Almost Ready To Move In

The Big Push To Move In continues, although surprisingly not everything we are doing will get us in sooner. I asked our landlady for another week; she said, take two or more and don’t pay. Seems that she wants a night watchman until they can find another renter or can get a contractor to fix the many woes of the place.

But a week will do it because some of our large glass window panes have arrived, and more will arrive next week:


The glass was delivered by Moly and his family in a pickup truck that barely ran. One of the men rode in the back of the truck to steady the glass for the hour-long drive. I understand that they probably wouldn’t own glass-moving suction cups, but I was surprised to see that none of the men and boys were wearing gloves. This is a bare bones operation (no pun intended) but their prices are fair!

I installed one of the panes in one of the guest bedroom windows:


With the heavy rains eroding the soil where all the water runs off the Big Roof, it was time for Armando and Alex to pour a concrete splash pad. Here it is almost done; Armando is pounding rocks into the wet concrete and Alex is finishing the job with a small paintbrush. Fortunately, the rain held off for the entire job:


A day or two later it did rain. Not hard, just a gentle tropical drizzle:

While it rained, Armando and Alex moved indoors to repello (stucco) the master bathroom M2 (foam building panel) wall (not shown) and the wall over the master bedroom bump out:


Aramis has been working nonstop. Here he is putting 3/4″ angle iron into a door that will go at the master bedroom bump out; there will be four, eight-foot-tall glass doors there:


And here is Aramis welding a sink stand for the concrete sink that will go in the laundry. The sink sits on the lower part. The upper part will have a sheet of tile backer and will be tiled. The faucet will sit on the tiled part:

The next photo shows parts of three metal projects in process; a new four-posted canopy bed, the sink stand, and a pair of doors ready to be hung in the bump out. You can also see that in my free time I hung the two white doors. We will paint them a different color:


My days are somewhat chaotic. I have to keep an eye on both Armando and Aramis; whether simply observing progress and watching for problems, making suggestions or giving the next marching orders, or jumping in and working with them when an extra hand is needed. I also run for materials in town. But sometimes I have a small block of time to accomplish something extra, as I did when I installed the doors (above) or this sink just outside of Cynthia’s studio:


These sinks are ubiquitous here. Every one that I have seen is set on concrete blocks at each side of the sink. But this makes a nasty little area that collects spiders and leaves. I decided to weld an angle iron bracket and screw it to the wall. I used urethane caulk to stick the sink to the stand and to the wall. Some touch up of the repello is necessary where I cut the groove for the pipe and around the drain pipe.

Cynthia’s bailiwick is the gardens. She recently stole Armando and Alex from me for a day to clean the back garden, eradicate the ant colonies in the garden, and plant some new plants. While they worked, she divided some asparagus ferns and re-potted them. Another thank you to Christine and Clark who gave us cuttings of most of the plants from their garden:


Christine, what is the name of this plant? I see that it is starting to flower:


The flower heads are a good four or five inches tall.

And there is a dainty little orchid on the dead tree in the front garden:


Even though we haven’t officially moved yet, we are spending more and more time at the new house. On Sundays, we spend most of the day here just hanging out. Here is a happy Cynthia:


And if she is happy, I’m happy:


Happy but tired. I’m working ten-hour days right now. Can’t wait to move!

Some of you have emailed me personally to say that they can’t leave comments. I’ll check it out as soon as I can.

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

A Bunch Of Things

Thing #1: Soon we will need to be working in container #1. I know, I know, what a concept. But we have used the space for storage, and that stuff will have to find a new home. One item in particular is the supply of metal that we have on hand for windows and doors. So one afternoon I built a roof-hung rack in my shop. I used 1.5″x1.5″ angle iron, welded the pieces together and then hung the unit from the carriolas with roofing screws. Here is the finished rack loaded with some steel:


Now my shop has a roof rack.

Thing #2: With the concrete for the walkway by the front door completed, there is only one more piece of front entry concrete to go — the first step at the bottom of the stairs. Right now it is just a muddy mess:


Tackling this last slab, Armando and I spent a day making forms for the pour and setting rebar. The next day he picked up another man and the three of us made easy work of pouring the concrete. As usual, after the guys finished pouring and screeding (striking the concrete flat), I stayed late to trowel the surface.

As I waited the sky became darker and darker. I got most of the slab finished, but still needed another hour or so before I could trowel the last part. While I waited for the water to evaporate I kept an eye on the sky and prepared a couple tarps that I could pull over the slab at the last second.

Ultimately I lost the battle with the rain. Cynthia and I pulled the tarps into position; it rained for several hours and by that time, the rainwater had run off the steps above and onto the new slab making streaks, and the slab was too far gone to work any more. So the next day, Armando troweled on a thin layer of cement and fine sand to even out the damage. Aside from a color difference (which will be a moot issue when we tile the steps five years from now), the step is just fine now.


This is the view from the front door. I like the geometry a lot. Because of the slope of the driveway, the bottom slab is actually tilted down about eight inches. It is really a ramp, but it is difficult to tell because of the triangular shape of the slab.

Thing #3 — Curing the floating house feeling: Now when you look at the house, it looks very tied to the ground except for containers #1 and #2. The house has too much “float.” We don’t like the black holes under the containers. Take a look at this panorama:


Cynthia and I held a design committee meeting about the issue. When the house is done, the two doors on container #1 will be open. We’ll build a roof and a floor, and the end wall will probably be glass block. So to ground this part of the house we decided to extend the foundation around the front of the house. We had a few of the six-inch foam building panels on hand so I decided to use them instead of buying concrete blocks. Here is Armando digging the foundation:


The foundation is poured and the panels are in place.


I’ll have more on this little project as it progresses.

