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.

Some Disassembly And Assembly Required

With all the recent holidays and the crew not working, I had a chance to tackle two projects that have been on the back burner for some time now.

First, when we bought our new stove, a six-thousand-plus dollar American Range, we were assured that it was set up for propane, not natural gas. Natural gas (pipe in the street to your house) is not available in Panama, so you would think that it would be a no-brainer that all gas stoves would be set for bottled propane.

BUT NO!

Here is the stove in case you missed it in a previous post:

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When we connected the stove, the burner flames were way, way too yellow. We had a tech guy come out from the company and he verified that yes, it was wrong and was set for natural gas. He didn’t have the appropriate gas jets, and worse, said that he couldn’t get them. But he pulled a couple burner jets out and hammered on the brass where the hole is that lets the gas pass. This made the holes a practical-but-non-scientifically-bit smaller. It was somewhat better and we could use two of the six burners without sooting up the bottom of the pans.

I called the company in the States and they directed me to the company that handles all international support. I worked with them for four-or-five months to get the correct parts, but in the end, it couldn’t be done. I seemed to have hit the Inefficiency Infinity Department.

With no small amount of frustration, I collected myself and again called the manufacturer in the States. But this time I used our State-side mailing address and just posed as a regular customer. After we worked through the legalities and waivers of liabilities, the parts were shipped to me, $125. I’m not even going to try to get this reimbursed. We received them here in Panama a few weeks later, but knowing that it would take me a day to install them, the parts had to sit in a bag until I could get to them.

Finally a good day arrived. First, the stove is hundreds-of-pounds heavy and is a challenge to pull it out without scratching the floor. I got some two-by stock and levered the front of the stove into the air so that I could slip old pieces of a plastic cutting board under the front legs. The back legs are actually wheels:

P1010812-001Next, I wrapped a strap around the stove legs and around my hands and slowly pulled the stove out of its space. Like this:

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Yeah, you can have your fancy rowing machines. I move stoves!

Next I tore the stove apart to access the guts.

First I changed the jets, or orifices, on the six stove top burners. This was a dicey process because the jets sit down in holes. To keep from dropping the jets into the darkest reaches of the bowels of the beast, I took a pea-sized glob of plumbers’ putty, put it into the nut driver, then pressed the jet into the putty. It worked well and I changed the jets in no time at all:

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The new, brass jet is sitting on the burner just to the right of the nut driver.

Next, I had to replace the six burner control valves on the front of the stove:

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Some of the wiring controls the flame igniter sparker thingies. I don’t think that there is an acronym for that. There is a micro switch built into each control valve. There is also wiring for the LED lights that indicate when a burner is on, plus wiring for the oven light switch. The light switch fell apart in my hands when I tried to remove the wiring lug, so I’ll have to buy a new switch and take the front panel apart again. Another year…

Replacing the control valves took some time because the wiring was in the way of all the gas connections — I had to reverse engineer the wiring. But at about a half-hour each, I had the task done.

Next, I had to replace the jets for the oven and the broiler, and that meant removing a lot of stuff on the back of the stove. Sorry, no photo, but it too was a rat’s nest of wiring for the gas-valve safety apparatus and for the two oven convection fans.

The last new part was a replacement gas regulator that I had to install at the bottom of the stove.

Finally, I checked all my gas connections and verified that all the wiring was as engineered. I buttoned all the covers and trim pieces back into place. I was pleased because I had fewer than a hundred screws left over! Elapsed time: six hours.

By the way, there were no installation instructions with the new parts so I was winging it all the way. It didn’t explode so I guess I did okay.

Cynthia said that I was her hero, the flames now burning bluer and hotter (the flames on the stove, not her flames for me…), just as they should.

We’ve had another project in the works since we lived at the rental house down the road. There we had an old washing machine that I disassembled for recycling. But the stainless-steel drum was too good to toss. Without any real plans for it, it moved with us to the new house.

