Log: August 15, 2009
Where to Start?
It has been so long since the last update in early June, it's hard to know where to begin...but a lot has happened! Not nearly as much as when Tracy is here, of course, but bit by bit, progress is being made. Well, with quite a lot of help. Some of the highlights:
- Friend Garry Wood has come and gone, leaving in his wake a long trail of helpful building projects:
- Sharon went on a shopping spree for house things when she met Garry in David
- Victor Saldaña of Electrysol began installing the solar system
- All the mayo trees finally bloomed--in junio!
For a minute there, though, Sharon was afraid Garry would be gone before he even got started! Oh, man!
One of the David shopping purchases was a tent, which was set up on the porch to provide a second bug-free room to sleep in. Sharon wanted Garry to have the more comfortable loft room, so that's how it was planned... .except that on Garry's first night here, he was stung by a scorpion in the loft bed! Apparently one moved in while Sharon was in David. Garry immediately requested a room change, and slept happily bug free in the tent for the rest of his trip.
Back to Building! Or In This Case, Re-building...The Dormer
The most important building project for Garry, from Tracy's perspective, was to fix the dormer and its roof. Recall that the "dormer" that the roofers built was flat, ugly, not what Tracy specified, and worst of all, it was soaking wet inside the house when it rained! So Garry had to pull down the old one and start over. It was not an easy project, and took some head-scratching and figuring to make a good plan.
The one-to-two day project turned into three days, but it was well worth it. The old walls had to be moved and re-framed, and then the new roof line had to be built. With a pointy roof, not flat!
All new zinc roofing panels, a good cap, and a long overhang to keep the wind-driven rain out. Those storms that come in from the west can be howlers!
The new dormer roof is a mini-me of the main loft roof, with all the same angles. (For those of you who have not seen Austin Powers, that would be a mini-version...)
And siding nailed all the way up, with just a little gap at the top for the heat to escape. Tracy is just thrilled to see his vision realized (if only in photos for now).
While Garry was working up in the loft he also installed flashing where the main roof meets the loft walls. Sharon will be caulking around all the loft windows and windowsills, and maybe now the loft will stay dry inside in any weather.
And while he was up there...the loft got the basics for a home office: new built-in work desk
While Garry was building the dormer, Joe was pounding nails on the main floor, and the sub-floor is now complete. Garry measured and cut the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is our floor, and placed them. Joe did the hammering. Lots and lots of nails. The house is substantially more solid-feeling with all that flooring.
And now that we have so much shelter, we were able to move our bicycles from under Carl and Mary's house. Now they live under our house. Wonder where we will ever ride them??
Up the Down Staircase--or Staircases!
The dormer is on the top floor, and the power saws are on the ground, so one of the first projects was to add the bottom step of the staircase up to the porch. It was missing that first step, and as many times a day as Garry would be walking up the steps, especially with a bad knee, carrying lumber, he knew he needed every step. So, he added the missing one. But even when finished, they weren't quite as easy as he wanted them to be, so...
he built a new set of stairs off the old landing, closer to the workshop and soon-to-be utility room, and with the added benefit of letting us stay dry going from the porch to everything under the house.
From Primitive to Rustic: Making Life More Comfortable, With Privacy and Security
Recall that the porcelain throne underneath the house was basically on a pad in the breeze? Well, Joe nailed the rest of the floor boards on the utility room pad before Garry arrived, and then Garry framed the walls to enclose the room.
With an opening for a door, and a window with a killer view.
Enclosed it with tongue and groove laurel we had on hand for the main flooring, and trimmed it with pressure treated pine we had on hand---ordered in advance, knowing he would go through a lot of it!
He quickly realized we now needed a boardwalk (made entirely out of scrap lumber) so feet wouldn't get dirty going to the new utility room...
He built in a long shelf for storage and tools, and a locking shutter for the window. He also built a very strong and sturdy door---which he started calling his "Spanish Prison" door. Think maybe he was starting to get the feeling he made a mistake offering to come down here?
The new room now houses the washer, utility sink, toilet and a bunch of tools, and has plenty of room for the eight batteries for the solar system. But doing all that work took a lot of long days...think he was ready for a nap?
What a happy sight: drying the first load of laundry!
Man, it is all looking good!
David Shopping Spree
Sharon met Garry in David, the third largest city in Panama, after he flew in from Seattle to Panama City and then caught a flight to David. They did some power shopping for a day before heading down to Bocas. Among the many purchases:
The kitchen is now just about ready to be put together: stainless steel sinks and counters...
Stove with an oven (which will be installed in an island, not where it was set temporarily)...
Stoneware dishes, drinking, wine and champagne glasses...Wow, real breakable plates and glass! It's been years since we have been able to use breakable kitchen objects! New cloth placemats and napkins... how civilized.
Rope lights for nighttime ambiance, and a ceiling fan for the loft, for cooler sleeping---not that we've needed cooling lately. With all this rain and cloudy weather, it's been almost cold many nights! We got over 100 inches of rain through July 31, and that much rain means not much sun.
Found a new swing chair to relax in...
And...wow! a new queen size bed and box spring...no more single air mattress on the floor!
Just waiting for the other side to fill in...
A bug net was found shortly afterwards in Bocas. The installation is a bit clunky, but for now, it works.
New pillows were bought for the bed, and the dogs had a heyday one morning with an old pillow...it must have been within reach, and puppies will be puppies! Argh! (
And no, the stuffing was not all in that neat pile when first discovered.