Thing #4 — Doors!: Time is passing rapidly and our date for moving-in keeps getting pushed back. I have a lot of fabricating to do on the doors and windows and I have to get to it. But I have to spend a significant amount of time working with and supervising Armando on other projects. The other day I was expressing my anxiety over all of this to Cynthia. “Why don’t you hire a man to weld,” was her question to me. I want to be clear; Cynthia gets full credit for this — I wanted to do it all myself but it just wasn’t reasonable with our desire to move from The Pit. And so I hired another man. Arimas, a local young man with a lot of welding experience, was available and was anxious to hire on.

I worked with Arimas all his first day and we nearly completed three doors. I could have done just one myself so we are already ahead of the game. Cynthia took this good photo of Arimas:


I showed him how I made some wooden jigs to get the size of the door just right. In the next photo you can see that I formed the door inside the door jamb so that even if the jamb isn’t perfect, the door was custom fit. I held the cut-to-size door pieces in place with clamps, then had Arimas tack weld the corners so that the frame would hold square:


Sticks at the floor allow enough clearance for the floor tile plus space at the bottom and top of the door. The shims at the right side of the door provide for opening and closing clearance. This door frame is ready to be tack welded.

Next we took the tack-welded frame out of the door jamb, put it on the workbench, and completely welded the corners. Then we took the piece of container siding that used to be where the door opening is and cut it to fit into the door frame:


We tack welded the panel into the frame and now it is ready for sanding, urethane caulk to seal the panel to the frame, and paint:


After I got him going and over the course of three days, Arimas completed three doors, got the frames for two more doors ready for the metal panels (these are for the laundry and I still need to cut the panels from container #1), and made a door jamb for the kitchen door in #2. I’m happy that I actually listened to my very smart wife. Full credit to Cynthia!

Thing #5 — Dealing with a lot of water: A lot of water runs off the Big Roof and drops close to the house. In just a couple weeks, the falling water dug quite a hole at the west side of the house and this isn’t good. I decided to extend the roof away from the house.

Armando and I erected two posts for the roof extension:


Then Arimas and I spent a morning framing the little roof extension:


As Arimas set the next rafter into place, I ground the previously-welded joints smooth, cut the tops of the columns off, and applied a coat of paint to the welds.

We were just about ready to apply the roofing panels when our Internet provider arrived to install service here at the new house. (We’ll have overlap for a month or two, but it is worth it; Cynthia and I are sitting in our new house today, Sunday, both enjoying some peace and quiet. She is reading about soap making and I am writing this entry. It is so nice to hear the chirps of the birds without hearing all the car and truck traffic that we get at The Rental Pit.)

Armando was digging the footing trench for the foundation extension, so I pulled him off that to help Arimas install the roof panels. With the panels installed, now we just need to pour a small concrete slab for the water to drop onto.

Thing #6 — Internet: We are now up and running with 3 megs at the new house. Because we are out of town we have few Internet options. We could get a measly 1 meg from the telephone company, Cable & Wireless, for about $45 per month. We had them before but service is very iffy because the signal has to travel through a long, old, buried copper cable that comes several kilometers from town. For a long time we paid them for 2 megs, but I never got more than 1 when I would run a speed test. One time we were out of service for thirteen days!

Other companies say they can provide service, but when they get here they see that their antennas don’t point in our direction. But one company agreed to put a small antenna pointing our way, so we can get a pretty good 3 megs for $110 per month. It puts a dent in our budget, but we depend on the Internet for so much. Maybe now we’ll be able to have reliable entertainment video downloads and better Skype conversations. We had Netflix in the States and watched a lot of movies but because of the slow speed available to us here we haven’t been able to watch movies much at all. Here’s a screenshot of a speed test that I just ran:

Fullscreen capture 7212013 24449 PM.bmp

To be clear, the speed test was run through Cable & Wireless, but we are not using them as our service provider.

That’s a pretty darn good speed. And oh, Cynthia has been sitting next to me watching YouTube videos and reports that the videos run without stopping to load all the time. Life is good.

Thing Hot Item #7: Here’s a photo of Cynthia cleaning some of the beads that she made:


That’s all for this week. I think we made some good progress. Thanks for stopping by.

The Big Roof ~ Part 6

Since my last post, we have covered quite a bit of ground. I completed the rafters over the roof deck and welded on a facia around the south and west. Like this:


This front elevation is in the ugly dinosaur stage. I can’t wait to see windows installed and some color applied…

And this:


The afternoon rains are now frequent and heavy, so Armando and I start our day at 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. Here is a video of a 12:30 rain running off the new roof on container #3. There will be even more after we finish installing the rest of the roof panels on the Big Roof:

Yesterday (Thursday) we got a delivery of a big stack of roofing metal. Armando and I climbed onto the roof early this morning and laid them out and screwed them down. I have to say, the Big Roof is really, really BIG! I mentioned to Armando that it might be fun to play soccer on the roof, although be careful of going off side… Here Armando is busy screwing in the last of about 2,000 screws (at eight cents each…):

I'm taking this picture from the carport roof.

I’m taking this picture from the carport roof. We’re leaving the undone corner as is for now because I still have to build a small section of roof over the walkway below.


We still have to cut the angle, but we are just about done. The sky changes minute to minute; you never know when the rain will pelt down…

We managed to get the front angle cut just before the rain started:


After two months of welding on the roof, I am very happy to see this photo! I really like the line of the house, now visible for the first time in three years of work on this project!

In the next picture you can see that there is an area of outside walkway that is not covered; one cannot walk from the house to the carport without getting wet. I’ll tackle that small section next week:


Here are a few more pictures of our progress:


From the front door.

