August Is National Tile Month

August is National Tile Month, at least as far as our project is concerned!

After several weeks of searching for a truly-professional tile installer, we succeeded and hired Hanibal. We know Hanibal. His daughter Yamileth cleaned our house for quite some time when we were in our last rental. Fortunately, he had just completed a four-month job at a new beach resort. He came by to look at the job on a Saturday and agreed to work for us starting on the next Tuesday. Perfect!

Hanibal agreed to let me be his helper. He laid the tile and I cut all the odd pieces. I also made sure that he had a ready supply of tile, tile spacers, clean water and sponge, and all the tools he needed at his finger tips. I’m a good helper; my first job working for a carpenter when I was fourteen was good training. My boss told me to watch him and try to figure out what he was going to do next. For example, if he measured a board, the next thing he was likely to do was to mark a square line at the mark. I was to hand him the framing square. Next he would need the hand saw, and etc. Anyway, the only thing that I don’t do for Hanibal is to mix the mortar as he is very particular as to how much water is in the mix. I’ve seen him add just a few more drops of water to make the mix just right.

We started on the wall by the staircase. Cynthia and I chose a natural tile that brings a lot of warmth into the living room. Here are some pictures of the process of tiling this wall. It took us a little bit more than two days to complete the wall:

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I used the laser level to strike a level line on the wall. We worked up and down from this line. I nailed a board at the line to support the tiles.

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I can’t believe it. We ended up one tile short. I have it on order.

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Our next project was to tile the balance of the kitchen floor. In the next photo you can see that months ago I left off at the stove island and the microwave:

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Hanibal said that the floor was not quite level and he wanted to make it level so that the tiles would lay nice and flat. He drove nails into the floor at various places and we strung strings. The taut strings showed places where there were dips in the floor. In the next photo you can see the strings. Hanibal is in the process of rolling a bonding agent onto the floor:

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The bonding agent is all spread and is drying:

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Next he put daubs of mortar (equal parts sand and cement) at various places under the strings:

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Then, using more mortar and long boards as straight edges, he connected the dots, thereby making the floor flat and true:

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I made a print of this and another photo and gave them to Hanibal. He said his family, especially his grandchildren, loved the photos.

We spent a day with this floor-truing process, well worth the time, effort, and money. Here is our tile-laying progress at the end of the first day of tiling:

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By the end of day two of tiling (next photo), we were nearly to the west wall of the kitchen. All the white thingys are spacers to keep the grout lines accurately spaced. I was truly impressed with his quality of work. So many of the local “tile men” won’t use the spacers and end up in trouble when they reach the far wall. Notice that we had to use a plank as a bridge to keep from walking on the freshly-set tiles:

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So this is as far as we have progressed as of this blog entry.

In other news, while I was searching for a tile guy, I took some time to attend to some details in the kitchen. The ends of the ceiling beams were quite crude looking where we had welded angle iron to attach the beams to the container walls:

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I used several tubes of urethane caulk, smoothing the caulk with a wet finger. Then I touched up all the white paint. I also painted the window frames a warm red that Cynthia had chosen:

P1010486-001Cynthia wanted to make glass lamp shades for the kitchen lights that will hang from the beams. She started with regular window glass. She sprinkled and spread granulated glass (called “frit”), onto the window glass. At this stage of the process, much of the frit is white, but it will change color (called “striking”) when fused in the kiln. This is her first foray into fusing and slumping projects:

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The blacks will stay black and the yellows will stay yellow, but the whites will change to red tones.

After nearly 24-hours firing and cooling in the kiln, the colors develop, in this case reds and orang-y-reds.:

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The glass pane on the left is actually a stack of three test panels to see how the frit would react, to see what colors she wanted to use, and to see how much frit she would need for rich colors.

Now that the clear, flat panes of glass are colored and fired, she will put each one back into the kiln on top of a stainless-steel form. In the heat, the glass will drape over the form, thereby creating a glass lamp shade.

While she waited for the firings, she got engrossed in an eBook on our tablet, An Echo In The Bone in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series:

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Moving on, Armando moved the 15 spider plants up to the roof deck:

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He also planted a row of Cola de Camerones (shrimp tails) along the driveway. They add a nice splash of yellow:

P1010439And one day Armando and I spread four-yards of gravel in the turnaround:

P1010442-001The Anthuriums, also called Flamingo Flower or Little Boy Plants, are in bloom in the front garden:

P1010433-001Meanwhile, Jabo styles the mop head look:

P1010475-001We know to look in our shoes for scorpions, but now we have discovered that we have to look in our shower scrubbies for … frogs! Still using the outside bathroom, in the shower I was about to scrub my pits when I spotted this little one:

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P1010459And finally, we got to put our feet up for a weekend. Jackie Lange, from Panama Relocation Tours, invited us to the nearby Sheraton Bijao (pronounced Bee-how) resort for a weekend if we would talk to her tour group about what it is like to live in Panama. Thanks very much Jackie, we had a great time:

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We got to put our feet up.

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Cynthia and I take our first selfie. What if there are more than one person in a selfie? Is it still a selfie? Is it selfers? Selfiers? Usie? I’m confused.

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Me, past my mid-sixties, rocking a 20-pound weight loss. A big thank you to Cynthia’s cardiologist for the information about gluten and other dietary changes we have taken on!

