I Can’t Think Of A Title For This Post

Since my last post, I stripped the forms off of the latest batch of counter tops. The following photo shows the counter in the master bathroom. Also in the photo, we were going to have a mirror cut for the wall, but we decided instead to tile the wall and hang two mirrors. (I’ve done the same in the second bedroom but no photos.) In the photo, I just finished tiling the wall. Armando will grout it on Monday, then I can install the faucets and sinks:

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This area will look much better when it is all dressed up with sinks, faucets, mirrors and lights. I still need to tile the wall under the counter. We’ve decided to use the shower floor tiles for this area below the sinks.

The concrete shelf in the toilet area turned out nicely; it has a nice shine due to the polymer sealer. One of our goals in designing the house was to create light-but-cozy spaces. Even the toilet area qualifies:

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When Armando grouts the tile wall, I’ll have him grout the honeycomb edge of the shelf.

The stone wall in the shower area looked drab, so Armando sanded the wall to remove grout from the stones and to smooth the mortar lines. Then he washed the wall and applied two coats of polymer sealer. Now it looks like what we had envisioned:

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In the laundry, I stripped the forms from the small counter top and sanded and sealed it. I put it in place and installed the faucet, sink trap, and drain line. This sink now works!

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A little grout will touch up the edge of the counter.

Out in the yard, Armando spent two-weeks making the last segment of the driveway edging:

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After we pour the concrete floor in the carport, we’ll order a few more truckloads of gravel for the driveway.

The big thing for us this week was the delivery of the glass table tops and the mirrors for the bathroom behind the sink.

We placed our order on the 10th of December and were told that we could expect it to arrive in two weeks. But being Panama, it just didn’t happen. All of December passed, as well as January. I kept checking with the company and kept getting promises for the next day. Or next week. There were lots of excuses. The company that put the edging on the glass broke the dining room table top and another one had to be made. The truck was broken. The driver didn’t show up. The men were all working out of town. We’re waiting for glass. One of the two edge grinding machines in Panama was broken and work was backed up. I half expected to be told that they had run out of sand to make the glass!

Exasperated, I finally visited the glass company and talked with Kathy, the woman at the desk. By this point we knew each other well. I explained that many promises had been broken and that we had been very patient. But now, our patience was worn thin.

In Panama there is an agency, probably like the Better Business Bureau, with the acronym of ACODECO. If you have a complaint with a business (or even a government agency I think), you can file your complaint and they will follow up. Apparently ACODECO has sharp fangs and razor claws (and the ability to impose big fines), because businesses quake at the mere mention of the name.

So playing good customer/bad customer, I politely told Kathy that I heard Cynthia snoring in her sleep. I told Kathy that with each exhale, I heard Cynthia exclaim, “ACODECO!, ACODECO!, ACODECO!”

Kathy’s eyes widened and she said, “Oh, por favor no Sr. Fred.”

“Oh, I have no control over what Cynthia will do when she is at the end of her patience,” I said.

The glass arrived the next day.

(The long delay in getting the glass is what prompted us to tile the bathroom walls above the counters and hang mirrors instead of ordering custom-fabricated mirrors.)

The first piece that the three men put in place was the much-anticipated, half-inch, 250-pound dining room table top. With a wide bevel on the edge, it looks great!

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After the delivery crew left, I hung the mirrors in the bathroom under the stairs. The photo is difficult to figure out; there are two mirrors that hang on the 45-degree walls behind the sink. Kind of like being in a Fun House:

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The glass tops arrived for the smaller tables, too, including the one in the dining room:

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And the second bedroom (under the mirror):

Panorama -- Guest Bedroom 8 Feb 2015

Instead of wooden end tables (mold, termites), we are using clay vessels with glass tops. Here is the living room with the round glass tops on the vessels:

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We’ll plant a plant in the brown pot in the far back corner and maybe put an up-light in the pot. And yes, that is a pig (piggy bank) with wings and wheels.

The screened bump-out in the master bedroom is a sweet place to sit and have a glass of iced tea:

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Cynthia has been busy learning about slumping glass. Her latest creation is made using a bubble pot melt form. After all the colors had melted/dripped through the form and fused together in the kiln, I cut the edges square with my tile saw. Next, she will place it on a different form in the kiln, slumping the glass into the shape of a tray. Here is the piece held up to the light:

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What’s not readily visible in this photo is the sparkle of the little blue spots (from blue aventurine frit). It’s really pretty up close. This color combination is reminiscent of a tie dye.

Lastly, I’ve been all work and no play for a long time now and it is getting old. I’ve been aching to learn to play my new classical guitar, so even though I’m dog tired at the end of the day, lately I’ve managed to carve out a few minutes at the end of the evening to sit and strum a bit.

Here’s the guitar that Cynthia bought me for my birthday (was it last year or the year before?); it is hand made in Spain (all wood, no plywood, with a hand-selected cedar soundboard), fabricated in the traditional way. With a deep, rich resonance, it is a wonderful guitar for the music that I want to learn to play — Nuevo Flamenco and jazzy Latin styles such as the Bossa Nova. Thanks Cyn (and thanks again to our friend Cynthia McC for hand carrying it to me from the States):

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

Lovely In The Night

Armando and I start this post by pouring the concrete for the counter tops in the master and second bathrooms. It took us about three hours to mix and place the concrete in the forms that I showed in my last post. Here are some photos:

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We’ll put a lamp on this little concrete shelf that is (soon to be) next to the toilet.

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We took extra pains to work the somewhat stiff concrete around the rebar and into all the corners.

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This is the counter for the two vessel sinks in the master bathroom. Just to the right of my arm you can see two pieces of pipe sticking up out of the concrete. These pipes create holes for the faucet and the sink drain

We even made a small counter to go behind the deep sink in the laundry. Cynthia is looking forward to having this little project done so she can use the sink:

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After we leveled the concrete, I returned to the concrete several times during the day to steel trowel the surfaces smooth. As of this writing, the forms are still in place until the concrete cures more fully.

