Unexpected Progress!

The day after my last post about tiling the walkway, we tiled the bottom step to the carport floor and installed a few missing tiles here and there. I thought that that would be the end of our supply of tiles, as I had estimated the job with a very sharp pencil.

But we did have nine tiles left over, just enough to tile the ramp to the back yard with only the tiniest bit of scrap left over:

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To fill out the day, we moved operations to the electric meter wall at the corner of the property. Armando and I had tiled it a couple of years ago, but the stucco at the top of the roof line was too smooth to bond the tiles to. One-by-one and over time, the tiles loosened and fell to the ground. Francisco roughed the stucco with a hammer and chisel, then Anibal painted on a bonding agent, and we cut and fit the tiles. Here is a photo that Cynthia took of the crew:

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At the end of the day our tile crew was all caught up until time to tile the carport floor, and I was about to dismiss Anibal and Francisco for lack of work. But I really didn’t want to lose them as it may be some time before I could get them back.

Anibal and I got to talking; he still had no other work on the horizon, so we decided to start the carport floor the next day. I had previously purchased the rebar for the floor, but we still needed sand, gravel and cement.

There still isn’t a lot of mixed sand and gravel deposited on the river banks, but Ramiro’s brother, who lives next to a river, had the ten-yards that we would need. He promised it for the next day. Then I went to town and ordered 30, 94-pound sacks of cement that were delivered the next day.

The next day, Armando, Anibal, Francisco, and I prepared the carport area for the pour. We have used this area to mix concrete on for five-years. Some areas were quite thick with remnant concrete and mortar, and to level the floor it was tough work with pick-axe, sledge-hammer, and shovel. We used a string to determine the level of the floor and picked away at the high spots and filled the low spots with the chipped-out debris. This took most of the morning. Here are some photos:

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We dug a trench along the front edge of the slab to allow for more concrete here — I don’t want the slab to crack the first time I drive over the edge! In the next photo I am driving rebar into the ground, making support for a 2″x4″ metal cariola form for the concrete:

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When we had the earth scraping and filling done to allow a five-inch concrete slab, we moved on to the rebar. Here Armando cuts some rebar with the angle grinder:

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We measured for the cross-pieces of rebar:

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Then we cut all of the cross pieces:

P1020706-002Now with the grid of 1/2″ rebar, spaced at 16″-on-center, we tied the rebar intersections with wire. Cynthia got in on the action, too, cutting and bending the 300-plus tie wires:

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Here the guys wire the rebar together:

P1020716-001After the rebar was in place, we drove some long pins of rebar into the ground, then I welded angle iron to the pins. Using a string from front-to-back of the carport, we adjusted the angle iron (by hammering on the pins) to set the top of the slab:

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You can see the angle iron — one at either edge and one running down the middle of the carport. We’ll use the ten-foot length of aluminum tubing to strike the concrete level.

Now we are ready for concrete.

The sand and gravel mix didn’t arrive in the afternoon as promised, but I was told that it would arrive early in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow arrived, along with the men at 7:00 a.m., but still no material, so Ramiro called his brother. It seems that the two-block-long road down to the river was too washed out and the truck couldn’t use it. So, the delay was caused — if you can understand how much work this must have been — by the three men having to physically wheel-barrow all ten-yards uphill on the deeply-rutted two-block “road” to the truck. Uugh!

The truck arrived with the first four-yards at 8:30 and we got right to work. Spreading out the entire four-yards, the men then added the cement,:

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then they mixed and added water:

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They make little troughs throughout the pile to contain the water. Anibal, the oldest on the crew, was assigned hose duty.

After the pile was mixed, Armando grabbed the wheelbarrow and kept at it all day long:

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Anibal and I placed the concrete and struck it off using the angle iron guides:

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We caught little breaks when we could:

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We ran out of concrete when we were almost done with half the floor, and had to wait an hour-or-so for the second four-yards to arrive. Here is the floor half-done and starting on the second half:

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With just a bit left to do on the floor, we waited again for the arrival of two-more yards of sand and gravel. This was a lot of mixing in one day for our small crew:

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The next photo shows the slab ALL DONE! Also, note that the driveway is a mess of sand and cement (this stretches all the way to the front gate), making it difficult to walk into the house without bringing in a bunch of junk on your feet:

P1020759-001So I sent a WhatsApp message to Jesus (man with truck) and ordered four-yards of gravel for the driveway. Yesterday, Armando and I spread the pile. We’ll still need at least another load, but I’ll wait until we are all done with the sand pile Here’s a panorama with the driveway almost all graveled:

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So having the floor slab done was a big surprise for us, we thought it would happen in June or July. But here it is at the tail end of May and it is in and done. Now just to tile it…

That’s all for now. 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.