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And lastly, has anyone noticed that as of today my blog is only a few thousand page views away from a million? Who’d a thunk it?

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

Pop Up Garden

In this post, we plant a flower garden.

It is a frequent occurrence that neither Cynthia nor I can remember who’s idea it was to do something. There is an organic process that happens between us, a decision is made, and a day later we are oblivious as to how we got from point A to point Z. “Honey, do you remember how we decided to do such and such? Who’s idea was it to get started?” “Um, I dunno.” Well, it just happened again; a huge flower garden just popped up that stretches sixty feet across the the front yard.

Some background: We’ve been living in a nearby rental house for nearly three years. We really wanted to be in this neighborhood and this rental house was the only option at the time. It has a big fenced in yard, big enough for our long-legged, gotta-run dog (I’ve clocked him at 28 mph).

But the house wasn’t love at first site. We saw the outside, figured we could re-assemble our five-man crew from a former project and get the yard cleaned in a week or so. We signed a one-year lease without seeing the inside. When we finally got the keys and opened the front door for the first time, Cynthia cried so hard and so loudly that a neighbor way at the end of our road and up on the hill came down to see if everything was okay.

It wasn’t. The house — how do I say this nicely — had a lot of deferred maintenance “issues.” (Cynthia says this is an understatement.) As I said, the outside was overgrown with weeds and tall grass that we cleared away. Additionally, we spent a couple thousand dollars making vital repairs to the inside of the house to make it habitable. In return we got periods of no-or-reduced rent. Our elderly landlady, who often wears a stylish vintage hat and white gloves, loves us and often says in her broken English, “Oh, you make me new house!”

Here’s a photo of the kitchen as we found it, except we had already removed the termite-ridden upper cabinets. Remember, click a photo to enlarge it, click the back arrow to return here.

Here’s the new kitchen we built:

Some change, huh? Does Cynthia's apron coordinate with the curtains on the cabinets? She's a clever one, I tell you. Oh, and is the chicken coordinated, too? By the way, I made the pendant lamp over the sink, and three others like it, from stainless steel kitchen utensil holders and plumbing supply hoses that we found at a DoIt Center store in the city.

The point I am making here is that this place was a disaster, and relating to this post about our new garden, there were no nice plants in the yard. Here is a photo of part of the yard after the tall grass was cut and a lot of the weeds were hauled away:

And here is exhibit B, a photo of the yard once it was almost cleaned. Note that there were no flowers.

So, for the next few years, Armando would from time to time bring plants from his house, charging us only a small percentage of what we would have paid if we bought the plants “retail.” We ended up with quite a lush yard, and recently with our attention more focused on our new property than on the rental, it was really, really lush. I think I may have said it elsewhere on this blog, but my joke is that you can stick a METAL fence post in the ground here in Panama and a month later you have to come back and prune it. Everything grows so well here in the tropical mountains.

So a few days ago Armando and I dug up a slew of plants and trucked them to our new house. This photo is one of three loads:

Armando and Jabo ready to unload the truck.

With not much to do while all the welding and other infrastructure work has been happening, Cynthia has been chomping at the bit to contribute to the project. So she was on hand and was Project Leader as to the design of the garden and placement of the plants. Nice job, Cynthia! A very productive three days.

Here are some photos. Sorry some are blurry; it was raining fairly hard when I took them.

Overview of the new garden. Later, we will make the stone borders more permanent.

Ornamental ginger, antherium (little boy plant), spider plants, and a blue walking iris make up our new garden.

There is also a tree trunk that we have been debating whether or not to remove. Included in the garden, we think it will look great with orchids and bromeliads covering it. Maybe it will get a bird house on the highest point.

We have these in red, white, and pink. Armando put some rotten tree trunk pieces around each of the antheriums as fertilizer. How does he know this?

All the plants have started out good and healthy. I hope they like their new home.

Not bad for three short (rain by noon) days. We can’t wait to see the garden all filled in a few months from now. I hope that this post has given some enjoyment to those of you heading into winter. The key is under the mat.

To finish the project, Armando and I are getting a few yards of larger rocks and he will construct a more robust border around the garden and the path.

In other progress, when it was raining over the past week or so Armando and I sanded (random orbital sander) the interior container walls and ceiling in the space between 3 and 4 and number 4, and sprayed on a coat of oil red polyurethane primer. Here is the job in progress:

To spray, I am using my Fuji HVLP (High Volume, Low Pressure) spray gun. There is very little paint mist in the air when using an HVLP unit. The gun is powered by the black box which is basically a vacuum cleaner blowing in reverse. HVLP is nothing new — I remember that my parents had one back in the ’50s — it was an attachment to the Electrolux vacuum cleaner that I think they bought from a door-to-door salesman.

Fuji and I met on the world’s largest online tool dating service, Amazon.com, about five years ago. We have been very happy ever since. I quickly clean the gun after every few hours of spraying, and when I am done for the day I clean it within an inch of its life. I recommend this unit if you need to spray a lot of projects.

Bonus photo: Our neighbor cuts the grass early in the morning, kicking up the dew on the grass.

Tomas cutting the grass.

We are getting more and heavier rain of late. Now at mid-September, we are headed toward November, time of the heaviest rain of the year.

That’s all for now.