My next project was to make-pretty the hallway between the second bedroom and the steps that lead down to the dining room. A long time ago I hung sheets of plycem (tile backer) on the metal studs. To start, I patched the screw heads with Bondo and sanded the spots smooth. Then using urethane caulk, I sealed the edges of the plycem where it met the container walls and ceiling. Next I washed and prime-painted the shipping container metal ceiling, and then gave everything two coats of the warm gray paint that we are using elsewhere in the house. Quite a transformation from its formerly uninviting space. Before:

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After, much better:

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On my monitor I see a yellowish glow around the door frame — it must be a lens flare or something because the frame is totally gray in real life…

Next, I tackled the stair landing area. To get rid of the useless triangular dust collecting area in the far corner, I hung a piece of plycem and caulked it into place between the two metal walls. Then I cut and installed some steel angle to make a suspended-ceiling-like support for the ceiling and screwed it into place. (At this point I was still unsure what to use for the ceiling panel…) So far it looks like this:

P1020265-001Next, I had to make the ceiling panel. I was loathe to buy another $35 sheet of plycem, so I spent some time kicking around the jobsite, checking out our dwindling piles of building materials. I had a piece of plywood that would have worked, but because of my none-or-as-little-as-possible wood policy because of termites, I nixed that idea. I thought about using the zinc roofing panels, but I would have to buy some.

Finally, I stumbled upon a piece of rusty one-eighth-inch diamond plate steel left over from building the staircase to the loft and roof deck. Oh, why not (as I had no other use for it)? I cut it to size with the angle grinder with a thin cutoff disk and buffed it out with a steel brush on the angle grinder.

I was going to paint the piece, but Cynthia walked by and suggested that I simply apply boiled linseed oil to it (as I did to the staircase). The steel was outside in the hot sun, so I oiled it and wiped it dry in no time at all.

The remaining task was to lift the heavy piece of steel and drop it into place on its support angles:

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One step and maxed-out muscles at a time…

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Ooph, this is heavy!

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And DONE!

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Unless Earth suffers a catastrophic failure of the Laws of Gravity, this hunk of steel is in place to stay. We think the diamond plate provides an unexpected design punch.

I still need to paint the surrounding walls the same gray as the hallway, but now several arduous hallway tasks are done.

While I had the gray paint ready to go, I decided to paint the indoor-side of the metal framework around the big front windows. The job started out looking like this:

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The top two panes of glass are high off the floor. My tallest stepladder is eleven-feet high, but not high enough. So I lashed another ladder to the stepladder to create more height. I didn’t climb on the extra height, but (note to my friend Robin in Colorado) it gave me a sturdy hand-hold while I painted. Falls from ladders are no joke and I didn’t want to join Robin in that unenviable club. I like my Little Giant ladders — note how the base of the ladder flares out for more stability.

I’d primed the metal a long time ago, but I gave it another coat of oil-based primer for good luck. Then I applied two coats of the latex gray. When I was all done painting, I cleaned the windows inside and out. Twice. I finished the job at dusk and decided to finish the day with a few photos:

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Inside, looking from the living room.

We think that the house is lovely at night:

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The next photo may take you a moment to figure out:

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Call the magazine editors:

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Lastly, tired from trying to keep track of me, Jabo chills out on the cool tile floor and relaxes to the sound of the bubbling fountain:

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

It’s A Good Thing That I Take Pictures

It’s a good thing that I take pictures. Otherwise I would have no idea what I did in the past two weeks!

Let’s start with the glass block window in the master bathroom. Except for a piece of metal trim at the top, the window is done. It adds a lot to the north elevation and pumps a lot of light into the bathroom:

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From the inside, once it is painted and the rest of the finishing details are completed, the bathroom will be an inviting space:

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Looking through all three glass block walls shows a striking pattern of contorted grout lines:

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Hanibal and Francisco finished the glass block window about 10:30 in the morning. As this was the very last project for them here (except to do the carport floor in a few months), we celebrated the completion of several month’s work with a glass of sparkling apple juice. I paid them and sent them on their way with most of the day off:

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Official photos seem to be a solemn affair…

Now on my own, I was free to tackle a slew of smaller projects. One thing that had been bugging us was the open space above the glass block wall in the kitchen. The kitchen lights at night were a magnet for mosquitoes and other insects.

To make a bug-proof vent, I cut a piece of expanded metal and painted it black. I folded it in half with my bending brake, then slipped a piece of window screen between the two layers of expanded metal. I screwed the assembly to the outside of the container; it can be removed to replace or clean the window screen:

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Here is a close up:

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Keeping on with the bug-proofing projects — I bent some L-shaped pieces of scrap aluminum and screwed them to the wall above the big security doors at the living room west wall. This closed a big gap and also redirects water away from the glass doors. I had installed window screens some time ago:

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Next, it was almost impossible to work in my shop, so I dedicated two days to a good mucking out. Much better now. Here is what I had to deal with. Shameful:

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Next, Cynthia and I tackled the electrical work in the living room/dining room. We pulled a couple hundred feet of wire, Cynthia feeding wire to me from above while I did the worm walk in the crawl space, threading the wires under the house. Now we can plug lamps and the fountain into the wall, just like regular people, and the extension cords are all gone!

I installed a receptacle in the roof support column in the living room. We will plug a table lamp in here; it can be switched on or off from each of the two bedroom step landings as well as at the kitchen door. In 1977 I learned to create a “path of light” from an electrician who called himself Sparky, and it has served me well for many years. He said that you shouldn’t have to walk anywhere in the dark. Cynthia and I pulled wires to create this mess:

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With the help of a wiring diagram book, I was able to connect the receptacle and the four-way switch arrangement:

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Instead of using the supplied screws, I simply pop riveted the receptacle into place.

Another place that was a lot of fun to wire was at the three switches at the front door; two switches for the chandelier and one switch for the outside flood lights that I installed high over the front door:

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Above the three switches is a stack of rare earth magnets. I had to use them to retrieve a drill bit that I dropped into the column.

