And Then, Just Like That, We Had Back Steps

For E.V.E.R. now, we’ve had a back door but no steps up to it (or down from it, depending on where you stand). And in the carport, we still had a small pile of mixed sand and gravel from the river. In order to pour a floor in the carport, this pile of material had to go.

So instead of moving the pile, we decided to use it up by making steps to the back door. Armando, with me helping on the technical layout and the concrete pours, spent about five days on the project. And now, just like that, we have back steps — one more item to cross off of the To Do list. Here are some photos:

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The concrete slab with all the embedded rocks is where the cascade of rainwater falls from the roof.

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Armando told me to make sure that I got the concrete placed right-side up.

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While Armando focused on the steps, I worked the list inside the house.

We had yet to finish the wall under the bench in the master bathroom shower, so one day I couldn’t put it off any longer. This was a nasty little area because the container wall was quite dented. I wanted to attach tile-backer to the wall, but the dents wouldn’t allow it. So with Armando outside with some screws, and me inside with a couple lengths of 2″x2″ square tubing, we attached the tubing to the wall. Now with straight lines, I glued and screwed tile-backer to the tubing.

Here I am just about to attach the tile-backer:

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The special screws for tile-backer are an engineering marvel. The “point” drills through the tile-backer, then into the metal stud behind the tile-backer. The two “wings” enlarge the hole in the tile-backer that the “point” made. As the wings contact the metal stud wall, they are sheared off and the screw part advances into the metal stud. Finally, when the screw head hits the tile-backer, “teeth” on the underside of the head grind away the tile-backer so that the head sits flush. Ingenious and not cheap per each:

P1020574-001After the tile-backer was in place, I tiled the wall and grouted it.

Next on my list was some trim work on the wall between the master bedroom and the master bath. This entire area looked was unfinished. I cut, fit, and painted some wooden boards, and now the area is transformed. Here is the bedroom side:

P1020633-001And the bathroom side:

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I like the hand-finished texture on the wall. I still need to install towel bars, and of course, the electrical.

Beyond the bed in the bedroom is a cozy sitting area. I trimmed the top of this wall, too, and hung a fun lamp. We still need a round mirror for the wall:

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In the master bath, I got to check a tiny item off of the list — I drilled a hole through the concrete shelf, passed the lamp cord through the hole, and attached a new plug. The toilet area is a pleasant place to sit a spell:

P1020614-001Here is a photo of the space from above:

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The bedrooms were still a bit macho, so we found some nice curtains (on sale!) at Novey. Here is the master bedroom with the curtains hanging:

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The vertical white stripe in the corner with all the wires will get a metal cover. The lovely antique secretary with the curved glass doors belonged to Cyn’s grandmother.

The second bedroom:

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In the kitchen, morning light was just too bright coming through the glass block windows. Curtains here make the space much more pleasant:

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I did a few smaller projects as well, including repainting the bottom few inches of the container wall in the kitchen. The white paint was dirtied when we grouted the floor. If you are going to build a shipping container house, realize the extra work involved here:

P1020636-001In the Bug-Of-The-Week Department, Cyn spotted this tropical, leaf-like camouflage take on the Praying Mantis:

P1020627-001That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Working The List & New Plants Arriving Daily

With the exception of the carport floor, the last significant outside job is done. This is a good thing because the rainy season has begun. That last job was to finish the west end of container two:

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Notice that the sky is no longer blue. Rain is on its way soon.

Here is this end all painted, window washed, soffit panel installed, and the scaffolding disassembled and returned to its owner after two-years:

P1020561-001Trim was still lacking in the two bedrooms at the top of the clerestory wall. It looked unfinished with the uneven ends of the zinc ceiling panels. So I installed a metal angle which provides a more crisp look. The next photo is looking up at the ceiling:

P1020560-001While I had the hang of being on ladders, Armando and I finished the kitchen ceiling by installing the last piece of zinc panel. In the seating bump-out, we hung a piece of tilebacker (no drywall in this damp climate…) on the ceiling and painted it gray. I still need to hang one of Cynthia’s red lamps:

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Cat painting by our friend, Alexia.