I Can’t Think Of A Title For This Post

Since my last post, I stripped the forms off of the latest batch of counter tops. The following photo shows the counter in the master bathroom. Also in the photo, we were going to have a mirror cut for the wall, but we decided instead to tile the wall and hang two mirrors. (I’ve done the same in the second bedroom but no photos.) In the photo, I just finished tiling the wall. Armando will grout it on Monday, then I can install the faucets and sinks:

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This area will look much better when it is all dressed up with sinks, faucets, mirrors and lights. I still need to tile the wall under the counter. We’ve decided to use the shower floor tiles for this area below the sinks.

The concrete shelf in the toilet area turned out nicely; it has a nice shine due to the polymer sealer. One of our goals in designing the house was to create light-but-cozy spaces. Even the toilet area qualifies:

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When Armando grouts the tile wall, I’ll have him grout the honeycomb edge of the shelf.

The stone wall in the shower area looked drab, so Armando sanded the wall to remove grout from the stones and to smooth the mortar lines. Then he washed the wall and applied two coats of polymer sealer. Now it looks like what we had envisioned:

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In the laundry, I stripped the forms from the small counter top and sanded and sealed it. I put it in place and installed the faucet, sink trap, and drain line. This sink now works!

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A little grout will touch up the edge of the counter.

Out in the yard, Armando spent two-weeks making the last segment of the driveway edging:

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After we pour the concrete floor in the carport, we’ll order a few more truckloads of gravel for the driveway.

The big thing for us this week was the delivery of the glass table tops and the mirrors for the bathroom behind the sink.

We placed our order on the 10th of December and were told that we could expect it to arrive in two weeks. But being Panama, it just didn’t happen. All of December passed, as well as January. I kept checking with the company and kept getting promises for the next day. Or next week. There were lots of excuses. The company that put the edging on the glass broke the dining room table top and another one had to be made. The truck was broken. The driver didn’t show up. The men were all working out of town. We’re waiting for glass. One of the two edge grinding machines in Panama was broken and work was backed up. I half expected to be told that they had run out of sand to make the glass!

Exasperated, I finally visited the glass company and talked with Kathy, the woman at the desk. By this point we knew each other well. I explained that many promises had been broken and that we had been very patient. But now, our patience was worn thin.

In Panama there is an agency, probably like the Better Business Bureau, with the acronym of ACODECO. If you have a complaint with a business (or even a government agency I think), you can file your complaint and they will follow up. Apparently ACODECO has sharp fangs and razor claws (and the ability to impose big fines), because businesses quake at the mere mention of the name.

So playing good customer/bad customer, I politely told Kathy that I heard Cynthia snoring in her sleep. I told Kathy that with each exhale, I heard Cynthia exclaim, “ACODECO!, ACODECO!, ACODECO!”

Kathy’s eyes widened and she said, “Oh, por favor no Sr. Fred.”

“Oh, I have no control over what Cynthia will do when she is at the end of her patience,” I said.

The glass arrived the next day.

(The long delay in getting the glass is what prompted us to tile the bathroom walls above the counters and hang mirrors instead of ordering custom-fabricated mirrors.)

The first piece that the three men put in place was the much-anticipated, half-inch, 250-pound dining room table top. With a wide bevel on the edge, it looks great!

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After the delivery crew left, I hung the mirrors in the bathroom under the stairs. The photo is difficult to figure out; there are two mirrors that hang on the 45-degree walls behind the sink. Kind of like being in a Fun House:

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The glass tops arrived for the smaller tables, too, including the one in the dining room:

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And the second bedroom (under the mirror):

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Instead of wooden end tables (mold, termites), we are using clay vessels with glass tops. Here is the living room with the round glass tops on the vessels:

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We’ll plant a plant in the brown pot in the far back corner and maybe put an up-light in the pot. And yes, that is a pig (piggy bank) with wings and wheels.

