A Brush With Paint And Cynthia’s Glass

The number of significant tasks is dwindling! The only two large items remaining, things that will take more than a day or two or three each, are to build out the kitchen cabinets and to pour concrete and install tile on the carport floor.

When I build the kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, I want to work outside in the carport so that I’m not breathing a lot of sawdust. But I’d like to work on a nice floor rather than on the dirt that is there now. But I can’t pour the floor yet because it is the dry season and there is no sand and gravel running in the rivers to make concrete with. So these items are on hold.

In the meantime, I have decided to tackle remaining projects in order of their greatest visual impact. For example, painting large areas will make a larger impact than installing a light switch. After so long at it, we really need the illusion that the project is moving along rapidly.

With this guideline in mind, I made an ordered shortlist of projects.

I decided to start with painting the walls in the loft. Some time ago I had prime-painted the container wall that divides the loft from the roof deck. The knee wall overlooking the living/dining room was still raw stucco. Cynthia and I decided to continue the same warm, medium-gray that we have used elsewhere in the house. I went to work.

I spent four days in the loft and it has made quite a difference. Cynthia is using the loft as her hot-glass studio so I had a few things to work around. The loft sure looks a lot better now. Here is a photo taken from the east end. The screened openings at the roof line are open year round; they suck the rising hot air out of the house:

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Cyn was looking for a way to store sheet glass, so we came up with the idea to make racks from plastic cutting boards and quarter-inch rebar. One important storage issue for her is that different glasses have different coefficient-of-expansion (COE) ratings. You can’t mix ratings or your glass will crack. Now she can keep these COEs separated, each COE in its own rack. Here are three of the four that I made for her:

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I made a template and drilled holes in the cutting boards.

Here is a photo of the loft from the west end:

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Over the seven years that we have been here, we have really culled and re-culled our possessions. Beyond art supplies, kitchen equipment, and the typical clothing and linens, we don’t have much left. We need to find a place to store a couple boxes of family treasures that you see in the foreground.

As I worked my way out of the loft and around to the stairs, we realized how badly-worn the charcoal paint looked in the stairway and in the dining room. I spent another day two-coating these walls. It made quite a difference:

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In the photo above, you may have noticed the two sconce lights that Cynthia made and I installed on the wall. Here is a closeup with the light off:

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I used L hooks to mount the glass to the wall.

And here is a photo with the light on (daytime). The triangles of glass match the triangles on the chandelier over the dining room table:

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

The next visually-important area to paint was the window and door framing on the west wall of the living room. I’ve been avoiding this because, well, it promised to be a tedious task. But the order of the list is the order of the list and so I began.

Preparation work is a large part of painting almost anything; I sanded, wire-brushed, and cleaned the long-ago primed metalwork and ran beads of urethane caulk at adjoining joints and seams. Then I spent a day re-prime painting everything, including all the metal rivets that had never been painted. As of this writing, I am most of the way through the project, just two top-coats of gray to go on the sliding doors:

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Cynthia dragged me to Westland Mall to buy some new work clothes. I guess I was looking quite shabby — she likes her workman to be smartly dressed. I’ve had a difficult time finding comfortable shoes for my old, arthritic feet, but so far I really like my new Nike Air running shoes.

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So far no paint on the new clothes…

Here is a photo looking from the loft to the upper west wall windows:

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The sink comes in handy for Cyn’s studio and also for rinsing dishes from the roof deck BarBQue.

Although I’m not done with painting the west wall of the living room, I had to wait for paint to dry, plus the afternoon sun was in my eyes. So I moved on to the last remaining large area to paint — the master bedroom. Because we didn’t want to sleep in all the toxic paint fumes, we relocated to the second bedroom, which is nice because the bathroom there is fully-functional including the shower. No photos of the master bedroom yet.

In other news, Cynthia continues learning and enjoying working with fusing and slumping glass. She has a few new projects to show off including this bowl:

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This bowl has some transparent seams and adds dimension to the glass. Here I held the bowl up to a window:

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The underside:

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Cyn is gaining enough confidence and quality of execution that she is almost willing to sign her name to her work and even part with some!