From the living room:


From the front door into the living room:


The first doorway in the container wall goes into the kitchen. The second doorway goes from the kitchen into a half bath that will tuck under the yet-to-be-built staircase in the living room (going to the loft and roof deck).  And the big window wall in the living room… do I have a surprise for you (later)!

And here is the best overview of the project to date:

Panorama -- 21 June 2013 -003

It sure will be wonderful to pour the Big Floor and get those piles of sand and gravel out of the driveway…

In other news, while it rained the other day, I worked on the window in the second bedroom. Here’s a short video:

That’s pretty much it for this week. More next week including the last roof section and preparing the Big Floor for the Big Pour. Concrete that is, not rain… Thanks for stopping by.

Floor Tiles Chosen, Block Wall Built, The Trash Report, House Named, & Neighbor’s House For Sale

Floor Tiles Chosen ~ I needed to start thinking about building the doors for inside the house, but the questions were, “How much space do I leave under the doors for the floor tiles? How thick will the tiles be?” So one day Cynthia and I ventured into the big city to Elmec to choose the floor tiles.

In keeping with our Natural-Industrial-Bling decorating style, we chose a tile that looks like marble but is a much more durable porcelain tile. The tile is priced at about $25 per square meter and is made in Indonesia. It has a lot of shades of gray, some veining that looks like tree branches and leaves (Natural), and some subtle warm tone browns (leaning toward the reds). The tile has a fairly high gloss finish (Bling) and will add a luxury feel to balance the Industrial nature of the house. Here is a photo of many tiles adjoining without a grout line:


Block Wall Built ~ It seems that we have had a lot of down time in the past two weeks, but it is all a blur and I can’t remember why. But we are delighted anyway because we really have something to show. The concrete block wall at the front edge of the big floor between containers 2 and 3 is pretty much done. In my last post, Armando had the footing dug and it looked like this:

P1010642Since then we poured the substantial footing, laid the blocks, and poured a strengthening beam at the top of the blocks. Here’s the first row of blocks:


Notice the area with the two planks; we had to pass over the septic tank so we poured a beam to span the tank.

Now it looks like this from the carport:


You can also see that we have seven concrete support columns poured and rebar placed in the columns. These columns will support the living room/dining room floor.

And like this looking from containers 1&2:


The Trash Report ~ No tale to tell. I keep thinking that little scraps of wood are ready to go to the burn pile, but as you can see in the above photo, small pieces are still useful for bracing forms and making stakes. One piece was practically unusable, but Armando split it with a machete and used it as a paint stirring stick. Much of the scraps that we are using are from the original purchase of 1″x3″ pine that we used to lay out the columns to set the containers on. At some point they will all turn to dust.

We’ve had a few empty paint cans that I now store rivets in, and like the wood scraps, the metal scraps get used here and there too. I think the only thing we have really had to trash is all the cement bags. We save them and make a fire on those days that the mosquitoes are the worst. The smoke makes us quit early so the mosquitoes don’t bother us (insert smiley face here).

We still have a pile of Styrofoam left over from the interior walls, but Cynthia has a secret project for them. Sorry, no details yet.

The Name Game ~ Panama has very few street name signs and doesn’t have street addresses. It is a small country and everyone seems to know where everyone lives. We give directions by saying for example, turn at the lime green house that was hot pink last year and screaming yellow the year before. (People seem to paint their houses every year around Christmas. Cheapest paint wins.)

In lieu of street names and numbers, many people name their house. It just makes sense to say, “There is a party at Villa Such and Such tomorrow night.” So for several years, Cynthia and I have been attempting to name the new house. We call our current rental house, “The Pit.” It seems fitting.

For the new house, we came up with all sorts of lukewarm names that didn’t fit. But today we were standing in the same spot that I took the above photo from. I pointed out how nice I think the angles of the new wall go with the angle on the flying buttress carport columns. I said to Cynthia, “I like how the house moves.” She replied, “The house isn’t moving, it is dancing.”

So there you have it. Our house is now named La Casa Bailando (bye-lan-do) — The Dancing House.

Neighbor’s House For Sale ~ Directly across the street from our new house and one lot over, sits a modest Panamanian house on two lots (we have one lot). An elderly Panamanian woman owns it. Her husband is deceased and her children live in the States. She called me the other day to see if we know of anyone who would like to purchase it. She said that she has a current appraisal of $139K.

The house had a new roof put on about five years ago. We know that there is a problem with the well and the septic system most likely needs work. Both could be done for significantly under $10K.

We have never seen the inside of the house so can’t comment, but it is most likely quite plain, probably a two bedroom/one bath interior. It is probably plumbed for cold water only. An on demand water heater could be installed and still have money left over from that $10K.

So if you have any interest, I would be happy to connect you with the owner (she speaks English and Spanish). But be forewarned; if you play loud music and bother Cynthia, I’ll sneak over and pull your electric meter.

Here are some photos:


Here is the back of the house from the far end of the extra lot. Look off to the left and you can see one of our containers. There are six mango trees on the property (June is mango month).


There is a small patio on the south side of the house. The tower was for a CB antenna, back before there was cell phone service in the area.


There is a generous car port on the west side of the house.

Extra Special Bonus ~ The Banana Report ~ Bigger yet… Way back we fertilized the banana plants. I think it made a big difference because our neighbor’s plant has a mere fraction of the number of bananas that we have. And ours are getting FAT!


And finally, with the rivers delivering less and less sand and gravel due to the dry season, we hurried to order more. No more car in the carport for a while!


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


House Blueprint, Car In The Carport, Floors Poured, Holes Dug, Big Tree Felled

A lot of odds and ends the past two weeks.

