring, and I grouted the floor.

Here are some photos as the kitchen is now:


Note the electrical receptacles and switches mounted in the side of all the island cabinets. At the bottom of the aluminum siding on this cabinet you can see that we are experimenting with frosted glass for the baseboards. It would apply nicely with silicone adhesive. We’ll see.

Here’s the new American Range and the hood that I built using my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake. Also, check out the shine on the concrete counters:


Here we are installing the exhaust hood. Armando and Francisco are holding it in place as I drive screws up into the beam at the ceiling:


Here is an overview shot of the kitchen. Cynthia chose a charcoal gray paint for the end of the container. The TV will be mounted on that wall. We will have a love seat backed up to the third island:


We can’t wait to get more color in the kitchen. Just the addition of the two placemats makes a huge difference. Cynthia is going to make some colorful slumped-glass lights to hang from the beams. Her supplies are in the mail and on their way.

The electrical took some extra doing. It is not unheard of (understatement) for electrical spikes to happen, taking out expensive appliances along the way. (At one of the rentals that we lived in, some wires got crossed on an electrical pole, sending 220-volts down a 110-volt line and into the house, blowing out all the light bulbs, a microwave, refrigerator, stereo, and a TV!)

At the electrical panel, I wired receptacles where I could plug wiring from the stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, coffee maker, etc. into circuit protectors. Like this:


The two boxes at the left of the circuit panel are controls for the well pump. After I finish all the electrical, I’ll build an aluminum enclosure around all the electrical stuff. As a redundancy to the plug-in circuit protectors, I’ll also wire in a whole-house voltage protector at the main circuit panel.

Here is the floor all grouted. I made a custom mix by combining “cocoa” colored grout with “terra cotta” colored grout. It really isn’t visible to the casual eye:


Another little detail that I had to take care of is where the open shipping container doors on container #1 meet the container. There is a space from floor to ceiling that had to be closed:


I bent some aluminum scrap on my brake and caulked and riveted it into place:


In other news, I have measured for all the glass in the dining room/living room and we have placed our order. The glass should arrive in about a week. But before I install the glass, I want to paint all the trim around the windows. But what color? Way back, we decided to paint the house a dark gray/green with black trim. But the good part about building over such a long period of time is that you can change your mind without having to redo a lot of work! So now we have chosen a lighter body color for the house, a gray, sea-foam minty green, if you will, with a darker green for the trim. Yesterday I sprayed a gallon of the new body color on the wall by the front door and started priming the galvanized metal window frames. I had to quit because the wind picked up and put more paint in the air than on the metal.

Here is a photo of the wall. To me, it looks more blue than green on my monitor. But it really is on the green side of the spectrum so what you see may not be what is:


Remember those clay pots that a neighbor gave us? The guys cleaned them and Cynthia and I bought some plants. They look good on the front landing.

Here is a closeup of the plants in the new pots:


With the dry season rapidly passing, it was time to get some outside welding done. When we built the perimeter fence, it was raining too much to weld on the pipe at the top of the fence. Aramis, the welder that worked for us for six months, has other work, but he recommended his godfather, Ramiro. Here is Ramiro hard at work rapidly completing the fence:


Armando and Francisco have their hands full with an outside project that will make a huge difference. Before, our back yard was all but unusable because if you walked in the grass, you would be eaten alive by the no-seeums. We want to have more garden and less no grass. So Armando and Francisco are creating a path that will go all the way around the house:

Here is a photo from the second floor before they have laid any rock:



Step one is to remove the grass with a pickaxe. Step two, dig a shallow trench for a foundation for the rocks borders. Step three, build the rock borders. Step four, put down weed cloth and bring in gravel for the walkway. Step five, plant plants and more plants. Jabo knows that there is an armadillo or an opossum under the house…


Jabo can now patrol the entire property. Before, he understood that if he went in the grass that he would come out with ticks. Now he runs the path like a race car driver.


The back garden was looking kind of sad, so I bought a few drip irrigation hoses and an automatic timer. Now the garden stays well watered and is doing much better:


We still want to fill in the empty spaces with a few more plants.

Here are some closeup shots:


This is the torch plant starting to open.


Here it is more open.