Here is a tray that she made from stacks of different color glass. The effect is called mosaic and is made like a pyramid, making numerous stacks of five pieces of glass each, and then slumping the assemblage in the kiln:

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Using the same technique, Cynthia made organically-shaped cabochon beads that she will wire together to make a necklace:

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Unintentionally, the sparkly frit created “faces” on these pieces.

The next photo is of a bowl. To me it feels primordial, elements swirling in The Great Nebula or perhaps plankton and primal fishes in the depths of the ocean. But it is art — you decide:

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Cynthia would like the ability to grind and polish some of her glass creations, so in my free time I’ve been building her a lap grinder. These things can be bought, but I can build one for a fraction of the cost.

A motor (that I don’t have yet), will spin a one-quarter-inch thick, twelve-inch-diameter aluminum disk, on which she will put various-grit diamond disks. I made the stand with PVC plumbing fittings. Still to do is to buy and mount the motor, make provisions for a small water pump, and construct a water-splash apron. For the top, I used an aluminum, large baking sheet. Here it is so far:

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One of the downsides of living in the tropical mountains of Panama is the termites and the rust. A few years ago, I think I posted a photo, I made 48 wooden drawers and a metal rack to house Cynthia’s 1,500 watchmaker’s tins full of seed beads. Well, over the years the termites have reduced the wooden drawers nearly to dust and the tins have started to rust. What to do? We purchased a bunch of aluminum, full-sheet baking trays to hold the tins. In time, I’ll build a new cabinet to hold the trays. So for four days, and one remaining to go, Cynthia and our maid have been cleaning each-and-every one of the 1,500 watchmakers’ tins and moving them to the new trays. It has been a tedious, onerous task but will be worth it in the end. The living room is in disarray from my painting and from the stacks of trays:

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But one of the wonderful aspects of living here in the tropical mountains of Panama is the multitude of bird life. With my smartphone, I recorded three very-short MP4s of birds.

First, an owl just before dawn:

Second is a flock of wild parrots that flies through most mornings around 6:30 and then later in the day:

And third is a toucan in a nearby tree. Not as good of a recording because Armando was trimming bushes nearby. Toucans sound a lot like frogs:

Finally, I have been chomping at the bit to make some videos of the house. But I’d like my work to be a bit more professional looking than just walking through the house with a jittery camera. Friends are coming to visit us in two months, and although they don’t know it yet, they are going to bring with them a few small items that will make my videos much better looking. I won’t promise cinematic quality, but I think that I can improve a lot on my previous attempts. You’ve been asking for videos, so stay tuned.

That’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.

Front Entrance Tile DONE ~ Plus ~ Master Bath Window Underway

After a grueling ten-day marathon, one of the last big jobs, the steps at the front entry, are DONE! I know I’ve posted a bunch — probably too many — photos of the job, but here are a few more of the steps all done. I think it adds a gracious, welcoming formality to the front of the house:

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View from the front door.

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View from coming out of the garage walkway.

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View from the driveway.

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View from the point of the triangle-ish landing.

And here is a photo of the front of the house at dusk:

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Our next task is to pour a black concrete bench in the master bathroom shower area and then to lay glass blocks above the bench. We’ve made good progress in just two days. The bench is poured and five of the eight rows of glass blocks are laid.

Using a combination of the big angle grinder and the reciprocating saw, I started cutting the hole for the glass blocks:

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Here is my progress from inside the house:

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For nighttime security reasons, I only cut a small part of the opening the first day. I welded rebar in place for the concrete pour:

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And finished building the form work:

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Next, Hanibal, Francisco, and I poured the tinted-concrete bench. We mixed the concrete very dry so that the colorant wouldn’t wash out as water raised to the surface of the concrete. Also, a drier concrete mix is stronger than a wet mix when it cures.

Hanibal and I worked the concrete into all the corners and under the rebar. The top of the concrete is pitched in two directions — outside the house it tilts down to form a window sill. Inside the house it tilts to drain shower water off of the bench. To make uniform slants, we used small blocks to set the level of the concrete. You can see two of the blocks between Hanibal’s and my trowels. As we struck a level, we pulled the blocks and reset them as we worked along the bench:

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Here I find and remove a block:

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Hanibal removes one of the blocks toward the end of the bench:

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After a block is pulled, we fill the hole with concrete.

