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:


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:


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:


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


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:


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


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:


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:


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…:


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:


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:


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:


The Delivery Man


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.


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:


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:


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):


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:


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:


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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


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):


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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


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:


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:


And here is the curb all done:


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:


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.




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


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:


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:


The bonding agent is all spread and is drying:


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


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



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:


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:


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:


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:


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.:


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:


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


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:


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:


We got to put our feet up.



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.


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!


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.


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:


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:


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:



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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


And last but not least, lunch:


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.

Four Counters And A Long Bench

And the flu dragged on and on for several more weeks. Then I got a sty and the area around my right eye swelled mightily. So I haven’t done much work since my last post. But now it is time to rebuild all that muscle that I lost in the past weeks! Getting back to work was physically difficult, but I did it and I have accomplished a few things.

One day I sprayed the long wall in the living/dining room. I sprayed it a primer white, so now it is ready for the finish color.

Cynthia said that she would like a long bench seat along this same wall, so one day Armando and I formed it and readied it for concrete.

I didn’t want to weld the rebar directly to the container wall because on the other side of the wall is the walk-in closet. Welding would burn the paint and make an awful amount of smoke and I didn’t want to remove all our clothes from the closet. But I did want to connect the bench to the wall so that it wouldn’t pull away. So I drilled half-inch holes where I wanted the short pieces of rebar. I inserted two-inch bolts from the closet side and put a nut on the living room side. Then I could weld the rebar to the bolts and not burn the paint in the closet. We are going to use the same black-tinted concrete as we did in the kitchen. Here is the wall primed white and the bench form work ready for concrete:


Later I’ll put LED lighting under the length of the bench.

While we were at it, we formed four counter tops. One is upstairs in the loft where we will put a small sink. This sink is close to the roof deck and will be useful for doing art projects in the loft. The bottom of a five-gallon bucket was the perfect size to make the hole for the sink; I cut the bucket on the table saw. The other wooden disks to the right of the sink will make the hole for the faucet:


Back down stairs, we formed another counter in the kitchen. We’ll put the microwave on this counter. I used a bunch of scrap rebar here. Later I’ll build an aluminum cabinet below the counter:


At the far end of the kitchen we’ll mount the TV on the dark gray wall. I want to build a cabinet below the TV for components and such, so we built the form work for a counter. As standard practice in forming all these counters, I drilled half-inch holes in the concrete walls and inserted the rebar into the holes. At the metal container wall, I did the bolt/rebar thing as I did on the long bench. The counter will be self-supporting with the cabinet built below:


And finally, this morning I formed the counter for the sink in the half-bath under the stairs. The sink will be a round glass vessel type that will fit the contour of the counter. A long time ago I saw a sink mounted in a corner with a mirror on either wall. It makes an unique effect so I’ll do the same here:


Armando and I plan to pour the concrete later this week or early next week.

In other news, I’ve been working on converting have converted to the gluten-free, low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet that Cynthia’s cardiologist wants her to eat (based on the two books, Wheat Belly and Grain Brain). I’m eating a massive amount of food and have lost all the sugar and carb cravings. I am surprised how quickly those cravings disappeared. Below is a photo of my breakfast one day — a large plate of veges and three eggs, all scrambled and sauteed in coconut oil. I seasoned this batch with Herbs de Provence, although other times I may use curry or Italian herbs. This meal is interchangeable for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Delicious and very filling and I haven’t gained back a single pound!


For the past four-years, we’ve had a problem with a particular kind of fly, called the sagaño. The sagaño builds a giant mother ship nest, then sends away teams to build more nests. They’ve been trying to build many of these satellite nests high on the house, which Armando and I knock down with the pressure washer. But they won’t stop building! Besides defacing the house, this fly, if you pass within a few feet of their nest, will attack people and pets. They don’t sting like a bee, but instead bite. They quickly wiggle their way through your hair and bite your scalp. They like to climb under your shirt and bite your armpit.

The mother ship is just a few feet into the neighboring lot to the west of our fence, and the other day Armando and I decided that it was time for the big nest to go. I hated to do it because they seem to have the one redeeming quality of pollinating the bananas.

We quietly and stealthily placed a tall ladder in the tree about fifteen feet from the nest. Even that was provocative and the flies attacked. We had prepared ourselves with protective clothing which is a good thing because we were each covered with hundreds of the little biting creatures. Like chimps picking lice off of each other, I picked the flies off of Armando and he picked them off of me. Working in quick volleys, we cut the branch that the nest was attached to. Surprisingly heavy, the nest crashed to the ground with a loud thud. Armando had made a small, smokey fire to distract the flies.