The screened bump-out in the master bedroom is a sweet place to sit and have a glass of iced tea:

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Cynthia has been busy learning about slumping glass. Her latest creation is made using a bubble pot melt form. After all the colors had melted/dripped through the form and fused together in the kiln, I cut the edges square with my tile saw. Next, she will place it on a different form in the kiln, slumping the glass into the shape of a tray. Here is the piece held up to the light:

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What’s not readily visible in this photo is the sparkle of the little blue spots (from blue aventurine frit). It’s really pretty up close. This color combination is reminiscent of a tie dye.

Lastly, I’ve been all work and no play for a long time now and it is getting old. I’ve been aching to learn to play my new classical guitar, so even though I’m dog tired at the end of the day, lately I’ve managed to carve out a few minutes at the end of the evening to sit and strum a bit.

Here’s the guitar that Cynthia bought me for my birthday (was it last year or the year before?); it is hand made in Spain (all wood, no plywood, with a hand-selected cedar soundboard), fabricated in the traditional way. With a deep, rich resonance, it is a wonderful guitar for the music that I want to learn to play — Nuevo Flamenco and jazzy Latin styles such as the Bossa Nova. Thanks Cyn (and thanks again to our friend Cynthia McC for hand carrying it to me from the States):

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

Lovely In The Night

Armando and I start this post by pouring the concrete for the counter tops in the master and second bathrooms. It took us about three hours to mix and place the concrete in the forms that I showed in my last post. Here are some photos:

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We’ll put a lamp on this little concrete shelf that is (soon to be) next to the toilet.

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We took extra pains to work the somewhat stiff concrete around the rebar and into all the corners.

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This is the counter for the two vessel sinks in the master bathroom. Just to the right of my arm you can see two pieces of pipe sticking up out of the concrete. These pipes create holes for the faucet and the sink drain

We even made a small counter to go behind the deep sink in the laundry. Cynthia is looking forward to having this little project done so she can use the sink:

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After we leveled the concrete, I returned to the concrete several times during the day to steel trowel the surfaces smooth. As of this writing, the forms are still in place until the concrete cures more fully.

My next project was to make-pretty the hallway between the second bedroom and the steps that lead down to the dining room. A long time ago I hung sheets of plycem (tile backer) on the metal studs. To start, I patched the screw heads with Bondo and sanded the spots smooth. Then using urethane caulk, I sealed the edges of the plycem where it met the container walls and ceiling. Next I washed and prime-painted the shipping container metal ceiling, and then gave everything two coats of the warm gray paint that we are using elsewhere in the house. Quite a transformation from its formerly uninviting space. Before:

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After, much better:

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On my monitor I see a yellowish glow around the door frame — it must be a lens flare or something because the frame is totally gray in real life…

Next, I tackled the stair landing area. To get rid of the useless triangular dust collecting area in the far corner, I hung a piece of plycem and caulked it into place between the two metal walls. Then I cut and installed some steel angle to make a suspended-ceiling-like support for the ceiling and screwed it into place. (At this point I was still unsure what to use for the ceiling panel…) So far it looks like this:

P1020265-001Next, I had to make the ceiling panel. I was loathe to buy another $35 sheet of plycem, so I spent some time kicking around the jobsite, checking out our dwindling piles of building materials. I had a piece of plywood that would have worked, but because of my none-or-as-little-as-possible wood policy because of termites, I nixed that idea. I thought about using the zinc roofing panels, but I would have to buy some.

Finally, I stumbled upon a piece of rusty one-eighth-inch diamond plate steel left over from building the staircase to the loft and roof deck. Oh, why not (as I had no other use for it)? I cut it to size with the angle grinder with a thin cutoff disk and buffed it out with a steel brush on the angle grinder.

I was going to paint the piece, but Cynthia walked by and suggested that I simply apply boiled linseed oil to it (as I did to the staircase). The steel was outside in the hot sun, so I oiled it and wiped it dry in no time at all.