But the question arose, what style of chandelier should we put over the dining room table? We searched all the lighting stores and the styles and the lofty prices turned us away. Nothing really said Shipping Container Chandelier. Then one day, one of us, we can’t remember who, spied the washing machine drum in a heap in a corner. Hmm…

We talked and schemed, and finally came up with a plan to turn the drum into a chandelier. Cynthia fused some glass pendants that would hang from the drum. I engineered a way to hang the drum from the ceiling (back when we installed the ceiling metal I welded a bracket to the metal roof framing), how to put lights in/on the fixture, and how to hang the glass pendants. In keeping with the industrial look, I chose a piece of 2″ galvanized pipe as the pole that would support the chandelier. It kind of looks like a drive shaft and I expect the chandelier to start spinning at any moment. Here I am threading the wires (that earlier I ran through the ceiling) into the pole:

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I drilled through holes and connected the pole to the bracket with a bolt.

Next, I drilled 48 holes in what would be the bottom of the lamp from which to suspend the glass dangles. I also drilled a hole through the shaft on the drum for another through bolt, plus two more holes to pass the wires from the switches through:

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Check the body English.

The drum had three, kind of ugly spots where there used to be plastic agitators attached inside the drum:

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This fix was easy; I cut three pieces of aluminum scrap and caulked them onto the drum:

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Then it was time to attach the drum to the pole:

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I think that I look a bit like Wallace in Wallace And Gromit. I guess it is better than looking like Gromit.

Cynthia had made 50, fused glass pendants and I now had to drill a hole in each one. I put a 2×4 in the sink and added water to just above the level of the 2×4. Then, with the water as a lubricant, I chugged away, making a hole about every two-minutes:

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I fashioned a little block of wood with a hole in it to use as a guide for the diamond-tipped drill.

Next, Cynthia attached pieces of a braided bead cord (similar to fishing line only used for jewelry) to each pendant, and I started hanging the pendants:

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I pushed each loop up through a hole, then placed a piece of galvanized wire through the loop, the loop then resting on the wire to hold the pendant in place. Yes, this was tedious and an important part of Some Assembly Required.

Getting my head and arms coordinated around all the pendants was challenging but I got it done:

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No, this wasn’t my Halloween costume.

Here it is with all the glass hanging. Note that some of the pendants have dichroic glass, reflecting different colors depending on the light:

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Oh, I forgot to mention that I wired a lamp socket inside the drum so that light will spill out all the holes in the side of the drum. A separate switch controls the light that points down onto the table.

Here is a shot from underneath the chandelier; you can see that I had to make a piece of aluminum to hold the lamp that points toward the dining room table. The bottom light fixture has an LED bulb:

P1010852-001Here is one more photo of the chandelier from up in the loft:

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The bottom of the glass pendants hang three-feet above the (soon-to-be-completed) dining room table. The whole thing kind of looks like water flowing from a shower head…

Here is a photo at dusk:

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Cost? The LED down-light was expensive. It has an aluminum-finned heat sink to keep the unit cool — $200. Dichroic glass — $25. Pole and miscellaneous parts — $25. Total — $250, less than the cheapest $1,500 off-the-shelf chandelier at the lighting stores. And way cooler by far. The pendants are made from window (aka: float) glass. The pendants were made from the scraps of glass left over from our kitchen lamp shade project (soon to be installed).

By the way, there were no fabrication or assembly instructions with this Shipping Container Washing Machine Drum Chandelier Kit. But it hasn’t fallen from the ceiling so I guess we did okay.

We can’t wait until I wire for the switches and see the chandelier at night. We think that the design fits our Natural-Industrial-Bling design strategy.

In other news, my antennae perk up any time there is a full moon and a bunch of holidays in Panama. There has been a rash of robberies down in town and up here on the rim of the volcano — Saturday night two weed whackers were stolen from the local church just down the road. And last night about 8:30 Jabo went ballistic at the front gate.

So I take frequent walks around the house at night, looking for a hole in the fence or other added attraction. With the gravel path around the house, it is like walking in a park at night. Quite pleasant and peaceful if you don’t count the fact that I am carrying a bunch of defensive hardware. On one of my passes last night, I saw an owl sitting on the back fence. I throw our kitchen vege scraps by the banana plants there, and the owl was no doubt waiting for an unsuspecting mouse:

P1010835-001It let me get within ten-feet and it stayed put while I took its picture. Looks like a young one:

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A funny — I showed the picture to Armando. He said the owl looked like it was a smiling politician saying, “Vote for me!”