Since I had the gray paint out, I decided to continue in the hallway to the master bedroom. Long ago primed with red and white paint, the area was very dirty. I washed the walls and ceiling, sanded and primed rusty areas, and ran beads of caulk around the door frames. I painted everything two coats of the middle gray. Now this hallway doesn’t stand out as an eyesore:

P1020558-001Finally, using some extra PVC pipe parts, I took a few minutes and upgraded the video surveillance cameras:

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I cut a two-inch PVC elbow on an angle and glued it to another elbow. The camera fit snugly and the pipe makes a conduit to run the wire up the wall. I’ll paint the pipe the house color to make it disappear.

In the meantime, we now have about sixty-four new plants in the ground!

To the left of the driveway turnaround, we planted sixteen purple Mexican Primrose. These grow and spread well, so this area will be much fuller a few months from now. At the left side of the next photo is a new bush — I’ll build a trellis for it to vine up and over the carport entrance. It will have flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds:

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The new birdbaths are in place in the yard. Armando and I still need to apply mortar to the outside of the birdbath supports — I’d like them to look like tree trunks.

We put a row of the same Mexican Primrose along the yellow “Shrimp Tails” by the front gate. Again, these will fill in nicely:

P1020542We planted sixteen new grass plants along the west fence line. These will grow and hide the concertina security wire on the fence:

P1020544And five red-flowered trees that the butterflies and humming birds will like:P1020564-001The back yard is filling out nicely and is a good spot for one of the bird baths:P1020548The fern garden was doing well but looks better with the addition of a bunch of large-leaf purple plants. And we like the little flowers that Armando surprised us with:P1020551-001The hibiscus struggled through the dry season, and they were attacked numerous times by leaf-cutter ants. But they are doing well now that they have had a couple deep drinks of water:P1020547P1020546That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

More Paint, A Stunning Bowl, And Three Bird Baths

Continuing with my Big-To-Small To Do List, I painted two-coats of the medium-gray on the living room glass door frames. We moved all of Cyn’s seed beads to the loft and washed the windows. The living room is all but finished — just a light switch or two to go. We think that the living room looks pretty smart:

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I painted the roof support column (it was primed black) gray, too, and it almost disappears:

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We have a new Mother-In-Law Tongue in a tall planter in the far corner. It will grow a lot taller in the next few months:

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After finishing the living room, I moved on to the master bedroom. It is nearly done, but I still have drop cloths and ladders by the bed so that I can put a piece of trim metal at the high-point of the ceiling. But some of the walls are photo-ready. The next photo is from the second bedroom, through the laundry room, and into the master bedroom. Gotta love the texture of the shipping container wall:

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We’ve bravely and unapologetically used the same charcoal gray (dining room/staircase) in the master bedroom. Like the side table in the dining room, the table in the bedroom provides a peaceful vignette:

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The table is painted dark teal but it doesn’t quite look like it on my monitor.

I’ve completed the paint in the master bedroom and have moved on to finishing some painting on the outside of the house — the rainy season is minutes away and we have had a few threatening thunder claps nearby and a few light rains. Currently I am working on the last area that I need scaffolding for — the west end of the loft:

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I’ve painted the bars and am working my way up the wall. After it is painted, all I have left to do here is to cut and install a piece of metal under the soffit. I can’t wait to return the borrowed staging to its owner!

In other news, Cynthia has a new glass bowl that I would like to show off for her. The “clear” glass is “red reactive” — it reacts to the copper that is in the deep-aqua (now turned red) glass rods that she used to make the pattern. The “champagne bubbles” in the corners happened due to trapped air and a very-long soak time in the kiln. She hadn’t seen this “plaid” pattern done before and was delighted when it came out of the kiln:

Plaid Red Reactive Bowl 03

Plaid Red Reactive Bowl 01

Plaid Red Reactive Bowl 02

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And finally, with my best photo prop:

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No, no, this is not Jabo’s new dog dish!

Yesterday Armando, Cynthia, and I made three birdbaths. We saw a how-to on the Internet and as we had some appropriately-large leaves, we decided to give it a go.

Step 1 — make mounds of sand and place the leaves upside down on the sand:

P1020471-001Step 2 — Trowel some mortar (we used a polymer additive to keep the birdbaths from cracking) onto the leaves.

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And here’s where I mention an “oops” the last time I cut Cyn’s hair with the wrong guide on the clippers. This is the first photo she’s allowed since it happened.