After a ten-minute wait, we floated and troweled the slab, working extra concrete into the voids left by the really-dry mix:

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We closed the window hole with a sheet of plywood and walked away for the day. The next day, we laid five courses of glass blocks:

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After spacing and leveling the critical first row, I left the guys to their work and I found something else to do.

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The guys fill the spaces between the blocks. By the way, for added strength of each row of blocks, we put a piece of quarter-inch rebar in the mortar bed.

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I photo-ambush Francisco from the roof.

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Francisco cleans the grout lines and polishes the glass.

I’d like to show you the window all done, but there are three more rows to lay. We left it like this over the weekend:

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While the guys laid the blocks, I tackled another project. At the end of the last dry season, I sealed the concrete roof with numerous coats of a penetrating polymer sealer. The rain was on us and I didn’t have time to apply the elastomeric top coating, mainly because I wanted to do a test patch over time to assure compatibility of the two products.

Here is the roof before the top coating. Note the small white test patch that has held up well over the rainy season:

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There was a small shrinkage crack between the main roof and the newer overhang that was letting water slowly drip down the side of the container. I filled it well with the polymer and applied an extra coat of top coat here.

With a roller and a paint brush, here is the roof two-and-a-half gallons of top coat later:

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I wish that I had more to show you, but 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

 

Furniture! ~ Kitchen Lights ~ Plus, Of Course, More Tile

Okay. So not even one area of the house is completely done. But several areas are done enough to entertain some furniture, and we wanted some! For what is left to do, painting for example, I can simply move the furniture aside as I need to work in an area.

After almost five years, wouldn’t it be nice to have furniture?

Timing was good. Black Friday was upon us and we wanted to take advantage of at least 20% off on a bunch of items. So for the two Sundays before Black Friday, we went to the Conway store at Westland Mall, about an hour away. It fits our budget and spending a ton of money on excellent furniture is kind of goofey in this tough tropical environment. Good enough is good enough.

We found a helpful clerk, Briseida, who patiently worked with us for hours each Sunday. We would return home exhausted, having looked at each and every piece of furniture on the sales floor at least 42 times, trying to put the house together in our minds.

Then on Black Friday we made the final attack and placed our order. Somewhere along the way we discovered that although Briseida worked on commission, she wouldn’t receive her commission for sales on Black Friday. So we took a bit of cash, and I made a bow out of a piece of scrap wrapping paper that was on the floor. At the end of the transaction we presented the gift to Briseida; she was so happy that she was wiping away tears.

On the appointed day the day after the appointed day, the furniture arrived… at eight-o-clock at night, in the rain! There was only one driver, but luckily, Ramiro (our welder and night watchman while we were on vacation) stopped by to give us some bananas and oranges. He didn’t even wait to be asked but jumped right in to help unload the truck. An hour later we were up to the rafters in cardboard boxes full of furniture. Cynthia and I stayed up until midnight unpacking and assembling. Christmas came early.

We chose either leather or pleather (plastic-look-like-leather) because of the damp climate that we live in. Fabric would become musty-smelling in short order. In a closet, leather shoes, handbags, and belts will mold in a heartbeat. But out in the open, you at least stand a chance with the leather/pleather; we will regularly wipe it down with cheap vodka. Here are some photos of the furniture:

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We are still lacking spots of color which we plan to provide with pillows, decorator touches and plants. In about two weeks, the clay pots will be topped with glass rounds, thereby making end tables to put lamps on. The sofas were flat-packed with some assembly required.

Same area, straight on:

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For the back corner behind the left brown chair, we are considering a tall, red-trunked palm tree.

Remember the Mother-In-Law Tongues that we bought at the nursery? They make a good safety indicator at the landing; don’t step off here…

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We put a small fountain on the landing to the master bedroom. It has a few LED lights on top that make a good night light:

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Fifteen-year-old Bob Bob likes the new sofas:

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The dining room now has eight comfortable chairs. Now all we need is the glass table top, which will arrive in about two weeks:

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The green cast of the glass top will provide color balance for the red-ish table.