The remaining task was to lift the heavy piece of steel and drop it into place on its support angles:

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One step and maxed-out muscles at a time…

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Ooph, this is heavy!

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And DONE!

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Unless Earth suffers a catastrophic failure of the Laws of Gravity, this hunk of steel is in place to stay. We think the diamond plate provides an unexpected design punch.

I still need to paint the surrounding walls the same gray as the hallway, but now several arduous hallway tasks are done.

While I had the gray paint ready to go, I decided to paint the indoor-side of the metal framework around the big front windows. The job started out looking like this:

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The top two panes of glass are high off the floor. My tallest stepladder is eleven-feet high, but not high enough. So I lashed another ladder to the stepladder to create more height. I didn’t climb on the extra height, but (note to my friend Robin in Colorado) it gave me a sturdy hand-hold while I painted. Falls from ladders are no joke and I didn’t want to join Robin in that unenviable club. I like my Little Giant ladders — note how the base of the ladder flares out for more stability.

I’d primed the metal a long time ago, but I gave it another coat of oil-based primer for good luck. Then I applied two coats of the latex gray. When I was all done painting, I cleaned the windows inside and out. Twice. I finished the job at dusk and decided to finish the day with a few photos:

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Inside, looking from the living room.

We think that the house is lovely at night:

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The next photo may take you a moment to figure out:

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Call the magazine editors:

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Lastly, tired from trying to keep track of me, Jabo chills out on the cool tile floor and relaxes to the sound of the bubbling fountain:

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

It’s A Good Thing That I Take Pictures

It’s a good thing that I take pictures. Otherwise I would have no idea what I did in the past two weeks!

Let’s start with the glass block window in the master bathroom. Except for a piece of metal trim at the top, the window is done. It adds a lot to the north elevation and pumps a lot of light into the bathroom:

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From the inside, once it is painted and the rest of the finishing details are completed, the bathroom will be an inviting space:

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Looking through all three glass block walls shows a striking pattern of contorted grout lines:

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Hanibal and Francisco finished the glass block window about 10:30 in the morning. As this was the very last project for them here (except to do the carport floor in a few months), we celebrated the completion of several month’s work with a glass of sparkling apple juice. I paid them and sent them on their way with most of the day off:

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Official photos seem to be a solemn affair…

Now on my own, I was free to tackle a slew of smaller projects. One thing that had been bugging us was the open space above the glass block wall in the kitchen. The kitchen lights at night were a magnet for mosquitoes and other insects.

To make a bug-proof vent, I cut a piece of expanded metal and painted it black. I folded it in half with my bending brake, then slipped a piece of window screen between the two layers of expanded metal. I screwed the assembly to the outside of the container; it can be removed to replace or clean the window screen:

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Here is a close up:

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Keeping on with the bug-proofing projects — I bent some L-shaped pieces of scrap aluminum and screwed them to the wall above the big security doors at the living room west wall. This closed a big gap and also redirects water away from the glass doors. I had installed window screens some time ago:

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Next, it was almost impossible to work in my shop, so I dedicated two days to a good mucking out. Much better now. Here is what I had to deal with. Shameful:

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Next, Cynthia and I tackled the electrical work in the living room/dining room. We pulled a couple hundred feet of wire, Cynthia feeding wire to me from above while I did the worm walk in the crawl space, threading the wires under the house. Now we can plug lamps and the fountain into the wall, just like regular people, and the extension cords are all gone!

I installed a receptacle in the roof support column in the living room. We will plug a table lamp in here; it can be switched on or off from each of the two bedroom step landings as well as at the kitchen door. In 1977 I learned to create a “path of light” from an electrician who called himself Sparky, and it has served me well for many years. He said that you shouldn’t have to walk anywhere in the dark. Cynthia and I pulled wires to create this mess:

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With the help of a wiring diagram book, I was able to connect the receptacle and the four-way switch arrangement:

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Instead of using the supplied screws, I simply pop riveted the receptacle into place.

Another place that was a lot of fun to wire was at the three switches at the front door; two switches for the chandelier and one switch for the outside flood lights that I installed high over the front door:

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Above the three switches is a stack of rare earth magnets. I had to use them to retrieve a drill bit that I dropped into the column.

