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.

Some Disassembly And Assembly Required

With all the recent holidays and the crew not working, I had a chance to tackle two projects that have been on the back burner for some time now.

First, when we bought our new stove, a six-thousand-plus dollar American Range, we were assured that it was set up for propane, not natural gas. Natural gas (pipe in the street to your house) is not available in Panama, so you would think that it would be a no-brainer that all gas stoves would be set for bottled propane.

BUT NO!

Here is the stove in case you missed it in a previous post:

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When we connected the stove, the burner flames were way, way too yellow. We had a tech guy come out from the company and he verified that yes, it was wrong and was set for natural gas. He didn’t have the appropriate gas jets, and worse, said that he couldn’t get them. But he pulled a couple burner jets out and hammered on the brass where the hole is that lets the gas pass. This made the holes a practical-but-non-scientifically-bit smaller. It was somewhat better and we could use two of the six burners without sooting up the bottom of the pans.

I called the company in the States and they directed me to the company that handles all international support. I worked with them for four-or-five months to get the correct parts, but in the end, it couldn’t be done. I seemed to have hit the Inefficiency Infinity Department.

With no small amount of frustration, I collected myself and again called the manufacturer in the States. But this time I used our State-side mailing address and just posed as a regular customer. After we worked through the legalities and waivers of liabilities, the parts were shipped to me, $125. I’m not even going to try to get this reimbursed. We received them here in Panama a few weeks later, but knowing that it would take me a day to install them, the parts had to sit in a bag until I could get to them.

Finally a good day arrived. First, the stove is hundreds-of-pounds heavy and is a challenge to pull it out without scratching the floor. I got some two-by stock and levered the front of the stove into the air so that I could slip old pieces of a plastic cutting board under the front legs. The back legs are actually wheels:

P1010812-001Next, I wrapped a strap around the stove legs and around my hands and slowly pulled the stove out of its space. Like this:

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Yeah, you can have your fancy rowing machines. I move stoves!

Next I tore the stove apart to access the guts.

First I changed the jets, or orifices, on the six stove top burners. This was a dicey process because the jets sit down in holes. To keep from dropping the jets into the darkest reaches of the bowels of the beast, I took a pea-sized glob of plumbers’ putty, put it into the nut driver, then pressed the jet into the putty. It worked well and I changed the jets in no time at all:

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The new, brass jet is sitting on the burner just to the right of the nut driver.

Next, I had to replace the six burner control valves on the front of the stove:

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Some of the wiring controls the flame igniter sparker thingies. I don’t think that there is an acronym for that. There is a micro switch built into each control valve. There is also wiring for the LED lights that indicate when a burner is on, plus wiring for the oven light switch. The light switch fell apart in my hands when I tried to remove the wiring lug, so I’ll have to buy a new switch and take the front panel apart again. Another year…

Replacing the control valves took some time because the wiring was in the way of all the gas connections — I had to reverse engineer the wiring. But at about a half-hour each, I had the task done.

Next, I had to replace the jets for the oven and the broiler, and that meant removing a lot of stuff on the back of the stove. Sorry, no photo, but it too was a rat’s nest of wiring for the gas-valve safety apparatus and for the two oven convection fans.

The last new part was a replacement gas regulator that I had to install at the bottom of the stove.

Finally, I checked all my gas connections and verified that all the wiring was as engineered. I buttoned all the covers and trim pieces back into place. I was pleased because I had fewer than a hundred screws left over! Elapsed time: six hours.

By the way, there were no installation instructions with the new parts so I was winging it all the way. It didn’t explode so I guess I did okay.

Cynthia said that I was her hero, the flames now burning bluer and hotter (the flames on the stove, not her flames for me…), just as they should.

We’ve had another project in the works since we lived at the rental house down the road. There we had an old washing machine that I disassembled for recycling. But the stainless-steel drum was too good to toss. Without any real plans for it, it moved with us to the new house.