Here is an early-morning photo from the top of the stairs:

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Same shot, different exposure and populated by Cynthia and Bob Bob:

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The big, long, gray, container wall begs for a piece of art. I have an idea, stay tuned.

The bump-out in the kitchen created by opening the two container doors got two chairs and a carpet. The glass block window wall lets in a lot of light and is a nice place for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate on a cool tropical morning. We plan to paint the walls gray and still need to get a small table for between the chairs:

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At the other end of the kitchen we picked up a new chair, a carpet, and a thing to hang on the wall. We bought the reclining love seat at Conway a year ago.

Panorama -- Family Room -- 12 Dec 2014

A ninth-time rerun of CSI Miami plays on the TV. I prefer reruns of Law And Order with Lennie — “Should-a-took the train.” is my favorite Lennie line.

Now, I have to address the parrot piece hanging on the wall. But is it art? If you consider the velvet Elvis style art, then at one-step-up from that, we certainly have a piece of art hanging on our wall. The wall space was begging for some color, and now it has it.

At closer inspection, one can see how the piece of “art” was created; paint-by-number. Oops!

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The painting is colorful, it fit our budget, and is entertaining. To ponder over it as art, well… no. We consider it a poster at best.

After all that unpacking, plus including floor tile packaging and old cement bags, I took a trip to the recycling center in town:

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I finally figured out how I was going to hang Cynthia’s glass lamp shades. I bought some parts and spent the better part of a day assembling, wiring, and hanging the lamps. I think that they look great! Here are the three lamps over the kitchen sink/eating counter; there are eight of these in the kitchen:

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Galvanized pipe nipples and fittings go with our Natural – Industrial – Bling decorating scheme.

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Downward-facing LED bulbs throw just the right amount of light downward and red glow upward. Very warm when lighted.

In other news, we have finished the tile on the roof deck over the kitchen. In the next photo, Francisco still has a bit more grout to put in plus move the plants into place:

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Meanwhile, at the other end of the floor, Hanibal jokingly declares his half “Listo (done).”

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Here is the completed roof deck:

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Inside the house, we completed the steps to the second bedroom:

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The grout is still damp — the color will lighten and blend in better when it dries.

Our next large tile job is the front entrance steps. First, because the concrete was quite smooth, Armando used the twenty-five-pound chisel-bar to pick divots in the concrete so that the mortar will more thoroughly bond to the concrete. This is hard work. He also washed the concrete with bleach to kill the mold that was growing on the steps:

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We started laying tiles after lunch and got this far the first day:

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These are the same tiles that we used on the wall in the living room. It is difficult to see what is going on here, but be patient…

As we continued working, it was time to turn the 22.5-degree corner:

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After we laid all the tile at the top landing, it was time to install the border stripe at the edge of the step. Hanibal set the tiles and I cut boards to support the front edge of the border strip. This strip will mark the edge of the step for a safety indicator at night or when the steps are wet. By the way, I had to cut all the border strips from large, square tiles:

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Here the border is mortared into place:

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The next day, we removed the sticks and filled the underside with mortar. I cut riser tiles and Hanibal mortared them into place:

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You can see the little spacers that support the riser tile in the correct position. Grout on an angle will finish the edge of the step.

Next, using a jig that I made (like the one for the landings to the bedrooms), Hanibal, Francisco, and I laid a bed of mortar to support the tiles on that step.

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Another view of the jig:

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This jig assures that each step will be the same height and will slope slightly downward to shed water. The blue glue is a bonding agent.

Here is what the turn on the landing looks like; we really love it, quite formal:

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At the end of the landing by the driveway is another angle turn. Sweet:

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This area still needs to be grouted.

Here is where we are at the end of day four (actually we have the whole step mortared, but we had to cover up quick with tarps for a surprise two-hour downpour):

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Meanwhile, Cynthia has some strange Cheshire Cat shoe thing going on:

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And finally, you may have noticed the naked (fake) Christmas tree in some of the above photos. We decided to decorate it. But for a week now, Cynthia has had a lot of angst about it all. Family baggage if you will. She said decorating and de-decorating the tree was always a tense and stressful event in her life. We talked about it several times during the week. So, what to do with a fake Christmas tree and a large box of musty-smelling decorations? Donate the whole mess!

