Five Reasons To Have A Reserve Water Tank ~ Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason 5. Building stuff is FUN!

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

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

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

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Day two showed this much progress:

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

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

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Where’s Fred?

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

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

We put the armature in the form work:

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

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That’s a lot of rebar!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hung Out To Dry ~ Kitchen Cabinet Doors

I’ve been working on the kitchen cabinet doors.

I planed the wood for the cabinet doors to its final thickness, cut the pieces to their final widths, then plowed a groove to accept the glass panels. Here is a photo with the boards cut to width and the groove cut:

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I used to have a router table, but the humidity here made Purina Mold Chow out of it. I looked all over Panama for a new router table but couldn’t find one. So using a small shop bench and a quarter-sheet of plywood, I made my own.

With the router set up with a single cutter, I easily made the groove for the glass panels (photo above). Next, I calculated the size of the stiles (the side pieces of the doors) and the rails (the top and bottom pieces of the doors) and cut them to length with the miter saw. Here I am sizing the doors and cutting the pieces:

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I put double cutters on the router and cut the ends of the rails. Here is my makeshift router table. The router hangs upside down under the plywood:

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Here is a close-up of the double cutter assembly that cut the ends of the rails:

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Here is a photo of a stile (on the right) and a rail (on the left):

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When all was said and done, I had a pile of pieces and parts, ready to assemble:

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I marked the bottom of each stile with the number of the door and the direction that the wood faces. Now to assemble the puzzle!

Whoa! Not so fast! Before I assemble the doors, I need to drill holes on the back of the hinge-side of the door stiles to receive the hinges. Here is my setup for drilling the holes with my grandfather’s antique drill press:

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Now with everything measured and ready to assemble, I calculated the size of the glass panels and ordered the glass. I had to wait the better part of a week for the glass to be cut. There is one glass company that we like to use, and they didn’t have any of the frosted glass that we wanted for the doors. It would be weeks (months?) before they would have any. But they did have frosted safety glass, basically two sheets of clear glass with a frosted safety film sandwiched between the panes. Although it cost a lot more, we went with it.

While I waited, I applied a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish to the edges of the stiles and rails where the glass panel will slide into the grooves. This will keep me from slopping varnish all over the glass when it comes time to finish the doors.

Next I pulled all the hinge stiles out of the pile and screwed the hinges onto the stiles. Then I screwed the hinge onto the cabinet. These hinges easily come apart into two pieces, making hanging the door really easy. These are Blum brand and have several adjustment screws for aligning the door in the frame. Here are the hinges shown with the parts connected and separated:

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I also took some time and installed the drawer slides onto the wooden carriages that I previously built:

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These are Blum brand self-closing drawer slides, the best. They aren’t cheap, plus I had to import them from the $tates. Here is a close-up:

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I like these drawer slides. They have several adjustments for tilting and moving the slides to easily-align the drawer front with the front of the cabinet.

I finally got the call from the glass fabricator, and drove down the mountain to collect my order. Back home, I wasted no time in assembling the doors.

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At this point, they don’t look very pretty what with the edge varnish slopped a bit here and there. You can see that the hinges are ready to remount on the doors.

I let the glue dry for a day then sanded the doors smooth and ready for varnish. Now they look like this:

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For the first coat, I painted on a coat of sanding sealer. Basically thinned down varnish, sanding sealer soaks into the wood, raises any grain that is going to raise, then dries hard and is very easy to sand. It leaves a satin-smooth surface for the polyurethane. Here I am applying the sealer. Notice that I don’t have to cut close to the glass because that part of the wood is already sealed:

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Here are the doors all hung out to dry overnight:

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After sanding the sealer, I applied a coat of polyurethane, let it dry overnight, sanded the doors again, then applied a second coat of finish and let them sit another day. I finally got to hang the doors and install the handles that we bought about a hundred-years ago. I like to mount the handles so that the top of the handles line up with the horizontal line of the rails:

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The door on the left is in direct window light and photographed much yellower than it actually is.

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We think that they look great. But now we can’t just reach down and pull something out of a cabinet; extra step — remember to open and close the doors!

The drawers are next and I have already started working on them. But this will wait for my next post.

In other news, just as a downpour arrived, Armando dug some of the yucca that we have growing on the other side of the road. He couldn’t wait to show it to me as it is Guinness Book-qualified BIG!

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Water from a long gutter at the front of the carport/bohio dumps a lot of water! The water goes under the fence and into the drainage ditch:

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The garden is growing on steroids this rainy season; there is a lot of sun but the downpours are substantial and deeply-soak the soil. Here are some going-crazy maracas:

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And some going-crazy ferns and what-ever-they-are big purple plants:

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What a dignified jungle we have! It is nice to have a mature garden at the same time that the house is nearing completion.