Using a long pole, we placed on top of the nest a Ziploc bag full of diesel and a bit of gasoline. Next we used the pole with a nail taped to it to puncture the bag; the fuel saturated the nest. Finally, we used the pole to deliver a flaming torch to the nest. All this happened over several hours to give the flies time to calm down; most of the flies abandoned ship as they seem to like to be higher in the air. Here is the nest with Armando’s foot on it:



Again, I hated to do it but their bite is annoying and their saliva, or whatever they use as a building material, is corrosive to the paint and galvanized metal on the house.

And one other thing, these are bar flies. Really. They love the smell of oil-based paint and lacquer thinner. They get quite drunk and propel themselves against the wet paint. Now if you notice blemishes in my paint, you know why.

Cynthia returns from the States next week, so in an attempt to impress her upon her return, in the rain-free mornings I’ve had Armando outside in the gardens. For the first time, the entire lot is pretty-much weed-free and everything looks good and healthy. He cleaned dead leaves from all the plants and fertilized everything. This should be a good welcome home for her.

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

Not Much, You?

It has been about four weeks since my last post. After Cynthia left for the States, I decided to take two weeks off because my body was tired, sore, fat and arthritic. I hung around, sat in the sun on the roof deck, and generally goofed off. At the end of the two weeks, like Forest Gump said when he stopped running, I told Armando, “I think I’ll go back to work tomorrow.”

But when tomorrow rolled around, I told Armando, “I think I’m getting sick. I don’t feel so good.” And thus began two weeks of the flu. I had the typical fevers, chills, and the sweats and lost ten pounds, which I am happy about. During these two weeks I ate only fruit smoothies in the morning and vegetable broth at night. Kind of a modified fast.

So I’ve accomplished a grand total of not much. One day it rained early so I pulled Armando, who was weeding the gardens, inside. He and I sanded and prepped the container wall in the living room/dining room. The sweat from being sick poured off of me. The crane operator put a big gash in the container wall and I welded and patched it with some Bondo. This forty-plus-foot-long wall is now ready for paint:


One day when I was feeling better I ran some wires for the light fixtures in the beams in the kitchen ceiling. You can see some of the wires hanging down in the next photo:


Of course it has been raining a lot, evidenced by the water running off the roof by the back door:


Although there are currently no flowers, the new hibiscus bushes (on the other side of the gravel walkway) are taking hold. Armando fertilized them last week.

And all this rain has been good for the gardens, too. Here are some big flower pods just beginning to bloom:


My real reason for writing is to give an update on Cynthia who has been in San Antonio, Texas, for the past month. She has been having a very difficult time breathing for some time now, so it was time for a battery of tests. She had her first follow up visit with her cardiologist a couple days ago. Here is a “press release” that she just wrote:

Dear friends,

Thank you so very much for your concern and support while I’ve been in TX for medical testing. Knowing there were so many people who’ve cared so much has been a tremendous support to me.

There has been some good news! The nodule on my lung has been diagnosed as benign and that worry has been eliminated.