But the question arose, what style of chandelier should we put over the dining room table? We searched all the lighting stores and the styles and the lofty prices turned us away. Nothing really said Shipping Container Chandelier. Then one day, one of us, we can’t remember who, spied the washing machine drum in a heap in a corner. Hmm…

We talked and schemed, and finally came up with a plan to turn the drum into a chandelier. Cynthia fused some glass pendants that would hang from the drum. I engineered a way to hang the drum from the ceiling (back when we installed the ceiling metal I welded a bracket to the metal roof framing), how to put lights in/on the fixture, and how to hang the glass pendants. In keeping with the industrial look, I chose a piece of 2″ galvanized pipe as the pole that would support the chandelier. It kind of looks like a drive shaft and I expect the chandelier to start spinning at any moment. Here I am threading the wires (that earlier I ran through the ceiling) into the pole:

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I drilled through holes and connected the pole to the bracket with a bolt.

Next, I drilled 48 holes in what would be the bottom of the lamp from which to suspend the glass dangles. I also drilled a hole through the shaft on the drum for another through bolt, plus two more holes to pass the wires from the switches through:

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Check the body English.

The drum had three, kind of ugly spots where there used to be plastic agitators attached inside the drum:

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This fix was easy; I cut three pieces of aluminum scrap and caulked them onto the drum:

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Then it was time to attach the drum to the pole:

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I think that I look a bit like Wallace in Wallace And Gromit. I guess it is better than looking like Gromit.

Cynthia had made 50, fused glass pendants and I now had to drill a hole in each one. I put a 2×4 in the sink and added water to just above the level of the 2×4. Then, with the water as a lubricant, I chugged away, making a hole about every two-minutes:

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I fashioned a little block of wood with a hole in it to use as a guide for the diamond-tipped drill.

Next, Cynthia attached pieces of a braided bead cord (similar to fishing line only used for jewelry) to each pendant, and I started hanging the pendants:

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I pushed each loop up through a hole, then placed a piece of galvanized wire through the loop, the loop then resting on the wire to hold the pendant in place. Yes, this was tedious and an important part of Some Assembly Required.

Getting my head and arms coordinated around all the pendants was challenging but I got it done:

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No, this wasn’t my Halloween costume.

Here it is with all the glass hanging. Note that some of the pendants have dichroic glass, reflecting different colors depending on the light:

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Oh, I forgot to mention that I wired a lamp socket inside the drum so that light will spill out all the holes in the side of the drum. A separate switch controls the light that points down onto the table.

Here is a shot from underneath the chandelier; you can see that I had to make a piece of aluminum to hold the lamp that points toward the dining room table. The bottom light fixture has an LED bulb:

P1010852-001Here is one more photo of the chandelier from up in the loft:

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The bottom of the glass pendants hang three-feet above the (soon-to-be-completed) dining room table. The whole thing kind of looks like water flowing from a shower head…

Here is a photo at dusk:

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Cost? The LED down-light was expensive. It has an aluminum-finned heat sink to keep the unit cool — $200. Dichroic glass — $25. Pole and miscellaneous parts — $25. Total — $250, less than the cheapest $1,500 off-the-shelf chandelier at the lighting stores. And way cooler by far. The pendants are made from window (aka: float) glass. The pendants were made from the scraps of glass left over from our kitchen lamp shade project (soon to be installed).

By the way, there were no fabrication or assembly instructions with this Shipping Container Washing Machine Drum Chandelier Kit. But it hasn’t fallen from the ceiling so I guess we did okay.

We can’t wait until I wire for the switches and see the chandelier at night. We think that the design fits our Natural-Industrial-Bling design strategy.

In other news, my antennae perk up any time there is a full moon and a bunch of holidays in Panama. There has been a rash of robberies down in town and up here on the rim of the volcano — Saturday night two weed whackers were stolen from the local church just down the road. And last night about 8:30 Jabo went ballistic at the front gate.