What made this challenging is that I messed up on my spacing when I cut the top hole for the switches in the 4″x4″ steel column; using the saber saw with a metal cutting blade, I cut on the wrong marks, making the opening too tall. But with some flat stock metal, pop rivets, and a few choice words for myself, I fixed the hole. I patched my boo boo with some Bondo. Here is my ugly fix before the Bondo:

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So now the dining room chandelier is working; here is a nighttime photo with the bottom light on:

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We hadn’t originally planned to tile the big triangular wall at the staircase in the living room, so the already roughed-in electrical boxes ended up too deep in the wall. First, I cleaned the tile mortar from the screw holes with a threading tool:

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With the threaded holes set back so far in the wall, it was good to have a small kit of different length screws on hand:

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How many tools does it take to install an electrical receptacle in a tile wall?

While I was in wiring mode, Cynthia asked if I would install a light in the kitchen exhaust hood over the stove. We bought a sealed LED light strip — it can easily be removed for cleaning. Here is a shot looking up into the hood. I still need to install a grease filter on the big round exhaust hole:

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The light switches for the kitchen ceiling lights, as well as for the exhaust fan and the light in the exhaust hood will all be by the kitchen door. I chose to not put the switches for the hood on the hood itself to keep the switches from getting greasy. So far I have some temporary wiring for some of the switches. I think it is quite entertaining:

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But, is it to Code?

At this point I ran out of wire, so I moved on to other projects. We have family coming to visit in about two months, so the guest bedroom and bath became the current priority. I painted the two container-end doors with an oil-based primer and two coats of latex; they had been a gnarly, rusty mess:

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I assembled the bed, Cynthia bought bedding for the room, and we hung the mirror. There is still some minor painting to do in the room:

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Speaking of the mirror, the one that we bought came with a Masonite backing. In this humid climate, within a month the Masonite was a moldy mess. I removed it and tossed it into the trash:

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In the guest bathroom, I made a form to pour a black concrete counter top (like the kitchen counters). It is still lacking rebar:

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The blocks of plywood will make a space on the underside of the concrete counter so I can install the nuts that affix the sink and faucet. This bathroom is still lacking paint, mirror, and lights, but the tile is all done.

While I had the tools out to make the form for the counter, I moved to the master bathroom to do the same:

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How many tools does it take to make a counter top concrete form?

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After I made the form, I placed the sinks and determined spacing. BobBob helped:

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And still while I was at it, we needed a shelf near the toilet to put a lamp on, so I made yet another form for that shelf:

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As soon as I can get some black concrete colorant, Armando and I can pour these counter tops. Right now, the only hardware store in town that has colorant has it at three-times the price at other stores. I refuse to patronize the scoundrel.

In the kitchen, we have been enjoying having breakfast in the little bump out area with the glass block wall. But the white walls (the container doors that form the walls) were a bit too bright and glaring in the morning sun. So I painted the area two coats of the same gray paint that we used by the concrete bench in the living room. It made the space much more cozy. It was difficult to get a good photo with all the morning light coming through the glass blocks:

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One big bonus of painting the walls gray is the shimmering pattern from the glass blocks:

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Cynthia has been working on some projects of her own. The next photo is of a ten-inch diameter glass bowl that she made. As her first bowl, she made it relatively unadorned to make sure that her slumping and fusing times in the kiln were correct before she spent the big bucks on colored glass. With this success, she can now make more with colors and textures:

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The bubbles in this bowl were intentionally made for decorative purposes.

Cyn is also making some light sconces for either side of the mirror in the dining room. After several failed attempts (the glass kept cracking when it came out of the kiln), she determined that window glass is not window glass is not window glass. She had mixed regular, clear window glass with some of the frosted glass from the slatted-louver windows that we had left over. Apparently, the COE (coefficient of expansion) is different for the two window glasses, creating cracks when the glass cools. Who’d a thought.