What made this challenging is that I messed up on my spacing when I cut the top hole for the switches in the 4″x4″ steel column; using the saber saw with a metal cutting blade, I cut on the wrong marks, making the opening too tall. But with some flat stock metal, pop rivets, and a few choice words for myself, I fixed the hole. I patched my boo boo with some Bondo. Here is my ugly fix before the Bondo:

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So now the dining room chandelier is working; here is a nighttime photo with the bottom light on:

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We hadn’t originally planned to tile the big triangular wall at the staircase in the living room, so the already roughed-in electrical boxes ended up too deep in the wall. First, I cleaned the tile mortar from the screw holes with a threading tool:

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With the threaded holes set back so far in the wall, it was good to have a small kit of different length screws on hand:

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How many tools does it take to install an electrical receptacle in a tile wall?

While I was in wiring mode, Cynthia asked if I would install a light in the kitchen exhaust hood over the stove. We bought a sealed LED light strip — it can easily be removed for cleaning. Here is a shot looking up into the hood. I still need to install a grease filter on the big round exhaust hole:

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The light switches for the kitchen ceiling lights, as well as for the exhaust fan and the light in the exhaust hood will all be by the kitchen door. I chose to not put the switches for the hood on the hood itself to keep the switches from getting greasy. So far I have some temporary wiring for some of the switches. I think it is quite entertaining:

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But, is it to Code?

At this point I ran out of wire, so I moved on to other projects. We have family coming to visit in about two months, so the guest bedroom and bath became the current priority. I painted the two container-end doors with an oil-based primer and two coats of latex; they had been a gnarly, rusty mess:

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I assembled the bed, Cynthia bought bedding for the room, and we hung the mirror. There is still some minor painting to do in the room:

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Speaking of the mirror, the one that we bought came with a Masonite backing. In this humid climate, within a month the Masonite was a moldy mess. I removed it and tossed it into the trash:

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In the guest bathroom, I made a form to pour a black concrete counter top (like the kitchen counters). It is still lacking rebar:

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The blocks of plywood will make a space on the underside of the concrete counter so I can install the nuts that affix the sink and faucet. This bathroom is still lacking paint, mirror, and lights, but the tile is all done.

While I had the tools out to make the form for the counter, I moved to the master bathroom to do the same:

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How many tools does it take to make a counter top concrete form?

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After I made the form, I placed the sinks and determined spacing. BobBob helped:

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And still while I was at it, we needed a shelf near the toilet to put a lamp on, so I made yet another form for that shelf:

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As soon as I can get some black concrete colorant, Armando and I can pour these counter tops. Right now, the only hardware store in town that has colorant has it at three-times the price at other stores. I refuse to patronize the scoundrel.

In the kitchen, we have been enjoying having breakfast in the little bump out area with the glass block wall. But the white walls (the container doors that form the walls) were a bit too bright and glaring in the morning sun. So I painted the area two coats of the same gray paint that we used by the concrete bench in the living room. It made the space much more cozy. It was difficult to get a good photo with all the morning light coming through the glass blocks:

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One big bonus of painting the walls gray is the shimmering pattern from the glass blocks:

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Cynthia has been working on some projects of her own. The next photo is of a ten-inch diameter glass bowl that she made. As her first bowl, she made it relatively unadorned to make sure that her slumping and fusing times in the kiln were correct before she spent the big bucks on colored glass. With this success, she can now make more with colors and textures:

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The bubbles in this bowl were intentionally made for decorative purposes.

Cyn is also making some light sconces for either side of the mirror in the dining room. After several failed attempts (the glass kept cracking when it came out of the kiln), she determined that window glass is not window glass is not window glass. She had mixed regular, clear window glass with some of the frosted glass from the slatted-louver windows that we had left over. Apparently, the COE (coefficient of expansion) is different for the two window glasses, creating cracks when the glass cools. Who’d a thought.

So now she can go on to use just one of the glass types and I am sure that she will be successful. Here is one of the failed attempts. This was pieced with broken pieces of frosted slatted-vent window glass over regular window glass with dichroic leaf embedded in the spaces. The cracks appeared at non-conjoined areas:

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With the dry season upon us, our hundreds of plants now need to be watered. With a hose, the job takes at least three-hours. Maybe four. We hired a local girl for the job. We explained the time needed to water to sufficient depth for the roots, but at only fourteen-years-old, she was constantly texting her friends. On the first day at the two hour mark, she declared the plants sufficiently watered. On the second day Cynthia and I reiterated the need for more time on the job, but again at the two-hour mark and after a lot of texting, she was again done. I told her that I thought that she should be spending more time with her friends and that she didn’t need to come back to our grueling job. She seemed relieved. Here she is, cute as a button but not ready for the world of work:

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I have since purchased a good sprinkler and can do the job myself, moving the sprinkler around the yard now and then.

Speaking of plants, one of the orchids in the carport is at it again:

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And the tree that we call the Ballerina Tree is in full bloom again:

P1020156And last but not least, Cynthia is rich! She closed a checking account that was gouging her for outrageous monthly fees. Here is her final check for closing the account. Try not to be envious:

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After taking the photo, the check promptly went in the trash. It would have cost more to cash it.

For a blog entry about small jobs, I think that this is the longest post I have ever written! That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Front Entrance Tile DONE ~ Plus ~ Master Bath Window Underway

After a grueling ten-day marathon, one of the last big jobs, the steps at the front entry, are DONE! I know I’ve posted a bunch — probably too many — photos of the job, but here are a few more of the steps all done. I think it adds a gracious, welcoming formality to the front of the house:

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View from the front door.

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View from coming out of the garage walkway.

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View from the driveway.

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View from the point of the triangle-ish landing.

And here is a photo of the front of the house at dusk:

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Our next task is to pour a black concrete bench in the master bathroom shower area and then to lay glass blocks above the bench. We’ve made good progress in just two days. The bench is poured and five of the eight rows of glass blocks are laid.

Using a combination of the big angle grinder and the reciprocating saw, I started cutting the hole for the glass blocks:

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Here is my progress from inside the house:

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For nighttime security reasons, I only cut a small part of the opening the first day. I welded rebar in place for the concrete pour:

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And finished building the form work:

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Next, Hanibal, Francisco, and I poured the tinted-concrete bench. We mixed the concrete very dry so that the colorant wouldn’t wash out as water raised to the surface of the concrete. Also, a drier concrete mix is stronger than a wet mix when it cures.