And last but best, Cynthia just completed a glass platter. This one was an amalgamation of two projects that she didn’t like. So we got out the tile saw and cut both projects into small pieces. She then arranged them into a new piece that is really fun to look at. Cyn named the piece, “Amalgamation.” In the photo below, the platter is casting a long shadow in the morning sun:

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We made a little video about it:

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

A Week Working With The Walkway

Back in October or so of last year, we came to an intermission point in installing the floor and wall tiles. Two larger projects lingered — completing the outside walkway from the front steps around to my shop, and the carport floor.

Money was one of the issues, and in the time since then we saved our pennies to buy the remaining walkway tiles. We ordered them and they just arrived. I called Hanibal and Francisco (now I have corrected Hanibal’s name to Anibal) to see if they were available and lucky for us, they were.

At day four, we have the walkway, the wheelbarrow/wheelchair ramp, and all but one of the steps down to the carport completed. Here are some photos:

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Francisco prepares to mix some mortar.

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Anibal places a spacer and sets the tile with a rubber mallet.

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This is the walkway in front of my shop.

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A nice miter turns the corner.

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This walkway connects my shop to the front door of the house.

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The bottom concrete step will be covered with the carport concrete floor, so there is just one step left to tile. Note to self — paint my shop door.

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The tile stacked on the walkway is for the carport floor. The carport will double as a bohio, or outdoor party area. The bamboo in the planters that Armando and I made is doing very well.

In other news, remember Ramiro, the man that did a lot of welding and painting for us some months ago? We had some painting to do, and Ramiro had three days between jobs, so we invited him back to tackle the front gate. Two years is about all the time you can get out of a coat of paint fully-exposed here to the tropical sun. Ramiro sanded, primed, and painted the gate anew. Not a speck of paint on him, a very meticulous worker:

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The gate is dark green, the same color as the house trim.

I don’t have a photo, but Armando has been busy in the yard, preparing for the rainy season by cleaning and digging out all the drainage ditches. He seems to enjoy grading the bottom of the ditch so that the water runs freely and doesn’t puddle (no breeding ground for mosquitoes).

Cynthia has been busy, too. Here is her latest bowl out of the kiln. She named it Antiguedad. She made the bowl with a variety of five mica powers and a small-gauge copper screen. She intentionally left the edges of the bowl “organic”. I think that it is stunning!

P1020653-002You can see the copper screen through the clear glass on the underside:

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Nice job Cynthia!

That’s all for this 201st blog post. Thanks for stopping by.

And Then, Just Like That, We Had Back Steps

For E.V.E.R. now, we’ve had a back door but no steps up to it (or down from it, depending on where you stand). And in the carport, we still had a small pile of mixed sand and gravel from the river. In order to pour a floor in the carport, this pile of material had to go.

So instead of moving the pile, we decided to use it up by making steps to the back door. Armando, with me helping on the technical layout and the concrete pours, spent about five days on the project. And now, just like that, we have back steps — one more item to cross off of the To Do list. Here are some photos:

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The concrete slab with all the embedded rocks is where the cascade of rainwater falls from the roof.

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Armando told me to make sure that I got the concrete placed right-side up.

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While Armando focused on the steps, I worked the list inside the house.

We had yet to finish the wall under the bench in the master bathroom shower, so one day I couldn’t put it off any longer. This was a nasty little area because the container wall was quite dented. I wanted to attach tile-backer to the wall, but the dents wouldn’t allow it. So with Armando outside with some screws, and me inside with a couple lengths of 2″x2″ square tubing, we attached the tubing to the wall. Now with straight lines, I glued and screwed tile-backer to the tubing.

Here I am just about to attach the tile-backer:

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The special screws for tile-backer are an engineering marvel. The “point” drills through the tile-backer, then into the metal stud behind the tile-backer. The two “wings” enlarge the hole in the tile-backer that the “point” made. As the wings contact the metal stud wall, they are sheared off and the screw part advances into the metal stud. Finally, when the screw head hits the tile-backer, “teeth” on the underside of the head grind away the tile-backer so that the head sits flush. Ingenious and not cheap per each:

P1020574-001After the tile-backer was in place, I tiled the wall and grouted it.

Next on my list was some trim work on the wall between the master bedroom and the master bath. This entire area looked was unfinished. I cut, fit, and painted some wooden boards, and now the area is transformed. Here is the bedroom side:

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I like the hand-finished texture on the wall. I still need to install towel bars, and of course, the electrical.