With a final goodbye, I loaded the stuff into the pickup and drove down to town. I went to the police station and asked if they had a tree (many of the officers originate from other areas of Panama and probably won’t be home for Christmas) for the station. “No señor,” was the response. “Would you like one,” I asked? “¡Si señor!” So I unloaded the tree and watched as three officers looked through the box of goodies. I said that I would return tomorrow for a photo of them in front of the tree. They thanked me all around and took down our name for the log book. Funny, they didn’t ask our “address” because they all knew where we live. (“Address” is in quotes because there aren’t any in Panama.) Cynthia and I returned to the station today to take a photo:

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Protecting and serving, here is part of our local police force posing in front of their new tree. The men referred to the woman as La Jefa (the boss) and accorded her respect.

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

No More Fried Geckos ~ How I Use Computer Technology

I’m going way off topic with this post about how we have moved past desktop computers and into the stratosphere – I guess it is called Cloud Computing. If you just want info about our shipping container house, sorry, move along, nothing to see here. And sorry, no photos this time. I’ll be back in a week or two with a house post.

The other day, I was thinking about how different the technology that Cynthia and I use now is verses the technology we used only about two years ago. I know, I know, many of you are light years ahead of us, adopting new technology years ago. But for a dinosaur of a guy who bought his first computer in 1984 and learned the DOS operating system by reading the DOS manual, I’m catching up.

Two years ago, we each had a desktop computer. If you are too young to know what these were, I can tell you. They were big things that sat on and under your desk. They didn’t move, and pieces and parts were tethered to each other and to the earth by things called wires. Lots of wires. Dust bunnies lived in and around all this hardware. Geckos, too, loved the big box of parts; they would make little nests in the open spaces that were supposed to allow air to flow around all the hot equipment, sometimes perishing there, melting on the video driver board or on the massive hard drive.

Our desktop computers were old and we had to do something. Neither one of us liked the little laptops that were being sold. We like the full-size keyboard and we habitually rely on the number keypad on the right side of the keyboard. So I went looking for another option. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I guess that it all started in June of 2012. We were headed to a hospital in Texas to seek relief from the seizures and neurological damage caused during Cynthia’s open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in 2010. I did some research and purchased a Samsung tablet for the trip so that we could talk with family via Skype while we were in Texas.

While we were in Texas, I also used the tablet (connected to the WiFi in the hospital) and a map app to find local restaurants and Whole Foods. The hospital food was dreadful, so I kept busy seeking good takeout for us for the week that we were there.

We also watched a couple Netflix movies on the tablet and the experience was pretty good. Viewing the movies on the small screen was an intimate affair, although we had to remain cognizant of the fact that there was a man in another room watching Cynthia 24/7 on a large-screen monitor. No hanky-panky even though she looked sexy as hell with all those electrodes indelibly glued to her head!

As far as we were concerned, the tablet paid for itself in just that one week. In hindsight, I think that the only shortcoming was that it didn’t have a GPS and a data plan to use the mapping app in the car, although I didn’t know such a thing existed at the time. This experience got me thinking about technological advances.

A year-and-a-half ago, in March of 2013, it was time to replace the desktop computers. After a lot of Googling, we chose two, giant HP 19-inch laptops. They each have a full-size keyboard plus the number keypad. We like the large monitor and the illuminated keyboard. The advances in miniaturization made the laptop every bit as powerful as a desktop. We tricked them out to be vast and fast. For us, it is like using the old desktop computers without all the wires.

Remember the wires?

I thought that the transition to a laptop would be arduous, but it really was effortless. As to the laptop-on-steroids size, we don’t commute or travel with the things, so small and portable wasn’t a major concern. Cynthia had to go to the States, so we bought them online and she brought them back to Panama when she returned.

To fill out the computer transition, I bought a wireless WiFi printer. One wire connects it to the router. Nice. Now we can both print to the same printer without hassle.