As I passed the back garden, I thought that this plant would make a good nighttime picture:

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And in the carport, a potted orchid was in bloom:

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

Teflon Wife, Undercarriage Plumbing, And Some Tile

Cynthia is one hip chick.

At the end of last month (September), she and I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for her to have hip replacement surgery. She had a lot of pain, and the need for surgery really became evident on our vacation to Medellin because she was unable to walk nearly as much as she would have liked.

A friend of ours had the surgery and recommended her surgeon in Savannah. The surgeon uses a newer approach to hip replacement, that is to make a relatively-small, four-inch incision at the front of the hip instead of a large incision at the back of the hip. A specially-designed operating table is used, where the legs can be independently lowered and pivoted to expose the, um, bone. Recovery is much, much quicker (weeks as opposed to months) and is less painful because there is much less damage to muscles and tissue.

But there were some complications. With this approach, most patients are in the hospital for a night or two, but Cyn was in the hospital for a week. Because Cynthia takes a blood thinner to keep her artificial heart valve from clogging, she needed four units of blood after the surgery as the bleeding wouldn’t stop. And keeping her blood pressure up in the range that supports life was a challenge for the medical team and quite stressful for me.

But all in all, the surgery was a success and her hip now moves like glass on Teflon, and we are back home in Panama after three-weeks away. This morning, twenty-five-days post surgery, Cyn made breakfast in our kitchen without the use of a walker or a cane. She still has a plenty of pain from where they worked on the bone, but it is lessening, and she is more- and more-frequently forgetting to use the cane.

Savannah is a lovely city, with the Spanish Moss hanging from the old oak trees. We stayed amidst antiques in a private home via airbnb.com, much better than fending for ourselves in a hotel.

Here is Cynthia eight-days post-op, sitting in the back yard:

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Cyn had to climb four steps to get in or out of the house. Challenging, but she did it!

The trees are really, really big and old in Savannah. This one is in the front yard where we stayed:

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While we were in Savannah, we took advantage of the opportunity to eat some really good food. Wiley’s Championship BBQ (voted fourth-best BBQ in the U.S.A.) was a treat, as was Joe’s Homemade, who’s motto is, “It’s that good, we promise.” Joe’s is Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant in Savannah. We filled in the remaining tummy spaces with meals from Saigon Bistro (best Vietnamese in Savannah) and Whole Foods. At Whole Foods, it was wonderful to have access to apple- or cherry-wood smoked, real, chemical-free bacon. Funny, after eating this nice bacon, one morning in the hospital I took a bite of the bacon on Cynthia’s breakfast tray. I couldn’t spit it out fast enough! It tasted rancid and chemical-laden. What a difference!

At first, Cyn needed a lot of help and I was her go-to guy. But gradually she is becoming more self-sufficient. Now she can shower, get in and out of bed by herself, and get dressed. In Savannah, she had four acupuncture treatments that helped greatly reduce the massive swelling and black-and-blue from all the fluids they had to give her to raise her blood pressure.

And as a bonus, for the first time in eleven years, Cynthia and one of her nieces got to see each other; her niece and her husband traveled from North Carolina for the reunion. Here is a photo for the family to see:

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Cyn is a little more than one-week post op in this photo. Still swollen but standing on her own.

So not much has been accomplished on the house in the last month.

Hanibal returned for three days this week to install more tile. We now have the guest bathroom floor tiled:

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I marked and cut the stack of tiles, preparing them for Hanibal to mortar into place along the wall of the container.

Plus two-thirds of the master bathroom floor:

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And with the perimeter tiles cut and installed:

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There is an easy way to mark a tile for cutting so that it accurately fits against the wall. First, place a tile on top of the last full tile, like this:

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Next, place another full tile against the wall and mark the tile that you want to cut. Leave a little space between the top tile and the mark to allow for a grout line. Like this:

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Next, cut the along the line and drop the tile into place. It will fit perfectly even if the wall or tiles are out of square.