Hanibal and I worked the concrete into all the corners and under the rebar. The top of the concrete is pitched in two directions — outside the house it tilts down to form a window sill. Inside the house it tilts to drain shower water off of the bench. To make uniform slants, we used small blocks to set the level of the concrete. You can see two of the blocks between Hanibal’s and my trowels. As we struck a level, we pulled the blocks and reset them as we worked along the bench:

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Here I find and remove a block:

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Hanibal removes one of the blocks toward the end of the bench:

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After a block is pulled, we fill the hole with concrete.

After a ten-minute wait, we floated and troweled the slab, working extra concrete into the voids left by the really-dry mix:

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We closed the window hole with a sheet of plywood and walked away for the day. The next day, we laid five courses of glass blocks:

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After spacing and leveling the critical first row, I left the guys to their work and I found something else to do.

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The guys fill the spaces between the blocks. By the way, for added strength of each row of blocks, we put a piece of quarter-inch rebar in the mortar bed.

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I photo-ambush Francisco from the roof.

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Francisco cleans the grout lines and polishes the glass.

I’d like to show you the window all done, but there are three more rows to lay. We left it like this over the weekend:

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While the guys laid the blocks, I tackled another project. At the end of the last dry season, I sealed the concrete roof with numerous coats of a penetrating polymer sealer. The rain was on us and I didn’t have time to apply the elastomeric top coating, mainly because I wanted to do a test patch over time to assure compatibility of the two products.

Here is the roof before the top coating. Note the small white test patch that has held up well over the rainy season:

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There was a small shrinkage crack between the main roof and the newer overhang that was letting water slowly drip down the side of the container. I filled it well with the polymer and applied an extra coat of top coat here.

With a roller and a paint brush, here is the roof two-and-a-half gallons of top coat later:

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I wish that I had more to show you, but that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

A Seasonally-Appropriate Story

(I posted the following on our local El Valle Yahoo Group, but I thought that it would make a good blog post, too.)

This year, Cynthia and I discovered an excellent gift to give to employees. You might want to keep it in mind for next year or for Easter. Of all the gifts we have given over the years, including cash, this one drew the greatest amount of thanks and appreciation. 

It happened like this: We currently have three men laying the tile in our new home. Four days before Christmas I overheard them talking as they worked on the front steps. I’ll loosely translate their conversation to English:

Armando: “Wow, did you see the price of hams at Supermercado El Rey this year?”

Hanibal: “Yes, almost $40. Too expensive for me.”

Francisco: “Me too, looks like arroz y guandu y pollo (rice, pigeon peas, chicken) at our house for Christmas.”

I could see that they were very disappointed, and as a man myself, I could see that they were distressed as they really wanted to provide it for their families. 

I was busy marking and cutting tile (with my ear plugs in), and I don’t think that they thought that I was paying attention. But I chimed in.

Me: “So ham is a traditional thing for you at Christmas?”

Armando: “Si señor.”

Anibal: “But not this year.”

I went in the house to talk with Cynthia, and we decided to offer them the hams as a Christmas gift.

I went back outside and talked with them, asking them how many adults would be at their tables. The average was six. We asked if we could give them the hams as a gift and they lit up like Christmas tree lights.

So Cynthia went shopping and bought three, frozen, double-smoked hams, about twelve pounds apiece.

I was pretty sure that they didn’t have refrigeration at their homes, so we said that we would thaw them in our refrigerator and that they could take them home the day before Christmas.

The reason that I said that the hams were the most-appreciated gift that we have ever given is that when we presented the hams to them, they each shook our hands with genuine thanks, much more so than with cash in the past. Then, not even remotely expected, they each gave us a hug and another thank you. I think that the hug went way, way beyond the boundaries of the “classes,” but they were so moved they couldn’t help themselves.

Those hugs were our best Christmas presents.

For Cynthia and me, this experience was reason enough for us to work so hard to learn Spanish. Otherwise, we would never have known, and they never would have asked.

Season’s greetings to all, Fred

 

Step By Step We Are Getting There ~ Front Entrance Steps

When last I wrote, Hanibal, Francisco, and I had the top landing done and were working on the first step down on the steps to the front door. We’ve made great advances this past week, but step by step, about one a day, it is rewarding and tedious. Here are some progress photos:

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This work is a bustle of activity. While Francisco keeps us supplied with tile and mortar, Hanibal sets full tiles plus the ones that I cut and pass off to him.

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When Francisco gets caught up with Hanibal, he spreads grout. Cynthia took this picture from the loft front window.

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For this space, I need to cut four small tile pieces.

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The new tile saw isn’t so new any more. It is getting quite a workout.

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A good picture of Francisco cleaning the grout line.

I have already shown you the jig that I made to keep the height and slant-to-drain of each step the same. I made another jig to keep the slant of the front of each riser the same. Here Hanibal uses the jig to strike a uniform mortar face on the riser:

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Here is a closeup of the jig:

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I made a small notch at the point where the jig touches the front edge of the dark-gray tile strip. This notch allows the jig to indent the mortar face, thereby allowing enough room for a layer of thinset mortar when Hanibal installs the riser tile.

From the roof deck:

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Tarps are at the ready, but so far it seems that the dry season started right on schedule a few days ago.

Another day, another step:

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Shadows are strong before 7:00 a.m. Hanibal is setting the riser tiles on this step.

And another:

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As they do in the big Hollywood movies, I hosed it down…

And yet another:

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Here we have the first row of tiles set on the bottom step. We’ll pick up here on Monday.

Remember, before we can lay the tiles, each step needs a leveling bed of mortar plus the surface of the riser needs to be mortared. This is a labor-intensive project on our hands and knees. After the large tiles are laid, we set the dark-gray tile strips on the edge of the step. I think that the next photo was taken at day eight of the job.

On Monday, we should finish the bottom step and move down to the triangular landing:

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In those times when I manage to catch up to Hanibal, I sneak away to prepare the master bathroom for the glass block window install; it will be our next project after the front steps are complete.

The plan is to make a black concrete bench (like the kitchen counters and the bench in the living room) in the shower, then start the first row of glass blocks on top of the bench.

