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:

P1010873-001

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

P1010870-001

Here the workers are choosing and cleaning 16 nice ferns.

P1010867-001

An hour later their truck was loaded for delivery.

P1010863-001

Here is our bounty, unloaded in our driveway turnaround:

P1010881

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:

P1010887-001

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.

P1010888-001

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

P1010890

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.

P1010892-001

The new grasses will hide the concertina wire.

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

P1010895-001

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:

P1010898-001

P1010900

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:

P1010902-001

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:

P1010882

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:

P1010905-001

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

P1010879-001

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

P1010860-001

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:

P1000952-001

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:

P1010814-001

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:

P1010816-001

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:

P1010817-001

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:

P1010821-001

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:

P1010819-001

Check the body English.

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

P1010823-001

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

P1010825-001

P1010828-001

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

P1010833

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:

P1010842-001

P1010843-001

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:

P1010845-001

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:

P1010846-001

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:

P1010849-001

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:

P1010853-001

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:

P1010856-001

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:

P1010838-001

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:

P1010839-001

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

P1010841-001

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:

P1010797-001

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:

P1010796-001

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:

P1010802-001

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:

P1010806-001

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:

P1010770-001

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:

P1010760-001

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:

P1010773-002

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:

P1010781-001

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:

P1010780-001

And with the perimeter tiles cut and installed:

P1010791-001

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:

P1010782-001

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:

P1010784-001

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):

P1010792-001

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:

P1010788-001

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:

P1010789-001

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:

P1010743-002

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:

P1010738-001

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:

P1010733-002

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

P1010736-001

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:

P1010755-001

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

P1010752-001

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:

P1010750-002

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:

P1010740-001

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…:

P1010748-001

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:

20140902_104113

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:

P1010589-001

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:

P1010604

The Delivery Man

P1010587

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.

P1010577

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:

P1010606

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:

P1010608

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):

P1010668

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:

P1010715

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:

P1010591

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.

More Tile

We wrap up the month of August with more tile done and yet more to go. But we are very pleased with the progress. The master bathroom is our current focus; there is progress but it is still a mess. Here is a photo of the master bathroom — on the left, Armando is working on a rock wall. He can run about four rows a day before the wall becomes unstable from the weight and the wet mortar. On the right, Hanibal has just finished a glass block wall between the shower and the toilet. We all joked that Armando got paid ten-cents per rock (not true). P1010564-001Hanibal and I tiled the shower valve wall in the shower. He and I worked together to plan where the tiles would go and then strategically located the shower valve so that all cuts in the tiles would happen at the edge of the tiles — no tiles were damaged in the making of this wall: P1010562-001The tile floor and wall in the laundry room are done and I repainted the walls a putty gray. All that is left in this room is baseboard and connecting the sink and some wiring:

P1010571-001

The paint around the window shows lavender on my monitor but it is truly putty gray.

Cynthia and I spent the better part of a day cleaning and organizing. It is always difficult to live in a construction zone. Here is the living room pretty much cleaned out; even the living room floor got vacuumed: P1010542 One big mess still exists — the pallets of tile in the carport. This area has become the dumping ground of everything that we didn’t know what to do with. Eventually though, the tile piles will dwindle to nothing: P1010553With the second bedroom tiled and mostly painted, it was time to paint the desk (one of the five white tables that Aramis and I built) and bring it into the bedroom. We had a piece of glass on hand. Here I have just completed the third coat of oil-based enamel: P1010540-001Here is the table/desk in the second bedroom, painted a deep chocolate brown: P1010569-001In the latest in our frog-in-a-bathroom photo series, Cynthia spotted this one on our toilet this morning: P1010550-001 P1010547

P1010551

Not a very clear photo — it was on the move — but I was intrigued by how the frog could keep its foot flat on the floor as it sped forward.

Lastly, my lunch one day:

P1010539-001

Egg salad in a tomato rose.

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

Tile Month Continues ~ Floors And Walls II ~ Plus Cynthia’s Lamp Shades

Hanibal and I completed the floor tile in the kitchen, the little office space (closet), and the half bath under the stairs:

P1010522

I still need to install baseboards and install shelves under the counter top under the TV. And nothing is where it will ultimately be as we are still in shuffle-stage of moving things here and there while we tile the floors.

