Oh-six-hundred hours, Wednesday. January 1st, 2020. “The guest bedroom is too brown,” Cynthia said to me as I woke to her words. “Oh, good morning. Happy New Year to you, too,” I said in return. She had been semi-awake for some time slumber-daydreaming about the guest bedroom and the words just kind of slipped out of her mouth. Continue reading →
Part I of the water tank happened way back more than three years ago. Continuing on way back then, Armando, Alex, and I formed and poured the roof. We bent the vertical rebar in the walls at a 90-degree angle so that the roof and walls would be tied together to withstand the water pressure:
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. Continue reading →
I haven’t posted in a long time because I haven’t done anything much write-down-word-worthy lately. But I felt like writing this morning and cranked out the following bit about the month of April here in the mountains of Panama, and I thought I’d show you a little project that I have been working on.
As I do many mornings, today I was on our roof deck sweeping away a few dry leaves and watering the plants. From the roof deck I can see the woodpeckers that, as they do every year in April, are making new nesting holes (in preparation for babies and for protection in the rainy season) in the trees in the next lot over from us. It’s quite a show.
Every day I put several bananas in the dead tree stump in our front garden. We’ve covered this stump in bromeliads and orchids, and nesting birds have made the tree a bird condominium. They have a wonderful time darting in and out of the plants on their way to and from the bananas. There are black birds, black and red birds, black and yellow, green, and even blue birds. Robins, and the woodpeckers, too, come for the bananas. Small reddish-brown doves peck in the freshly-tilled garden and finish off the banana peels that fall to the ground. The bird banana buffet gives Cynthia and me hours of enjoyment as we watch out the kitchen windows.
The tall trees in our front garden turn golden-crested in April, and the loudly-chirping hummingbirds work the blossoms all day long. Soon, bees will arrive to take the nectar that the hummingbirds leave behind; their buzzing is very loud and reaches a crescendo in the heat of mid-afternoons.
I also love April because now, after several very dry months, we are starting to receive several rain showers each night. They don’t last long, but come down in brief sheets, signaling that rain is on its way. The fragrance of freshly-dampened soil smells good and I go back to sleep.
The other day our gardener, Armando, pointed out a loudly singing bird that was “calling the water,” he said in Spanish. I’ve really enjoyed learning Spanish so I can pick up these bits of local knowledge – such as when the breezes that start in November and December are called “brisas de Navideña,” — the breezes that bring on Christmas. Many of the local workers here may not have a lot of book learning, but they know the wildlife and the subtle rhythms of the seasons.
With everything so dry, the birds enjoy the three birdbaths that we made for them; keeping the water refreshed is a pleasant part of my daily routine, too.
Recently we noticed that the mango trees are in full-bloom in our area; we should be picking mangos fresh off of the trees in late June and July. Because we are in a micro-climate zone, our mango schedule is quite different from down in town or just down the mountain road a few kilometers.
There are distinct seasons in Panama, not as dramatic as, say in New England, U.S.A., but they are distinct in their own subtle way. I love April; there is a lot to observe and to appreciate here.
Walking to friends’ house this morning I picked this seed pod off the ground. Oropendula birds live in the tree and will pelt you with these pods when you walk under the tree. Pretty cool, huh?
In other news, the other day I got a call from a friend of ours. She has been taking care of the home of someone who had recently died, and she lost the keys! She asked me if I could get into the house. Of course I could, houses are my business, but locks, unfortunately, aren’t.
I did a survey of the exterior of the house and decided to remove the security bars on a small bathroom window (the window was small, and so was the bathroom, come to think about it). Fifteen-minutes with a hammer and chisel and I had the bars removed from the concrete block house. It would be minimal work to mortar the bars back in place. I climbed through the window, removed the screws from the two deadbolt locks, and opened the door. Our friend bought two new deadbolts and I installed them in just a few minutes.
But this got me thinking — how much easier it would have been on my senior citizen body if I could have just picked the locks and not had to mess with shoe-horning myself through the tiny window and making the high drop to the floor. YouTube to the rescue. Over the next couple of weeks, I watched a couple-hundred videos, maybe more, about lock picking. I now dream about picking locks.