So now she can go on to use just one of the glass types and I am sure that she will be successful. Here is one of the failed attempts. This was pieced with broken pieces of frosted slatted-vent window glass over regular window glass with dichroic leaf embedded in the spaces. The cracks appeared at non-conjoined areas:

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With the dry season upon us, our hundreds of plants now need to be watered. With a hose, the job takes at least three-hours. Maybe four. We hired a local girl for the job. We explained the time needed to water to sufficient depth for the roots, but at only fourteen-years-old, she was constantly texting her friends. On the first day at the two hour mark, she declared the plants sufficiently watered. On the second day Cynthia and I reiterated the need for more time on the job, but again at the two-hour mark and after a lot of texting, she was again done. I told her that I thought that she should be spending more time with her friends and that she didn’t need to come back to our grueling job. She seemed relieved. Here she is, cute as a button but not ready for the world of work:

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I have since purchased a good sprinkler and can do the job myself, moving the sprinkler around the yard now and then.

Speaking of plants, one of the orchids in the carport is at it again:

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And the tree that we call the Ballerina Tree is in full bloom again:

P1020156And last but not least, Cynthia is rich! She closed a checking account that was gouging her for outrageous monthly fees. Here is her final check for closing the account. Try not to be envious:

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After taking the photo, the check promptly went in the trash. It would have cost more to cash it.

For a blog entry about small jobs, I think that this is the longest post I have ever written! That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Front Entrance Tile DONE ~ Plus ~ Master Bath Window Underway

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

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View from the front door.

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View from coming out of the garage walkway.

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View from the driveway.

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View from the point of the triangle-ish landing.

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

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

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

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Here is my progress from inside the house:

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

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And finished building the form work:

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

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

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Here I find and remove a block:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I photo-ambush Francisco from the roof.

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Francisco cleans the grout lines and polishes the glass.

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

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

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

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

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

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I wish that I had more to show you, but that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

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.

BIG TILE FLOOR DONE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And looking from the front door into the living room:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As of today, the roof deck looks like this:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flush With Pride & Lofty Ambitions

It has only been a week since my last post, so don’t expect much. But to the women out there who have been rooting for an in-house toilet, you know who you are, root no more. REJOICE!

I am very excited to announce that I was able to find a couple of hours and have installed the toilet in the half-bath off the kitchen/under the stairs. It flushes and everything! I also installed a grab bar for Cynthia, although she is needing it less and less; today she climbed the stairs to the loft, without me and without her cane (she is more- and more-frequently forgetting where she left it). Here is a photo of the dual-stage flusher:

Not very colorful at this point. Maybe we will have to dye the TP pink or something.

Hanibal, his brother Bolivar, and I put in a full five-day week working tile. We got most of the master bedroom floor tiled. Today I cut perimeter tile for the outside porch area; Hanibal will install them next week:

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We are working our way out of the bedroom and into the hallway and the landing in the living room. Lots and lots of complex cuts to make on the tile:

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The little pieces of blue tape mean, “Don’t step on this freshly-set tile.”

But wait, there’s more. While I cut the perimeter tiles, the guys moved upstairs into the loft. They laid two of the six rows of tile there, and I joined them to begin cutting the forty-feet of complex-cut edge tile. We have a lot of stuff stored in the loft, so we will complete one side, then I’ll move the junk to work the other side:

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Jabo always thinks that it is his picture that I am taking. I don’t have the heart to tell him that it isn’t always the case. You can see the cut edge tiles standing against the wall. I put yet another one-hundred-dollar blade on the saw before starting these tiles. 

On our next work day, I’ll stay in the loft cutting tiles and the guys will pour the concrete floor in the master bath shower area, sloping the concrete toward the drain.

On most Saturday mornings there are two or three people in front of Central Comercial (the first supermarket as you drive into town), selling home grown veges and plants. A very, very mini farmers’ market if you will. I like to buy from them if they have anything we can use, although sometimes they are kind of pushy, chasing me down inside the store or coming to the car window, not giving up even if I am on the phone. Determined entrepreneurs. Today I picked up some fresh spinach and a pretty bromeliad for eight-bucks.

Armando only worked a couple days this week because he had two really sick kids at home. But he did grout some of the tile and planted the bromeliad in the dead tree in our front garden:

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We’re not sure what next week will bring work-wise as it is November, the wettest month of the year and a month chock-a-block filled with holidays, including two or three independence days.

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