Reserve Water Tank ~ Part II ~ And Our Art Studio Below

Part I of the water tank happened way back more than three years ago. Continuing on way back then, Armando, Alex, and I formed and poured the roof. We bent the vertical rebar in the walls at a 90-degree angle so that the roof and walls would be tied together to withstand the water pressure:

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Humans Need Not Apply

In this post I am going to tell you about a recent day that Cynthia and I had. It has nothing to do with our house. I’m going to make a political point at the end though, so fair warning.

A few weeks ago, Cynthia was in the States on family business. On the day she returned to Panama she got up at about 4:00 a.m. to make her flight. Here are some specific moments of her day: Continue reading

Art Show Today

Back in 2009 Cynthia and I had just bought this property. It was going to be a few months while she and I created the house plan and the architect did his work and got all the approval stamps. I was sitting in the house that we were renting and I was bored. I needed a hobby.

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We Love Our Home

Hi there. I bet you thought you would never hear from me again. Well I’m back with an update and possibly a reboot of this blog. For those who want more shipping container house building info, my future posts may be disappointing. The container part of the house build is done and it has been done for more than three years now. `

For the past three-and-a-half years, this shipping container/art house has been for sale. As in much of the world, the housing market here is absolutely flat. Only a couple of properties have sold here and they were priced well below what the sellers wanted and way below what we were asking.

Meanwhile, Cynthia and I have been living here. Real living and not just the five-year all-consuming exertion of creating and building this house. We’ve had time to be creative with our arts. We’ve had time to just sit and relax in the master bedroom porch and watch the birds. We’ve had time to know each other more deeply. As time passed, we explored other places to live when the house would potentially sell. Medellin, Colombia (we’ve been there five times now). Guanajuato, Mexico (wow, but stairs, stairs, and more stairs make it not a place for Cynthia with her new knee). Greenville, South Carolina (fair weather, progressive culture, health care, etc.) and Austin, Texas (Cynthia’s family).

But through all this time, two factors have become important priorities.

One factor is that we love the rich nature and relative seclusion of where we are. Every morning we wake to something we’ve never had before. Recently it has been a family of Aracaris (Toucan like birds). And the flock of wild parrots absolutely prevents sleeping in and missing these wonderful mornings. To start over somewhere else and miss a significant amount of time (years?) without just sitting and being has become a less inviting idea.

The second factor is really a matter of time and energy. We have created something here and it took a lot of energy and a lot of years: this custom house that is a joy to live in, a workshop that I have organized for the first time in my life, a new glass studio for Cynthia, a watercolor painting studio for me, and more is in the works. We want these things in our life and to start over with the diminished energy of age is looking more and more unlikely and un-enjoyable.

As an example of what I am doing when not building a house, here is a cabinet I built for my art supplies:

The wood is a tropical cedar with Purple Heart drawer fronts.
Diamond plate aluminum drawer bottoms save space and so far the termites don’t like it.

So with a substantial and significant amount of pondering, realizing, and talking, we have come to the “ah-ha!” decision to remove the house from the market. Not that it is selling anyway, but we have come to settle on all the good points of staying put.

Over the next while I will post Part II of the reserve water tank project, our studios, an orchid wall that I built, and a major project that is underway.

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

Five Reasons To Have A Reserve Water Tank ~ Part 1

We’ve been thinking about building a reserve water tank, and here are some reasons why:

Reason 1. A few weeks ago, a neighbor set a small fire of yard debris, then left for his house in the city. (I know, I know, I will refrain from comment…) A few hours later, Cynthia looked out our kitchen window and yelled, “FIRE!” I knew that that house didn’t have any water as a new well was being drilled. So I ran to the neighbor of the property on fire and roused the sleeping caretaker.

He and I stretched a hose to the neighboring property and fought the fire for more than an hour. We didn’t have enough water pressure so it was slow going. While the other man used the hose, I used a now-destroyed plastic leaf rake to move the fire away from the unburned pine needles. Had we not acted, lots of pine and palm trees would have burned, plus all our properties were in danger. The whole time, I wished we had more water. Here’s a photo:

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Reason 2. Sometimes, the power goes off. And with no power to the water pump, there is no water at our house. Not a real problem, unless the power is off for more than a few hours. Or if there is a fire! Of course we could get a 220-volt generator to power the pump, but that is another thing that needs maintenance and fuel and fussing with.

