PHOTOS!

At long last, the house is what I am calling 99.9998% complete! I have a very short list of unfinished items, most of which I can do in a day or two. But yesterday and today Cynthia and I staged the house and took photos inside and out. Here is a video with 93 pictures. To save you from me imposing my music choice on you, there is no sound. You can make it full-screen if you like:

So that’s it. Five-and-a-half years and all I have to show for it is 93 lousy photos!

I still hope to make a nice video. Stay tuned.

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

Skirting Sinks And Dotting Windows

Working the punch list of unfinished projects, I finally had to deal with the underside of the bathroom sinks. I didn’t want to build cabinets (moisture, mold, termites), but I did want to hide the pipes:

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So I cut some of the aluminum that I had left over from making the kitchen drawer bottoms and bent them on my DIY sheetmetal brake. I drilled holes under the counter tops, inserted plastic anchors, and screwed the aluminum skirts up into place. Now the undersides of the sinks look finished. Here is the skirt in the half-bath under the stairs, ready to screw into place:

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Done:

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The master bathroom:

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A closeup:

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And the second bedroom bathroom:

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That’s one more of the few remaining items to scratch off of the list!

In other news, we have had more than our fair share of birds flying into our big windows. With 800 species of birds travelling through this area, something is always in the air. Apparently, the birds see trees reflected in the windows, fly toward the trees, and hit the invisible force field of the glass. We’ve been able to save most of them; we hold them cradled in our hands until they can shake off the stunned ?-what-?-just-?-happened-? look. I did some research and found a couple of solutions. One was to apply decals that look like birds-of-prey or other shapes.

Another option, the one we are going with, is rolls of 1/4-inch wide tape. The tape has 1/4-inch square dots every two-inches. You roll out the tape, rub the dots to adhere them to the glass, then peel back the tape leaving the dots on the windows. It is labor intensive! The dots add a modern look and you can barely see them from inside the house. The product is called Feather Friendly and is made by 3M. Here I am in the process of applying the dots — I had to take a break as it was about to rain and the humidity was too high and the dots wouldn’t stick:

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With the kitchen cabinets done, I no longer needed to work in the carport/bohio and it was time to clean the floor. Sawdust from the caoba (African Mahogany) didn’t stain the porcelain floor tiles, but it stuck like glue, and with the addition of some dog pee here and there (thanks very much Jabo), it made the floor difficult to clean. We tried soap, then bleach, then vinegar, then scouring powder, and a lot of elbow grease. Finally, Armando suggested that he clean with a water/muriatic acid solution. This did the trick in short order a couple of hours:

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And remember Ramiro who helped with welding and painting? He is between jobs so we brought him back to do some painting. Here he is sanding, wire brushing, two-primer coating, and two-finish coating the bars on the master bedroom bump out. He is a meticulous painter and this paint job should last a good number of years:

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Here it is all bright and shiny:

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And of course, Cynthia and I managed to sneak in a nine-day trip to the pueblos surrounding Medellin, Colombia to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Our gracious AirBnB hosts made us a fabulous celebratory dinner. El Retiro turned out to be our favorite pueblo in the area. It is located in a forested, mountainous area about a half-hour from Medellin’s airport in Rionegro. Much of the industry of the area relates to wood, with a plethora of furniture makers turning out excellent pieces. Thanks to some of our blog readers who came for our 25-cent house tour, for recommending the area!

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

Birdbath 2.0 Plus Kitchen Wood Procured

This past two-weeks have been mostly a flurry of tiny, unphotogenic tasks, and I am often ticking off several orphan items per day. Touch up this paint, install this small piece of trim, grout this small area of tile, fabricate a foot-rail at the breakfast bar, install some kitchen ceiling trim, put plastic gliders the dining room chair legs, and on and on.

But two items stand out from the crowd.

First, our two garden globes and three homemade birdbaths, as nice as they are, were each sitting on top of a few round, rough concrete blocks. Cynthia and I decided to have Armando sculpt the stands to represent tree stumps with vines wrapping around them. I gave Armando very little direction, told him to be an artist and to have fun with it. We think he did a pretty good job. Here are some photos:

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Where’s Armando?

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Armando posing with his space alien friend. Cynthia calls it Bubble Brain.

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Bananas are almost ready to harvest. A volunteer papaya tree is growing in the foreground.