Next came the phone. We each had a simple cell phone. Mine didn’t even have a camera if you can fathom that. I was loathe to upgrade to a smartphone because with the little beater phone I could commingle the phone with nails, screws, coins, and pocket lint, all in my pocket. The plastic covering the display was scratched and cracked, but it worked, battery life was good, and at $22.95 who cares?

But a smartphone – I’d have to treat it with kid gloves. Also, the privacy issue stakes would be raised with a smartphone, and if we lost one or it was stolen, $$$ouch.

But bit by byte, we saw how a smartphone would help. I purchased a Samsung S4 and haven’t looked back. Some of the things that I use the “phone” for include:

  • an app to track a flight in real time, to know when to arrive at the airport to pick up Cynthia
  • the Google Translate app to find out how to say something is Spanish
  • our Stateside Skype number now rings in my pocket. Anywhere I am except in the shower of course because I didn’t buy the waterproof to 50-feet, bullet-proof case which you might have expected that I would buy.
  • a currency exchange app is helpful on vacation in Colombia
  • I can check AirBnB reservations and emails with the AirBnB app
  • I can electronically hail a taxi in Medellin with the EasyTaxi app
  • an electronic compass heads me in the right direction when on foot in unknown territory
  • the SpanishDict dictionary app is always useful and at my fingertips
  • take good quality photos and video
  • use the GPS and Google Maps to find my way around, well, anywhere
  • listen to Internet radio
  • connect the smartphone wirelessly (Bluetooth) to our Bluetooth-enabled stereo to listen to Internet radio or a music service
  • read an e-book on the smartphone instead of on the Kindle – I actually like it better not to have to hold the huge Kindle…

It is funny how all this power and mobility has changed my habits, and I have to say that I think it is for the better. Neither one of us spends hours on social media sites, so the smartphones aren’t draining minutes and hours and days from our lives. I rarely check email or the news unless I am bored and waiting for an oil change. But the tools, the apps, are really useful several times every day. I’m happy that we made the switch to the smartphone.

But that’s not all, and here is the part of our new use of technology that I am most excited by. In the past couple of weeks I have installed Evernote on our two computers and on my smartphone.

Evernote, if you don’t know, is a program that stores electronic data in the cloud and synchronizes that data between all your devices. It makes everything available to you anywhere, anytime. Except in the shower. You can make virtual notebooks with Evernote, and then put notes in the notebooks. Just as you used to do with paper.

I think that one could make the argument that there are other ways to keep track of stuff. But Evernote is everything in one spot. Photos, videos, audio notes to self, copies of passports, birth certificates, auto insurance policies, car registration, photo of the printer toner package, photos of furniture that we want, clippings from web pages, photos or scans of big purchase receipts, shopping lists, to do lists, important reminders – there is no limit, really. And it is all searchable, even text on a photo.

Here are a couple ways I have used Evernote so far:

  • We have a checklist note called “Shopping List.” At my computer I can add “kitty litter” to the list. At Cynthia’s computer, she can add “kalamata olives” to the list. And when I am not near my computer, I can add “Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream” to the list with the smartphone. Then, when I go on a solo shopping trip to the city, I have the list. Cynthia can even add to the list from her computer while I am driving to the city. We used to have a paper list but it was always messy or lost or forgotten at home.
  • Set up reminders to register the car, pay taxes, wash the dog, whatever.
  • Scan and save important papers and instruction manuals for safekeeping
  • When I drive into town to buy stuff, I often return having forgotten something. Now, I can make a note anytime I am near either of our computers or my phone. I am making a new habit of checking the shopping list when I am in town.
  • Make notes, include web clippings, include YouTube videos, save photos from the Internet, etc. for our next vacation and put it all in a notebook named, um, “Vacation.”
  • When I am at a store, I can snap a picture of something. The photo synchs instantly to Cynthia’s computer where she can give me feedback in the form of a note. No opening attachments.
  • Jot down a note about an idea for my blog.
  • Cynthia is going to use Evernote to store kiln firing programs and outcomes for her art projects.

Evernote seems to be making a big impact in my life. I feel more organized. I don’t need to keep many, random pieces of information in my brain or pieces of paper in my pocket. I like Evernote. I also like how I have moved away from the static way of the desktop computers to a more fluid, but organized, way of using technology to help me through my day.