So I take frequent walks around the house at night, looking for a hole in the fence or other added attraction. With the gravel path around the house, it is like walking in a park at night. Quite pleasant and peaceful if you don’t count the fact that I am carrying a bunch of defensive hardware. On one of my passes last night, I saw an owl sitting on the back fence. I throw our kitchen vege scraps by the banana plants there, and the owl was no doubt waiting for an unsuspecting mouse:

P1010835-001It let me get within ten-feet and it stayed put while I took its picture. Looks like a young one:

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A funny — I showed the picture to Armando. He said the owl looked like it was a smiling politician saying, “Vote for me!”

As I passed the back garden, I thought that this plant would make a good nighttime picture:

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And in the carport, a potted orchid was in bloom:

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

Flush With Pride & Lofty Ambitions

It has only been a week since my last post, so don’t expect much. But to the women out there who have been rooting for an in-house toilet, you know who you are, root no more. REJOICE!

I am very excited to announce that I was able to find a couple of hours and have installed the toilet in the half-bath off the kitchen/under the stairs. It flushes and everything! I also installed a grab bar for Cynthia, although she is needing it less and less; today she climbed the stairs to the loft, without me and without her cane (she is more- and more-frequently forgetting where she left it). Here is a photo of the dual-stage flusher:

Not very colorful at this point. Maybe we will have to dye the TP pink or something.

Hanibal, his brother Bolivar, and I put in a full five-day week working tile. We got most of the master bedroom floor tiled. Today I cut perimeter tile for the outside porch area; Hanibal will install them next week:

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We are working our way out of the bedroom and into the hallway and the landing in the living room. Lots and lots of complex cuts to make on the tile:

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The little pieces of blue tape mean, “Don’t step on this freshly-set tile.”

But wait, there’s more. While I cut the perimeter tiles, the guys moved upstairs into the loft. They laid two of the six rows of tile there, and I joined them to begin cutting the forty-feet of complex-cut edge tile. We have a lot of stuff stored in the loft, so we will complete one side, then I’ll move the junk to work the other side:

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Jabo always thinks that it is his picture that I am taking. I don’t have the heart to tell him that it isn’t always the case. You can see the cut edge tiles standing against the wall. I put yet another one-hundred-dollar blade on the saw before starting these tiles. 

On our next work day, I’ll stay in the loft cutting tiles and the guys will pour the concrete floor in the master bath shower area, sloping the concrete toward the drain.

On most Saturday mornings there are two or three people in front of Central Comercial (the first supermarket as you drive into town), selling home grown veges and plants. A very, very mini farmers’ market if you will. I like to buy from them if they have anything we can use, although sometimes they are kind of pushy, chasing me down inside the store or coming to the car window, not giving up even if I am on the phone. Determined entrepreneurs. Today I picked up some fresh spinach and a pretty bromeliad for eight-bucks.

Armando only worked a couple days this week because he had two really sick kids at home. But he did grout some of the tile and planted the bromeliad in the dead tree in our front garden:

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We’re not sure what next week will bring work-wise as it is November, the wettest month of the year and a month chock-a-block filled with holidays, including two or three independence days.

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

 

Teflon Wife, Undercarriage Plumbing, And Some Tile

Cynthia is one hip chick.

At the end of last month (September), she and I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for her to have hip replacement surgery. She had a lot of pain, and the need for surgery really became evident on our vacation to Medellin because she was unable to walk nearly as much as she would have liked.

A friend of ours had the surgery and recommended her surgeon in Savannah. The surgeon uses a newer approach to hip replacement, that is to make a relatively-small, four-inch incision at the front of the hip instead of a large incision at the back of the hip. A specially-designed operating table is used, where the legs can be independently lowered and pivoted to expose the, um, bone. Recovery is much, much quicker (weeks as opposed to months) and is less painful because there is much less damage to muscles and tissue.