Using scrap plywood from the kitchen counter top form work, I have the form well under way. I scribed the contour of the container wall onto the plywood, then used the saber saw to cut the wavy line. I drilled holes in the wall of the container, then had Hanibal and Francisco hold the form while I went outside and screwed through the holes to hold the form in place:

 

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I’ll cut out the red wall area when we are ready to pour the bench and lay the glass blocks. The burn marks at the top of the wall are from welding the roof overhang brackets into place.

Outside, at a point an inch lower than the inside form, I made and attached another piece of plywood that will form the concrete window sill. I am hoping that the forms will keep the container wall from contorting out of shape when I cut and remove the metal:

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You can see the form board screwed to the wall where the glass block window will go.

One afternoon I had a little extra energy so I installed the master bath shower valve:

P1020047-001And this morning the Funcionario Público plants along the front fence were in full bloom (named the Government Employee flower because it opens at nine and closes at three). Here is a photo:

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The coconut palms are doing well, too.

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

 

 

Furniture! ~ Kitchen Lights ~ Plus, Of Course, More Tile

Okay. So not even one area of the house is completely done. But several areas are done enough to entertain some furniture, and we wanted some! For what is left to do, painting for example, I can simply move the furniture aside as I need to work in an area.

After almost five years, wouldn’t it be nice to have furniture?

Timing was good. Black Friday was upon us and we wanted to take advantage of at least 20% off on a bunch of items. So for the two Sundays before Black Friday, we went to the Conway store at Westland Mall, about an hour away. It fits our budget and spending a ton of money on excellent furniture is kind of goofey in this tough tropical environment. Good enough is good enough.

We found a helpful clerk, Briseida, who patiently worked with us for hours each Sunday. We would return home exhausted, having looked at each and every piece of furniture on the sales floor at least 42 times, trying to put the house together in our minds.

Then on Black Friday we made the final attack and placed our order. Somewhere along the way we discovered that although Briseida worked on commission, she wouldn’t receive her commission for sales on Black Friday. So we took a bit of cash, and I made a bow out of a piece of scrap wrapping paper that was on the floor. At the end of the transaction we presented the gift to Briseida; she was so happy that she was wiping away tears.

On the appointed day the day after the appointed day, the furniture arrived… at eight-o-clock at night, in the rain! There was only one driver, but luckily, Ramiro (our welder and night watchman while we were on vacation) stopped by to give us some bananas and oranges. He didn’t even wait to be asked but jumped right in to help unload the truck. An hour later we were up to the rafters in cardboard boxes full of furniture. Cynthia and I stayed up until midnight unpacking and assembling. Christmas came early.

We chose either leather or pleather (plastic-look-like-leather) because of the damp climate that we live in. Fabric would become musty-smelling in short order. In a closet, leather shoes, handbags, and belts will mold in a heartbeat. But out in the open, you at least stand a chance with the leather/pleather; we will regularly wipe it down with cheap vodka. Here are some photos of the furniture:

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We are still lacking spots of color which we plan to provide with pillows, decorator touches and plants. In about two weeks, the clay pots will be topped with glass rounds, thereby making end tables to put lamps on. The sofas were flat-packed with some assembly required.

Same area, straight on:

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For the back corner behind the left brown chair, we are considering a tall, red-trunked palm tree.

Remember the Mother-In-Law Tongues that we bought at the nursery? They make a good safety indicator at the landing; don’t step off here…

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We put a small fountain on the landing to the master bedroom. It has a few LED lights on top that make a good night light:

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Fifteen-year-old Bob Bob likes the new sofas:

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The dining room now has eight comfortable chairs. Now all we need is the glass table top, which will arrive in about two weeks:

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The green cast of the glass top will provide color balance for the red-ish table.

Here is an early-morning photo from the top of the stairs:

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Same shot, different exposure and populated by Cynthia and Bob Bob:

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The big, long, gray, container wall begs for a piece of art. I have an idea, stay tuned.

The bump-out in the kitchen created by opening the two container doors got two chairs and a carpet. The glass block window wall lets in a lot of light and is a nice place for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate on a cool tropical morning. We plan to paint the walls gray and still need to get a small table for between the chairs:

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At the other end of the kitchen we picked up a new chair, a carpet, and a thing to hang on the wall. We bought the reclining love seat at Conway a year ago.

Panorama -- Family Room -- 12 Dec 2014

A ninth-time rerun of CSI Miami plays on the TV. I prefer reruns of Law And Order with Lennie — “Should-a-took the train.” is my favorite Lennie line.

Now, I have to address the parrot piece hanging on the wall. But is it art? If you consider the velvet Elvis style art, then at one-step-up from that, we certainly have a piece of art hanging on our wall. The wall space was begging for some color, and now it has it.

At closer inspection, one can see how the piece of “art” was created; paint-by-number. Oops!

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The painting is colorful, it fit our budget, and is entertaining. To ponder over it as art, well… no. We consider it a poster at best.

After all that unpacking, plus including floor tile packaging and old cement bags, I took a trip to the recycling center in town:

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I finally figured out how I was going to hang Cynthia’s glass lamp shades. I bought some parts and spent the better part of a day assembling, wiring, and hanging the lamps. I think that they look great! Here are the three lamps over the kitchen sink/eating counter; there are eight of these in the kitchen:

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Galvanized pipe nipples and fittings go with our Natural – Industrial – Bling decorating scheme.

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Downward-facing LED bulbs throw just the right amount of light downward and red glow upward. Very warm when lighted.

In other news, we have finished the tile on the roof deck over the kitchen. In the next photo, Francisco still has a bit more grout to put in plus move the plants into place:

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Meanwhile, at the other end of the floor, Hanibal jokingly declares his half “Listo (done).”

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Here is the completed roof deck:

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Inside the house, we completed the steps to the second bedroom:

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The grout is still damp — the color will lighten and blend in better when it dries.