Closer to home, Nativa Madera in Almirante had a beautiful hardwood table and chairs for the dining room---or kitchen, or porch...who knows where they will end up. Got a great deal on it, too! The darker wood is almendro, and the lighter is roble. We have both these types of trees on our property.
It is nice to be able to sit at a table and pull up a chair, something we have not been able to do since we moved aboard Landfall... And now we can have the mahjong ladies over to play. Well, as long as there are only four of us...
Garry arrived with a big bag full of other goodies, too. Saw blades, power metal snips, new 18 volt battery and charger for the drill, insulation that fits under the zinc ridges to keep the bugs out, solar flashlights, Tazo Awake tea for Sharon's mornings, well, it was like Christmas in July! Or...hey! Happy Birthday!
Here Comes the Sun...Power!
We have been waiting, and waiting, for the equipment to arrive for our solar installation. Victor Saldaña, who owns Electrysol in David, has installed many solar systems in the Bocas area, including the system at Garry/Dave's house that Tracy helped wire. After a shipping delay, family vacations, and a run of bad weather, Victor finally was able to assemble all the parts and pieces and come out to Cerro Velero.
When he arrived with his three guys, they had to haul up the hill: eight Rolls batteries (and yes, they are the "Rolls Royces" of the battery world!) weighing over 100 pounds each, eight large solar panels, a crated 4000 watt inverter/charger weighing about 80 pounds, solar panel controller, system monitor, and all the other miscellany that goes along with such a system.
The solar panels are now installed on the south/southwest facing roof outside the loft. To be exact, they face 194 degrees with about a 9 degree tilt. Probably 185 degrees would have been closer to perfect, but then the panels would not fit so nicely into the grooves on the zinc roof panels...and at this low latitude, with such a robust system, it should be just fine.
The Rolls batteries are connected in series and in parallel to make a 24-volt system. The guys made the connecting cables as they assembled the system.
Opening up the inverter crate. It's a Xantrex 4000 watt, true sine wave inverter/charger that should cleanly power anything we will ever hope to put in the house. That is Victor on the right, and his boat driver and helper Pepe on the left.
To install all the electronics related to the solar electric system, they built on to an inside house wall, as close to the batteries and solar panels as they could get. This is what it looked like at the end of day one.
Unfortunately, a needed accessory kit was not included with the inverter, which was crated and shipped directly from the manufacturer and was not even opened at customs. So they all had to come back a second day to finish the installation. Thank goodness Victor had another system he could cannibalize. It takes so long to get things from...China!
When the sun doesn't shine for days on end, or when we are using a lot of power tools and drawing down the batteries faster than the sun can refill them, then the inverter's charger comes into play. That's the inverter on the top left.
However, the inverter/charger needs 220/240 volts from a generator to charge the batteries. Our diesel generator could provide that, but for some reason the engine will run fine, but it won't put out any voltage. (Well, Victor and the guys had to work for an hour to get it to run at all, as it had been lying fallow for nine months.)
The 2000 watt gas Honda generator that we have been relying on since the diesel generator died only puts out 110/120 volts, even when hooked in parallel to a second Honda and making 4000 watts. So...we have to find another way to charge the bank. We re thinking it's simply time for a new generator.
But, all in all, it's getting so close! For now, Victor wired an AC outlet up in the loft. There is now an extension cord (well, two actually. It's quite a long way) from that outlet down to the bodega, to run the internet antenna, router and computer, and lights. This update is being typed using power from the solar system! We can plug in all this, and hardly make a dent in that huge battery bank. It is such a relief to stop relying on the generator for all our power needs. And so blissfully quiet!
Mayos in Junio
Our property is full of, and surrounded by, mayo trees.
The trees are large and very green, and they get their name from the month, May (mayo in Spanish), in which they historically bloom their huge yellow blossoms. These trees are blooming alongside the porch.
This year, after such an odd, cold, rainy winter, they bloomed in June (junio in Spanish). With so many mayo trees here, and lots of young trees now growing, we're thinking of calling the house "Casa Mayo."
Not just mayos are growing. This balsa tree on the right, with the huge leaves, was only a few inches high a year ago. Now it's twice as high as the bodega...Amazing growth! Well, I guess that it helps that it's hollow inside?
Speaking of hollow inside, one night while Garry was here it was very windy and stormy. We heard a loud rumble, and thought it was thunder, but it didn't sound quite right...and this is what we discovered in the morning!
This had been our largest tree down in the valley by the creek. But it clearly wasn't healthy, judging by the number of parrot and woodpecker nest cavities, and the abundance of bromeliads and other opportunists growing on the trunks. But man, what a mess to clean up!
Easy to see why it fell. All that dark wood means it was rotten at the core.
Bugs of the Month
It looks just like a leaf...until you see the feet and antennae. It's a katydid, a cone-headed grasshopper. They make a lot of noise at night, and occasionally one pops up in the loft---as this one did. A bit unsettling, given their size (this one was about 4 inches) and the loud buzzing noise they make.
Everyone is probably familiar with the banana spider (sometimes called the golden silk spider), especially if you live in the southeast US, where they are abundant. They spin large orb webs, and grow fairly large, about 4 to 6 inches toe to toe. This lady has taken up residence on our back porch, and she gets to stay because she is such a good bug eater. She has been trained to weave her web higher than head height.
The female is the big one. Here she is snacking on a fly. The little male is off there behind her, in what we call the pantry. He's with the bugs she's caught and is saving for later. Probably hoping he's not going to be one of her snacks.
Despite the 100-plus inches of rain to date this year, it is still so darn beautiful!