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Last Saturday, I decided to head out to find wood for the kitchen cabinets. As you drive down the mountain, there are several roadside woodworkers who make chairs and tables from local wood. Most of the furniture is very rustic and not to our taste. But I stopped at them anyway and asked where I could purchase wood. They all sent me to the woodworker in Coronado near the El Machetazo store. My order was for too much wood for him to sell me from his supply, but he gave me the name of a man, Marco, in Penonome’ who sells wood.

I called Marco and he suggested that we text via WhatsApp, which we did. He also suggested that he visit us on Sunday so that he could show us some samples. I thought that was above and beyond the call as it is about an hour-and-a-half to Penonome’. He arrived right on time, bringing his wife and daughter along for the ride. After a cup of tea, we talked and settled on Caoba wood (African Mahogany) as he promised easy working (like butter he said), and a rich, deep red finish with several coats of clear polyurethane. It would go well with our wood-grain ceramic floor tiles.

Marco said that he could deliver the wood on Wednesday or Thursday. I took his word with a grain of salt as he didn’t say which Wednesday or Thursday; he had a fair amount of work ahead of him. I told him that I would give him a nice tip if he came when he promised.

I was amazed when he drove up to the house on Wednesday morning! I told him to back his truck into the driveway, but he wagged his index finger back and forth (the Panamanian word for no, no, no). He drove straight in.

We unloaded what looked like the right amount of wood. I started to pay him, but he directed me to the “Secretary and Treasurer” (his wife) and I paid her the $3 per board foot that he had quoted me. (I got independent estimates of $2 to $3 per foot; I thought the $3 was at the high end, but he did make two trips here and delivered as promised.) I joked that damn, he came when he promised and now I would have to give a nice tip! The Secretary and Treasurer smiled and gave me a thumbs-up; Cynthia and I suspect that she is also the Project Manager in their family.

We said our goodbyes, and then Armando and I pushed him out of the driveway as his reverse gear had been broken for years! The wood is rough sawn and I will need to plane it to the thickness that I want. I can’t wait to start working with it. My thickness planer had rusted from lack of use and I have ordered a new thickness-adjusting-gear from the States. It should arrive just about the time that the wood is ready to size.

Here are some photos of the wood, starting with the photo that Marco sent to me via WhatsApp:

Caoba Logs From Marco

Marco arrives with the wood:

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Smells good!

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Marco said that he used to be a policeman, but now he is retired and cuts wood.

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Here is the wood freshly cut from the logs. As it dries, it turns a deep red color. Marco suggested that I let the wood set for about ten days before I cut it to the finished sizes.

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Can you see the dovetailed drawers hiding in this stack of wood?

P1030030-001In other news, here are a couple of bonus photos:

I finally painted my shop door!

P1030045-001A while back we planted four of these plants/trees. The humming birds will love them:

P1030044-001Here’s a photo of the path to the back yard (taken from the gardener’s gate):

P1030043-001Jabo on the stairs at night:

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I wouldn’t want to walk past him in a dark alley…

And Jabo solarizing on the front steps:

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I took Jabo to the vet the other day. His toenails were long and he click, click, clicked when he walked across the tile floor. Three bucks. He was the perfect patient.

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

The Last Bathroom

It has been some time since my last post. But in there was a cold that put me down for a week, plus a trip to Medellin, Colombia. And our very poor Internet service hasn’t helped; I attempted to write all last week, but although we are paying $110 a month for 3 megs, the best we could get was 0.33 megs or so. Uggh. But now we have a new provider, 5 megs/$38 per month, and we are getting a good, solid, better-than-four megs, depending. I’ll call it a success!

A while back we tiled the floor in the half-bath between the living room and the master bedroom. Since then, I have tiled the counter, painted the walls, installed the sink and faucet and the toilet, hung the door, and painted the walls a light, warm gray.

I started off with a problem. A few years ago when I poured the concrete counter, I failed to make provisions for the counter to be thinner at the faucet and drain so that I could install the fasteners from below. I just didn’t know. So using a concrete drill and a hammer and chisel, I cut out two holes:

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Then using slices of PVC pipe as forms, I made two, 1-inch-thick concrete doughnuts:

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When the doughnuts cured, I stuck them in place with some bondo:

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Later, when I tiled the counter, I filled in the gaps with mortar. Here I am starting the tile job:

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We chose an iridescent blue-gray glass tile. I got lucky-as-could-be in that I didn’t have to cut a single tile! Here is the counter, the pedestal that I made out of a concrete culvert, and the rest of the bathroom all done:

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One mirror above the sink and another above the toilet makes an interesting effect. A hole in the back of the pedestal allowed me to plumb the sink drain.