Cynthia’s favorite is the Heliconia:


Remember Victor, that man who drilled our water well? He and I have stayed in touch. From time to time he needs help finding a part for his antique drilling rig. He tells me what he needs and I take to the Internet to find it and to talk to the vendor in English. I recently gave him two leads to nearby people who need his services, and the other day he stopped by with a couple orchid sprigs for us. He was on his way to a lake in El Valle to set free the box turtle that he had had for five years. “He needs a girlfriend,” he said.

Cynthia asked Victor how his wife is (for proper etiquette in Panama, you always ask how a person’s family is, even if you have never met the family). With a big smile and a laugh Victor replied, “GORDA!” What a joie de vivre he has!

Here is Victor with his turtle:

P1000942Victor also told us (and has photos on his phone to prove it) about the small yellow bird that has returned to his house every year for seven years. The wild bird eats bread and milk out of his hand. We like Victor.

It’s been a busy two weeks since my last post. It seems to me that I have used every tool that I own, but still nothing is done! It goes like that sometimes. But that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Floor ~ Five Days In

One day last week plus four days this week makes five days working on the floor so far. Although the going is slow, we are really happy with the progress.

There is one tedious part to the floor tile installation and I have resigned myself to taking the time that it needs — when abutting the end of one tile to the end of the next tile, I have to make sure that the joint is at the correct elevation — that is to say that it is all too easy to have that joint be too low or too high in relation to the neighboring tiles, thereby creating a spot to trip or stub a toe. And I often can’t tell if the height is correct until the next row of tiles is in place, so I’ve had to remove a few tiles here and there to adjust the thickness of the mortar. To help me remove an already surrounded tile I made a tile removal tool; I doubled some baling wire and made a small “L” bend at one end. I can slip the wire into a grout line, turn the wire 90-degrees, and lift out the tile. This saves a lot of mess and I don’t have to unnecessarily remove other tiles.

As I said, we are really happy with the progress and we like how the floor is warming the space. Here are a few progress photos — remember that I still need to apply the grout, so the floor doesn’t look finished yet:




Yes, that’s a lot of tiles to scribe and cut along the container wall. But it is going surprisingly well.

So far I have about sixteen of the forty-feet of floor completed. This has been the most difficult part because in addition to the walls, I have to cut around the islands, too. I’ll pick up speed when I get to the open area of the floor.

To give my old knees a break from the floor, I spent some time installing adjustable shelving brackets on the kitchen wall (other side of the wall from the stairs). I made two aluminum shelves; there will be a lot more shelves and four, large sliding doors. These shelves will be the pantry for food and dishes:


In other news, In another day off from the floor, Cynthia and I went to the city and bought a dishwasher. I hope to have the kitchen up and running, although not finished, within the next two weeks. Although we will still be “camping,” it will be great to have the kitchen out of my workshop and to have a sink actually inside the house! And without the wind constantly blowing the burners out when Cynthia is trying to cook, as happens now in the shop/kitchen.

And finally, some pretty orchids are in bloom. Along with the hibiscuses, our “plant angel neighbor” also gave us some Espiritu Santo (Holy Ghost) orchid plants. Armando planted them in pots, including in the dirt mix some rotting pieces of wood and some charcoal from our burn pile to make the plants happy. Already, one of the plants has flowered:




And in the dead tree in the front garden, two orchids are in bloom. One with large brown flowers:


And one with tiny, tiny white flowers:


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Floor Tile And Garden Bonanza

At 10:30 on Monday morning, I got a phone call from the woman at Elmec where we ordered the floor tile. She told me that the tile would be arriving at 1:00 and asked if I could be there to transfer the tile from the large delivery truck directly to my truck. This would save a lot of handling and potential for breakage. I told her yes.

I knew that it was more than our half-ton payload Honda Ridgeline could carry, so I set out to find a larger truck. Friend Jim gave me the number of a potential person, but he didn’t answer his phone. Looking for more advice, I drove to Aramis’ (the man who has been welding for us) house about two kilometers from our house. Fortunately for me, Aramis was home and suggested that I go to the kiosko where Cynthia and I buy fruits and vegetables. I went there and pleaded my case. They had a one-ton pickup truck that would be available, and I agreed to come back at 12:15.