First, I was talking with my brother on the phone and he said he would like to see a current plan of the house. Here you go, Bob. The yellow areas are the containers themselves and the numbers in the circles indicate which container is which:

House Plan as of 27 Jan 2013

In the drawing, I left out a half bath in the front left corner of my shop. It has a toilet and a shower.

And here is a short video explaining the house:

With the piles of sand and gravel dwindling from mixing concrete for the floors, we marked the first time that we could drive the car all the way into the carport. The marching band didn’t show up so we went ahead without it:

We completed all the floors in #3/Space/#4. Here are a couple photos:



Another little task that we completed is to wash all the concrete splatter off of the walls. Now we are just about ready for paint! We are going to choose the floor tile first, then all the paint colors.

I also sanded most of the door frames in the house. They were covered with concrete splashes and hand prints and had nicks and dings from wheelbarrows navigating the doorways. Now they are ready for a new primer coat of paint before painting the finish color coats. No photo.

Conflicting Priorities Department: Our goal has been to get the back part of the house (containers 3 and 4 plus the space between) done so we can move in and camp while we complete the rest of the house. But the dry season is upon us and it will be gone all too soon in April or so. So gritting our teeth, we resigned ourselves and agreed to stay in the rental pit for a couple of extra months so that we could make outdoor hay while the sun shines.

With the big floors poured, I had Armando work outside on the big space between containers #2 and #3 (living room/dining room). Just as we did for the space between #3 and #4, we will construct a floor off the ground and pour a concrete slab. In the next photo Armando has most of the column foundation holes dug, and the resulting dirt moved to the back garden:


After digging the columns, I laid out string lines and had Armando dig a foundation trench for a block wall that will support the east end of this big floor. Here is the trench all dug:


The plastic bottles on the rebars keep Jabo from poking out an eye. These rebars will connect the existing walkway slab to the new slab that will go to the front door.

One afternoon Armando was drooping under the hot sun. So I had him stop digging, sit and have some water, then I moved us into the much cooler house to pour a raised platform for the washer and dryer in the laundry room:


There was a big tree, of no significant note other than being big, just off the master bedroom porch. We actually planned the house around it, but It has been leaning closer and closer to the house and routinely dropping large, heavy, dead branches onto the roof. We could see that there was only bad to come as the next branches to fall were really quite large. So one day I got into my safety harness and removed most of the high branches. It was really exciting to be swinging a machete at the top of a 24-foot ladder that was perched on the roof of container #3. A great view, too. After removing the branches, I hooked up a couple of tow straps and a come along to pull the tree in the right direction. Here is the tree, down. Even Jabo seems sad about it. But the good news is that we can now plant a really pretty tree of our choosing farther away from the house:


Bonus Photos: 

Jabo has been enjoying the coolness of the sand pile and didn’t mind one bit when I buried him:


Reminded me of being a kid on the beach. Yes, this is me, about 60 years ago being buried alive:


And finally, El Valle is located in a volcanic crater. The rim is a mountainous ridge. One of the ridge formations is called La India Dormida (The Sleeping Indian Princess). Legend has it that she said that when she laid down to take a nap that she wouldn’t awaken until her prince returned from war. Apparently he is not back yet. Hint: her head is at the right side of the ridge with her body at the left:


Armando has an orange and mandarin orange grove up and over La India, then up and over the next mountain. It is a long, strenuous hike. When the crops are in, he makes three trips a day on foot, carrying large sacks of produce on his shoulders down to market.

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

Ceiling The Deal ~ Installing The Ceiling Between Containers 3 And 4

Armando and I have completed the first coat of repello (stucco) on the interior walls in the stick built space between containers #3 and #4, and in container #4.

As we prepared to apply the second coat of repello, I gave more thought to the ceiling in the stick built area and how the ceiling and the repello would join each other. From the get go we completely ruled out drywall on our project because of the humidity (read: mold) issue here in the mountains.

But Plycem (tilebacker) also comes in 4’x8′ sheets, and for a long time seemed like a viable alternative. It is impervious to water. But the more I thought about it, the more the drawbacks outnumbered the pluses. Plycem, like drywall, is heavy; twelve feet off the floor, it was going to be an installation nightmare for Armando and me. Then there is the cost at about $30 per sheet. Next, the joints would have to be dealt with. The edges aren’t tapered as they are in drywall, and I couldn’t see a classy way to deal with all those joints. Lastly, the cement gray sheets would have to be painted. It all added up to too much time, effort, and money.

Looking for an alternative, I got a scrap of the galvanized metal roofing that we have been using throughout the project. I cleaned it and applied a coat of Turtle Wax. I presented the gleaming sample to Cynthia. “What if…”

She liked it! I was as surprised as the boys in the vintage Life Cereal Mikey Likes It commercial. “Sure, why not. It goes with the industrial nature of the construction.”

And I like the idea too. The sheet metal is economical at $22 for a 42″x12′ sheet, waterproof, lightweight, doesn’t need painting, and goes up fast with just Armando and me. Hot dog!

But first, we needed to consider insulation. Here in the mountains we need neither heating nor air conditioning nor very much insulation. The big thing to consider is the noise on the metal roof when the sky opens full tilt with a day-long tropical downpour.

The two local options seem to be foil-faced bubble wrap that we could put on the underside of the roof joists (I used this in Cynthia’s studio) or sheets of polystyrene insulation. Luckily we had a chicken coop full of 2’x8′, six-inch thick sheets of polystyrene. I would have to cut it in half thickness-wise so it would fit in the spaces between the 2″x4″ roof joists, but a handsaw could easily handle this.