Here are some more bathroom photos:

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We had one extra photo, a banana flower, left over from the living room; it fit well here.

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It wasn’t easy to photograph a 4’x8′ bathroom without catching myself in the mirrors!

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We bought the sink a long time ago on Overstock.com.

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We’re good and happy to have this last really raw area of the house done!

In other news, now that the driveway is free of piles of sand and gravel, we spread an additional eight-yards of crushed gravel. Here’s Armando chipping away at one of the piles:

P1020869-001While Armando spread the gravel, I tackled a long-nagging project; I hung light fixtures on the columns at the front gate. Nothing fancy, but they do look good with the gate:

P1020935-001Another day, I welded together some rebar to make an arbor at the front of the carport/bohio. It will look great when the vines with red flowers grow up the column and across the roof:

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This plant seems to have tough vines. We haven’t seen the flowers, but the guy at the nursery said that they would be red and that the hummingbirds would love them.

After a year away from her glass bead studio, Cynthia is turning out some lovely beads. Here she is working on one at her torch:

P1020950-001The plants are looking good. Here are a couple garden shots:

P1020963-001P1020939-001P1020940-001One day I caught Bob in a big yawn:

P1020859-001Our Medellin trip was only for five days, but here are a couple highlights — Every morning we had breakfast at a small natural food store/restaurant called Salud Pan (healthy bread). The two pictures in the next photo are hanging on their wall:P1020871-001We met up with my girl cousin from Massachusetts for the trip. Even after all these years, I still can’t help but pull her pigtail. Here we are at Jardin Botanico (Edit — actually, the next two photos are out of order — we are really at Parque Arvi, higher up in the mountains, hence Cynthia wearing a jacket in the cool air) :

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And Cynthia and me:

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Some flowers and plants at the botanical garden:

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The garden isn’t just about the plants. There are lots of birds and other critters, including this gargantuan iguana (taken with a telephoto as you don’t want to get too close — these critters aren’t afraid to run at you full tilt)!

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Luckily they weren’t just sunning but were kind of active. Here’s a short video:

We went to Plaza Botero again on this trip, always fun to see Botero’s work. Here is Cynthia with the cat:

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Another view is like something out of a 1930’s earth invaders sci-fi movie:

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It was quite warm in the plaza, so we took refuge in the air conditioned museum. I have to stop eating all those arepas!

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I guess that you could call this the Botero-effect mirror.

So that’s all for now. Now Cynthia and I are pulling the last of the wiring for the master bedroom and bathroom and a few other spots. Thanks for stopping by.

Five Years In The Making, My 200th Post

This blog entry marks my 200th post on PanamaShippingContainerHouse.com. Cynthia and I began this house-building project on June 6th, 2010, just two-weeks away from five-years ago. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Tackling much of this Big-Person’s Erector Set myself, I’ve had to push pretty hard, and keep on pushing pretty hard, if I ever want to see the project completed. As such, there has been a never-ending stream of items-become-reality.

I have become conditioned to frequently having something new to enjoy, appreciate, be frustrated by, and be proud of. As an artist, I like the creative process. It feeds me. It stimulates my brain.

This is not to say that it hasn’t been exhausting and that I haven’t wanted to walk away. Many times. The size of the project, the learning curve of creating a unique, owner-designed and owner-built shipping container house, the new skills that I have had to learn, plus the general decrapitude of my age (I can see 70 from my house), have been daunting.

But artists wouldn’t have it any other way, would they?

I know that the house isn’t done yet, however several readers have asked me if I would do it again — If I knew then what I know now, would I do it again. It’s a hard question to answer (indeed even some of our political elite have fallen into the trap and bungled the answer). And like a politician, I’d like to dodge the question and ask a different one.

Are we glad that we built this shipping container house? The answer, from both Cynthia and myself, is a resounding, “Yes!”

Would we do it again? (Ah, you still want me to answer that question…) “NO!” But not for the reason that you think. We think that building anything from shipping containers is a cool idea. We think that this has been a worthwhile exercise. We have learned a lot. We can’t identify any major mistakes along the way that have made this a stupid idea. We love the way that it is turning out.

But we wouldn’t do it again because we are more artists than builders. A builder can replicate the same house a thousand times, maybe flipping the floor plan every other time. But an artist — an artist is in it for the creation of new ideas, new expressions, new processes, new enlightening. So no, we wouldn’t do it again.