But there were some complications. With this approach, most patients are in the hospital for a night or two, but Cyn was in the hospital for a week. Because Cynthia takes a blood thinner to keep her artificial heart valve from clogging, she needed four units of blood after the surgery as the bleeding wouldn’t stop. And keeping her blood pressure up in the range that supports life was a challenge for the medical team and quite stressful for me.

But all in all, the surgery was a success and her hip now moves like glass on Teflon, and we are back home in Panama after three-weeks away. This morning, twenty-five-days post surgery, Cyn made breakfast in our kitchen without the use of a walker or a cane. She still has a plenty of pain from where they worked on the bone, but it is lessening, and she is more- and more-frequently forgetting to use the cane.

Savannah is a lovely city, with the Spanish Moss hanging from the old oak trees. We stayed amidst antiques in a private home via airbnb.com, much better than fending for ourselves in a hotel.

Here is Cynthia eight-days post-op, sitting in the back yard:

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Cyn had to climb four steps to get in or out of the house. Challenging, but she did it!

The trees are really, really big and old in Savannah. This one is in the front yard where we stayed:

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While we were in Savannah, we took advantage of the opportunity to eat some really good food. Wiley’s Championship BBQ (voted fourth-best BBQ in the U.S.A.) was a treat, as was Joe’s Homemade, who’s motto is, “It’s that good, we promise.” Joe’s is Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant in Savannah. We filled in the remaining tummy spaces with meals from Saigon Bistro (best Vietnamese in Savannah) and Whole Foods. At Whole Foods, it was wonderful to have access to apple- or cherry-wood smoked, real, chemical-free bacon. Funny, after eating this nice bacon, one morning in the hospital I took a bite of the bacon on Cynthia’s breakfast tray. I couldn’t spit it out fast enough! It tasted rancid and chemical-laden. What a difference!

At first, Cyn needed a lot of help and I was her go-to guy. But gradually she is becoming more self-sufficient. Now she can shower, get in and out of bed by herself, and get dressed. In Savannah, she had four acupuncture treatments that helped greatly reduce the massive swelling and black-and-blue from all the fluids they had to give her to raise her blood pressure.

And as a bonus, for the first time in eleven years, Cynthia and one of her nieces got to see each other; her niece and her husband traveled from North Carolina for the reunion. Here is a photo for the family to see:

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Cyn is a little more than one-week post op in this photo. Still swollen but standing on her own.

So not much has been accomplished on the house in the last month.

Hanibal returned for three days this week to install more tile. We now have the guest bathroom floor tiled:

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I marked and cut the stack of tiles, preparing them for Hanibal to mortar into place along the wall of the container.

Plus two-thirds of the master bathroom floor:

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And with the perimeter tiles cut and installed:

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There is an easy way to mark a tile for cutting so that it accurately fits against the wall. First, place a tile on top of the last full tile, like this:

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Next, place another full tile against the wall and mark the tile that you want to cut. Leave a little space between the top tile and the mark to allow for a grout line. Like this:

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Next, cut the along the line and drop the tile into place. It will fit perfectly even if the wall or tiles are out of square.

One day while I was waiting for Hanibal to return, I installed baseboards in the kitchen and the under-stair half-bath. I cut some of the kitchen floor tiles down the middle, cut the pieces to length, and using urethane caulk, glued them to the walls and cabinets. Armando grouted between the floor and baseboards, and I ran a bead of the appropriate color caulk along the top of the baseboards (in the case of the next photo, gray caulk):

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I guess I get points for accurate estimating. With the kitchen floor and baseboards all done, I have four tiles remaining.

And with the bathroom baseboards in place, I no longer had any excuse not to install the toilet in this bathroom.

So I spent several hours in the crawlspace and installed PVC pipe from the toilet to the septic tank. While I was at it, I also plumbed the drain for the bathroom sink. After not much work in the past month, wow was I sore all over the next couple of days:

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The larger tubing is the toilet drain. The smaller tubing is the air vent that will have to run up the outside of the container. 