Step 3 (not shown) — cut a piece of 1/8″ wire screen for each leaf. Set the screen on top of the mortar and add another layer of mortar, working the mortar through the holes in the screening. Make a leaf-like texture on the back and walk away for a day:

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Today, I carefully turned the pieces over and removed the leaf that we used as a mold. I cleaned the edges with a wire brush. We still need to add a bit of mortar touch-up here and there:P1020513We’ll place the “leaves” on top of some round concrete blocks, add water, and watch the birds enjoy their new birdbaths.

As companion pieces for the birdbaths, we had some old, glass fish-net floats that we needed to do something with. The glass globes were covered with a small-diameter rope netting, which I cut off. The glass balls now make a nice feature in the garden. We have two of them:

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Armando completed the drainage ditch on the north side of the house. Now more ferns can grow here.

Lastly for this post, one evening we had a visitor at our front windows. No wonder some of our plants are missing leaves! I’ve seen critters this big pinned to boards in museums, but never live and in person:

P1020461Here is the underside of the critter as it tried to climb the window:

P1020465That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

A Brush With Paint And Cynthia’s Glass

The number of significant tasks is dwindling! The only two large items remaining, things that will take more than a day or two or three each, are to build out the kitchen cabinets and to pour concrete and install tile on the carport floor.

When I build the kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, I want to work outside in the carport so that I’m not breathing a lot of sawdust. But I’d like to work on a nice floor rather than on the dirt that is there now. But I can’t pour the floor yet because it is the dry season and there is no sand and gravel running in the rivers to make concrete with. So these items are on hold.

In the meantime, I have decided to tackle remaining projects in order of their greatest visual impact. For example, painting large areas will make a larger impact than installing a light switch. After so long at it, we really need the illusion that the project is moving along rapidly.

With this guideline in mind, I made an ordered shortlist of projects.

I decided to start with painting the walls in the loft. Some time ago I had prime-painted the container wall that divides the loft from the roof deck. The knee wall overlooking the living/dining room was still raw stucco. Cynthia and I decided to continue the same warm, medium-gray that we have used elsewhere in the house. I went to work.

I spent four days in the loft and it has made quite a difference. Cynthia is using the loft as her hot-glass studio so I had a few things to work around. The loft sure looks a lot better now. Here is a photo taken from the east end. The screened openings at the roof line are open year round; they suck the rising hot air out of the house:

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Cyn was looking for a way to store sheet glass, so we came up with the idea to make racks from plastic cutting boards and quarter-inch rebar. One important storage issue for her is that different glasses have different coefficient-of-expansion (COE) ratings. You can’t mix ratings or your glass will crack. Now she can keep these COEs separated, each COE in its own rack. Here are three of the four that I made for her:

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I made a template and drilled holes in the cutting boards.

Here is a photo of the loft from the west end:

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Over the seven years that we have been here, we have really culled and re-culled our possessions. Beyond art supplies, kitchen equipment, and the typical clothing and linens, we don’t have much left. We need to find a place to store a couple boxes of family treasures that you see in the foreground.

As I worked my way out of the loft and around to the stairs, we realized how badly-worn the charcoal paint looked in the stairway and in the dining room. I spent another day two-coating these walls. It made quite a difference:

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In the photo above, you may have noticed the two sconce lights that Cynthia made and I installed on the wall. Here is a closeup with the light off:

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I used L hooks to mount the glass to the wall.

And here is a photo with the light on (daytime). The triangles of glass match the triangles on the chandelier over the dining room table:

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

The next visually-important area to paint was the window and door framing on the west wall of the living room. I’ve been avoiding this because, well, it promised to be a tedious task. But the order of the list is the order of the list and so I began.

Preparation work is a large part of painting almost anything; I sanded, wire-brushed, and cleaned the long-ago primed metalwork and ran beads of urethane caulk at adjoining joints and seams. Then I spent a day re-prime painting everything, including all the metal rivets that had never been painted. As of this writing, I am most of the way through the project, just two top-coats of gray to go on the sliding doors:

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Cynthia dragged me to Westland Mall to buy some new work clothes. I guess I was looking quite shabby — she likes her workman to be smartly dressed. I’ve had a difficult time finding comfortable shoes for my old, arthritic feet, but so far I really like my new Nike Air running shoes.