Our next large tile job is the front entrance steps. First, because the concrete was quite smooth, Armando used the twenty-five-pound chisel-bar to pick divots in the concrete so that the mortar will more thoroughly bond to the concrete. This is hard work. He also washed the concrete with bleach to kill the mold that was growing on the steps:

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We started laying tiles after lunch and got this far the first day:

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These are the same tiles that we used on the wall in the living room. It is difficult to see what is going on here, but be patient…

As we continued working, it was time to turn the 22.5-degree corner:

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After we laid all the tile at the top landing, it was time to install the border stripe at the edge of the step. Hanibal set the tiles and I cut boards to support the front edge of the border strip. This strip will mark the edge of the step for a safety indicator at night or when the steps are wet. By the way, I had to cut all the border strips from large, square tiles:

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Here the border is mortared into place:

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The next day, we removed the sticks and filled the underside with mortar. I cut riser tiles and Hanibal mortared them into place:

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You can see the little spacers that support the riser tile in the correct position. Grout on an angle will finish the edge of the step.

Next, using a jig that I made (like the one for the landings to the bedrooms), Hanibal, Francisco, and I laid a bed of mortar to support the tiles on that step.

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Another view of the jig:

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This jig assures that each step will be the same height and will slope slightly downward to shed water. The blue glue is a bonding agent.

Here is what the turn on the landing looks like; we really love it, quite formal:

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At the end of the landing by the driveway is another angle turn. Sweet:

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This area still needs to be grouted.

Here is where we are at the end of day four (actually we have the whole step mortared, but we had to cover up quick with tarps for a surprise two-hour downpour):

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Meanwhile, Cynthia has some strange Cheshire Cat shoe thing going on:

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And finally, you may have noticed the naked (fake) Christmas tree in some of the above photos. We decided to decorate it. But for a week now, Cynthia has had a lot of angst about it all. Family baggage if you will. She said decorating and de-decorating the tree was always a tense and stressful event in her life. We talked about it several times during the week. So, what to do with a fake Christmas tree and a large box of musty-smelling decorations? Donate the whole mess!

With a final goodbye, I loaded the stuff into the pickup and drove down to town. I went to the police station and asked if they had a tree (many of the officers originate from other areas of Panama and probably won’t be home for Christmas) for the station. “No señor,” was the response. “Would you like one,” I asked? “¡Si señor!” So I unloaded the tree and watched as three officers looked through the box of goodies. I said that I would return tomorrow for a photo of them in front of the tree. They thanked me all around and took down our name for the log book. Funny, they didn’t ask our “address” because they all knew where we live. (“Address” is in quotes because there aren’t any in Panama.) Cynthia and I returned to the station today to take a photo:

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Protecting and serving, here is part of our local police force posing in front of their new tree. The men referred to the woman as La Jefa (the boss) and accorded her respect.

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

No More Fried Geckos ~ How I Use Computer Technology

I’m going way off topic with this post about how we have moved past desktop computers and into the stratosphere – I guess it is called Cloud Computing. If you just want info about our shipping container house, sorry, move along, nothing to see here. And sorry, no photos this time. I’ll be back in a week or two with a house post.

The other day, I was thinking about how different the technology that Cynthia and I use now is verses the technology we used only about two years ago. I know, I know, many of you are light years ahead of us, adopting new technology years ago. But for a dinosaur of a guy who bought his first computer in 1984 and learned the DOS operating system by reading the DOS manual, I’m catching up.

Two years ago, we each had a desktop computer. If you are too young to know what these were, I can tell you. They were big things that sat on and under your desk. They didn’t move, and pieces and parts were tethered to each other and to the earth by things called wires. Lots of wires. Dust bunnies lived in and around all this hardware. Geckos, too, loved the big box of parts; they would make little nests in the open spaces that were supposed to allow air to flow around all the hot equipment, sometimes perishing there, melting on the video driver board or on the massive hard drive.

Our desktop computers were old and we had to do something. Neither one of us liked the little laptops that were being sold. We like the full-size keyboard and we habitually rely on the number keypad on the right side of the keyboard. So I went looking for another option. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I guess that it all started in June of 2012. We were headed to a hospital in Texas to seek relief from the seizures and neurological damage caused during Cynthia’s open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in 2010. I did some research and purchased a Samsung tablet for the trip so that we could talk with family via Skype while we were in Texas.

While we were in Texas, I also used the tablet (connected to the WiFi in the hospital) and a map app to find local restaurants and Whole Foods. The hospital food was dreadful, so I kept busy seeking good takeout for us for the week that we were there.

We also watched a couple Netflix movies on the tablet and the experience was pretty good. Viewing the movies on the small screen was an intimate affair, although we had to remain cognizant of the fact that there was a man in another room watching Cynthia 24/7 on a large-screen monitor. No hanky-panky even though she looked sexy as hell with all those electrodes indelibly glued to her head!

As far as we were concerned, the tablet paid for itself in just that one week. In hindsight, I think that the only shortcoming was that it didn’t have a GPS and a data plan to use the mapping app in the car, although I didn’t know such a thing existed at the time. This experience got me thinking about technological advances.

A year-and-a-half ago, in March of 2013, it was time to replace the desktop computers. After a lot of Googling, we chose two, giant HP 19-inch laptops. They each have a full-size keyboard plus the number keypad. We like the large monitor and the illuminated keyboard. The advances in miniaturization made the laptop every bit as powerful as a desktop. We tricked them out to be vast and fast. For us, it is like using the old desktop computers without all the wires.

Remember the wires?

I thought that the transition to a laptop would be arduous, but it really was effortless. As to the laptop-on-steroids size, we don’t commute or travel with the things, so small and portable wasn’t a major concern. Cynthia had to go to the States, so we bought them online and she brought them back to Panama when she returned.

To fill out the computer transition, I bought a wireless WiFi printer. One wire connects it to the router. Nice. Now we can both print to the same printer without hassle.

Next came the phone. We each had a simple cell phone. Mine didn’t even have a camera if you can fathom that. I was loathe to upgrade to a smartphone because with the little beater phone I could commingle the phone with nails, screws, coins, and pocket lint, all in my pocket. The plastic covering the display was scratched and cracked, but it worked, battery life was good, and at $22.95 who cares?

But a smartphone – I’d have to treat it with kid gloves. Also, the privacy issue stakes would be raised with a smartphone, and if we lost one or it was stolen, $$$ouch.