While Armando was second coating a small non-roof adjoining wall, I took the truck to the rental house and ventured into the torrid old chicken coop. Here is the coop after I removed most of the panels:

Nice, huh? I like how the whole thing is gradually being taken over by the jungle.

Under the last sheet was a big ant nest. Enlarge the photo and you can see all the ants working away on their own housing project:

It took me two trips:

I cut a bunch of panels in half and worked them into the ceiling, cutting the panels a bit proud and forcing them into place; no other fastening was needed. Here is the laundry room:

I knocked together the tee-bar support (in front of the window) to hold the sheet metal panels in place during installation.

And the second bedroom:

While this was going on, I found time to go down the mountain to buy the metal roofing panels. I had to look a few places to find nice shinny, un-dented panels. Cynthia volunteered to clean the panels and apply Turtle Wax to what would be the visible side of the ceiling. Here is one all polished; she wasn’t feeling all that photogenic in her rubber boots and the rest of her “outfit” to match. I told her she was stylin’, but no-go for a pho-to:

Polishing cloth??? Ah, so that’s what happened to my perfectly good pajama bottoms. Yeah, they had holes in them. I liked them that way…

The next photo is of the laundry room ceiling all done, ready for the second coat of wall repello to meet up smartly with the ceiling panels. The piece of conduit hanging down is for a light fixture. But where are the screws you ask? There are none. I decided to use pop rivets and they are all but invisible. We think the ceiling has nice clean lines, and notice the light pattern splaying across the panels:

Now the noise on the roof from heavy rain is reduced 80% or so. Nice.

With the tight joint between the repello and the sheet metal (and I can easily caulk it with a clear sealant if I have to), there will be no spider webs. Spiders build webs where there is air flow. Food comes to them.

We are still working on hanging the rest of the panels, but we have already accomplished the second coat of repello on several walls so an update will follow soon.

But wait, there’s more. I’ve been working on my sheet metal brake and will have good news to report soon!

Bonus photos: 

Paint rags, waiting:

Jabo, waiting:

And my favorite Edwardian era-esque photo, Fern In An Urn, Jabo In A Chair:

Jabo celebrated his fifth birthday this week! We just noticed that he is growing wider in the chest. What a runner!

That’s all for now, more soon.


The Convoluted Story Of The Snake Skin In The Bird Nest

This is a Dear Diary entry, no construction news. It is just a little story in case you have time to kill. Lynn M., you can go to the end of the story to see the photos.

“I didn’t want to wake you, but the dryer isn’t working; the clothes all smell burned,” so stated Cynthia as I emerged from the bedroom. I had gone to our local acupuncturist the day before, and on this day after, I could not keep my eyes open. So I laid myself down for a nap, a nap that lasted for six hours.

When I emerged, a frazzled and frustrated Cynthia greeted me with news that the dryer wasn’t working, and hadn’t been working all afternoon. The pile of dirty clothes was still mountainous. I thanked her for not waking me, even though I think she would have been justified.

So with about an hour of daylight left (our laundry is outside of the house under a roof), I took my groggy self outside to diagnose the problem. Sure enough, the bed sheets in the dryer smelled as if they had been in a oil refinery fire. We have a gas dryer, so I figured that there was a problem with incomplete combustion of the propane gas.

The dryer sits up against a wall, and I noticed that the Slinky-style, aluminum vent hose had fallen off the dryer’s exhaust port.  A thing to know about gas dryers is that the dryer not only exhales the moisture from the clothes, but also exhales the fumes from combustion of the gas. And right close to the exhaust port is a fresh air intake port. Without the vent hose to take the combustion fumes away, the fresh air port inhales the burned gas fumes, and these fumes get tumbled into the clothes. Additionally, the gas flame now gets less oxygen than it needs, so there are even more nasty gas fumes being produced and exhausted. It is a viscous cycle.

I figured that because of the lack of oxygen, that the gas burner where the flame is produced would be covered in soot. I shone a flashlight into the small inspection port and sure enough, it was fuzzy and as black as night in there.

I made a quick trip to the new house for the necessary pliers, nut drivers, and screw drivers to disassemble the machine to get access to the burner. Two screws allowed the top to flip up like the hood of a car. This gave access to two more screws and I removed the front panel. The tumbler drum dropped free, and after removing the drive belt I removed the drum.

Next I removed a bunch of screws at the burner, but noticed that I couldn’t get access to the gas supply line without removing the back panel from the machine, which I then did. I also unplugged a bunch of wire connections, noting things such as, “blue wire top, white wire bottom.” With all that done, I carefully removed the burner from the tube that surrounds the combustion area.

I knew from prior experience that the glow plug, the thingy that gets electrically hot and ignites the gas when you start the machine, is extremely delicate. One tiny knock and the glow plug can will disintegrate. That little lesson in Learn-It-Yourself appliance repair a year or so ago required a trip to Panama City for a new glow plug.

The glow plug, and the little spoon around it where the gas gets ignited, were caked with soot. Lamp black, actually, and I should have saved some of it for my watercolor painting. But being freaked out about the delicacy of the glow plug, I went about cleaning the assembly with a spray bottle of vodka and cotton swabs. I let everything drip onto a paper towel, then, just as one does with tar, I got the lamp black all over myself. It spreads like wildfire.

Being chemically sensitive, we use vodka for a lot of our cleaning needs. It is great when clothes smell a bit musty; spray them with vodka and toss them into the dryer for a few minutes. They emerge springtime fresh. But I digress.

By now nightfall, which happens very rapidly here in the tropics, was upon me. Cynthia brought a flashlight and held it as I gingerly replaced the now bright and shiny burner assembly into the combustion tube, then replaced all the screws, pieces, and parts to reassemble the machine. I vacuumed a bunch of lint from the inside of the machine, along with retrieving twenty-nine cents that had fallen into the machine’s darkened recesses. I washed everything with vodka to remove any soot that would end up on clean clothes. As I re-assembled, I made sure to double check the proper re-connection of the myriad of electrical connections to sensor plugs.