There was a problem area between the kitchen floor and the bathroom floor; the kitchen slab is three-inches-thick and the bathroom slab (poured with the living room) is four-inches-thick. I absolutely hate the tiny steps that are so common in local construction. You have to watch when you are going from room to room because there is frequently a little trip-over inch or so. To resolve our issue, Hanibal and I built a gentle ramp at the transition. You hardly even notice it:

P1010526

Christine in Oregon and Lynn in Ohio take note: the bathroom under the stairs is getting closer to completion:

P1010525

The floor needs a few more washings to remove the grout film. I took some time and installed wiring at the west end of the kitchen and bathroom.

We grouted the angle wall at the staircase. It looks really sharp:

P1010494-001

Next we moved into the bedroom pod (two containers separated by a twelve-foot stick built space). We laid out a forty-foot-long row of tiles and adjusted them east-to-west to get the best layout for each room, hallway, and doorway. This took a while but when we were satisfied, we snapped a chalk line guide. We did the same floor leveling that we did in the kitchen and then mortared the row of tiles into place along the chalk line.

In the next photo we have progressed beyond that single row of tile, but you can see how useful it was to have this guide to provide a floor pattern that flows through the spaces:

P1010537

Ignore the colors; miss-matched light bulbs lighted the area differently.

Hanibal’s brother Bolivar has been helping us a few days a week when we need an extra hand mixing and hauling. Here he is sifting sand:

P1010503-001

After the long row of tiles, we moved into the walk-in closet:

P1010532

Chaos reigns with all our belongings as we move around the job. Although the color in the photo isn’t a good representation of what really is, we have decided that we don’t like it. Good thing that paint is relatively cheap. There will be base boards added before it is all finished.

Next up was the second bedroom (east end of the bedroom pod):

P1010533

Being able to open the container doors in the bedroom allowed us to bring a wheelbarrow-full of mortar right into the house.

P1010529

The hallway to the living room is done, too.

In the next photo I’m marking a tile at the edge of the landing to the second bedroom so that I can cut the edge profile. Here I have overlapped one tile on top of another. Then I set the dividers (they were my grandfather’s) for the amount of overlap plus a tad. Then, keeping the dividers in line with the tile, I scribe along the wall contour:

P1010509-001

I taped a Sharpie to the dividers for a darker line.

Then I cut the tile. I have a new tile saw — my old one died. I think that August has also been National Tool Die Off Month as this month it was the tile saw, a saber saw, the switch on my reciprocating saw went bad, and one or two others tools died that I can’t remember right now. I hate to have to replace these tools so near to the end of the project. Here I am at the new tile saw:

P1010504-001

Safety glasses photo-shopped out for vanity reasons.

Looking for something else to do, we tackled the laundry room. On day-one we laid the floor. On day-two we moved the machines onto the completed floor and tackled the wall and the elevated base for the machines:

P1010530

First thing tomorrow we’ll remove the board that is supporting the wall tile and install the remaining row of tiles. The little sticks at floor level are holding up the front edging tile while the mortar dries. Cynthia will be buying new paint for the laundry room and dry room/closet in the morning.

After the laundry is finished and grouted, we’ll move into the (Christine in Oregon and Lynn in Ohio take note) master bathroom. This is the first time we have seen this space in a few years as it has been filled to the brim with boxes of possessions. Too much stuff!

There is a lot to do in this bathroom — wall tiles, floor tiles, two glass block divider walls, and Armando will make a partial wall of stones. Plus I still need to cut out the container siding at the end of the room and install a glass block window wall as we did in the kitchen:

P1010536-001In the last bit of current tile news, Elmec had a 15% off sale last Sunday so we ordered tile for the front steps. The main tiles are the same ones that are on the stairway wall in the living room. We also bought some large, square, dark gray tiles that I will cut into strips to make a border at the front of each step; the steps are difficult to see so the edging will delineate the edge of each step:

P1010508

Jabo points to the tiles for the front steps.

Cynthia has been burning the midnight electricity, keeping her kiln filled and cooking glass for the lamp shades in the kitchen. Just as she had a learning curve with how much powdered/colored glass to use to get her desired color, she also had a learning curve for slumping the lamp shades over the form. Trial and error then success is pretty much the only way to go about this process. She had to take into account the thickness of the glass plus the time-duration and temperature of each of the eight segments of the approximately ten-hour slumping in the kiln.

Here is a sheet of glass in the kiln, resting on top of the form that the glass will slump over:

P1010493

Her first attempt tore the glass — too much heat and too long at the slumping stage:

P1010499

The first go — lifting the cover of the kiln after ten hours was disappointing but she learned a lot.