The house “works” for us in its design and materials. The containers provide a modular design grid that allows for a very fluid and usable living space. The large spaces, such as the 16’x40′ kitchen/family area, work well here in the tropics where airflow and ventilation is everything.

The still-somewhat-uniqueness of using shipping containers has enlivened the project, even more so than if we had built a good design from the standard concrete block method. We’ve enjoyed knowing that we’ve taken four containers out of the junk pile and up-purposed them into a home that has a lot of living potential.

Lastly, Cynthia and I have created this design from the ground up. We didn’t buy plans on the Internet, and we didn’t hire out any of the creativity. We’ve worked well together to solve really-difficult issues. Often Cynthia won’t like my ideas or I won’t like her’s.

But our philosophy around this is that if one of us doesn’t like the other’s idea, we look for a third option. We’ve discovered that the third option is never a compromise. Neither of us has had to give up anything along the way. The Third (or Fourth — or Seventh) Option that we find is always better than what either of us has thought of individually.

To everyone who has followed along, subscribed, or commented, thanks very much. I haven’t “monetized” this site because I like it the way it is. I’m not even selling the idea. This blog is my diary, and I’ve enjoyed making it public. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.

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

And Then, Just Like That, We Had Back Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1020633-001And the bathroom side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second bedroom:

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

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

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

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

Working The List & New Plants Arriving Daily

With the exception of the carport floor, the last significant outside job is done. This is a good thing because the rainy season has begun. That last job was to finish the west end of container two:

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Notice that the sky is no longer blue. Rain is on its way soon.

Here is this end all painted, window washed, soffit panel installed, and the scaffolding disassembled and returned to its owner after two-years:

P1020561-001Trim was still lacking in the two bedrooms at the top of the clerestory wall. It looked unfinished with the uneven ends of the zinc ceiling panels. So I installed a metal angle which provides a more crisp look. The next photo is looking up at the ceiling:

P1020560-001While I had the hang of being on ladders, Armando and I finished the kitchen ceiling by installing the last piece of zinc panel. In the seating bump-out, we hung a piece of tilebacker (no drywall in this damp climate…) on the ceiling and painted it gray. I still need to hang one of Cynthia’s red lamps:

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Cat painting by our friend, Alexia.

Since I had the gray paint out, I decided to continue in the hallway to the master bedroom. Long ago primed with red and white paint, the area was very dirty. I washed the walls and ceiling, sanded and primed rusty areas, and ran beads of caulk around the door frames. I painted everything two coats of the middle gray. Now this hallway doesn’t stand out as an eyesore:

P1020558-001Finally, using some extra PVC pipe parts, I took a few minutes and upgraded the video surveillance cameras:

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I cut a two-inch PVC elbow on an angle and glued it to another elbow. The camera fit snugly and the pipe makes a conduit to run the wire up the wall. I’ll paint the pipe the house color to make it disappear.

In the meantime, we now have about sixty-four new plants in the ground!

To the left of the driveway turnaround, we planted sixteen purple Mexican Primrose. These grow and spread well, so this area will be much fuller a few months from now. At the left side of the next photo is a new bush — I’ll build a trellis for it to vine up and over the carport entrance. It will have flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds:

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The new birdbaths are in place in the yard. Armando and I still need to apply mortar to the outside of the birdbath supports — I’d like them to look like tree trunks.

We put a row of the same Mexican Primrose along the yellow “Shrimp Tails” by the front gate. Again, these will fill in nicely:

P1020542We planted sixteen new grass plants along the west fence line. These will grow and hide the concertina security wire on the fence:

P1020544And five red-flowered trees that the butterflies and humming birds will like:P1020564-001The back yard is filling out nicely and is a good spot for one of the bird baths:P1020548The fern garden was doing well but looks better with the addition of a bunch of large-leaf purple plants. And we like the little flowers that Armando surprised us with:P1020551-001The hibiscus struggled through the dry season, and they were attacked numerous times by leaf-cutter ants. But they are doing well now that they have had a couple deep drinks of water:P1020547P1020546That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

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.

Step By Step We Are Getting There ~ Front Entrance Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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A good picture of Francisco cleaning the grout line.

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

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Here is a closeup of the jig:

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

From the roof deck:

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

Another day, another step:

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

And another:

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

And yet another:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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The coconut palms are doing well, too.

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

 

 

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.