Beyond the bed in the bedroom is a cozy sitting area. I trimmed the top of this wall, too, and hung a fun lamp. We still need a round mirror for the wall:

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In the master bath, I got to check a tiny item off of the list — I drilled a hole through the concrete shelf, passed the lamp cord through the hole, and attached a new plug. The toilet area is a pleasant place to sit a spell:

P1020614-001Here is a photo of the space from above:

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The bedrooms were still a bit macho, so we found some nice curtains (on sale!) at Novey. Here is the master bedroom with the curtains hanging:

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The vertical white stripe in the corner with all the wires will get a metal cover. The lovely antique secretary with the curved glass doors belonged to Cyn’s grandmother.

The second bedroom:

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In the kitchen, morning light was just too bright coming through the glass block windows. Curtains here make the space much more pleasant:

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I did a few smaller projects as well, including repainting the bottom few inches of the container wall in the kitchen. The white paint was dirtied when we grouted the floor. If you are going to build a shipping container house, realize the extra work involved here:

P1020636-001In the Bug-Of-The-Week Department, Cyn spotted this tropical, leaf-like camouflage take on the Praying Mantis:

P1020627-001That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

A Few Finishing Touches

This last month we have attended to a slew of finishing- or almost-finishing touches.

I’ve done a lot of plumbing, including connecting two toilets, two showers, three sinks, and a bunch of faucets. Working under the house is pleasantly cool, if not a bit cramped. Here is some of the new plumbing:

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Inside the house, I have nearly completed the bathroom off the second bedroom by installing the toilet, shower trim, sink basin, faucet, mirror, and lights:P1020369The curved shower rod in the photo above created a challenge. The rod came in two pieces but the kit offered no way to connect the curved section to the straight section. Wandering around in my shop, I found a two-foot-long piece of 3/4″ PVC electrical conduit. The diameter of the conduit was too large to fit into the shower rod. But using the table saw, I made a couple slices down the length of the conduit. I could then compress the conduit and push it snugly into the aluminum shower rod, connecting both pieces of rod with this plastic spline. The fix is snug and won’t rust. Here it is, ready to slide the second piece of rod over the spline:

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Cynthia and I spent a day pulling wires and connecting switches and receptacles in the second bedroom and bathroom. It’s nice to be done with an extension cord stretched from my shop:

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Note to self — Punch list item: Install tile baseboards.

In the master bathroom, I installed the toilet, sinks, faucets, and mirrors. I still have some wiring to do and need to connect some piping to the shower.

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In the States, you can get glass block end caps. But I have never seen them here in Panama. Time to get creative again. Armando and I were going to pour plain concrete caps, but at the last moment I thought of using a row of rocks to echo the nearby rock wall. Armando did a good job as it was difficult to keep the stack of rocks from falling over before the mortar set:

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The container wall in the background still needs to be painted.

Here is the toilet area, all done except to unwrap the lamp shade and wire in the electrical receptacle. The lamp lends a nice touch to the loo:

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When we bought the lamp, the fish was swimming to the right. I disassembled the lamp and headed the fish in the right direction.

I installed a gas, on-demand water heater for the two bathrooms and the laundry. It took me some time as I had to cut and thread gas pipe plus solder the copper tubing.

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Cynthia has been busy making some pretty flower arrangements for the house:

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I keep trying to water this one but luckily Cynthia stops me in time:

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One afternoon Cynthia and I heard and saw a lovely bird on our west fence. I quietly made my way to the roof deck and took this photo:

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Reader Patricia (in the comments below) identifies this bird as a Blue Crowned MotMot. Thanks Patricia.

 

Vacation time — Cynthia’s cousin G. and his wife S. came to visit for a bit more than a week. We spent a day here in El Valle, doing some of the tourist things including a visit to our friend Jon’s Butterfly Haven. He was proudly showing off this beautiful new Starry Night butterfly:

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And we stopped to visit friends who rescue orphaned sloths. S. was initially apprehensive, but that quickly subsided when she felt how soft and seemingly affectionate the young sloth is:

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Eating a favorite red hibiscus flower (locally known as papos).

Cynthia and I had been wanting to return to Medellin, Colombia, so we enticed G. and S. along with us. Getting to Tocumen Airport in Panama City was quite an ordeal — usually a two-hour trip, that day, the first day of school after the “summer” break, took us more than four-hours. The flight is only an hour-and-twenty-five minutes! We were the last to board the plane and the door was closed rapidly behind us.