I returned at 12:15 and we headed, each in our own truck, down the mountain to Coronado. The large delivery truck and our two pickup trucks pulled up to Elmec simultaneously. We loaded the 65-square-meters (700 square feet) of tile plus 20 bags of mortar into our two pickups and drove back up the mountain. At 3:00 after unloading, I paid the driver $60 for his time and fuel. For having had no idea where I would find a truck, the process couldn’t have gone better.

I’ll get back to the tile, but first, on Sunday a neighbor of ours came by to visit. He told us that he had just rented his weekend house for six months, and that he had some hibiscus plants in pots that he wanted to give to us. Cynthia and I got excited, because he is a hibiscus collector.  Beyond the standard red hibiscus, he has a wide range of exotic colors and flower shapes and sizes. We drove the short distance to his house. By the time we left his house, we couldn’t fit another pot in the overflowing pickup bed. Most of the plants aren’t flowering now, but I’ll post photos when they are in bloom.

Cynthia and I decided to dedicate most of the west side of the yard to a giant hibiscus garden. Armando started his week on Tuesday, and spent most of the day putting the plants in the ground and giving them a good drink of water. Here is a photo of one of the plants that had one flower on it:


Here Armando has a few planted and a few to go:


In addition to the 25 hibiscus (called papos in Spanish), our neighbor also gave us a couple bonus plants including a raspberry bush, a giant elk horn, and a giant variegated cut-leaf philodendron. We planted the cut-leaf near the front gate:


I labeled this post Garden Bonanza not just because of the plants that our neighbor so generously gave us. This week another neighbor gave us seven large clay pots that they were no longer using. All we have to do is clean them and find some plants to put in them:


While Armando was planting the hibiscus on Tuesday, I put some foam building panels on the west end wall of the kitchen. I also ran wires for electrical in the wall and for an outside security light high on the shipping container wall. On Wednesday, Armando applied the first coat of repello (stucco). He works elsewhere on Thursdays and Fridays, so he applied the second coat of repello on Saturday. Here is the wall ready for paint after the mortar cures a bit more:


We’ll mount the TV on this wall. The two holes will allow me to run all the wires to and from the TV behind the wall for a nice clean look. I’ll build a cabinet below the TV so the bottom hole and the electrical receptacle will be hidden too.

On Wednesday I wanted nothing more than to start laying the tile. But there was still some prep work to be done. When we poured the concrete floor in the kitchen, I was sure that we would put a baseboard around the room so we weren’t too neat about the concrete. But the more I tried to design a baseboard that would work with the corrugations of the container walls, the uglier the end product became.

I could affix a piece of tilebacker to the container wall (how???), then tile the tilebacker with the floor tile, then fill all the spaces with mortar where the container wall bends outward. If not tile, then whatever material I could think of still had to have all the outies filled with mortar and it would be a dusting nightmare for the person cleaning the floors. It was just arduous and ugly in my mind. The only conclusion was to go baseboard free. No baseboard was the decision. But as I said, when we poured the floor, we didn’t figure that the tile would hug all the innies and outies of container wall corrugations.

So I spent all of Wednesday on my hands and knees with a hammer and a chisel cleaning the line where the concrete meets the container wall. This made a lot of dust and debris.

I woke up Thursday morning and couldn’t open my right hand, the one that had held the chisel all day Wednesday. I had no choice but to take the day off. But I planned to start the tile on Friday!

Friday arrived and I was anxious to start the tile. But wait, I still had to clean up all the concrete debris, so I got out the shop vac and cleaned the entire floor. After that, I noticed that the container walls were quite dusty from all the chiseling and also from sanding the counter tops. So I washed the walls, changing the water in the bucket umpteen times. Now that the walls were nice and clean, I noticed that the white paint on the walls needed some touch up where I chiseled the floor. I got a paintbrush but really didn’t want the brush marks. What the heck, I hauled out the paint sprayer and not only touched up, but gave the container walls an entire third coat of white. Wow, now they gleam!

Armando arrived Saturday morning expecting to see half the kitchen floor tiled. Sorry to disappoint, but no Armando, I am only now going to start the tile. I set up the tile saw and finally, FINALLY got to work. I took my time establishing a straight and true first two rows of tile.

Here is what I got done on Saturday:


I had to go slowly so that I didn’t disturb the first two rows while the mortar set. I also wanted to make sure that every tile was level with its neighbor. I hate tripping over the edge of a tile.