But bit by byte, we saw how a smartphone would help. I purchased a Samsung S4 and haven’t looked back. Some of the things that I use the “phone” for include:

  • an app to track a flight in real time, to know when to arrive at the airport to pick up Cynthia
  • the Google Translate app to find out how to say something is Spanish
  • our Stateside Skype number now rings in my pocket. Anywhere I am except in the shower of course because I didn’t buy the waterproof to 50-feet, bullet-proof case which you might have expected that I would buy.
  • a currency exchange app is helpful on vacation in Colombia
  • I can check AirBnB reservations and emails with the AirBnB app
  • I can electronically hail a taxi in Medellin with the EasyTaxi app
  • an electronic compass heads me in the right direction when on foot in unknown territory
  • the SpanishDict dictionary app is always useful and at my fingertips
  • take good quality photos and video
  • use the GPS and Google Maps to find my way around, well, anywhere
  • listen to Internet radio
  • connect the smartphone wirelessly (Bluetooth) to our Bluetooth-enabled stereo to listen to Internet radio or a music service
  • read an e-book on the smartphone instead of on the Kindle – I actually like it better not to have to hold the huge Kindle…

It is funny how all this power and mobility has changed my habits, and I have to say that I think it is for the better. Neither one of us spends hours on social media sites, so the smartphones aren’t draining minutes and hours and days from our lives. I rarely check email or the news unless I am bored and waiting for an oil change. But the tools, the apps, are really useful several times every day. I’m happy that we made the switch to the smartphone.

But that’s not all, and here is the part of our new use of technology that I am most excited by. In the past couple of weeks I have installed Evernote on our two computers and on my smartphone.

Evernote, if you don’t know, is a program that stores electronic data in the cloud and synchronizes that data between all your devices. It makes everything available to you anywhere, anytime. Except in the shower. You can make virtual notebooks with Evernote, and then put notes in the notebooks. Just as you used to do with paper.

I think that one could make the argument that there are other ways to keep track of stuff. But Evernote is everything in one spot. Photos, videos, audio notes to self, copies of passports, birth certificates, auto insurance policies, car registration, photo of the printer toner package, photos of furniture that we want, clippings from web pages, photos or scans of big purchase receipts, shopping lists, to do lists, important reminders – there is no limit, really. And it is all searchable, even text on a photo.

Here are a couple ways I have used Evernote so far:

  • We have a checklist note called “Shopping List.” At my computer I can add “kitty litter” to the list. At Cynthia’s computer, she can add “kalamata olives” to the list. And when I am not near my computer, I can add “Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream” to the list with the smartphone. Then, when I go on a solo shopping trip to the city, I have the list. Cynthia can even add to the list from her computer while I am driving to the city. We used to have a paper list but it was always messy or lost or forgotten at home.
  • Set up reminders to register the car, pay taxes, wash the dog, whatever.
  • Scan and save important papers and instruction manuals for safekeeping
  • When I drive into town to buy stuff, I often return having forgotten something. Now, I can make a note anytime I am near either of our computers or my phone. I am making a new habit of checking the shopping list when I am in town.
  • Make notes, include web clippings, include YouTube videos, save photos from the Internet, etc. for our next vacation and put it all in a notebook named, um, “Vacation.”
  • When I am at a store, I can snap a picture of something. The photo synchs instantly to Cynthia’s computer where she can give me feedback in the form of a note. No opening attachments.
  • Jot down a note about an idea for my blog.
  • Cynthia is going to use Evernote to store kiln firing programs and outcomes for her art projects.

Evernote seems to be making a big impact in my life. I feel more organized. I don’t need to keep many, random pieces of information in my brain or pieces of paper in my pocket. I like Evernote. I also like how I have moved away from the static way of the desktop computers to a more fluid, but organized, way of using technology to help me through my day.

And I can’t say that I miss the wires, dust bunnies, or the kind of cool gecko skeletons. I wonder what is next?

How do you use technology? Or not? Feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for stopping by.

BIG TILE FLOOR DONE!

With the exception of a couple finishing details, the living room floor is DONE! We are just so wildly excited; this place is now a house for sure!

In the last week-and-a-half, tile by tile, Hanibal worked his way across the entry/living/dining room floor. My job as usual was to cut all the perimeter tiles. Here we work around the steps to the master bedroom:

P1010907While we were in the neighborhood, we decided to set the tiles for this set of steps, too. In the next photo Hanibal places mortar and I stand squat ready with a jig that I made to determine the height of the mortar on the steps:

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The next photo is a closer look at the jig — I measured the total height of the staircase and then divided by three (the number of risers), equaling even steps of four-and-three-quarters-inches. To that number, I added the thickness of the tile (five-sixteenths-of-an-inch) to yield a jig height of five-and-one-sixteenth-inch. In the shop, I cobbled together a few boards, making this:

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The jig rides on the tiles already in place on the step above the one being worked on, thereby setting the height of the mortar to set the tiles on.

We decided to tile the steps with some left over tile from the bathroom floors. The different style of tile sends a safety warning to a person walking nearby that says, “pay attention, something is different here.” Here is the end of one of the steps where I cut the tiles to fit against the rock wall:

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We still need to install tile on the risers and grout the staircase.

Finally, with the exception of a few finishing touches, the floor was done. Here it is looking from the living room toward the front door. The little set of stairs at the far end goes to the second bedroom:

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We planted some Mother-In-Law Tongues in concrete pots on the landing.

And looking from the front door into the living room:

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The next photo looks from the master bedroom landing into the living room:

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We went shopping on Black Friday and got some good sales on some big pots for the living room.

You may have noticed in the above pictures that the long container wall, the one with the long bench, is no longer white. Hanibal didn’t need me for a day, so I painted the wall two coats of a warm-grey satin latex. I’ve found that a brush works just fine to paint the container walls:

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Once I got two coats of paint on the wall, both Cynthia and I commented on how tranquil the room had become. We think that this tranquility will make a great backdrop for a few vibrant punches of color:

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One of those punches of color will be the dining room table. One day I had a chance to roll five coats of “Red Hot Mama” polyurethane (fifteen-minute drying time) paint onto the table that Ramiro and I made some months ago. The name of the color is written on the can in English — I translated it for the guys and they couldn’t stop laughing:

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A thick slab of glass will top the table. After painting the inside corners with a brush, I found that a small foam roller applies a nice smooth finish. When you look at the front windows you’ll notice some squiggly lines. Cynthia put those up with a yellow highlighter so the birds wouldn’t try to fly into the windows. Apparently the birds see the lines”fluoresce” and we’ve avoided many head-on collisions.