One highlight of our trip — In the center of Medellin is a thirteen-plus acre botanical garden aptly named, Jardin Botanico. We spent most of a day there. I hammed it up with a fruit vendor while S. enjoyed some fresh mango with lime and salt. The vendor was anxious to try out his very limited English:

DSCN0496 Here is a lovely bromeliad:

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We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at In Situ, a restaurant situated in the botanical garden. Waterfalls and gardens around the restaurant create a tranquil setting. The food and service was outstanding:

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Cynthia and I each had Flor de Naranja, a baked chicken dish that was dressed with an orange sauce, almonds, brie cheese, cocoa powder, pennyroyal, and served on a mound of pureed Peruvian potatoes seasoned with coriander. Geez it was tasty. Others at the table had fruit drinks or wine, but I chose the sangria, a pitcher-full that I couldn’t begin to finish. Drinks, an ample main dish, and a decadent dessert, about $30 per person tip included. The garden and In Situ will be our new destination spot in Medellin! By the way, the restaurant is a non-profit and proceeds go to maintaining the park. Entrance to the park is free to all who want an in-city nature retreat:

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Here we are enjoying ourselves at In Situ:

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Cynthia took this graffiti photo on the side of a hotel:

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Lastly, and of special note, I took the next photo on a shop window in Medellin. I am happy to join the cause against sexual trafficking of underage, vulnerable young women. Human trafficking is a global problem. No man, English-speaking or not, should participate in this reprehensible practice for his own gratification. For the young women, it is a completely destroyed life. Here is a graphic (in English no less) that is posted on many shop windows in Medellin:

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

I Can’t Think Of A Title For This Post

Since my last post, I stripped the forms off of the latest batch of counter tops. The following photo shows the counter in the master bathroom. Also in the photo, we were going to have a mirror cut for the wall, but we decided instead to tile the wall and hang two mirrors. (I’ve done the same in the second bedroom but no photos.) In the photo, I just finished tiling the wall. Armando will grout it on Monday, then I can install the faucets and sinks:

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This area will look much better when it is all dressed up with sinks, faucets, mirrors and lights. I still need to tile the wall under the counter. We’ve decided to use the shower floor tiles for this area below the sinks.

The concrete shelf in the toilet area turned out nicely; it has a nice shine due to the polymer sealer. One of our goals in designing the house was to create light-but-cozy spaces. Even the toilet area qualifies:

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When Armando grouts the tile wall, I’ll have him grout the honeycomb edge of the shelf.

The stone wall in the shower area looked drab, so Armando sanded the wall to remove grout from the stones and to smooth the mortar lines. Then he washed the wall and applied two coats of polymer sealer. Now it looks like what we had envisioned:

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In the laundry, I stripped the forms from the small counter top and sanded and sealed it. I put it in place and installed the faucet, sink trap, and drain line. This sink now works!

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A little grout will touch up the edge of the counter.

Out in the yard, Armando spent two-weeks making the last segment of the driveway edging:

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After we pour the concrete floor in the carport, we’ll order a few more truckloads of gravel for the driveway.

The big thing for us this week was the delivery of the glass table tops and the mirrors for the bathroom behind the sink.

We placed our order on the 10th of December and were told that we could expect it to arrive in two weeks. But being Panama, it just didn’t happen. All of December passed, as well as January. I kept checking with the company and kept getting promises for the next day. Or next week. There were lots of excuses. The company that put the edging on the glass broke the dining room table top and another one had to be made. The truck was broken. The driver didn’t show up. The men were all working out of town. We’re waiting for glass. One of the two edge grinding machines in Panama was broken and work was backed up. I half expected to be told that they had run out of sand to make the glass!

Exasperated, I finally visited the glass company and talked with Kathy, the woman at the desk. By this point we knew each other well. I explained that many promises had been broken and that we had been very patient. But now, our patience was worn thin.

In Panama there is an agency, probably like the Better Business Bureau, with the acronym of ACODECO. If you have a complaint with a business (or even a government agency I think), you can file your complaint and they will follow up. Apparently ACODECO has sharp fangs and razor claws (and the ability to impose big fines), because businesses quake at the mere mention of the name.

So playing good customer/bad customer, I politely told Kathy that I heard Cynthia snoring in her sleep. I told Kathy that with each exhale, I heard Cynthia exclaim, “ACODECO!, ACODECO!, ACODECO!”

Kathy’s eyes widened and she said, “Oh, por favor no Sr. Fred.”

“Oh, I have no control over what Cynthia will do when she is at the end of her patience,” I said.

The glass arrived the next day.

(The long delay in getting the glass is what prompted us to tile the bathroom walls above the counters and hang mirrors instead of ordering custom-fabricated mirrors.)

The first piece that the three men put in place was the much-anticipated, half-inch, 250-pound dining room table top. With a wide bevel on the edge, it looks great!

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After the delivery crew left, I hung the mirrors in the bathroom under the stairs. The photo is difficult to figure out; there are two mirrors that hang on the 45-degree walls behind the sink. Kind of like being in a Fun House:

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The glass tops arrived for the smaller tables, too, including the one in the dining room:

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And the second bedroom (under the mirror):

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Instead of wooden end tables (mold, termites), we are using clay vessels with glass tops. Here is the living room with the round glass tops on the vessels:

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We’ll plant a plant in the brown pot in the far back corner and maybe put an up-light in the pot. And yes, that is a pig (piggy bank) with wings and wheels.