The blood work testing was extremely thorough. I do have some “issues” with my heart, but we’re going to adjust my blood pressure med dosage to bring that back under control. The artificial valve and pulmonary artery, which we had wondered about, have been cleared as culprits for the breathing problems, and I consider that to be very good news (no open heart surgery!).
Instead of suggesting statin drugs (for high cholesterol) (happy news since I’m opposed to their use in women), we are going to treat some of the other conditions with niacin and supplements of D3, B12 and methyl folate. This female cardiologist is recognized nationally and is very highly regarded, especially in women’s (cardiac) health. I feel very confident in her capabilities. She even recommended several books. Contact me privately if you’re interested in the titles/authors.
To combat my cardiac issues and arthritis pains, Dr. Bogaev suggested going low-carbs and gluten-free. She did it herself six months ago and confirms that it was helpful to her personally. Thankfully the Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. which is the company who analyzed the blood/urine, provides a dietitian to help make this transition and life style adjustment.
A very special note of appreciation and thanks  to my cousin Greg and his wonderful wife Susie, without who’s cheerful support I’d have been a basket case. They’ve very graciously allowed me to stay with them in their gorgeous home in San Antonio and have chauffeured me from one test to another to another. I am extremely grateful to the unflagging support of my wonderful husband Fred with our multiple phone conversations daily. He’s even agreed to try the low carb, gluten free diet that’s been recommended.
Glad to be able to report good news to “y’all”!
She is still working with a pulmonologist and needs to do a sleep study, but it looks like a lot of her problems can be resolved or greatly reduced by making minor medicine and major lifestyle changes.
We have a lot to learn and to put into practice. I’ve been a vegetarian for about thirty-five years, but I need to reassess my diet. I eat a lot of grains and beans and on a low-carb, gluten-free diet it will be difficult impossible. We’ll need to eat a lot more protein and fats (coconut and olive oils primarily) and a ton more vegetables.
I’m happy to go along with Cyn on this journey because it is all too easy for me to put on an extra ten+ pounds of abdominal, um, fat, and this is the worst thing for a man heart-health-wise. And the grains really aren’t all that good for my arthritic constitution.
Eggs of course will be on the “good food” list. But what about chicken? I still want to limit dairy (the exception being an organic, lactoce-free yogurt that I regularly eat) and Cynthia hates the stuff. So with cheese and milk off the protein list, there isn’t much left. I mean, how many almonds does a low-carb, gluten-free vegetarian have to eat to feel like he/she has eaten a meal? And if Cynthia and I can get on the same page, meal preparation will be a whole lot easier for the chef.
With this in mind, I challenged myself to try some chicken. After thirty-five years it was a daunting, alien, repulsive thought. I pulled a pre-grilled chicken breast (that I had grilled for Cynthia) out of the freezer, let it thaw, and heated it in a frying pan.
I waited until I was good and hungry with no remnants of my fruit smoothie breakfast on board to compete gastricly. I sliced the chicken into thin slices. I thought I would try a small piece and see what my reaction was. I screwed up my courage, slipped the charred beast into my mouth, chewed the strange texture and swallowed. Odd. Truly odd. It didn’t repulse me as it had in the past. It was kind of neutral, not delicious, but not so bad or vile that I couldn’t take another bite. This is really uncharted territory for me (or anyone who has reverted to eating meat after some time as a vegetarian).
But after a half hour nothing awful had happened in my stomach. In fact it felt pretty good. So slowly, piece by piece, I demolished the entire chicken breast. Three hours later, I’m still good. Blow my mind, I never expected that I could do this without a lot of gastric distress or revolting machinations. Go figure! Maybe it is because I’ve basically been fasting for the past two weeks. I don’t know.
So it looks like Cynthia and I will be testing out a new low-carb, gluten-free, Mediterranean, Paleo diet. I hope that this helps her regain her health. She’s a great gal and I’m behind her 100 percent.
Now the only question is, what is she going to do with the many pounds of high-quality King Arthur flour products that she bought and was planning to bring back here to Panama? Will they make the journey?
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
(Something seems to have gone goofy with the formatting in this post. I can’t seem to get the paragraphs spaced properly. Sorry about that.)

Five Tables And A Waiting Game

A few weeks ago Ramiro and I fabricated five metal tables. All are a simple modified-Parsons table design. We used 2″x4″x1/8″ steel tubing, the same tubing that we used to fabricate the front door.

The largest table, 4’x9′, will be the dining room table, large enough to seat eight comfortably. It fits nicely in the dining room area. We also made a desk, plus three tables for behind a sofa and under two mirrors. All will be glass topped. I guess that it took us about four days to do all the cutting, welding, and grinding. We burned through ten-pounds of welding rods and used a lot of clamps to keep the angles right at 90 degrees:

Ramiro grinds the welds smooth.

Ramiro grinds the welds smooth.

To provide a place to mount leveling screws and to keep spiders out of the table legs, we welded a piece of one-quarter-inch flat stock onto the bottom of each leg.

But before welding the flat stock onto the legs, we drilled a one-half-inch hole in the center of each of the twenty flat stock pieces. Then we welded a seven-sixteenth-inch nut at each hole. When the tables are all painted, I can screw a bolt through each hole and into each nut to level the tables. Here Ramiro grinds another weld smooth:

P1010311Yesterday, I finally sprayed several coats of primer onto the tables. After the primer dries for a few weeks, I can sand the primer smooth and apply the final color. Here are the tables all primed:


I took this dizzying photo from the loft.


First I painted the tables upside down. Friend Jim came by at just the right time to help me turn the heavy tables right-side up for the rest of the painting. Jabo was of no use what-so-ever, but the paint fumes did make him somewhat goofy.


I like this late afternoon composition.

For now, this project is in suspended animation, waiting for the final color and the slabs of one-half-inch thick glass.

In other news, Armando has nearly completed the rock work around the house. The back of the house looks much better now. In the next photo, Armando is working on the last column; this column is new — I plan to cut an eight-foot-square out of the wall where Armando is working and put in a window of glass blocks. The container needs support here. The glass block window will be in the shower in the master bathroom and will really light up the space and help bring the outside in:


Really, I don’t pose Jabo in these photos. He is just my little shadow…

In the next photo, at the end of the clerestory wall, that blank triangle still needs paint and some trim to make that area look finished. But all in all, it is looking really good.