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So far no paint on the new clothes…

Here is a photo looking from the loft to the upper west wall windows:

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The sink comes in handy for Cyn’s studio and also for rinsing dishes from the roof deck BarBQue.

Although I’m not done with painting the west wall of the living room, I had to wait for paint to dry, plus the afternoon sun was in my eyes. So I moved on to the last remaining large area to paint — the master bedroom. Because we didn’t want to sleep in all the toxic paint fumes, we relocated to the second bedroom, which is nice because the bathroom there is fully-functional including the shower. No photos of the master bedroom yet.

In other news, Cynthia continues learning and enjoying working with fusing and slumping glass. She has a few new projects to show off including this bowl:

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This bowl has some transparent seams and adds dimension to the glass. Here I held the bowl up to a window:

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The underside:

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Cyn is gaining enough confidence and quality of execution that she is almost willing to sign her name to her work and even part with some!

Here is a tray that she made from stacks of different color glass. The effect is called mosaic and is made like a pyramid, making numerous stacks of five pieces of glass each, and then slumping the assemblage in the kiln:

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Using the same technique, Cynthia made organically-shaped cabochon beads that she will wire together to make a necklace:

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Unintentionally, the sparkly frit created “faces” on these pieces.

The next photo is of a bowl. To me it feels primordial, elements swirling in The Great Nebula or perhaps plankton and primal fishes in the depths of the ocean. But it is art — you decide:

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Cynthia would like the ability to grind and polish some of her glass creations, so in my free time I’ve been building her a lap grinder. These things can be bought, but I can build one for a fraction of the cost.

A motor (that I don’t have yet), will spin a one-quarter-inch thick, twelve-inch-diameter aluminum disk, on which she will put various-grit diamond disks. I made the stand with PVC plumbing fittings. Still to do is to buy and mount the motor, make provisions for a small water pump, and construct a water-splash apron. For the top, I used an aluminum, large baking sheet. Here it is so far:

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One of the downsides of living in the tropical mountains of Panama is the termites and the rust. A few years ago, I think I posted a photo, I made 48 wooden drawers and a metal rack to house Cynthia’s 1,500 watchmaker’s tins full of seed beads. Well, over the years the termites have reduced the wooden drawers nearly to dust and the tins have started to rust. What to do? We purchased a bunch of aluminum, full-sheet baking trays to hold the tins. In time, I’ll build a new cabinet to hold the trays. So for four days, and one remaining to go, Cynthia and our maid have been cleaning each-and-every one of the 1,500 watchmakers’ tins and moving them to the new trays. It has been a tedious, onerous task but will be worth it in the end. The living room is in disarray from my painting and from the stacks of trays:

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But one of the wonderful aspects of living here in the tropical mountains of Panama is the multitude of bird life. With my smartphone, I recorded three very-short MP4s of birds.

First, an owl just before dawn:

Second is a flock of wild parrots that flies through most mornings around 6:30 and then later in the day:

And third is a toucan in a nearby tree. Not as good of a recording because Armando was trimming bushes nearby. Toucans sound a lot like frogs:

Finally, I have been chomping at the bit to make some videos of the house. But I’d like my work to be a bit more professional looking than just walking through the house with a jittery camera. Friends are coming to visit us in two months, and although they don’t know it yet, they are going to bring with them a few small items that will make my videos much better looking. I won’t promise cinematic quality, but I think that I can improve a lot on my previous attempts. You’ve been asking for videos, so stay tuned.

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

A Few Finishing Touches

This last month we have attended to a slew of finishing- or almost-finishing touches.

I’ve done a lot of plumbing, including connecting two toilets, two showers, three sinks, and a bunch of faucets. Working under the house is pleasantly cool, if not a bit cramped. Here is some of the new plumbing:

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Inside the house, I have nearly completed the bathroom off the second bedroom by installing the toilet, shower trim, sink basin, faucet, mirror, and lights:P1020369The curved shower rod in the photo above created a challenge. The rod came in two pieces but the kit offered no way to connect the curved section to the straight section. Wandering around in my shop, I found a two-foot-long piece of 3/4″ PVC electrical conduit. The diameter of the conduit was too large to fit into the shower rod. But using the table saw, I made a couple slices down the length of the conduit. I could then compress the conduit and push it snugly into the aluminum shower rod, connecting both pieces of rod with this plastic spline. The fix is snug and won’t rust. Here it is, ready to slide the second piece of rod over the spline:

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Cynthia and I spent a day pulling wires and connecting switches and receptacles in the second bedroom and bathroom. It’s nice to be done with an extension cord stretched from my shop:

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Note to self — Punch list item: Install tile baseboards.