The screened bump-out in the master bedroom is a sweet place to sit and have a glass of iced tea:

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Cynthia has been busy learning about slumping glass. Her latest creation is made using a bubble pot melt form. After all the colors had melted/dripped through the form and fused together in the kiln, I cut the edges square with my tile saw. Next, she will place it on a different form in the kiln, slumping the glass into the shape of a tray. Here is the piece held up to the light:

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What’s not readily visible in this photo is the sparkle of the little blue spots (from blue aventurine frit). It’s really pretty up close. This color combination is reminiscent of a tie dye.

Lastly, I’ve been all work and no play for a long time now and it is getting old. I’ve been aching to learn to play my new classical guitar, so even though I’m dog tired at the end of the day, lately I’ve managed to carve out a few minutes at the end of the evening to sit and strum a bit.

Here’s the guitar that Cynthia bought me for my birthday (was it last year or the year before?); it is hand made in Spain (all wood, no plywood, with a hand-selected cedar soundboard), fabricated in the traditional way. With a deep, rich resonance, it is a wonderful guitar for the music that I want to learn to play — Nuevo Flamenco and jazzy Latin styles such as the Bossa Nova. Thanks Cyn (and thanks again to our friend Cynthia McC for hand carrying it to me from the States):

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

Lovely In The Night

Armando and I start this post by pouring the concrete for the counter tops in the master and second bathrooms. It took us about three hours to mix and place the concrete in the forms that I showed in my last post. Here are some photos:

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We’ll put a lamp on this little concrete shelf that is (soon to be) next to the toilet.

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We took extra pains to work the somewhat stiff concrete around the rebar and into all the corners.

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This is the counter for the two vessel sinks in the master bathroom. Just to the right of my arm you can see two pieces of pipe sticking up out of the concrete. These pipes create holes for the faucet and the sink drain

We even made a small counter to go behind the deep sink in the laundry. Cynthia is looking forward to having this little project done so she can use the sink:

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After we leveled the concrete, I returned to the concrete several times during the day to steel trowel the surfaces smooth. As of this writing, the forms are still in place until the concrete cures more fully.

My next project was to make-pretty the hallway between the second bedroom and the steps that lead down to the dining room. A long time ago I hung sheets of plycem (tile backer) on the metal studs. To start, I patched the screw heads with Bondo and sanded the spots smooth. Then using urethane caulk, I sealed the edges of the plycem where it met the container walls and ceiling. Next I washed and prime-painted the shipping container metal ceiling, and then gave everything two coats of the warm gray paint that we are using elsewhere in the house. Quite a transformation from its formerly uninviting space. Before:

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After, much better:

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On my monitor I see a yellowish glow around the door frame — it must be a lens flare or something because the frame is totally gray in real life…

Next, I tackled the stair landing area. To get rid of the useless triangular dust collecting area in the far corner, I hung a piece of plycem and caulked it into place between the two metal walls. Then I cut and installed some steel angle to make a suspended-ceiling-like support for the ceiling and screwed it into place. (At this point I was still unsure what to use for the ceiling panel…) So far it looks like this:

P1020265-001Next, I had to make the ceiling panel. I was loathe to buy another $35 sheet of plycem, so I spent some time kicking around the jobsite, checking out our dwindling piles of building materials. I had a piece of plywood that would have worked, but because of my none-or-as-little-as-possible wood policy because of termites, I nixed that idea. I thought about using the zinc roofing panels, but I would have to buy some.

Finally, I stumbled upon a piece of rusty one-eighth-inch diamond plate steel left over from building the staircase to the loft and roof deck. Oh, why not (as I had no other use for it)? I cut it to size with the angle grinder with a thin cutoff disk and buffed it out with a steel brush on the angle grinder.

I was going to paint the piece, but Cynthia walked by and suggested that I simply apply boiled linseed oil to it (as I did to the staircase). The steel was outside in the hot sun, so I oiled it and wiped it dry in no time at all.

The remaining task was to lift the heavy piece of steel and drop it into place on its support angles:

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One step and maxed-out muscles at a time…

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Ooph, this is heavy!

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And DONE!

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Unless Earth suffers a catastrophic failure of the Laws of Gravity, this hunk of steel is in place to stay. We think the diamond plate provides an unexpected design punch.

I still need to paint the surrounding walls the same gray as the hallway, but now several arduous hallway tasks are done.