By the way, in the States I had a business where I applied physics to solve air, heat, and moisture problems in houses. I spent many, many days, weeks, and months in crawlspaces, so working under this house is no problem. Except I’m older now. I guess it helps keep me fit, but it sure is a challenge for Sr. Arthritis. And oh my, the shoulder and abdominal muscles scream bloody murder for the next few days!

With all the drain and water supply pipes now in place, I just need to find an hour or two to install the toilet and hook up the sink. Lynn in Ohio and Christine in Oregon stay tuned!

In the yard, we returned to lush ground cover by the front steps. And the bamboo screen at the kitchen window has greened up nicely:

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

Yet More Glass Block And Tile…

In the unplanned work department — Cynthia and I returned home from our vacation at 9:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night. At 10:30 p.m. a petty thief climbed over our back fence, I don’t know, perhaps to welcome us home, and was making his way into the yard. Jabo spotted him and gave chase, the man re-vaulting the fence and vanishing into the jungle. Cynthia spotted him too, and yelled at him with such vigor that she lost her voice for two days! All the while I was happily singing in the shower.

This is the umpteenth time this has happened so I decided it was time to raise the ante and install some razor wire on the two jungle-abutting sides of our property. The razor wire is also known as concertina wire, or here in Panama, Alambre (wire) de Gillette. Most times this wire is strung at the top of a fence, but we decided to hang it mid-way on the fence; at the top of the fence the thief could just cut the cyclone fence and slip through. At mid-height, the wire is so low that Sr. Thief can’t get under it and so high that he can’t get over it. At least not without risking being sliced and diced by the razors. With some care he might be able to get over the wire, but in a hurry and in the dark it would provide an impediment to an elegant and bloodless escape. Also, at mid-height it doesn’t look quite so much like a prison wall. We’ll see, ask me in a year if it worked. Eventually, plants will hide the wire from our view on this side of the fence:

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You can see the concertina wire on the other side of the fence.

Because of the schedule disruption around our vacation, Hanibal has been trying to juggle two jobs — ours plus another in town — so progress is a bit slow. But he has completed the second glass block wall in the master bathroom — well almost — we still need to form and pour concrete borders around the open edges of the blocks:

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The 1/4″ rebar sticking out from the mortar joints will be embedded in the concrete surround to give stability to the wall. A length of this rebar runs in each mortar joint.

And looking in the other direction, Armando is working his way to the top of the stone wall in the shower. When the wall is done, he will wash it with muriatic acid to remove the mortar film from the rocks,then we will use a sealer so it has a “wet look”:   P1010753-001For our next project, Hanibal and I moved into the bathroom off the second bedroom. We tiled the walls and Bolivar grouted:

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As in the master bathroom, we planned the tile installation for minimum cutting and a cleaner look at the shower valve and shower head.

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Bolivar grouts the wall.

Today, Hanibal and Bolivar set the level of the floor in the second bedroom bath, sloping the floor toward the shower drain:

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In my spare time I have been doing a bit of painting. Cynthia decided that the walk-in closet would look better with white walls, so I applied a couple coats of paint. I still need to build a few more shelves and apply some baseboards: P1010751-001

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It is nice to have the new tile under foot rather than the rough, dusty concrete. And on the left, check out Cynthia’s Pre-sort Central laundry baskets. So much for a man to learn. 

And I’ve started painting the big wall in the living room. We selected a middle gray that will go well with the stonework and the tile and dark gray wall on the other side of the room:

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The wall will look good with some art hanging on it. And Bob finally wandered into a photo…

So far Hanibal and I have used about two pallets of tile, enough so that Cynthia and I could clean up around the remaining materials. It has been a long time since we could use the stairs in front of my shop and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Before, what a mess:

P1010553We cleaned the area and I took a truckload of cardboard and plastic bottles to the recycle center in town. After:

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Jabo practicing his Salutation To The Sun yoga pose. Either that or he is doing a Maori Haka war dance.