And I can’t say that I miss the wires, dust bunnies, or the kind of cool gecko skeletons. I wonder what is next?

How do you use technology? Or not? Feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for stopping by.

BIG TILE FLOOR DONE!

With the exception of a couple finishing details, the living room floor is DONE! We are just so wildly excited; this place is now a house for sure!

In the last week-and-a-half, tile by tile, Hanibal worked his way across the entry/living/dining room floor. My job as usual was to cut all the perimeter tiles. Here we work around the steps to the master bedroom:

P1010907While we were in the neighborhood, we decided to set the tiles for this set of steps, too. In the next photo Hanibal places mortar and I stand squat ready with a jig that I made to determine the height of the mortar on the steps:

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The next photo is a closer look at the jig — I measured the total height of the staircase and then divided by three (the number of risers), equaling even steps of four-and-three-quarters-inches. To that number, I added the thickness of the tile (five-sixteenths-of-an-inch) to yield a jig height of five-and-one-sixteenth-inch. In the shop, I cobbled together a few boards, making this:

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The jig rides on the tiles already in place on the step above the one being worked on, thereby setting the height of the mortar to set the tiles on.

We decided to tile the steps with some left over tile from the bathroom floors. The different style of tile sends a safety warning to a person walking nearby that says, “pay attention, something is different here.” Here is the end of one of the steps where I cut the tiles to fit against the rock wall:

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We still need to install tile on the risers and grout the staircase.

Finally, with the exception of a few finishing touches, the floor was done. Here it is looking from the living room toward the front door. The little set of stairs at the far end goes to the second bedroom:

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We planted some Mother-In-Law Tongues in concrete pots on the landing.

And looking from the front door into the living room:

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The next photo looks from the master bedroom landing into the living room:

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We went shopping on Black Friday and got some good sales on some big pots for the living room.

You may have noticed in the above pictures that the long container wall, the one with the long bench, is no longer white. Hanibal didn’t need me for a day, so I painted the wall two coats of a warm-grey satin latex. I’ve found that a brush works just fine to paint the container walls:

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Once I got two coats of paint on the wall, both Cynthia and I commented on how tranquil the room had become. We think that this tranquility will make a great backdrop for a few vibrant punches of color:

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One of those punches of color will be the dining room table. One day I had a chance to roll five coats of “Red Hot Mama” polyurethane (fifteen-minute drying time) paint onto the table that Ramiro and I made some months ago. The name of the color is written on the can in English — I translated it for the guys and they couldn’t stop laughing:

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A thick slab of glass will top the table. After painting the inside corners with a brush, I found that a small foam roller applies a nice smooth finish. When you look at the front windows you’ll notice some squiggly lines. Cynthia put those up with a yellow highlighter so the birds wouldn’t try to fly into the windows. Apparently the birds see the lines”fluoresce” and we’ve avoided many head-on collisions.

With the big floor done, it was time to move upstairs to tile the roof deck floor. We laid one long row first; Hanibal calls this row El Maestro (the teacher):

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Cynthia inspects the first row. As we near the outside edge, we’ll move the plants inboard so that we can finish tiling the floor. A tarp protects the recently-laid end tiles from an imminent afternoon rain.

On the second day, Hanibal continued laying tile and I spent most of the day marking and cutting the border tiles. I am happy to announce that I have officially cut THE VERY LAST TILE that abuts the intricate innies and outies of the container walls. Glad to have that done!

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With so much mortar and tile to carry up to the roof, Hanibal brought his son-in-law, Francisco, to be his helper. Francisco had to do double duty with the edge tiles — after bringing them up to the roof, I marked them, he carried them back down to the saw, I cut them, and he carried them back upstairs. You really don’t want to carry more than five of these tiles at a time as they are thick and heavy. Here is Francisco ready to hand a tile to Hanibal:

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When a new guy comes to work for us, I take his picture and send him home with a copy. The next day they always come back smiling, saying that their family responded, “Guapo!” (pronounced wappo), or “handsome.” This was the photo I gave him.

As of today, the roof deck looks like this:

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The roof deck pitches about a quarter-inch-per-foot toward the outside to shed rain. Armando’s job this Saturday was to grout the floor, making a space ready to move the plants to.