While I had the gray paint ready to go, I decided to paint the indoor-side of the metal framework around the big front windows. The job started out looking like this:

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The top two panes of glass are high off the floor. My tallest stepladder is eleven-feet high, but not high enough. So I lashed another ladder to the stepladder to create more height. I didn’t climb on the extra height, but (note to my friend Robin in Colorado) it gave me a sturdy hand-hold while I painted. Falls from ladders are no joke and I didn’t want to join Robin in that unenviable club. I like my Little Giant ladders — note how the base of the ladder flares out for more stability.

I’d primed the metal a long time ago, but I gave it another coat of oil-based primer for good luck. Then I applied two coats of the latex gray. When I was all done painting, I cleaned the windows inside and out. Twice. I finished the job at dusk and decided to finish the day with a few photos:

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Inside, looking from the living room.

We think that the house is lovely at night:

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The next photo may take you a moment to figure out:

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Call the magazine editors:

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Lastly, tired from trying to keep track of me, Jabo chills out on the cool tile floor and relaxes to the sound of the bubbling fountain:

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

It’s A Good Thing That I Take Pictures

It’s a good thing that I take pictures. Otherwise I would have no idea what I did in the past two weeks!

Let’s start with the glass block window in the master bathroom. Except for a piece of metal trim at the top, the window is done. It adds a lot to the north elevation and pumps a lot of light into the bathroom:

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From the inside, once it is painted and the rest of the finishing details are completed, the bathroom will be an inviting space:

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Looking through all three glass block walls shows a striking pattern of contorted grout lines:

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Hanibal and Francisco finished the glass block window about 10:30 in the morning. As this was the very last project for them here (except to do the carport floor in a few months), we celebrated the completion of several month’s work with a glass of sparkling apple juice. I paid them and sent them on their way with most of the day off:

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Official photos seem to be a solemn affair…

Now on my own, I was free to tackle a slew of smaller projects. One thing that had been bugging us was the open space above the glass block wall in the kitchen. The kitchen lights at night were a magnet for mosquitoes and other insects.

To make a bug-proof vent, I cut a piece of expanded metal and painted it black. I folded it in half with my bending brake, then slipped a piece of window screen between the two layers of expanded metal. I screwed the assembly to the outside of the container; it can be removed to replace or clean the window screen:

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Here is a close up:

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Keeping on with the bug-proofing projects — I bent some L-shaped pieces of scrap aluminum and screwed them to the wall above the big security doors at the living room west wall. This closed a big gap and also redirects water away from the glass doors. I had installed window screens some time ago:

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Next, it was almost impossible to work in my shop, so I dedicated two days to a good mucking out. Much better now. Here is what I had to deal with. Shameful:

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Next, Cynthia and I tackled the electrical work in the living room/dining room. We pulled a couple hundred feet of wire, Cynthia feeding wire to me from above while I did the worm walk in the crawl space, threading the wires under the house. Now we can plug lamps and the fountain into the wall, just like regular people, and the extension cords are all gone!

I installed a receptacle in the roof support column in the living room. We will plug a table lamp in here; it can be switched on or off from each of the two bedroom step landings as well as at the kitchen door. In 1977 I learned to create a “path of light” from an electrician who called himself Sparky, and it has served me well for many years. He said that you shouldn’t have to walk anywhere in the dark. Cynthia and I pulled wires to create this mess:

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With the help of a wiring diagram book, I was able to connect the receptacle and the four-way switch arrangement:

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Instead of using the supplied screws, I simply pop riveted the receptacle into place.

Another place that was a lot of fun to wire was at the three switches at the front door; two switches for the chandelier and one switch for the outside flood lights that I installed high over the front door:

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Above the three switches is a stack of rare earth magnets. I had to use them to retrieve a drill bit that I dropped into the column.

What made this challenging is that I messed up on my spacing when I cut the top hole for the switches in the 4″x4″ steel column; using the saber saw with a metal cutting blade, I cut on the wrong marks, making the opening too tall. But with some flat stock metal, pop rivets, and a few choice words for myself, I fixed the hole. I patched my boo boo with some Bondo. Here is my ugly fix before the Bondo:

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So now the dining room chandelier is working; here is a nighttime photo with the bottom light on:

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We hadn’t originally planned to tile the big triangular wall at the staircase in the living room, so the already roughed-in electrical boxes ended up too deep in the wall. First, I cleaned the tile mortar from the screw holes with a threading tool:

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With the threaded holes set back so far in the wall, it was good to have a small kit of different length screws on hand:

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How many tools does it take to install an electrical receptacle in a tile wall?

While I was in wiring mode, Cynthia asked if I would install a light in the kitchen exhaust hood over the stove. We bought a sealed LED light strip — it can easily be removed for cleaning. Here is a shot looking up into the hood. I still need to install a grease filter on the big round exhaust hole:

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The light switches for the kitchen ceiling lights, as well as for the exhaust fan and the light in the exhaust hood will all be by the kitchen door. I chose to not put the switches for the hood on the hood itself to keep the switches from getting greasy. So far I have some temporary wiring for some of the switches. I think it is quite entertaining:

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But, is it to Code?