And now it is my turn — Cynthia has turned out a slew of slumped glass lampshades for the kitchen lights. Now I need to get busy, drill a hole in the top of each one, install lamp sockets, and hang the lights. It will be good to see them hanging from the kitchen ceiling. Wish me luck…:

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

What, A Real Vacation?

Cynthia and I haven’t been on a real vacation since before June 2010 when we started this marathon house project. So it was with lot of excited anticipation that we waited a few months until it was time to travel to Medellin, Colombia. It was a quick hour-and-a-half flight and Medellin didn’t disappoint. Here is the requisite photo at Tocumen Airport in Panama:

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I’d look good as a blonde, don’t you think? A friendly Colombian woman took our photo.

I won’t bore you with all 175 photos that we took, but I do feel the need to account for our time away so that you won’t expect a progress report on the house!

The city of Medellin and its three-million inhabitants dwell in a mile-high valley in the Andes mountains. The weather is lovely, Spring-like year round. From the first apartment we stayed in (15th-floor), there is a view of the city and of the mountain sweeping up and out of the valley:

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An overcast day. We were delighted to see how nearly every area of the city was green, green, green.

One of the first things that struck us was the large amount of public art throughout the city. It seems that when a new project is built, the developers must install a piece of art. Here are a few:

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The Delivery Man

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Most of the cut flowers that are sold in the States are grown in Colombia. Each year there is a week-long flower festival. Growers arrange flowers on sillas (chairs) and parade from the surrounding pueblos into Medellin. This statue is a representation of one of the people who carry the heavy displays.

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Mother and Child

Another thing that struck us was how clean the city is. There is virtually no litter as you can see in the next photo. And see that strip of raised dashes down the center of the sidewalks (and nearly every sidewalk in the city)? It took me a while to realize that these were to assist blind people. At intersections, the dashes change to dots to alert people to the location of crosswalks:

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An overnight wind had blown leaves onto the sidewalk. Soon, the brooms will be out, making the sidewalk spotless.

Quality of life and physical fitness seems to be a focus in Medellin. One time I joked to Cynthia that I went out to find a doughnut but the only thing I could find was fitness clubs.

The city fathers take fitness seriously too; for example, every Sunday and on fiesta days from 7:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., the city closes one side of Ave. Poblado, a major avenue that runs several kilometers north to south and nearly the entire length of the city. Joggers, strollers, bicycles, roller-bladers, families, people with dogs, teenagers in groups, you name it, they are all out enjoying the tree-lined street that is normally filled with cars, taxis, buses, and trucks. We ate breakfast at an open air restaurant and people watched, then took a brief stroll back to the apartment ourselves:

P1010597One of  Cynthia’s must-dos on the trip was to visit the Aquarium at Parque Explora. This is a world-class, three-story exhibit of the ocean, lakes, streams, and rivers of Colombia. Here is an Angel fish exhibit:P1010619Also at Parque Explora we had fun with a satellite photo of Medellin that is blown up quite large and affixed to the sidewalk. You can walk on it, and from the second floor the effect can be interesting. As I interpret the next photo, this is how God mops the clouds away after a rainstorm:P1010624I call this next one, Godzilla CynZilla Invades Medellin:

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Cynthia is standing in the neighborhood of Laureles, named for the Laurel trees that line the streets. We liked the area so much that after a week at our first apartment in Envigado, we moved to an apartment in Laureles. The area was designed by a Colombian engineer in the circular style of Paris, France. Cyn’s left big toe points to our apartment. The large area at the bottom right of the photo is a major university which adds a vibrancy to the area.

Across the street from Parque Explora is the Planetarium. We enjoyed an hour-long movie called Astronaut, projected on the large dome. Very enjoyable and educational.

Another of Cynthia’s must-dos was to visit Plaza Botero. Fernando Botero is a local artist who must love his city very much. Over time, he has donated many hundreds of his works, most of which now reside in Plaza Botero and the adjoining Museo de Antioquia (Antioquia is the department, or state, that Medellin and the surrounding area are located in). In much of his work, Botero explored what he called the voluminous nature of form. Here is Cynthia with Gato (Cat):

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Dozens of huge bronze sculptures fill the plaza.