Reason 3. This was a tough dry season. We never ran out of water, but I suppose it could happen.

Reason 4. Sometimes we want to use two hoses at a time. But our pump is rated for seven-gallons-per-minute. Exceed this and the pump protection system shuts the pump down for a half-hour to allow it to cool off. By having a reserve tank, we can use two-or-three hoses or sprinklers at once.

Reason 5. Building stuff is FUN!

So armed with these reasons and a couple thousand dollars, we went to work. Armando and I scouted a location where the tank would be high in the air to deliver good pressure, and would be mostly out of sight. We settled on the area where we were going to build the hydroponic greenhouse (before we decided to sell). There was already a good foundation and a few rows of blocks. We went up from there.

Day one, Alex, who had worked for us before, joined Armando. We cleaned the area and started laying blocks:

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At the end of day one, we were up this high:

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Day two showed this much progress:

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We inserted a couple ventilation blocks because some day this area could be an employee’s casita.

It is common practice here to lay blocks, but don’t connect them at the corners. Reinforced concrete columns are poured here. At the end of day 3 we had the rest of the blocks up and corners formed and poured:

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Where’s Fred?

Day four was a long day. We stripped the corner forms and made forms for a beam that went around all four sides of the structure. We formed a welded rebar armature that fit in the form work and made a good strong base for the tank. Here I am welding the rebar armature:

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All four corners are connected so the beams won’t be able to pull apart under pressure of the heavy tank above.

We put the armature in the form work:

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There will be more blocks above this beam, so before we poured the beam, we cut and welded a LOT of rebar in place to support the blocks above from the massive pressure of the water:

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That’s a lot of rebar!

Next, we poured the concrete beam. It was still early in the day, so we cut a lot more rebar and welded it in place to make reinforcement for the floor of the water tank:

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While I was welding the rebar, the guys went into the jungle and cut 15 strong saplings that we would use to hold the floor form work in place. After we made the form work for the floor, we tied the rebar together with wire:

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At this point it was almost quitting time for the day, but the guys said they wanted to pour the floor, too, so that we would be ready to lay blocks tomorrow. I told them that I would pay extra if they wanted to keep going. The guys mixed the concrete, and we set up a relay to get the concrete to the roof. This was tough going for the old guy in the middle!

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The next day I stayed in the hammock while the guys laid more block. The blocks took two- or three-more days.

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Next, we formed another beam that went around the top of the entire tank, the rebar all connected as in the other beam. We also welded in place more rebar that we will bend at a 90-degree angle to make reinforcement for the concrete roof and will tie the roof to the walls:

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We were anxious to get the roof poured, but first to make our work much easier, we had to apply the plastering to the inside of the tank. Here is some of the first plaster:

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Armando applies the mortar while Alex paints a bonding agent on the smooth concrete beam and corners.

At the end of today, day ten of the project, we have all four walls plastered. In this photo, Armando finishes tooling an angled strip of mortar at the floor line to prevent water from leaking through the wall/floor joint:P1030704-001

We’ll continue next week when the guys return Monday or Tuesday. Left yet to do is to form and pour the roof and then plaster the walls outside of the tank.

In other news, when Cynthia was a teenager, she was in the Masonic order Job’s Daughters, and was crowned DeMolay Sweetheart. The Masonic youth organizations are planning a reunion for later this year. For the event, Cyn is making ten crowns for the former Sweethearts (they passed the crown on to the next Sweetheart so they never got to keep their crowns). This is a surprise gift from Cynthia for the Sweethearts who are attending the reunion. One of the Sweethearts has passed away so in accordance with tradition, Cyn has made a white crown in her honor for the memorial.

This has been a lot of work, but the results are handmade pieces of art that will be a reminder of memories from years ago. Here are some photos:

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Two 12″ x 12″ pieces of glass, a clear piece and an amber-colored iridescent piece, cut into 3/8″ squares, were glued together then fused together. Then each of those rounded pre-fired pieces were glue tacked onto a plain piece of glass, then fired in the kiln to fuse the pieces together.

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After she fused the crowns but before she curved them in another firing in the kiln, I drilled holes at each end for attaching wires that can be bobby-pinned to each woman’s hair:

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I drilled the holes with a diamond bit in a pan of water to keep the bit cool.