The next photo shows another almost-but-not-quite attempt (the front-left one refused to drop her arms and the glass split). The one on the front-right is the torn one. The three others were successes. Now she has the electronic controller programmed correctly and she can go ahead with the remainder of the ten lamp shades. After she has all the shades finished, I will need to drill a hole in the top of each shade and install a socket and cord. Stay tuned:

P1010520-001

The failed test piece on the front left and the reject with purple will become opportunities to practice drilling holes for the wiring. The purple one is an aesthetic reject.

Armando has finished one portion of the rock work border at the east side of the driveway. Here he has all the stones in place plus form work for the concrete topping:

P1010501

And here is the curb all done:

P1010521

And finishing off this post is a pretty hibiscus:

P1010518That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

August Is National Tile Month

August is National Tile Month, at least as far as our project is concerned!

After several weeks of searching for a truly-professional tile installer, we succeeded and hired Hanibal. We know Hanibal. His daughter Yamileth cleaned our house for quite some time when we were in our last rental. Fortunately, he had just completed a four-month job at a new beach resort. He came by to look at the job on a Saturday and agreed to work for us starting on the next Tuesday. Perfect!

Hanibal agreed to let me be his helper. He laid the tile and I cut all the odd pieces. I also made sure that he had a ready supply of tile, tile spacers, clean water and sponge, and all the tools he needed at his finger tips. I’m a good helper; my first job working for a carpenter when I was fourteen was good training. My boss told me to watch him and try to figure out what he was going to do next. For example, if he measured a board, the next thing he was likely to do was to mark a square line at the mark. I was to hand him the framing square. Next he would need the hand saw, and etc. Anyway, the only thing that I don’t do for Hanibal is to mix the mortar as he is very particular as to how much water is in the mix. I’ve seen him add just a few more drops of water to make the mix just right.

We started on the wall by the staircase. Cynthia and I chose a natural tile that brings a lot of warmth into the living room. Here are some pictures of the process of tiling this wall. It took us a little bit more than two days to complete the wall:

P1010447-001

I used the laser level to strike a level line on the wall. We worked up and down from this line. I nailed a board at the line to support the tiles.

P1010448-001

P1010449-001

P1010451-001

I can’t believe it. We ended up one tile short. I have it on order.

P1010476

Our next project was to tile the balance of the kitchen floor. In the next photo you can see that months ago I left off at the stove island and the microwave:

P1010445

Hanibal said that the floor was not quite level and he wanted to make it level so that the tiles would lay nice and flat. He drove nails into the floor at various places and we strung strings. The taut strings showed places where there were dips in the floor. In the next photo you can see the strings. Hanibal is in the process of rolling a bonding agent onto the floor:

P1010461

The bonding agent is all spread and is drying:

P1010465-001

Next he put daubs of mortar (equal parts sand and cement) at various places under the strings:

P1010466

Then, using more mortar and long boards as straight edges, he connected the dots, thereby making the floor flat and true:

P1010467-001

P1010470-002

I made a print of this and another photo and gave them to Hanibal. He said his family, especially his grandchildren, loved the photos.

We spent a day with this floor-truing process, well worth the time, effort, and money. Here is our tile-laying progress at the end of the first day of tiling:

P1010472

By the end of day two of tiling (next photo), we were nearly to the west wall of the kitchen. All the white thingys are spacers to keep the grout lines accurately spaced. I was truly impressed with his quality of work. So many of the local “tile men” won’t use the spacers and end up in trouble when they reach the far wall. Notice that we had to use a plank as a bridge to keep from walking on the freshly-set tiles:

P1010484-001

So this is as far as we have progressed as of this blog entry.

In other news, while I was searching for a tile guy, I took some time to attend to some details in the kitchen. The ends of the ceiling beams were quite crude looking where we had welded angle iron to attach the beams to the container walls:

P1010421-001

I used several tubes of urethane caulk, smoothing the caulk with a wet finger. Then I touched up all the white paint. I also painted the window frames a warm red that Cynthia had chosen:

P1010486-001Cynthia wanted to make glass lamp shades for the kitchen lights that will hang from the beams. She started with regular window glass. She sprinkled and spread granulated glass (called “frit”), onto the window glass. At this stage of the process, much of the frit is white, but it will change color (called “striking”) when fused in the kiln. This is her first foray into fusing and slumping projects:

P1010431-001

The blacks will stay black and the yellows will stay yellow, but the whites will change to red tones.

After nearly 24-hours firing and cooling in the kiln, the colors develop, in this case reds and orang-y-reds.:

P1010485-001

The glass pane on the left is actually a stack of three test panels to see how the frit would react, to see what colors she wanted to use, and to see how much frit she would need for rich colors.