One day while I was waiting for Hanibal to return, I installed baseboards in the kitchen and the under-stair half-bath. I cut some of the kitchen floor tiles down the middle, cut the pieces to length, and using urethane caulk, glued them to the walls and cabinets. Armando grouted between the floor and baseboards, and I ran a bead of the appropriate color caulk along the top of the baseboards (in the case of the next photo, gray caulk):

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I guess I get points for accurate estimating. With the kitchen floor and baseboards all done, I have four tiles remaining.

And with the bathroom baseboards in place, I no longer had any excuse not to install the toilet in this bathroom.

So I spent several hours in the crawlspace and installed PVC pipe from the toilet to the septic tank. While I was at it, I also plumbed the drain for the bathroom sink. After not much work in the past month, wow was I sore all over the next couple of days:

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The larger tubing is the toilet drain. The smaller tubing is the air vent that will have to run up the outside of the container. 

By the way, in the States I had a business where I applied physics to solve air, heat, and moisture problems in houses. I spent many, many days, weeks, and months in crawlspaces, so working under this house is no problem. Except I’m older now. I guess it helps keep me fit, but it sure is a challenge for Sr. Arthritis. And oh my, the shoulder and abdominal muscles scream bloody murder for the next few days!

With all the drain and water supply pipes now in place, I just need to find an hour or two to install the toilet and hook up the sink. Lynn in Ohio and Christine in Oregon stay tuned!

In the yard, we returned to lush ground cover by the front steps. And the bamboo screen at the kitchen window has greened up nicely:

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

More Tile

We wrap up the month of August with more tile done and yet more to go. But we are very pleased with the progress. The master bathroom is our current focus; there is progress but it is still a mess. Here is a photo of the master bathroom — on the left, Armando is working on a rock wall. He can run about four rows a day before the wall becomes unstable from the weight and the wet mortar. On the right, Hanibal has just finished a glass block wall between the shower and the toilet. We all joked that Armando got paid ten-cents per rock (not true). P1010564-001Hanibal and I tiled the shower valve wall in the shower. He and I worked together to plan where the tiles would go and then strategically located the shower valve so that all cuts in the tiles would happen at the edge of the tiles — no tiles were damaged in the making of this wall: P1010562-001The tile floor and wall in the laundry room are done and I repainted the walls a putty gray. All that is left in this room is baseboard and connecting the sink and some wiring:

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The paint around the window shows lavender on my monitor but it is truly putty gray.

Cynthia and I spent the better part of a day cleaning and organizing. It is always difficult to live in a construction zone. Here is the living room pretty much cleaned out; even the living room floor got vacuumed: P1010542 One big mess still exists — the pallets of tile in the carport. This area has become the dumping ground of everything that we didn’t know what to do with. Eventually though, the tile piles will dwindle to nothing: P1010553With the second bedroom tiled and mostly painted, it was time to paint the desk (one of the five white tables that Aramis and I built) and bring it into the bedroom. We had a piece of glass on hand. Here I have just completed the third coat of oil-based enamel: P1010540-001Here is the table/desk in the second bedroom, painted a deep chocolate brown: P1010569-001In the latest in our frog-in-a-bathroom photo series, Cynthia spotted this one on our toilet this morning: P1010550-001 P1010547

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Not a very clear photo — it was on the move — but I was intrigued by how the frog could keep its foot flat on the floor as it sped forward.

Lastly, my lunch one day:

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Egg salad in a tomato rose.

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

Four Counters And A Long Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Tables And A Waiting Game

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

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

Ramiro grinds the welds smooth.

Ramiro grinds the welds smooth.

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

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

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

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I took this dizzying photo from the loft.

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

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I like this late afternoon composition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Hangover And A Good Roughing Up

In our push to complete as many outside details as possible before the rainy season begins, this past week we focused on the north wall of container #4.

Ramiro and I fabricated and installed 21 support braces just like the ones on the hangover overhang at the front of the house. Here we are on the second day:

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Ramiro is welding the brackets onto the container. After we had a few brackets installed, we lifted the 2″x6″ carriola into place and welded it to the brackets. This made aligning the remaining brackets quite easy:

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When we had all the brackets in place, we ground the welds smooth with the angle grinder and prime painted them. While the paint dried, Ramiro sanded the side of the container. He used a wire brush on the angle grinder to remove the areas of heavier rust around dents and dings. Here is Ramiro hand sanding the container:

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Ramiro gives the paint a good roughing up.