Now to the Slinky exhaust hose. The old hose was badly bent and mashed. I remembered that there is a newer one that was hooked to the exhaust fan in Cynthia’s studio out in the kiosko. Since she is packing her studio for the move to her new studio where we won’t need the Slinky hose, I cannibalized her hose for the dryer.

But the hose felt heavy at one end. I shook and prodded and poked and after some doing, removed a rather robust bird nest. Upon inspection of the nest, I saw a lot of bird feathers, plus re-purposed chicken feathers, some of our cat Harry’s orange fur (that Cynthia puts on the barbed wire fence for the birds to find), and  a piece of snake skin shed.

As you will see in the photo, it looks like it was (or maybe still is) a fairly big snake. A big snake right near, or possibly in, Cynthia’s studio. We don’t need another live snake story (see my Cats Earn Keep entry). Maybe one of you can tell us the make and model of the snake, but Cynthia and I don’t know. Probably not a Fer de Lance, but the skin could be from a boa or python.

Questions of the Universe linger. Had the snake made the hose it’s lair also? Had the snake been on the hunt for bird egg delicacies? Had the bird found the snake skin on the ground and used it to feather its nest?

We’ll never know.

All in all, soup to nuts, I accomplished the task of taking the dryer apart, cleaning it, re-assembling it, and signing off on proper operation in just under an hour. I encourage everyone to take apart major appliances. They are just an assembly of parts, nothing magical or mystical. Remember that you are working with things that can electrocute you or explode and be thoughtful and careful. Google is your friend and you can research everything you need to know. What’s the worst that can happen? Call in the Professionals? Purchase a new appliance? The things that you can learn in the process just may be magical or mystical.

Here are a couple photos of the nest:

Jabo’s nose included for size reference.

I think that the gossamer window pane pattern of the snake skin is absolutely beautiful:

In other news, Armando and I are making progress on Cynthia’s new studio, my bending brake, the block walls for the walkway in the carport, and a little stone wall around the garden. But that’s all for now.

Cynthia’s Glass Studio ~ Part 2

I know, it has been a while since I posted a new entry. We have had a lot of afternoon rain that has shortened the work day. Our routine is to work as long as we can, then take a siesta while the rain pours down. The rain can be very conducive to a good nap especially if you are warm and dry. Here’s Cyn all wrapped up in a reflective bubble wrap, ready for a long winter’s nap:

The last time I posted, I had completed most of the exterior walls of Cynthia’s Glass Bead Making Studio. Now, I move inside to put up the interior walls, ceiling, install electrical, and build a bench and shelf.

We put sheets of the reflective bubble wrap under the sheet metal on the ceiling and the west wall. Although thin, this insulation packs a radiant punch, reflecting the heat back into space. Here I have the door wall installed, the interior metal up, and the bench framed. I welded the corners of the carriolas for the bench:

In the next photo, I am making the form work for the concrete workbench. Cynthia requested concrete because she will be working with a torch and hot glass and doesn’t want to burn down the farm. I supported scraps of metal roofing in the lips of the carriolas and cut rebar to stiffen the concrete:

To hold the metal carriola to the concrete wall, I shot nails through the carriola with the Remington powder-actuated nailer. The nailer uses a .22 caliber blank cartridge to fire a nail through the metal and into the concrete. You can see the little orange dots in the carriolas. At the corrugated metal walls, I pop riveted the carriolas to the walls. 

Next, I poured concrete in the form work and built a shelf. For the shelf, I used 1-1/2″ angle iron, then cut pieces of Plycem (cement board) and dropped them into the angle iron framework. I’ll run a bead of caulk around the edges of the Plycem. Also, you can see that I still need some metal trim at the ceiling line. (Spoiler alert: I sure wish I had a metal bending brake to make this trim…) The bench is 100% level, but looks crooked in the photo because of camera optic delusion:

A few days after pouring the concrete, I polished it by working my way through 6 different grits of diamond pads mounted on the wet angle grinder, then sealed the concrete with a clear polymer. Now the bench is really smooth. The polymer retards the drying of the concrete, thereby making it stronger. Until the sealed concrete cures, it is acting like one of those ceramic crock pots that you keep wet to make a rudimentary refrigerator, so condensation forms on the top of the bench.

Left on the to-do list is the window, door, and ventilation system to remove the toxic gases from the torch and the silver fumes from the glass. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, Cynthia took some of the sunny moments and finished painting the front gate. We chose gloss black, which will be the same for the security bars on the house. We think the gate stands out nicely:

In other news, we have a lot of little flying black elbow-biters, no-see-ums that bite and leave a very itchy red dot. I found a video on YouTube on how to make a mosquito trap. Cynthia has made a bunch of these and they work just swell. They give off carbon dioxide, which attracts the bugs, and it smells like bread baking. It is all somewhat gruesome, but we have caused the demise of thousands of these little buggers, and now it is a lot nicer to hang out in chairs under the carport roof. Here’s a picture of one of the traps:

To make the trap, cut the top few inches off of a 2-liter soda or water bottle. Put a third of a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of yeast in the bottle. Pour about two cups of water over the sugar/yeast. Mix it a bit. Take the cutoff bottle top, invert it, and stuff it into the bottle. Done. The traps last about three weeks to a month. After that, wash them out and start again. Now we take perverse pleasure as the bugs enter the bottle and can’t get out. Sorry Universe, but this is what we have to do.