With the big floor done, it was time to move upstairs to tile the roof deck floor. We laid one long row first; Hanibal calls this row El Maestro (the teacher):

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Cynthia inspects the first row. As we near the outside edge, we’ll move the plants inboard so that we can finish tiling the floor. A tarp protects the recently-laid end tiles from an imminent afternoon rain.

On the second day, Hanibal continued laying tile and I spent most of the day marking and cutting the border tiles. I am happy to announce that I have officially cut THE VERY LAST TILE that abuts the intricate innies and outies of the container walls. Glad to have that done!

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With so much mortar and tile to carry up to the roof, Hanibal brought his son-in-law, Francisco, to be his helper. Francisco had to do double duty with the edge tiles — after bringing them up to the roof, I marked them, he carried them back down to the saw, I cut them, and he carried them back upstairs. You really don’t want to carry more than five of these tiles at a time as they are thick and heavy. Here is Francisco ready to hand a tile to Hanibal:

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When a new guy comes to work for us, I take his picture and send him home with a copy. The next day they always come back smiling, saying that their family responded, “Guapo!” (pronounced wappo), or “handsome.” This was the photo I gave him.

As of today, the roof deck looks like this:

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The roof deck pitches about a quarter-inch-per-foot toward the outside to shed rain. Armando’s job this Saturday was to grout the floor, making a space ready to move the plants to.

The rainy season is going out with a bang — we’ve had some pretty good downpours in the afternoons and also in the hours just before dawn. Here is one at two in the afternoon — we are really happy with the water management on the property:

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As wet as it looks, we’ve also had some lovely sunny days. The rainy season will end around December 15th.

Once the roof deck is done, the last big tile job is the front steps. We’ll probably get started on that project sometime this week. Can’t wait.

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

 

New Plant Bonanza Plus Yet More Tile

With just a month or so of the rainy season remaining, Cynthia and I decided that we should get some more plants in the ground so that they can get a good start before everything goes dry.

So Friday morning, after I got Hanibal and Bolivar started on another tile floor, Cyn and I went to a nursery in town. There are other places that we like to buy plants too, but for quality and sheer volume, Sr. Chico at Plantas del Valle was our choice this time.

It sure is nice to have enough Spanish under our belts to be able to easily describe what we were looking for — we talked about sun vs. shade, drought tolerance, colors, the heights of the plants, and how many of each. A worker took us into the yard to confirm our choices. Cynthia and her new hip navigated the muddy paths really well.

The nursery really is quite large. Here are some photos:

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We purchased 80 of these. The women are removing any dead leaves for us.

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Here the workers are choosing and cleaning 16 nice ferns.

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An hour later their truck was loaded for delivery.

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Here is our bounty, unloaded in our driveway turnaround:

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Eighty of the variegated plants in the foreground, sixteen ferns, three tall red-trunked palms, six grasses, and five mother-in-law tongues.

Armando arrived Saturday, saw the plants, and said, “I guess I know what I am going to be doing today!” He made great progress, not finishing only because a pounding rain that arrived at noon:

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Armando is planting the new variegated plants between the two rows of green plants. In time, they will all fill out and provide a colorful border along the garden path.

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View from the window at the top of the stairs to the loft and roof deck.

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Two of the three new red-trunked palms are placed at the end of the container. They still need to be moved around to find the right spot.

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The new grasses will hide the concertina wire.

The north side of container #4 is a good place for the sixteen new ferns:

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In tile news, in the loft, I cut the edge tiles, ready for Hanibal to mud them into place:P1010885-001

Here is the loft, now all done except for the grout on half the floor:

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I am in the process of installing a sink at the far end of the loft, by the door to the roof deck.

This is the landing at the top of the stairs, with the roof deck through the door:

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Earlier I mentioned that I got Hanibal and Bolivar started on the next floor — and it is a big one! It seems surreal that we are FINALLY getting to this floor — the entry, dining room, and living room. We’ll be a week or two on this monster:

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When Cyn and I returned with the plants, Hanibal and Bolivar had laid out a T-shape of tiles, using only the tiles and a framing square to determine a right angle. Personally, I wouldn’t have done it this way because if you are even a little bit out of square, the effect of compounding errors is greatly magnified when you get to the other end of the line of tiles. I find it better to lay row after row.

I didn’t want to second guess Hanibal, but the mortar was still wet, the tiles not yet set firmly in place. So I risked insulting him and interjected myself into the process to make sure the layout was square.

The best way to determine square in a large area is to use a 3-4-5 right-angle triangle. Units of measure for the 3-4-5 can be inches, feet, meters, etc. I used feet.

To use the triangle, go three-feet in one direction, then four-feet in the other direction, then the hypotenuse must be five-feet.

For an even larger area, you can multiply each number by two or three or more to be even more accurate. In this case, I multiplied each number by three. So my measurements looked like this on the floor:  P1010882-001

I’m glad I checked because the layout was about three-eights of an inch out of square in nine-feet. Using a rubber mallet, we tapped the tiles to their new location where they met up with the correct points of reference. Now we won’t have to trim tiles to get them to fit or, conversely, have overly-wide grout lines; it could have been ugly.

One day after the guys left, I installed an LED strip of lights under the long bench in the living room. The lights come on a spool; you just unroll them, peel back the paper to expose the sticky-tape, stick ‘em up, plug ‘em in, and you are done. These lights came with a dimmer that I mounted under the bench. Here is a night-time photo:

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In the pretty picture department, I took this photo at the nursery:

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And lastly, here is lunch that Cyn made for me one day:

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Egg salad, real chemical-free salami, peas, tomato, and grated carrot. Thanks Cyn.

We’ll be working on the big floor for a while. See you next time. Thanks for stopping by.