While Ramiro sanded, I took the last three hours of the day and hand sanded, two-coat primed, and two-coat finish painted (latex) the outside east wall of my shop. We still need to paint the window blocks the teal/green trim:

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This is the same color as the rest of the house. In full sun the color looks blue-ish. In actuality it is a soft gray green, almost the color of sea foam.

The next morning we slipped pieces of roofing metal, that I had previously cut, into place on top of the brackets:

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Armando and Pancho joined Ramero and me to mix and place the concrete slab above the roofing metal:

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I used the 2″x6″ metal carriola instead of a 2″x3″ so that we could have more thickness and build in a drainage channel on the top of the slab. Here is the finished slab:

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It is hard to see the channel. The next photos show it more clearly.

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I cut a six-inch hole in the roofing metal and inserted a PVC pipe as a downspout to carry off rainwater.

We finished the slab at 11:00.

The back garden was filled with weeds so I asked the guys to weed for an hour and then they could take the rest of the day off.

At noon, Armando took a shower (now at the end of the dry season there is very little water at his house) and he and Pancho left right at noon. But Ramiro said that because he arrived a bit late that he wanted to work a bit more. I told him it was okay if he wanted to leave, too, but he insisted on working for another hour.

The garden now looks like this:

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Cousin Christine — this is the palm that you gave us (in a small pot) a couple years ago.

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And Christine T. — even though the dirt is dry, dry, dry, your plants are growing by leaps and bounds. One of our neighbors told us last night that this plant is in the taro family and that the young leaves, stalks, and roots are edible. The grasshoppers sure love to eat it!

Here is a panoramic view of the back garden from the roof. We need more plants!

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A couple hibiscus bushes have bloomed, including this dainty one:

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And this big yellow flower:P1010185-002

Armando and Pancho have been rocking the container support columns:

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And Cynthia, after placing an order on January eleventh, finally* received from the States two spray cans of mold release for use in slumping glass. She is going to make lamp shades for the lights over the kitchen counters. Stay tuned.

*The mold release took two-and-a half months to arrive because it had to be routed through the Panamanian Pharmacy and Drug agency (among others) because one of the many ingredients in the spray could possibly be used in the production of illegal drugs. Really? I mean really?

Tomorrow Ramiro and I plan to paint the north wall and its windows and then move on to other exterior walls.

I think that’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

Exterior Paint

We can see it. We can smell it. The rainy season is on its way. With virtually no rain since mid-December, now early mornings are overcast with light rain. Dark clouds gather in the northeast in the afternoons. It won’t be long now.

Even though we want to finish tiling the kitchen floor, the push is on to get as much done on the exterior as possible before the heavy rain arrives.

You can see the change in the past two weeks by comparing these two photos:

Panorama -- 23 Feb 2014

cropped-Panorama-23-March-20141.jpgAfter sanding and cleaning the siding, I loaded the HVLP spray gun with an oil-based polyurethane paint:

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And then sprayed the front of the house. In the next photo I am using an ancient hovering/floating technique that I learned as a young child from a mystic in India:

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Oh wait, sorry, that photo was sideways:

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While I was sanding the above wall, I came across a really beautiful (huge) spider:

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Ramiro followed behind me, painting the trim dark green/teal. In the next photo is a closeup of the house where you can see that Armando and Francisco, after working all of February and half of March, have finally completed the garden path around the house. The total count is five yards of stones, twenty-five sacks of cement, six yards of sand, sixteen yards of gravel, and fifty-feet of sixteen-foot-wide weed cloth to cover the path. Whew! We think that it adds a lot to the landscape:

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A sharp eye will notice that we just completed some concrete edging at the bamboo window box planter and at the top of the stonework on container #1. When the rains come, we will be planting a lot more plants and getting rid of most of the grass. 

Now the only painting remaining at the front of the house is the rake board (facia) at the roofline. It will be the dark green/teal.

With all the smoke in the air, there have been some beautiful sunrises:

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The early morning light illuminates the glass block wall in the kitchen:

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

Stairs, Glorious Stairs

The big item on this past week’s to do list was to mount the handrail on the staircase wall. Sounds quick and easy, yes?

