Rest, Reconnoiter, Regroup

We’ve been working at a fairly good clip for some time now. We cleared the lot, built the driveway entrance over the drainage ditch, placed most of the driveway, built and wired the electric service wall, erected the fence, got electricity connected, poured the concrete footings and columns, made a curb and filled the under-container area with cascajo, and put in the septic system, all with a small crew of one to three men and myself.

The fence was still missing its railing across the top of the chain link, so Armando and I started that project. I welded and Armando ground the joints smooth with the angle grinder. At the start of day three we stretched out the long extension cord and set up the tools. I moved the welder to my little red wagon and it was easier to navigate the uneven ground than with the wheelbarrow. I climbed the stepladder and started welding the next joint. All of a sudden, I realized, I AM TIRED!

I climbed down and told Armando that I couldn’t take another step. I was tired. Dog tired, and I needed a vacation. He is young and could keep going. But Armando, having a father younger than I am, validated that yes, I had worked hard and needed a vacacionito.

He had pretty much caught up to my welding, so we decided to put all the tools away for a few days. I didn’t want to send him home at 8:30 in the morning, so I suggested that he weed-whack the lot to fill out the day. Agreed, he got the “weeder” from the house, and I drove into town for some gas and a spool of trimmer line.

As Armando worked, I was tempted to go home and take some time in the hammock. But I had news to ponder, so I sat on one of the columns and contemplated our current position. I had been in contact with the man who was going to supply the containers, and we were trying to arrange a Monday meeting at the Port of Colon to pick out containers and get the delivery underway. But for two weeks now, he informed me that the prices of the containers had gone up significantly and the quality had declined.

At first I thought that this might be some sort of bait-and-switch, and there may indeed be an element of this involved. But I am reading another blog authored by Epic Software Group in Texas. They are building a creative commons building using eleven containers. I came across their site, which reads a lot like mine, just as I got the news of procurement problems for our project. Same story happened to Epic. Apparently, just as for sheets and towels, there is a high season and a low season for containers.

So I sat there on the column, breathing in the sweet smell of the grass being cut by Armando, trying to stave off a state of panic. What to do? To me, there were three options. One: Wait for the rainy season when the prices would come back down. In the meantime, I could fabricate other elements for the house including doors and windows. Two: Find another supplier who might have more leverage. And three: Build a smaller house with the same budget.

After a while I walked home and shared this with Cynthia. In short order, she came up with option four, and it may be the best one; time will tell. She suggested buying four, not six, containers, and, although it would require a lot more work, use the cut-out center panels to fabricate the walls for the second floor. Maybe the second floor could wait for the next dry season. We would need to build a floor and a roof from other materials, but the project could go forward and we could move out of our current rental house. This plan went into the think tank with the other ideas to stew.

In the meantime, I wanted to explore my Option Two: Find another supplier. This is somewhat complicated for us as although our Spanish is getting better, it is still limited. And ports are vast places with lots of big business going on, cranes and forklifts going at a breakneck pace with little time to deal with the little guy. It took a few days, but I finally got the idea to post a request on one of the Panama Yahoo Groups. Within just a few hours a woman responded in her best broken English. I have given her my shopping list and she is working on it as I write this. We’ll see.

It has been almost a week of my vacacionito now and I can report that I am beginning to feel a bit more rejuvenated. I’ve pulled the leaking toilet in our bathroom and replaced the wax ring. I’ve had some good time in the hammock. I built a steady-rest hand stand for Cynthia to use in her hot-glass bead making studio. I washed dog Jabo and cleaned the carport of all the overflow construction tools and materials. And, I have spent a lot of time studying Spanish. I am using PagePlus, a nearly free program (similar to not-nearly-free Adobe PageMaker) to lay out a little Spanish cheat sheet booklet that I can slip into my tee-shirt pocket and refer to when I need help, or to study when I have a free minute. So far I have thirty-something pages, each page a separate topic, all in six-to-ten-point text in a 2″x3″ booklet; I can read it just fine because the cataract in my right eye allows for great closeup work! I have a comb-binding machine so I can add pages as the booklet grows.

We are hopeful that we will be able to make a decision and move forward with our container house project very soon. Although I have been a carpenter all my life, this project is a different horse with a new saddle and it is understandably not without its unknowns and surprises. Even with the stresses, I think that our current life is a better position for us creatives (Cynthia and me) to be in than to continue on with the known of what has already been done. Know what I mean?

Below is a picture of the steady-rest I built for Cynthia. About a year ago while I was in the hammock, I would hear cars go by in the road, thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. I went out to check what it was, and came home with two leaf springs from an old pickup truck. I’ve been wondering all this time what I was going to do with them. Searching my junk bin for a suitable base for the steady rest, I saw the leaf springs and said, “yeah, ah ha, sure, okay.” I cut a short piece of the spring, cleaned up the edges, and after drilling adjustment holes, I welded a piece of square tubing to the spring. A saws-all saw blade and a coat of paint finished the project. Now, Cynthia can spend more time making beads without hand cramps and fatigue; the steady rest will help her hold the bead she is making in just the right spot in the torch flame.

Know what I mean?

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