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My grandfather’s 65-year-old drill press is still going strong, but after the nerve-wracking stress of drilling a couple dozen holes, I was a bit dazed and confused…

Here are a couple of the crowns after Cyn curved the glass and applied some crystal beads.

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And remember the climbing vine at the front of the carport? Well finally, finally after a year, the plant is lush and in full bloom:

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

April Is April Appreciation Month

I haven’t posted in a long time because I haven’t done anything much write-down-word-worthy lately. But I felt like writing this morning and cranked out the following bit about the month of April here in the mountains of Panama, and I thought I’d show you a little project that I have been working on.

As I do many mornings, today I was on our roof deck sweeping away a few dry leaves and watering the plants. From the roof deck I can see the woodpeckers that, as they do every year in April, are making new nesting holes (in preparation for babies and for protection in the rainy season) in the trees in the next lot over from us. It’s quite a show.

Every day I put several bananas in the dead tree stump in our front garden. We’ve covered this stump in bromeliads and orchids, and nesting birds have made the tree a bird condominium. They have a wonderful time darting in and out of the plants on their way to and from the bananas. There are black birds, black and red birds, black and yellow, green, and even blue birds. Robins, and the woodpeckers, too, come for the bananas. Small reddish-brown doves peck in the freshly-tilled garden and finish off the banana peels that fall to the ground. The bird banana buffet gives Cynthia and me hours of enjoyment as we watch out the kitchen windows.

The tall trees in our front garden turn golden-crested in April, and the loudly-chirping hummingbirds work the blossoms all day long. Soon, bees will arrive to take the nectar that the hummingbirds leave behind; their buzzing is very loud and reaches a crescendo in the heat of mid-afternoons.

I also love April because now, after several very dry months, we are starting to receive several rain showers each night. They don’t last long, but come down in brief sheets, signaling that rain is on its way. The fragrance of freshly-dampened soil smells good and I go back to sleep.

The other day our gardener, Armando, pointed out a loudly singing bird that was “calling the water,” he said in Spanish. I’ve really enjoyed learning Spanish so I can pick up these bits of local knowledge – such as when the breezes that start in November and December are called “brisas de Navideña,” — the breezes that bring on Christmas. Many of the local workers here may not have a lot of book learning, but they know the wildlife and the subtle rhythms of the seasons.

With everything so dry, the birds enjoy the three birdbaths that we made for them; keeping the water refreshed is a pleasant part of my daily routine, too.

Recently we noticed that the mango trees are in full-bloom in our area; we should be picking mangos fresh off of the trees in late June and July. Because we are in a micro-climate zone, our mango schedule is quite different from down in town or just down the mountain road a few kilometers.

There are distinct seasons in Panama, not as dramatic as, say in New England, U.S.A., but they are distinct in their own subtle way. I love April; there is a lot to observe and to appreciate here.

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Walking to friends’ house this morning I picked this seed pod off the ground. Oropendula birds live in the tree and will pelt you with these pods when you walk under the tree. Pretty cool, huh?

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In other news, the other day I got a call from a friend of ours. She has been taking care of the home of someone who had recently died, and she lost the keys! She asked me if I could get into the house. Of course I could, houses are my business, but locks, unfortunately, aren’t.

I did a survey of the exterior of the house and decided to remove the security bars on a small bathroom window (the window was small, and so was the bathroom, come to think about it). Fifteen-minutes with a hammer and chisel and I had the bars removed from the concrete block house. It would be minimal work to mortar the bars back in place. I climbed through the window, removed the screws from the two deadbolt locks, and opened the door. Our friend bought two new deadbolts and I installed them in just a few minutes.

But this got me thinking — how much easier it would have been on my senior citizen body if I could have just picked the locks and not had to mess with shoe-horning myself through the tiny window and making the high drop to the floor. YouTube to the rescue. Over the next couple of weeks, I watched a couple-hundred videos, maybe more, about lock picking. I now dream about picking locks.

So I thought that I would buy a set of lock picks. They can be had for twenty-bucks, or a high-quality set for under a hundred. But then again I thought, why not make them myself? There are lots of videos on YouTube showing how to make picks from hacksaw blades and the thin pieces of spring steel that sit under the rubber part of most windshield wiper blades.