So I thought that I would buy a set of lock picks. They can be had for twenty-bucks, or a high-quality set for under a hundred. But then again I thought, why not make them myself? There are lots of videos on YouTube showing how to make picks from hacksaw blades and the thin pieces of spring steel that sit under the rubber part of most windshield wiper blades.
Our car needed new wiper blades anyway, and a few bucks bought a handful of saw blades. A day or two later I had my very own homemade lock pick set (I still have a couple more picks to make…). I think they came out pretty well, all ground, sanded, and polished to a bright shine. Here are a few photos:
I ground the teeth off the blades but left the notches that created the set of the saw teeth. It gives the handles a bit more grip.
There are still a couple more picks that I want to make to more complete my set.
I ground the hacksaw blades with my bench grinder, filed and then polished with emery paper. Some car polishing compound did the final polish.
So now it is time to see if I have what it takes. I have a pile of old padlocks that I am gearing up to practice on.
By the way, if you are the least bit interested in how insecure most of the locks that most of us use, here is a video by a man named bosnianbill. Locks are his hobby and he enjoys figuring out the puzzle of each lock he touches. Bosnianbill is part of an international group of people who consider lock picking a grand sport. They have competitions and swap locks and information among themselves, picking for the fun of it. Here is one of his 600-or-so videos:
Now, after a bit of practice, maybe I will be able to open a lock the next time I get a call from a panicked friend. I’ll “keep it legal” as these sport pickers say at the end of their videos.
I have been promising you, and promising you some more, that I would make a video of the house. With this post I announce that I am half-way there. I have completed a seven-minute video of the exterior of the house! I wonder if it will break any box office records as Star Wars has just done… ah, probably not, never mind, dumb thought. Here it is (full screen is better) :
This was no small task for me as I had to acquaint myself with my GoPro 3+ camera and the GoPro Studio editing software. I even built some equipment including a slider so I could get smooth side-to-side shots. Commercially-built sliders are available for a bunch of money, but I built mine for not-much with a couple aluminum shower curtain rods, a cut-up plastic kitchen cutting board, and some PVC pipe fittings. I bought the wheels online. Here is my slider. The shower rods were my idea and make for the lightest-weight five-foot slider in the Universe or anywhere…:
The GoPro 3+ camera with an articulated extension arm is mounted on the dolly.
I saw the DIY PVC pipe fitting dolly on YouTube. I put an extra port on the dolly so that in the future I can mount an LED video light for closeup work:
I bought a gimbal. Until recently, gimbals were only used in big movie productions and cost many thousands of dollars. Now they are available for the hobby market for just a couple hundred dollars. A handheld gimbal allows a video photographer to walk over rough ground, climb stairs, and even run, and the gyros in the gimbal keep the camera stable. I love what miniaturization is doing for tech. Here is Cynthia modeling my gimbal:
That gold and black thing on the right side of the gimbal is one of the three gyro stabilizers. Yeah, I know the camera is upside down. I use it this way as our car dashcam because the power cable fits better on the right. There is a setup option in the camera to reverse up/down of the image… (Cyn was holding it tightly which is why her fingertips are so pink.)
Not counting building the slider, this shoot took me about twenty-hours to video, edit, find music on the Web, and add the audio track. I also had to diagnose and fix a problem with my computer — when I would download and play an audio clip, it sounded all garbled and fuzzy. The problem was that I had an older version of VLC Media Player. Once I uninstalled the program, the audio opened on Windows Media Player and sounded just fine.
I spread the shoot over a couple days to get the sun at its best advantage. Sorry, the sun doesn’t shine on the north side of the house at this time of year so this side is in shade — I’d have to wait another six-months to complete the video. I opted not to wait. Overall I had a good time, and especially enjoyed making the opening and closing credits. I learned a lot… I like steep learning curves!
I hope that you enjoyed my video. I’ll work on the interior shoot soon. I promise.
At long last, the house is what I am calling 99.9998% complete! I have a very short list of unfinished items, most of which I can do in a day or two. But yesterday and today Cynthia and I staged the house and took photos inside and out. Here is a video with 93 pictures. To save you from me imposing my music choice on you, there is no sound. You can make it full-screen if you like:
So that’s it. Five-and-a-half years and all I have to show for it is 93 lousy photos!