In the master bathroom, I installed the toilet, sinks, faucets, and mirrors. I still have some wiring to do and need to connect some piping to the shower.

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In the States, you can get glass block end caps. But I have never seen them here in Panama. Time to get creative again. Armando and I were going to pour plain concrete caps, but at the last moment I thought of using a row of rocks to echo the nearby rock wall. Armando did a good job as it was difficult to keep the stack of rocks from falling over before the mortar set:

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The container wall in the background still needs to be painted.

Here is the toilet area, all done except to unwrap the lamp shade and wire in the electrical receptacle. The lamp lends a nice touch to the loo:

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When we bought the lamp, the fish was swimming to the right. I disassembled the lamp and headed the fish in the right direction.

I installed a gas, on-demand water heater for the two bathrooms and the laundry. It took me some time as I had to cut and thread gas pipe plus solder the copper tubing.

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Cynthia has been busy making some pretty flower arrangements for the house:

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I keep trying to water this one but luckily Cynthia stops me in time:

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One afternoon Cynthia and I heard and saw a lovely bird on our west fence. I quietly made my way to the roof deck and took this photo:

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Reader Patricia (in the comments below) identifies this bird as a Blue Crowned MotMot. Thanks Patricia.

 

Vacation time — Cynthia’s cousin G. and his wife S. came to visit for a bit more than a week. We spent a day here in El Valle, doing some of the tourist things including a visit to our friend Jon’s Butterfly Haven. He was proudly showing off this beautiful new Starry Night butterfly:

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And we stopped to visit friends who rescue orphaned sloths. S. was initially apprehensive, but that quickly subsided when she felt how soft and seemingly affectionate the young sloth is:

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Eating a favorite red hibiscus flower (locally known as papos).

Cynthia and I had been wanting to return to Medellin, Colombia, so we enticed G. and S. along with us. Getting to Tocumen Airport in Panama City was quite an ordeal — usually a two-hour trip, that day, the first day of school after the “summer” break, took us more than four-hours. The flight is only an hour-and-twenty-five minutes! We were the last to board the plane and the door was closed rapidly behind us.

One highlight of our trip — In the center of Medellin is a thirteen-plus acre botanical garden aptly named, Jardin Botanico. We spent most of a day there. I hammed it up with a fruit vendor while S. enjoyed some fresh mango with lime and salt. The vendor was anxious to try out his very limited English:

DSCN0496 Here is a lovely bromeliad:

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We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at In Situ, a restaurant situated in the botanical garden. Waterfalls and gardens around the restaurant create a tranquil setting. The food and service was outstanding:

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Cynthia and I each had Flor de Naranja, a baked chicken dish that was dressed with an orange sauce, almonds, brie cheese, cocoa powder, pennyroyal, and served on a mound of pureed Peruvian potatoes seasoned with coriander. Geez it was tasty. Others at the table had fruit drinks or wine, but I chose the sangria, a pitcher-full that I couldn’t begin to finish. Drinks, an ample main dish, and a decadent dessert, about $30 per person tip included. The garden and In Situ will be our new destination spot in Medellin! By the way, the restaurant is a non-profit and proceeds go to maintaining the park. Entrance to the park is free to all who want an in-city nature retreat:

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Here we are enjoying ourselves at In Situ:

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Cynthia took this graffiti photo on the side of a hotel:

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Lastly, and of special note, I took the next photo on a shop window in Medellin. I am happy to join the cause against sexual trafficking of underage, vulnerable young women. Human trafficking is a global problem. No man, English-speaking or not, should participate in this reprehensible practice for his own gratification. For the young women, it is a completely destroyed life. Here is a graphic (in English no less) that is posted on many shop windows in Medellin:

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

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