I didn’t want to go to the work and expense of rocking the wall at the right of the sliding doors in the living room, but Cynthia insisted that it would look great. I’m glad that she did as it gives the house a nice uniform texture. Armando did a wonderful job of keeping the courses of rocks level even though there is a pitch to the land. This morning is really overcast and I predict rain before the morning is over (we erected a tarp where Armando is working; seconds later the sky opened) :

P1010326-001I’ve also prime-painted the underside of the stairs to the loft and roof deck. I’m happy to have this little PITA job done as it was unpleasant with the spray gun in the confined spaces (the half-bath and the closet behind the pantry wall in the kitchen).

If you have noticed that I really haven’t done that much since my last post several weeks ago, you are right. All the hard work of putting up the living room ceiling and other large jobs has me plumb tuckered out. I’m taking a bit of a break.

Also, Cynthia has been in the States for a week now, seeing her cardiologist. Something is going on with her health so she is going through a bunch of tests. We’ll know more after her next appointment in about three weeks, but for now I can’t help but be concerned (to say the least), and all this concern diverts the steam out of my energy for work. While we play a waiting game, she is having a good time staying with her three cousins and an aunt and uncle.

So please understand if my blog is a bit thin for the next weeks. I’ll post as I can. After a bit more rest and relaxation I plan to return to the kitchen floor tile job.

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

Driving To Macano

It has been a long time since I’ve done anything except work, work, work. But this week I had an opportunity to take a drive in the country.

I received a call from an expat friend. A worker of hers has family in the pueblo of Macano (Macano is the name of a tree, a very dense hardwood, probably Ironwood by the English name). A family member was very, very ill and had no way to get to the hospital. The police wouldn’t do the drive, nor would the ambulance nor the fire department. It appeared that I was the last resort.

If the patient was unable to get to a doctor but instead died at home, there would have to be an autopsy and the family would have to pay for it. But if they could get a letter of terminal illness from a doctor, there would be no autopsy.

Macano is remote by local standards, about a half-hour drive into the mountains from here. With Ambulancia de Fred ready to go, I met up with two family members who would ride with me to the pueblo. Here is a video from our house to Macano: Notice the ‘road block’ at the 4:21 mark. Also, although difficult to discern, there is quite a hill going down at the 17:30 mark. On the return trip it took me six tries to get up the hill without slipping and sliding:

When we drove as far as we could, I parked the car next to an abandoned house. Straw bale and adobe house construction isn’t a yuppie dream here; it is survival. Here are a few pictures of the domicile past-its-prime:

Formerly home to a  family, I tried to place myself in the reality as it must have been.

Formerly home to a family, I tried to place myself in the reality as it must have been.



A very narrow doorway connects the two rooms.

A very narrow doorway connects the two rooms.


This is the larger of the two rooms. I wondered to myself if $300-per-roll French, hand-printed and flocked wallpaper is really a necessity.

The men didn’t want me to have to walk the extra distance down to the house in the valley and suggested that I wait for them. But after taking some pictures and waiting at the car for quite some time, I decided to walk down the hill to the house.

When I got to the house, the men had just returned from cutting a long pole from a Macano tree. I helped them lash a hammock to the pole. After they transferred the patient to the hammock, we carried the woman (with the two smaller men in the front, I carried the back end of the pole) the significant distance uphill to the car. The hard physical labor of building the house must be good for me, because the two younger men were huffing and puffing but I hadn’t broken a sweat.

We carefully transferred the older woman to middle of the back seat and two women sat one on each side of her. I noticed that in this culture that there was no quibbling over the division of labor between the men and the women. The men sat back in the pickup bed.

I told them that I would drive “lento pero seguro” (slow but sure) and we were on our way. The ride back was somewhat difficult. A light rain had made rocks on the hills a slick slip-and-slide experience. I did my best to give an easy ride as the patient in the back seat was crying and screaming in pain. I never did find out what she was suffering from.

Out on the main road it was a quick ride into town to the local Central Salud (health clinic). I dropped them all off and left after it was determined that the patient would be transferred to the hospital.

The family was thoughtful and appreciative, each person thanking me and shaking my hand. My take-away was that if you want to feel good about yourself, do something for someone who has little or nothing.

In other news, Ramiro and I have finished welding and grinding five tables and Armando is all but done with the rock walls. Photos next time.

This past week Cynthia and I watched a TED Talk by Brené  Brown about vulnerability. I Googled her and found a quote that is meaningful to me as I work my way through this never-ending, giant-canvas shipping container house art project:

Fullscreen capture 4282014 101309 AM.bmp

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