But first we had to make a dozen handrail brackets and weld them onto the handrail. In the next photo, we still need to cut the long ends to length. We bent the one-half-inch square steel with the oxy-acetylene torch. These brackets aren’t as beautiful as what blacksmith friend Smyth Boone would have made, but they look industrial and fit the bill:

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Here is a video showing how we bent the steel bar:

But before mounting the railing on the wall, it would be much, much easier to paint the wall first. We chose some paint, a rich, dark grey. To refresh your memory, here is the big wall:

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But wait. Before we paint the wall, it would be smart if we cleaned the dried mortar from the steel staircase. I bought a gallon of muriatic acid and a few boxes of baking soda (to neutralize the acid when we did the final wash). I also bought two pair of long, acid-resistant gloves.

I mixed a ten-percent acid/water solution and also a bucket of clean baking soda water in case we splashed any acid on us while we worked. I mounted a new wire brush on the small angle grinder.

Ramiro and I donned the rubber gloves and rubber boots. We started at the top of the stairs; I applied the acid solution, Ramiro operated the grinder, and I cleaned up behind him, washing the clean stairs several times with the baking soda solution. It was a long, hard day bending over the stairs:

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Here is a video of the process (sorry about the bad audio, must be a problem with the camera…:

With just one more wash to go, the cleaned stairs look like this:

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Now for the fun part — I sent Ramiro home and before a new coat of rust could form, I spent another hour applying a boiled linseed oil finish. I wiped the oil on with a rag, then wiped the stairs dry with another rag. The completed stairs are quite glorious if I do say so myself. Here are some photos:

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As I finished, the late afternoon sun started streaming in the window at the top of the stairs:

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And got even better a few minutes later, the stairs gleaming a rich, dark patina:

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Next it was time to paint the walls on either side of the stairs. With the high ceiling, this big room is very spacious. Cynthia and I thought that if we painted the walls white that people would feel lost in the room. The two, floor-to-ceiling window walls bring in a ton of light. So we decided to paint the walls a very deep dark grey to give the space a cozier feel. Spacious and cozy, if you will.

Finally, days of work after just wanting to hang the handrail, it was time. This morning, Sunday, Cynthia and I brought the long, intricate handrail back into the house (it was outside for painting) and screwed it to the wall. Ramiro and I had already drilled and installed plastic wall anchors at the appropriate locations for screws, so the install took only a few minutes. Here are the painted walls, the handrail, and the oiled steel staircase. A new mirror makes the look:

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The mirror frame has the same bronze-y brown tones as the oiled stairs.

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In my free time this week, I took a day and completed the kitchen stove exhaust fan. I had built the hood, but still needed to install the fan motor and duct work. I started by making a six-inch round outlet hole in the shipping container wall. I used a combination of one-quarter-inch drill holes and a saber saw with a metal-cutting blade. I left two tabs to bend in and secure the duct. Here is the hole almost all cut — I think that it looks like an evil smiley-face icon…:

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I tried to use some of that aluminum Slinky hose, but it was seven-inches and the motor was six-inches. I was also concerned about grease building up in all the crevices. This is the stuff:

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The more I worked the uglier the mess got, so I threw it aside and made my own ducting. Using pop rivets, I made a triangular aluminum diamond plate box. and cut two, six-inch holes in it. (Yet another use for my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake.)

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Next, I couldn’t make a round duct, so I made another aluminum box to complete the ducting. In the next photo you can see the hood, the triangular aluminum transition box, the exhaust fan, the other aluminum box, and a sound muffler:

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Finally, I wired the fan. With no adjacent wall to install a switch on, I chose to use an X-10 wireless remote control unit. I plan to Velcro the wireless switch inside a drawer next to the stove so that it is easy to reach and won’t get lost.

This exhaust fan moves a lot of air. It isn’t as quiet as we would like, but we don’t smell any gas fumes regardless of how many burners are being used.

While I was working on the exhaust fan, Ramiro finished installing the angle iron trim on the inside of the windows:

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Armando and Francisco are moving into the home stretch with the garden path, nothing four more yards of gravel can’t cure:

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When the rainy season arrives, it is goodbye grass and hello gardens. We have a lot more plants to fill out the gardens.

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