The downside of no baseboard means that I have to scribe each and every tile where it meets the wall. I rigged a Sharpie marker on a pair of dividers to scribe to the wall:


I left a little space at the wall for grout.

So that was the week. Next week — MORE TILE!

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Cabinets ~ Aluminum Siding ~ Not What You Think!

I can imagine the telephone conversation:

Me: Hello.

Salesperson: Hello. We have a truck in your neighborhood and would like to offer you free aluminum siding.

Me: Yes, I am interested.

Salesperson: How large is your house?

Me: Um, the size of my house doesn’t matter. I want the aluminum siding for my kitchen cabinets.

Salesperson: Pardon me? Kitchen cabinets?

Me: Yes, kitchen cabinets. When can you come?

Salesperson: Click.

As an aside, this reminds me of a conversation that my then 88-year-old mother had with a telephone salesperson. She had neither a driver’s license nor a car. She did, however, have a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. The conversation went like this:

Mother: Hello.

Salesperson: Hello. We have a truck in your neighborhood and would like to offer you a free windshield chip/ding repair.

Mother (putting on her best old-lady, shaky and weak voice): Do I havvvve to oooown a carrrrr?

Salesperson: Click

Okay. With that nonsense out of the way, I would like to confirm that I am indeed putting aluminum siding on our kitchen cabinets. When Cynthia saw it, she said that she thought that she was in a diner.

I used one-sixteenth-inch thick aluminum floor plate (also called diamond plate), the same stock that I used on the shelves in the walk-in closet. I cut the 4′x8′ sheets on the table saw. Of course I still have to make the cabinet doors and drawers, and they will be faced with the aluminum, too. Here are a couple photos:


Sitting at the eating bar, we can see out the windows to the left and through the kitchen door to the back yard. This is a large room (16′ x 40′) but still, it is good to have vistas to combat any closed-in feeling in the room.


You can see that I cut holes in the ends of the islands for electrical plugs. To cut the holes, I drilled the four corners of each plug hole then used a saber saw to cut to the corners. Cynthia and I pulled some of the wiring cables into the islands.

As it stands now, the kitchen, with the white walls, dark grey counter tops, and the aluminum siding on the cabinets, is quite cool looking. As in cold. Kind of dead if you will.

I laid out a few of the grey floor tiles that we have had on hand for some time now. We realized that the look of the cool-toned tile with the rest of the cool tones looked, um, really bad. Too much of a good thing if you will.

We decided to use those tiles on the loft and on the roof deck floors upstairs. Exact same square footage so nothing is lost. We took a trip down the mountain and went to Elmec in Coronado. Elmec sells floor tiles and plumbing fixtures.

Cynthia had been dead set against having any brown in the house. Too much brown in the ’70s I guess. But as we looked at the floor tiles on display, the browns kept coming up as the best option to warm the space. She still had a massive amount of trepidation, but we finally chose a warm brown (reddish but not red) tile and put our money down. The tiles have a wood grain embossed in them and they are the shape of wooden floor planks. I’ll lay them with a thin (one-thirty-second of an inch) grout line and use a grout that matches the color of the tile.

We will also look for warm colors when we choose curtain panels for the windows. I think that when all is said and done that the kitchen will have a nice balance of the coolness of tech and the warmness of nature.

We will mount the TV on the west wall at the far end of the kitchen. For watching TV, a love seat will back up to the third island. But with the white walls, that far end of the containers looks a long way away. We decided to paint the walls at that end a dark color to pull the wall in a bit. Here is a charcoal grey (and we like it a lot):


Of course you aren’t looking at the finished product. There is still some touch up to be done, and I am considering putting the foam building panels on the ribbed end of the container for consistency with the closet. That is the west wall and it gets hot when the sun goes down in the west. We don’t need that much radiant heat against the TV mounted on the wall.

The new floor tiles should be in this week or maybe next and I am anxious to get going on the floor!

In the meantime, Armando had taken a lot of time off and Aramis has run out of work here for the time being. Armando is working on a curb at the side of the driveway:


And early one morning just after sunrise, we had a visitor on one of our windows:


I know, I know. It looks like a plastic frog with a suction cup. But it really is real and apparently this type of frog does indeed have a suction disk on its belly.

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.