Three days ago I finished applying the Feather Friendly window dots on our large front windows. I am happy to report that not one single bird has even come close to colliding with the glass!
This past week in addition to finishing the bird dots on the windows, I’ve spent several days washing windows and making the house shine. Ramiro is still washing the house inside and out and touching up paint as he goes, and Armando has been cleaning the exterior rock work with the power washer. I still have a couple small tasks to do — install an electrical plug, tie some wires up under the house, install a plumbing vent — but everything is all but done. However I did want to show the finished bird-proofing of the windows.
Here are some photos:
This first photo is in progress. You tape two ruler guides (provided with the rolls of dot tape) to the window. Then you roll out enough tape to go across the window and cut it to length. Then, following the ruler, press the tape onto the window, one row every two-inches. Lastly, run a credit card over each dot to stick them to the window and then remove the carrier tape. Only the dots are left on the window:
I took the next photos just after sunrise:
You barely notice the dots from inside the house. Jabo does report, however, that he is seeing spots:
As I get closer and closer to completing every little item on the punch list, Cynthia reminded me of what I said when we first met about eleven years ago. We met online, eHarmony.com. In our emails back and forth, I told her that I was in the process of doing a down-to-the-studs remodel of my 1920s Craftsman bungalow home in Colorodo. This was a Big Red Flag for her, as the photos that I sent to her were “ugly” as she says.
But I told her that, “I finish projects,” and I emailed her my resume, if you will, of other houses that I had completed. Well, that sales job sealed the deal. Cynthia moved from Ohio to Colorado and we spent the next three-years finishing the bungalow.
Here is the bungalow on the day that I bought it. It was pretty nondescript.
And here it is just before we sold it, windows washed and everything:
Now our shipping container house looks finished. It really feels good to have so much to show for our five-years of work:
In my last post, I made and hung the kitchen cabinet doors. This time, I focused on the drawers. Now with the drawers completed, the kitchen install is drawing to a close!
I started with the drawer boards thickness-planed to 5/8″, and I cut them to a width that would allow for good spacing on the dovetails. I measured and cut all the drawer pieces to length and started making the dovetail corner joints. Here are two boards in the dovetail jig:
One of the fronts/backs is clamped into the jig horizontally and one of the sides is clamped into the jig vertically. Then the dovetails are cut with a tapered bit in the router.
After I cut all the dovetails, I took the boards to the table saw and cut a one-blade-wide cut at the bottom of the pieces. This allowed me to slide the aluminum drawer bottoms into place. Here is a set of boards all ready for assembly:
I cut the aluminum sheets to drawer-bottom size. Then with a small paintbrush, I applied carpenter’s wood glue to the joints and tapped the pieces together with a rubber mallet. With this joint, no nails or screws are needed — a good thing in a tropical climate because any moisture left in the wood will rust nails and screws in short order. Here is the stack of drawers waiting overnight for final sanding of the joints:
I like kitchen cabinets that have pull-out trays at the bottom of the cabinets because it it is much easier to reach the pan in the back of the cabinet. So I made trays in the same style as the drawers. Here are the trays waiting for sanding:
Same as the doors, after a good sanding, I gave all the drawers and trays a coat of sanding sealer and two coats of polyurethane, sanding between the coats. The drawers (not the bottom trays) also needed additional drawer fronts so I made and finished those too. Finally it was time to put the drawers and trays into the cabinets. Here are some photos of the completed kitchen:
The Caoba (African Mahogany) will continue to darken over time and will develop a deep rich red-brown patina. There’s a strip of LED lights behind the sink for a gentle-on-the-eyes light in the middle of the night. Shown here, the light is reflecting off the shine of the waxed concrete countertop.
Cat BobBob needs a place to eat, too. I still have to install an LED light strip under the counter here plus caulk the corners of the aluminum.
This is the baking island — it is two-inches lower than the other cabinets which is especially useful when rolling out dough. It’s an easy-0n-the-back height.