Another favorite, Caballo:P1010648Adjacent to the plaza is the former Medellin administration building that was converted to a museum because Botero donated such a huge volume of his art. Here is an interior courtyard; you can see an Art Deco influence on the transoms over the doorways:P1010683Botero began his career as a painter; one of Cyn’s favorites is this cheeky painting:P1010670Other artists are featured in the museum, too. This next work represents the enormous effort that Medellin has made to transform the drug cartel domination of the city into a city of the arts:P1010686

On my hit list of things to do was to go to Parque Arvi, a several-hundred hectare park just up and out of Medellin. You can drive there, as well as take a bus; is is about an hour’s travel. I chose to use the Medellin Metro system. From our apartment, we took a short taxi ride ($2) to the Metro line. We paid our approximately ninety-cents each and boarded the train on the Linea B (the B line). With the same ticket, we transferred to Linea A and travelled many stops through the north of the city. At the appropriate stop, and with the same ticket, we transferred to a gondola cable car that took us up the mountainside of the city.

(The cable car is used by tourists, but its main purpose is to transport people to the poorer areas of the city. This cable car, along with a system of free-to-use escalators that climb the mountain, have been a huge advantage to the poor who used to have to walk for hours to go to the city below. Now it is easier for people to get to work and school and has been a significant tool in the development of culture and the reduction of cartel domination of the area. Investing in infrastructure to raise people out of poverty was a wise choice for Medellin in the transition from violence to a vibrant, artistic, educated populace.)

At the end of the cable car line, we transferred to yet another cable car (an additional fee) that took us up and over the mountain to Parque Arvi. In this cable car we rode with a couple from Bogotá. We got talking and decided to spend the day together in the park. Come to find out, the woman has had two open heart surgeries as has Cynthia, so we all had something in common even if our language communication in Spanish wasn’t perfect. Here is Cynthia in the gondola, smiling but not too keen with the side-to-side swaying of the gondola…:P1010695 A view of Medellin far below:P1010693And our new friends:P1010696We took a colorful chiva (Spanish word for goat so says Google) to the butterfly house, then had lunch together:

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P1010699There is so, so much more to see at the park, but until Cynthia gets her hip fixed, walking isn’t that much fun for her. Here we are in the gondola going back down to Medellin:P1010697Back in Medellin, we were walking by the new Santa Fe Mall in Poblado and decided to take a look. At four stories, I think that I read that it is the largest mall in South America. There is much more mall behind us, plus another ring of stores on the outside of the structure:P1010588And while walking around the Laureles neighborhood, we couldn’t help but oogle this vacant Art Deco fixer:P1010601

In between all the walking, we took frequent breaks at some of the many sidewalk cafes. Cynthia liked the Colombia-grown Juan Valdez coffees and I found hot-chocolates made from Colombian-grown cocoa beans. Yum.

And finally, we noticed a huge presence of street-art graffiti. It turns out that art-graffiti is allowed in many public spaces (as opposed to illegal tagging and spraying of private property). A taxi driver told us that not only is it allowed, but if need be, the police will put orange cones around the area to protect the artists. We spotted many paintings that were true art. The next photo is the only one I photographed; not bad, but it is not one of the better ones in my opinion. I wish that I had taken a photo of the painting of the birds on a bridge abutment — stunning:

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I think that this painting speaks to the culture of drugs and the freeing of the spirit at the end of the seige of the cartels. But you decide.

Overall we had a wonderful two weeks but just scratched the surface. We found Medellin to be safe, clean, and filled with art. The weather was perfect and the people are truly friendly, cheerfully helping us every time we asked directions to a restaurant, even after dark for example. Our hosts at the apartments that we stayed in (we used AirBnB) were awesome in their friendliness and helpfulness. We can’t wait to go back.

That’s all for now, it’s back to work for us. Thanks for stopping by.