Now that the clear, flat panes of glass are colored and fired, she will put each one back into the kiln on top of a stainless-steel form. In the heat, the glass will drape over the form, thereby creating a glass lamp shade.

While she waited for the firings, she got engrossed in an eBook on our tablet, An Echo In The Bone in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series:

P1010464-001

Moving on, Armando moved the 15 spider plants up to the roof deck:

P1010441-001

He also planted a row of Cola de Camerones (shrimp tails) along the driveway. They add a nice splash of yellow:

P1010439And one day Armando and I spread four-yards of gravel in the turnaround:

P1010442-001The Anthuriums, also called Flamingo Flower or Little Boy Plants, are in bloom in the front garden:

P1010433-001Meanwhile, Jabo styles the mop head look:

P1010475-001We know to look in our shoes for scorpions, but now we have discovered that we have to look in our shower scrubbies for … frogs! Still using the outside bathroom, in the shower I was about to scrub my pits when I spotted this little one:

P1010457-001

P1010459And finally, we got to put our feet up for a weekend. Jackie Lange, from Panama Relocation Tours, invited us to the nearby Sheraton Bijao (pronounced Bee-how) resort for a weekend if we would talk to her tour group about what it is like to live in Panama. Thanks very much Jackie, we had a great time:

20140809_151354

We got to put our feet up.

20140809_151417

20140809_151544

Cynthia and I take our first selfie. What if there are more than one person in a selfie? Is it still a selfie? Is it selfers? Selfiers? Usie? I’m confused.

20140809_151434

Me, past my mid-sixties, rocking a 20-pound weight loss. A big thank you to Cynthia’s cardiologist for the information about gluten and other dietary changes we have taken on!

20140809_163753

And lastly, has anyone noticed that as of today my blog is only a few thousand page views away from a million? Who’d a thunk it?

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

Turnaround

First, I want to post a couple progress photos. The first one is the last banner photo that I had at the top of this site that I took on April 13th:

Panorama -- 13 April 2014

And here is the photo that I took today, July 20th:

cropped-Panorama-19-Jul-201411.jpg

Some difference with everything greened up and that eyesore sand and gravel pile gone!

July is Cynthia and my favorite month here in Panama. Technically it is the rainy season, but there is usually a dry period in July. And there aren’t many tourists and there isn’t a lot of smoke in the air. To take advantage of the lack of rain, Armando and I have been concentrating on the driveway turnaround. This area hasn’t been seen for several years as we have staged piles of sand and gravel here. But now, there aren’t many more jobs requiring big concrete, so we were able to scrape away and find the driveway below.

After clearing the area, we laid a six-inch drainage pipe across the turnaround area. Left as is, the car would crush the pipe in short order. To support the pipe, on either side of the pipe we poured a foundation and then laid a row of concrete blocks. Finally, we poured a slab above the pipe and blocks. Like this:

P1010400

Soon we’ll buy some more four-inch rocks so that Armando can rock the edging as he did on the other side of the driveway.

Armando spent a day leveling the area. We had been using the area as a dumping ground for extra concrete and mortar, so there was a bit of pickaxe and sledge hammer work to do.

Soon I’ll buy some crushed gravel to give the driveway a top coat. But we have to wait at least a month before driving over the concrete that protects the pipe. Here are other views of the turnaround:

P1010395-001

P1010409-005

In other news, I spent a day installing another section of the kitchen ceiling. This section is a couple of inches lower than the other sections due to the pipes that come down from the sink in the loft. The lower ceiling creates a cozy nook for the TV that will be mounted on the wall:

P1010403

I still need to trim an edge or two and install a pop-rivet or two.

I also painted the beams white  (I used a four-inch foam roller to get a smooth finish) and installed four LED mini can lights in the four beams. These lights will light the aisle in front of the sliding pantry doors:

P1010404

One rainy day Armando and I poured the black concrete that we formed and described in my previous post. Here are two of the five pours:

P1010417

This is the eighteen-foot-long bench in the living/dining room, useful for overflow seating for parties. Colorful cushions will make for warmer seating; even in the tropics the concrete feels cold on one’s backside!

This is the sink counter for the half-bath off the kitchen and under the stairs:

P1010405

The back garden looks good:

Panorama -- Back Garden -- 19 Jul 2014

For a year now, Armando has been promising that the hydrangeas will bloom…

There are a couple localized riots of purple:

P1010416-001P1010392-001

And last but not least, lunch:

P1010389-001

My tasty salad (Cyn wouldn’t be caught dead with the cheese) of avocado, carrot, zucchini, celery, and red bell pepper, dressed with herbs, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, complimented by an aged, hard goat cheese.

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