Here is a closeup of a drawer with its attached front, one of the trays, and a door:
I used the same aluminum floor-plate that I used for the cabinet sides and shelves throughout the house. Termites don’t like aluminum, but they would do a job on plywood drawer bottoms. On the underside of the drawers, I ran beads of urethane caulk to keep the aluminum from rattling.
Here is a closeup of one of the dovetail joints:
I used Blum brand drawer slides for the drawers and trays. These slides are very nice — when you close a drawer, just push on the drawer, and at the final two-inches you can let go of the drawer and the drawer slide takes over and automatically and silently glides the drawer to its closed position. Here is a short video that I found on YouTube by Dan Lake that shows how the drawers come to a smooth and quiet closed position:
I have to say that I am very, very happy with how the kitchen turned out. Everything looks just right and my eyes are doing a happy dance. Cynthia likes it too, I just wish that there weren’t so many conflicting priorities with the house and that I could have done the kitchen a lot sooner. I still have a couple finishing details, but I’m calling the kitchen, DONE.
Not much in other news this post, except that one day, using bananas from our back yard, Cynthia made “good for you Fun Food” or baked banana bread doughnuts. Gluten-free and very delicious. I couldn’t eat just one!
Living in Latin America, it doesn’t take long before one comes across a statue or park named for a hero from distant history. Who are they and what did they do? I just finished reading the book, Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana. Almost every night for a couple weeks, I would retire to the screened-in bump out in the master bedroom and read the Kindle version on my smartphone. I enjoyed the hooting of owls as I read.
Over the course of twenty-some years, Bolivar traveled 75,000 miles on horseback, fought the Spanish plus many competing forces withing South America. He made and lost fortunes and always fought for equal representation for all South Americans including freeing slaves. All this was at the same time as Washington and Jefferson and other North American patriots were fighting for freedom. It was a fascinating read.
I have made some progress on the kitchen cabinets.
If you remember, a long time ago I framed the cabinets with 1.5″x1.5″x1/16″ square steel tubing. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to mount hinges and drawer slides, but I knew that I would figure it out when the time came.
Well, the time came. I spent some time sitting on an upside-down five-gallon bucket, analyzing and figuring out what I would have to do. Finally, I had a clear idea in mind. I would build a wooden “carriage” inside the metal framework to carry the drawers and to mount the door hinges to.
The 1.5″x1.5″ pieces that I cut for the purpose were finally dry enough to work with. I made pilot holes in the wood, then screwed the wooden pieces to the metal framework with 2.5-inch zinc roofing panel screws. These screws are self drilling and hold well.
Where I needed to attach one piece of wood to another, I used my Kreg pocket screw jig to make the holes for the screws. Here is a photo (credit — Kreg website) of the jig and the pocket holes that allow you to screw the pieces together. I like this jig; it is well worth the money and really speeds assembly of parts:
Building the framework was a double-jointed contortionist’s idea of a good time. Here are some photos of the completed carriages — sealed, sanded, and polyurethaned:
I’ll mount the hinges to the vertical pieces and the drawer slides to the horizontal pieces that go front-to-back in the cabinets.
On the right side of the photo you can see one of the pocket screw holes in the wood. In the rear of the cabinet you can see the head of one of the roofing screws.
Between coats of urethane, I spent most of a day running boards through the thickness planer. Here are the drawer fronts — I still need to cut them to their finished length and width:
And the pile of un-thickness-planed boards that you saw in my last post —
Now looks like this:
I planed (as in past tense of to plane) the parts that will be the door frames down from one-inch to 13/16″. I still need to take these down another sixteenth to 3/4″ when they dry just a bit more.
And I planed the parts that will make the drawers and pull-out trays down from one-inch to 3/4″. I still need to take these down to their final 5/8″ thickness after they dry just a bit more.
Each board went through the planer six-or-so times as it is best to take off a little bit at a time; I was like a one-armed wallpaper hanger, jockeying each piece of wood in and out of the planer as fast as I could. I took Armando home with four more bags of expensive shavings for his chickens.