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

Carport Roof ~ Part 1

The heavy rains of a week ago turned out to be just a passing storm. We are back in a dry pattern and were able to get a lot done this week even though Armando only worked four days. In my most previous post, I said that we were going to erect part of the carport roof. Here’s what we have done so far:

We started by digging a footing for a column. The footing is one meter by one meter by one meter deep. We filled the hole with rebar, concrete, and large rocks. This mass will keep the roof rooted to the ground during heavy winds:

Then it was time to form the column. A friend had given us some plastic sewer pipe to use as a form for round columns, but this didn’t seem to have the look that I wanted.

We could make a square box column out of M2 panels (2″x4’x8′ Styrofoam sheets with a wire mesh on each side). We could leave a hole in the center of the box for the rebar to go up through, then pour concrete into the center of the form, embedding the rebar and making a good strong column. It would look like this:

To join the M2 panels at the corners, pieces of wire mesh bent at right angles are clipped to both panels. This makes a unit that is not likely to crack at the corners.

But wait. A plain round or square box column would certainly do the job, but these columns are just plain static. They don’t add much of a design element to the entire project because there is no sense of motion or tension or even something being comfortably at rest.

I’ve been playing with shapes and forms in my head for months, and one design kept pushing the others aside. This shape is the wedge, or flying buttress. This isn’t an original idea of course, and it can be seen throughout history and throughout Panama today. Most of the concrete block bus stops have the shape, as well as the gas station in the center of El Valle. So I laid two sheets of M2 on my shop floor and drew a diagonal line on them. I cut the metal mesh with the angle grinder and sliced through the Styrofoam with my pocket knife. When I snapped the panels on the cut line, I was left with four pieces; two for the front and two for the back side of the column. I think that this design gives a nice counterbalance and motion to the static mass of the shipping containers. My design looks like this:

You can see three pieces of rebar extending from the top of the form. We welded these pieces to the beam above the column. Now the roof is connected all the way through the column and into the concrete footing.

Armando and I clip the corner mesh pieces to the column. All totaled, the column took just three sheets of the M2 panel.

Cynthia thought I should include a picture of the clips that connect the corners together. Here they are. I think I look as if I am auditioning for a new character on The Simpsons.

Here Armando trowels on a first coat of repello (stucco):

If I move just a few more inches to the right, you can see the alignment of the flying buttress column with my shop. This is the effect, the optical illusion if you will, I was aiming for:

You can also see that it aligns perfectly when viewed from the front gate and the right side of the driveway curbing:

Did you notice in the photo above that Armando was performing his incredible “white bucket floating in mid air” trick? I would swear on a stack of Popular Mechanics magazines that this photo has not been manipulated and that there were no strings attached. Here is a closeup:

Floating a bucket in mid air. Look ma, no hands, no strings, no wires. Armando seems nonchalant as he reaches for more mortar to spread on the wall. You can see Sammy looking on in amazement. Such is the craft of the magician.

In the next photo, Armando applies the finish coat of repello to the column. You can also see that we have been busy welding beams and joists (2″x4″ carriolas) into place. We’ll put the roof metal on next week after we pour concrete into the center of the column form:

The long shadows give a clue as to the length of the day. Armando is tired.

That’s it for progress this week. Here are some odds and ends:

While welding up in the air, it is always a quandary where to keep extra welding rods. I solved the problem for myself by looking in the junk pile. An empty urethane tube (aluminum) and a piece of string made a perfect welding rod quiver to sling over my shoulder:

When we put the polymer sealer on the interior walls in my shop I got the idea to use the walls as a chalk board. It works perfectly; here I show Armando my plans for the column:

I checked my math twice. It's been many years since I did long division by hand!

The month of April holds one of the negatives of living in Panama. Just before the anticipated start of the rainy season, all the farmers and large landowners burn their fields and all the accumulated dry vegetable matter. Sometimes old tires will find their way into the piles, too. Here’s a view to the mountains. Note the smoke haze has nearly obscured the normally visible antenna towers:

Outtake (Cheap) Shot: Cynthia thought it would be an “art shot” to take this photo of me on the ladder. Reminded her of the book, Under the Bleachers by Seymour Butts:

That’s all for now. More next week.

In No Particular Order ~ The Past Few Weeks

Panorama: First, reader Missy has been asking for an overall panorama shot of the entire project. I downloaded Serif PanoramaPlus Starter Edition, plugged in a couple photos, and a few seconds later the program delivered a panorama. Here you go Missy:

Here’s what you are looking at in the above photo:

Left: two containers that will be the kitchen, home office, and TV. Cyn will be able to watch Law and Order while she makes dinner. There will be a roof deck above these two containers.

Between the two sets of containers: this will be a parallelogram-shaped area for the front entry, living room, dining room, and staircase to the roof deck. We hope that the walls will have a lot of glass.

The back set of containers: this area is for two bedrooms, two bathrooms, the laundry, a big dry (dehumidifier) closet, a half bath, and storage for outdoor tools.

My shop is the block building on the right of the photo.

Now on to the grist of this post:

Septic: The new septic tank is done and covered with dirt. When Armando cut a hole in the sheet metal under the concrete to make the inspection/pumping lid, he recoiled as fast as he could. Seems that an opossum had crawled into the intake pipe and had fallen into the tank. I was fine with leaving it down there, start the septic-izing if you will, but Armando had Sammy fashion a hook and fish it out for disposal off site. Sammy donned a respirator and there was a lot of laughing and retching going on. It is good to get the septic tank project off the to do list.