At this point I ran out of wire, so I moved on to other projects. We have family coming to visit in about two months, so the guest bedroom and bath became the current priority. I painted the two container-end doors with an oil-based primer and two coats of latex; they had been a gnarly, rusty mess:

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I assembled the bed, Cynthia bought bedding for the room, and we hung the mirror. There is still some minor painting to do in the room:

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Speaking of the mirror, the one that we bought came with a Masonite backing. In this humid climate, within a month the Masonite was a moldy mess. I removed it and tossed it into the trash:

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In the guest bathroom, I made a form to pour a black concrete counter top (like the kitchen counters). It is still lacking rebar:

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The blocks of plywood will make a space on the underside of the concrete counter so I can install the nuts that affix the sink and faucet. This bathroom is still lacking paint, mirror, and lights, but the tile is all done.

While I had the tools out to make the form for the counter, I moved to the master bathroom to do the same:

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How many tools does it take to make a counter top concrete form?

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After I made the form, I placed the sinks and determined spacing. BobBob helped:

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And still while I was at it, we needed a shelf near the toilet to put a lamp on, so I made yet another form for that shelf:

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As soon as I can get some black concrete colorant, Armando and I can pour these counter tops. Right now, the only hardware store in town that has colorant has it at three-times the price at other stores. I refuse to patronize the scoundrel.

In the kitchen, we have been enjoying having breakfast in the little bump out area with the glass block wall. But the white walls (the container doors that form the walls) were a bit too bright and glaring in the morning sun. So I painted the area two coats of the same gray paint that we used by the concrete bench in the living room. It made the space much more cozy. It was difficult to get a good photo with all the morning light coming through the glass blocks:

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One big bonus of painting the walls gray is the shimmering pattern from the glass blocks:

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Cynthia has been working on some projects of her own. The next photo is of a ten-inch diameter glass bowl that she made. As her first bowl, she made it relatively unadorned to make sure that her slumping and fusing times in the kiln were correct before she spent the big bucks on colored glass. With this success, she can now make more with colors and textures:

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The bubbles in this bowl were intentionally made for decorative purposes.

Cyn is also making some light sconces for either side of the mirror in the dining room. After several failed attempts (the glass kept cracking when it came out of the kiln), she determined that window glass is not window glass is not window glass. She had mixed regular, clear window glass with some of the frosted glass from the slatted-louver windows that we had left over. Apparently, the COE (coefficient of expansion) is different for the two window glasses, creating cracks when the glass cools. Who’d a thought.

So now she can go on to use just one of the glass types and I am sure that she will be successful. Here is one of the failed attempts. This was pieced with broken pieces of frosted slatted-vent window glass over regular window glass with dichroic leaf embedded in the spaces. The cracks appeared at non-conjoined areas:

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With the dry season upon us, our hundreds of plants now need to be watered. With a hose, the job takes at least three-hours. Maybe four. We hired a local girl for the job. We explained the time needed to water to sufficient depth for the roots, but at only fourteen-years-old, she was constantly texting her friends. On the first day at the two hour mark, she declared the plants sufficiently watered. On the second day Cynthia and I reiterated the need for more time on the job, but again at the two-hour mark and after a lot of texting, she was again done. I told her that I thought that she should be spending more time with her friends and that she didn’t need to come back to our grueling job. She seemed relieved. Here she is, cute as a button but not ready for the world of work:

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I have since purchased a good sprinkler and can do the job myself, moving the sprinkler around the yard now and then.

Speaking of plants, one of the orchids in the carport is at it again:

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And the tree that we call the Ballerina Tree is in full bloom again:

P1020156And last but not least, Cynthia is rich! She closed a checking account that was gouging her for outrageous monthly fees. Here is her final check for closing the account. Try not to be envious:

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After taking the photo, the check promptly went in the trash. It would have cost more to cash it.

For a blog entry about small jobs, I think that this is the longest post I have ever written! That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

A Seasonally-Appropriate Story

(I posted the following on our local El Valle Yahoo Group, but I thought that it would make a good blog post, too.)

This year, Cynthia and I discovered an excellent gift to give to employees. You might want to keep it in mind for next year or for Easter. Of all the gifts we have given over the years, including cash, this one drew the greatest amount of thanks and appreciation. 

It happened like this: We currently have three men laying the tile in our new home. Four days before Christmas I overheard them talking as they worked on the front steps. I’ll loosely translate their conversation to English:

Armando: “Wow, did you see the price of hams at Supermercado El Rey this year?”