Our car needed new wiper blades anyway, and a few bucks bought a handful of saw blades. A day or two later I had my very own homemade lock pick set (I still have a couple more picks to make…). I think they came out pretty well, all ground, sanded, and polished to a bright shine. Here are a few photos:

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I ground the teeth off the blades but left the notches that created the set of the saw teeth. It gives the handles a bit more grip.

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There are still a couple more picks that I want to make to more complete my set.

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I ground the hacksaw blades with my bench grinder, filed and then polished with emery paper. Some car polishing compound did the final polish.

So now it is time to see if I have what it takes. I have a pile of old padlocks that I am gearing up to practice on.

By the way, if you are the least bit interested in how insecure most of the locks that most of us use, here is a video by a man named bosnianbill. Locks are his hobby and he enjoys figuring out the puzzle of each lock he touches. Bosnianbill is part of an international group of people who consider lock picking a grand sport. They have competitions and swap locks and information among themselves, picking for the fun of it. Here is one of his 600-or-so videos:

Now, after a bit of practice, maybe I will be able to open a lock the next time I get a call from a panicked friend. I’ll “keep it legal” as these sport pickers say at the end of their videos.

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

EXTERIOR VIDEO!

I have been promising you, and promising you some more, that I would make a video of the house. With this post I announce that I am half-way there. I have completed a seven-minute video of the exterior of the house! I wonder if it will break any box office records as Star Wars has just done… ah, probably not, never mind, dumb thought. Here it is (full screen is better) :

This was no small task for me as I had to acquaint myself with my GoPro 3+ camera and the GoPro Studio editing software. I even built some equipment including a slider so I could get smooth side-to-side shots. Commercially-built sliders are available for a bunch of money, but I built mine for not-much with a couple aluminum shower curtain rods, a cut-up plastic kitchen cutting board, and some PVC pipe fittings. I bought the wheels online. Here is my slider. The shower rods were my idea and make for the lightest-weight five-foot slider in the Universe or anywhere…:

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The GoPro 3+ camera with an articulated extension arm is mounted on the dolly.

I saw the DIY PVC pipe fitting dolly on YouTube. I put an extra port on the dolly so that in the future I can mount an LED video light for closeup work:

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I bought a gimbal. Until recently, gimbals were only used in big movie productions and cost many thousands of dollars. Now they are available for the hobby market for just a couple hundred dollars. A handheld gimbal allows a video photographer to walk over rough ground, climb stairs, and even run, and the gyros in the gimbal keep the camera stable. I love what miniaturization is doing for tech. Here is Cynthia modeling my gimbal:

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That gold and black thing on the right side of the gimbal is one of the three gyro stabilizers. Yeah, I know the camera is upside down. I use it this way as our car dashcam because the power cable fits better on the right. There is a setup option in the camera to reverse up/down of the image… (Cyn was holding it tightly which is why her fingertips are so pink.)

Not counting building the slider, this shoot took me about twenty-hours to video, edit, find music on the Web, and add the audio track. I also had to diagnose and fix a problem with my computer — when I would download and play an audio clip, it sounded all garbled and fuzzy. The problem was that I had an older version of VLC Media Player. Once I uninstalled the program, the audio opened on Windows Media Player and sounded just fine.

I spread the shoot over a couple days to get the sun at its best advantage. Sorry, the sun doesn’t shine on the north side of the house at this time of year so this side is in shade — I’d have to wait another six-months to complete the video. I opted not to wait. Overall I had a good time, and especially enjoyed making the opening and closing credits. I learned a lot… I like steep learning curves!

I hope that you enjoyed my video. I’ll work on the interior shoot soon. I promise.

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

PHOTOS!

At long last, the house is what I am calling 99.9998% complete! I have a very short list of unfinished items, most of which I can do in a day or two. But yesterday and today Cynthia and I staged the house and took photos inside and out. Here is a video with 93 pictures. To save you from me imposing my music choice on you, there is no sound. You can make it full-screen if you like:

So that’s it. Five-and-a-half years and all I have to show for it is 93 lousy photos!

I still hope to make a nice video. Stay tuned.

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

Birds Win Big

Three days ago I finished applying the Feather Friendly window dots on our large front windows. I am happy to report that not one single bird has even come close to colliding with the glass!

This past week in addition to finishing the bird dots on the windows, I’ve spent several days washing windows and making the house shine. Ramiro is still washing the house inside and out and touching up paint as he goes, and Armando has been cleaning the exterior rock work with the power washer. I still have a couple small tasks to do — install an electrical plug, tie some wires up under the house, install a plumbing vent — but everything is all but done. However I did want to show the finished bird-proofing of the windows.