By the way, the big plastic septic tank that we dug out has now been re-purposed. We cut the bottom off at the first reinforcing ring. This part is now a swimming pool for Armando’s young son. Then we cut the remaining part of the tank to make a ring two-feet tall. This ring is now a chicken corral for baby chicks at Armando’s house. All that is left is the cone at the top of the tank and maybe we will dream up a use for this, too.

Moving Dirt: This sounds like something Yogi Berra would have said: “There is a lot of dirt in a hole.” All the dirt that the guys dug out for the septic tank had to be moved. The guys put the better top soil on the garden and the junk dirt became fill for areas in the driveway. This gave a better entrance to my shop. I had them put a layer of crushed stone on top of the fill to keep muddy feet out of my shop. Here’s a picture:

My Shop: From the above photo you can see that I built a sliding door for my shop. You can also see that I painted the concrete floor with garage floor epoxy to keep moisture down and to make it easy to clean.

In my makeshift shop at the house we are renting, I had three small benches. They were painted black at the factory and rust was beginning to break through the paint. So I disassembled them, buffed the parts with a wire brush on the angle grinder, and primed and painted them yellow. Here I am reassembling them with all 96 bolts:

Now they have a nice home in my new shop. I still have to make new shelves and tops; termites demolished the old ones. You can also see that the floor is painted and lights and electrical receptacles are completed. You can’t see it in this photo, but I am using the walls as a chalkboard. The surface is perfect for sketching out plans and doing math. Bit by bit, I’ll move my tools and big workbench into the new space:

Concrete: The sheet metal roof overhangs the shop by five feet on the west side. I decided to pour a slab under the overhang. I plan on installing a deep sink in the space, and thought it would be a good place for a clothesline. But the more I thought about it, the space seems ideal for Cynthia’s hot glass studio. I’ll put up some walls later. Here’s the new slab:

We mixed a bit more concrete and made a ramp next to the slab to access the back yard:

In the photo above you may have noticed the concrete drips running down the side of the container. That’s because we poured a concrete roof on container four. Why? Shipping container roofs are metal. It gets hot as an oven inside. Also, the torrential tropical downpours pounding on the metal makes it unbearably noisy inside.

We started the concrete roof project by welding 2″x3″ steel carriolas around the edge of the container. This will hold the concrete and can be painted a house or trim color. Next we went to work cleaning any rusty spots on the roof and then painted on two good coats of polyurethane red oil primer. Next, we put sheets of one-inch Styrofoam on top of the container roof. We held the foam away from the edges to thicken the concrete in these places. Next, we cut rebar for embedding in the slab. We tied the rebar together with baling wire. Here it is at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, ready for concrete.

At 6:30, Armando and Sammy arrived, along with two additional men to help with mixing all that concrete:

This pile of concrete has 18 wheelbarrows full of sand and gravel! What a lot of work, and they still have to carry it up to the roof bucket by bucket.

Here’s Armando walking a five-gallon bucket of concrete to the far end of the container. As we poured concrete, we pulled the walking boards back and lifted the rebar into place in the slab. Some time ago, I found in the road an eight-foot piece of aluminum 2″x4″ rectangular tubing. It made a perfect screed to level the concrete:

Here is the finished roof slab. You can see that there is a pitch to the outside of about an inch. Later I’ll fashion a rain gutter so the rain doesn’t spill down the side of the container:

Of course, after not raining a drop for several months, just as I was about half way through putting a broom finish on the concrete, the rain gods decided to play a funny joke on ole Fred. So now the concrete has a broom finish with rain dots. But it didn’t turn out that bad really, and this is just a utility slab and doesn’t have to be pretty.

A Bit More Concrete: It is as if someone threw a switch. For the past week the rains have been frequent and heavy. This is right on schedule, even a bit early, as our neighbor Tomas told me a couple weeks ago, “We should expect rain some time after Easter.” Today is Easter. We are all hoping that this is a false start and that there will be more sunny days to pour more concrete.

The rains have made it perfectly clear that for the next months it will be difficult to go the few feet from container four to my shop without getting soaked. We have decided to construct some of the carport roof.

When we built the shop roof, we extended a 4″x4″ carriola beam beyond my shop another twelve feet or so over the driveway. This is the area that will get roofed.

First, we need a column to support the outside corner of the roof. In the next photo, Armando is digging a mega-footing, just like we did for the container support columns. It isn’t that this footing will carry much weight. Much to the contrary, the massive winds that  we experience here will put the roof under tremendous uplift forces. So the footing is mass that will keep the roof from blowing off:

This footing is a meter square and a meter deep. We'll fill it with concrete and large rocks. In the foreground is a rebar mat and rebar for the column.

Here’s the rebar in place and the hole filled with concrete and large rocks:

I have a design in mind for the column, stay tuned.

More Doorways And Stair Landings: While Armando and Sammy were moving dirt, I got to work and cut two more doorways from container 3. These doorways will connect the parallelogram area (living room, etc.) to the bedrooms. After I cut the metal shipping container siding, I made and installed door frames.

One important detail is that because of the slope of the land, the front containers were intentionally set 15-inches lower than the back set of containers. Eventually there will be three steps up from the living room to the bedrooms. To accomplish this, I needed to build stair landings. So, taking the angles of the parallelogram walls into account, I welded carriolas to make landings. Soon, when the carport roof area is finished, we can pouir concrete floors in container 3, and these floors will encompass the landings, too. Here are photos of the landings and doorways:

This hallway goes past the half bathroom to the master bedroom.

This doorway leads to the second bedroom.

Bonus Photos:

Walking to the house today I passed two big vultures having snake for breakfast:

After the dry season, the grass is becoming green again.

Walking home from the house yesterday, I picked a handful of tiny wildflower weeds for Cynthia. How romantic can a guy get?

Well, I think that that is just about enough for today. Thanks for stopping by.