I’ll let the wood dry a few more days, then plane it to its final thickness. I took my dovetail jig out of storage today — I hadn’t opened the box in eight-years. I was afraid it would be full of big black ants and a lot of rust, but everything looks good to go. I can’t wait to make the drawers!
So that’s my update on the kitchen.
In other news, I finished painting the front door wall metalwork and spent a few hours with a razor blade cutting paint and caulk off of the perimeter of the windows. It looks nice now:
I took this photo standing in the bed of our pickup which was parked in the driveway turnaround.
Here is a panorama shot that I took from the pickup as well. Remember, the driveway doesn’t curve, it is just the panorama distortion:
Cynthia has been spending a lot of time at her lampworking torch. She and I were just remembering how her (now fired) neurologist told her that she would never work with hot glass again because of the neurological damage done during her last open-heart surgery. Never tell Cynthia that she can’t do something! Here is a slide show that we put together of some of her recent stunningly-beautiful beads:
And finally, Jabo takes solace on the cool tile next to the living room fountain on a warm afternoon.
Not so much this time — watching wood dry is not very photogenic.
But I have made progress. After about ten-days of the planks drying, I rough cut all the pieces that I will need for the kitchen cabinet doors and drawers. A few days later I thickness-planed the 2″x2″ pieces to their finished 1.5″x1.5″ sizes. I ended up with three trash bags full of very expensive sawdust, which Armando was happy to have as bedding for his chickens. Here are some photos:
With a new $80 blade, the Caoba (African Mahogany) cuts like butter:
The sawdust is extremely fine and doesn’t have a lot of oil in it.
I had to do a complete tear-down of my thickness planer. Years of lack of use in this tropical environment rendered it rusted and frozen. I completely disassembled it, replaced a new gear that I bought on the Internet, and sanded, polished, and lubricated all the moving parts. A total of $5 and a day’s elbow grease got it going again as good as new:
Here the planer spews expensive shavings:
I used the miter saw to cut boards to rough lengths. I have another new blade ready for the finish cuts:
Here the wood sits, stacked and drying for a couple more weeks — still a lot more thickness planing to do before I can make the doors and drawers — Armando’s chickens will be very happy:
While I wait for the wood to dry, I kept at my Long List Of Stuff Still To Do, including installing roller guides for the door in the half-bath in the hallway off of the living room:
Using a hammer and small chisel, I created two small holes. I set the bolts in the holes and filled around them with tile grout.
The strong east sun had faded the trim paint at the front door wall, and the caulk glazing between the glass and the metal angle iron had shrunk as well, allowing water to enter the framework and rust the metal. I am in the process of caulking/repainting this front wall:
I spent a full day working on the front door. Some welds on the door jamb needed to be ground smooth and there were areas that had never been properly primed and painted. Also, the hole for the latch was ragged and ugly, so I welded in some new metal and ground and filed it all smooth. The door closes much better now.
So bit by bit, I’m chipping away at the remaining detailing of the house. Feels good to be this far along.
In other news, nature happens all around us, all the time. This morning while I was washing Very Stinky Jabo, I spotted this motionless drama — a very pregnant gecko tried to eat a very large spider. Neither won, neither walked away:
Every now and then, an adventurer/traveler, looking for a place to park a camper, will find our quiet neighborhood. I generally invite them to park in the road in front of our house — it is well lighted and safe and no one will bother them. Yesterday, Peter, from Germany and on the road now for about two years, stumbled upon us.
We invited him in for dinner with one of our Panamanian neighbors, and had a pleasant evening talking about exploring and traveling. Peter’s camper is quite a rig, an engineering and craftsmanship marvel, and I am very envious. He built it himself with 3,000 hours of his labor, and his blog shows construction of the rig plus his travels around the world. Here are a couple photos of the Lady Grey:
Peter says that no one bothers him because no one knows what his vehicle is! The vehicle is foreboding and impenetrable, but Peter is warm and friendly, excited to meet strangers and learn about their cultures.
An electric winch is needed to remove the spare tire from the back of the rig.
On the rear of his vehicle is this saying: “The most dangerous world view is the world view of those who have not viewed the world.” Alexander Von Humboldt .Well chosen Peter!