Hanibal: “Yes, almost $40. Too expensive for me.”

Francisco: “Me too, looks like arroz y guandu y pollo (rice, pigeon peas, chicken) at our house for Christmas.”

I could see that they were very disappointed, and as a man myself, I could see that they were distressed as they really wanted to provide it for their families. 

I was busy marking and cutting tile (with my ear plugs in), and I don’t think that they thought that I was paying attention. But I chimed in.

Me: “So ham is a traditional thing for you at Christmas?”

Armando: “Si señor.”

Anibal: “But not this year.”

I went in the house to talk with Cynthia, and we decided to offer them the hams as a Christmas gift.

I went back outside and talked with them, asking them how many adults would be at their tables. The average was six. We asked if we could give them the hams as a gift and they lit up like Christmas tree lights.

So Cynthia went shopping and bought three, frozen, double-smoked hams, about twelve pounds apiece.

I was pretty sure that they didn’t have refrigeration at their homes, so we said that we would thaw them in our refrigerator and that they could take them home the day before Christmas.

The reason that I said that the hams were the most-appreciated gift that we have ever given is that when we presented the hams to them, they each shook our hands with genuine thanks, much more so than with cash in the past. Then, not even remotely expected, they each gave us a hug and another thank you. I think that the hug went way, way beyond the boundaries of the “classes,” but they were so moved they couldn’t help themselves.

Those hugs were our best Christmas presents.

For Cynthia and me, this experience was reason enough for us to work so hard to learn Spanish. Otherwise, we would never have known, and they never would have asked.

Season’s greetings to all, Fred

 

Step By Step We Are Getting There ~ Front Entrance Steps

When last I wrote, Hanibal, Francisco, and I had the top landing done and were working on the first step down on the steps to the front door. We’ve made great advances this past week, but step by step, about one a day, it is rewarding and tedious. Here are some progress photos:

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This work is a bustle of activity. While Francisco keeps us supplied with tile and mortar, Hanibal sets full tiles plus the ones that I cut and pass off to him.

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When Francisco gets caught up with Hanibal, he spreads grout. Cynthia took this picture from the loft front window.

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For this space, I need to cut four small tile pieces.

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The new tile saw isn’t so new any more. It is getting quite a workout.

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A good picture of Francisco cleaning the grout line.

I have already shown you the jig that I made to keep the height and slant-to-drain of each step the same. I made another jig to keep the slant of the front of each riser the same. Here Hanibal uses the jig to strike a uniform mortar face on the riser:

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Here is a closeup of the jig:

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I made a small notch at the point where the jig touches the front edge of the dark-gray tile strip. This notch allows the jig to indent the mortar face, thereby allowing enough room for a layer of thinset mortar when Hanibal installs the riser tile.

From the roof deck:

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Tarps are at the ready, but so far it seems that the dry season started right on schedule a few days ago.

Another day, another step:

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Shadows are strong before 7:00 a.m. Hanibal is setting the riser tiles on this step.

And another:

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As they do in the big Hollywood movies, I hosed it down…

And yet another:

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Here we have the first row of tiles set on the bottom step. We’ll pick up here on Monday.

Remember, before we can lay the tiles, each step needs a leveling bed of mortar plus the surface of the riser needs to be mortared. This is a labor-intensive project on our hands and knees. After the large tiles are laid, we set the dark-gray tile strips on the edge of the step. I think that the next photo was taken at day eight of the job.

On Monday, we should finish the bottom step and move down to the triangular landing:

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In those times when I manage to catch up to Hanibal, I sneak away to prepare the master bathroom for the glass block window install; it will be our next project after the front steps are complete.

The plan is to make a black concrete bench (like the kitchen counters and the bench in the living room) in the shower, then start the first row of glass blocks on top of the bench.

Using scrap plywood from the kitchen counter top form work, I have the form well under way. I scribed the contour of the container wall onto the plywood, then used the saber saw to cut the wavy line. I drilled holes in the wall of the container, then had Hanibal and Francisco hold the form while I went outside and screwed through the holes to hold the form in place:

 

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I’ll cut out the red wall area when we are ready to pour the bench and lay the glass blocks. The burn marks at the top of the wall are from welding the roof overhang brackets into place.

Outside, at a point an inch lower than the inside form, I made and attached another piece of plywood that will form the concrete window sill. I am hoping that the forms will keep the container wall from contorting out of shape when I cut and remove the metal:

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You can see the form board screwed to the wall where the glass block window will go.

One afternoon I had a little extra energy so I installed the master bath shower valve:

P1020047-001And this morning the Funcionario Público plants along the front fence were in full bloom (named the Government Employee flower because it opens at nine and closes at three). Here is a photo:

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The coconut palms are doing well, too.

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