The rainy season is going out with a bang — we’ve had some pretty good downpours in the afternoons and also in the hours just before dawn. Here is one at two in the afternoon — we are really happy with the water management on the property:

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As wet as it looks, we’ve also had some lovely sunny days. The rainy season will end around December 15th.

Once the roof deck is done, the last big tile job is the front steps. We’ll probably get started on that project sometime this week. Can’t wait.

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

 

New Plant Bonanza Plus Yet More Tile

With just a month or so of the rainy season remaining, Cynthia and I decided that we should get some more plants in the ground so that they can get a good start before everything goes dry.

So Friday morning, after I got Hanibal and Bolivar started on another tile floor, Cyn and I went to a nursery in town. There are other places that we like to buy plants too, but for quality and sheer volume, Sr. Chico at Plantas del Valle was our choice this time.

It sure is nice to have enough Spanish under our belts to be able to easily describe what we were looking for — we talked about sun vs. shade, drought tolerance, colors, the heights of the plants, and how many of each. A worker took us into the yard to confirm our choices. Cynthia and her new hip navigated the muddy paths really well.

The nursery really is quite large. Here are some photos:

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

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Here the workers are choosing and cleaning 16 nice ferns.

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An hour later their truck was loaded for delivery.

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Here is our bounty, unloaded in our driveway turnaround:

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Eighty of the variegated plants in the foreground, sixteen ferns, three tall red-trunked palms, six grasses, and five mother-in-law tongues.

Armando arrived Saturday, saw the plants, and said, “I guess I know what I am going to be doing today!” He made great progress, not finishing only because a pounding rain that arrived at noon:

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Armando is planting the new variegated plants between the two rows of green plants. In time, they will all fill out and provide a colorful border along the garden path.

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

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Two of the three new red-trunked palms are placed at the end of the container. They still need to be moved around to find the right spot.

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The new grasses will hide the concertina wire.

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

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In tile news, in the loft, I cut the edge tiles, ready for Hanibal to mud them into place:P1010885-001

Here is the loft, now all done except for the grout on half the floor:

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I am in the process of installing a sink at the far end of the loft, by the door to the roof deck.

This is the landing at the top of the stairs, with the roof deck through the door:

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Earlier I mentioned that I got Hanibal and Bolivar started on the next floor — and it is a big one! It seems surreal that we are FINALLY getting to this floor — the entry, dining room, and living room. We’ll be a week or two on this monster:

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When Cyn and I returned with the plants, Hanibal and Bolivar had laid out a T-shape of tiles, using only the tiles and a framing square to determine a right angle. Personally, I wouldn’t have done it this way because if you are even a little bit out of square, the effect of compounding errors is greatly magnified when you get to the other end of the line of tiles. I find it better to lay row after row.

I didn’t want to second guess Hanibal, but the mortar was still wet, the tiles not yet set firmly in place. So I risked insulting him and interjected myself into the process to make sure the layout was square.

The best way to determine square in a large area is to use a 3-4-5 right-angle triangle. Units of measure for the 3-4-5 can be inches, feet, meters, etc. I used feet.

To use the triangle, go three-feet in one direction, then four-feet in the other direction, then the hypotenuse must be five-feet.

For an even larger area, you can multiply each number by two or three or more to be even more accurate. In this case, I multiplied each number by three. So my measurements looked like this on the floor:  P1010882-001

I’m glad I checked because the layout was about three-eights of an inch out of square in nine-feet. Using a rubber mallet, we tapped the tiles to their new location where they met up with the correct points of reference. Now we won’t have to trim tiles to get them to fit or, conversely, have overly-wide grout lines; it could have been ugly.

One day after the guys left, I installed an LED strip of lights under the long bench in the living room. The lights come on a spool; you just unroll them, peel back the paper to expose the sticky-tape, stick ’em up, plug ’em in, and you are done. These lights came with a dimmer that I mounted under the bench. Here is a night-time photo:

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

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

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Egg salad, real chemical-free salami, peas, tomato, and grated carrot. Thanks Cyn.

We’ll be working on the big floor for a while. See you next time. Thanks for stopping by.