Here are some photos:

This first photo is in progress. You tape two ruler guides (provided with the rolls of dot tape) to the window. Then you roll out enough tape to go across the window and cut it to length. Then, following the ruler, press the tape onto the window, one row every two-inches. Lastly, run a credit card over each dot to stick them to the window and then remove the carrier tape. Only the dots are left on the window:

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I took the next photos just after sunrise:

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You barely notice the dots from inside the house. Jabo does report, however, that he is seeing spots:

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As I get closer and closer to completing every little item on the punch list, Cynthia reminded me of what I said when we first met about eleven years ago. We met online, eHarmony.com. In our emails back and forth, I told her that I was in the process of doing a down-to-the-studs remodel of my 1920s Craftsman bungalow home in Colorodo. This was a Big Red Flag for her, as the photos that I sent to her were “ugly” as she says.

But I told her that, “I finish projects,” and I emailed her my resume, if you will, of other houses that I had completed. Well, that sales job sealed the deal. Cynthia moved from Ohio to Colorado and we spent the next three-years finishing the bungalow.

Here is the bungalow on the day that I bought it. It was pretty nondescript.

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And here it is just before we sold it, windows washed and everything:

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Now our shipping container house looks finished. It really feels good to have so much to show for our five-years of work:

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

Skirting Sinks And Dotting Windows

Working the punch list of unfinished projects, I finally had to deal with the underside of the bathroom sinks. I didn’t want to build cabinets (moisture, mold, termites), but I did want to hide the pipes:

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So I cut some of the aluminum that I had left over from making the kitchen drawer bottoms and bent them on my DIY sheetmetal brake. I drilled holes under the counter tops, inserted plastic anchors, and screwed the aluminum skirts up into place. Now the undersides of the sinks look finished. Here is the skirt in the half-bath under the stairs, ready to screw into place:

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Done:

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The master bathroom:

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A closeup:

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And the second bedroom bathroom:

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That’s one more of the few remaining items to scratch off of the list!

In other news, we have had more than our fair share of birds flying into our big windows. With 800 species of birds travelling through this area, something is always in the air. Apparently, the birds see trees reflected in the windows, fly toward the trees, and hit the invisible force field of the glass. We’ve been able to save most of them; we hold them cradled in our hands until they can shake off the stunned ?-what-?-just-?-happened-? look. I did some research and found a couple of solutions. One was to apply decals that look like birds-of-prey or other shapes.

Another option, the one we are going with, is rolls of 1/4-inch wide tape. The tape has 1/4-inch square dots every two-inches. You roll out the tape, rub the dots to adhere them to the glass, then peel back the tape leaving the dots on the windows. It is labor intensive! The dots add a modern look and you can barely see them from inside the house. The product is called Feather Friendly and is made by 3M. Here I am in the process of applying the dots — I had to take a break as it was about to rain and the humidity was too high and the dots wouldn’t stick:

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With the kitchen cabinets done, I no longer needed to work in the carport/bohio and it was time to clean the floor. Sawdust from the caoba (African Mahogany) didn’t stain the porcelain floor tiles, but it stuck like glue, and with the addition of some dog pee here and there (thanks very much Jabo), it made the floor difficult to clean. We tried soap, then bleach, then vinegar, then scouring powder, and a lot of elbow grease. Finally, Armando suggested that he clean with a water/muriatic acid solution. This did the trick in short order a couple of hours:

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And remember Ramiro who helped with welding and painting? He is between jobs so we brought him back to do some painting. Here he is sanding, wire brushing, two-primer coating, and two-finish coating the bars on the master bedroom bump out. He is a meticulous painter and this paint job should last a good number of years:

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Here it is all bright and shiny:

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And of course, Cynthia and I managed to sneak in a nine-day trip to the pueblos surrounding Medellin, Colombia to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Our gracious AirBnB hosts made us a fabulous celebratory dinner. El Retiro turned out to be our favorite pueblo in the area. It is located in a forested, mountainous area about a half-hour from Medellin’s airport in Rionegro. Much of the industry of the area relates to wood, with a plethora of furniture makers turning out excellent pieces. Thanks to some of our blog readers who came for our 25-cent house tour, for recommending the area!

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