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Ship's Log: Updated June 10, 2010

Well, once again it's been a while since the last update. Lots new, but most important of all...

Welcome Home, Tracy!

After a year-long deployment in Afghanistan training troops, Tracy finally made his way back to Panama. It was a long but very productive year. Thousands of troops were trained, and their training directly saved many lives, which is something to be very proud of. It makes the sacrifice of being apart for the year well worth it. That said, we are all so happy to have him home safe and sound! He arrived exhausted, but with a lot of TLC and rest is adjusting very well to being back.

Here's what else has been happening...

Progress on the Home Front

If you have been following this log, you know that when Tracy left in March 2009, the poles were all planted, the house framing was mostly complete, the loft was dried in with walls and windows and a roof, and the deck was close to finished. So this is pretty much what it looked like before Tracy left. (Here with good friend Dan, visiting from the states in late February 2009.)

However, on the main floor there was no roof, no floorboards, no walls, no windows, no doors, and no power or water. The loft was set up for sleeping on an air mattress, and the kitchen and internet connection were in the bodega. There was no boat shed, and no bohio roof or dock box. In short, there was still a bit of work to do!

So while Tracy was busy in Afghanistan and sending funds home, folks were busy here, too---he came home to a real house! This one taken from the same spot.

Oops! The jungle has been growing, too!

The view on approach from Dolphin Bay (before the pickets were installed on the porch railings). He could not believe how wonderful his home looked!

Cookin' With Gas---in the New Kitchen!

In a flurry of activity before Tracy's arrival, Clay Blaker's Bocas crew was hard at work constructing the kitchen. We started with a stove, a stainless steel table, and a bit of a mess.

Clean things up, rearrange the empty space, bring in the sinks. OK, this is what we have to work with, and don't forget that the refrigerator is coming up from the bodega. Here's the general layout. Now for the ideas, and let it evolve.

Ariel and his Dad setting up a workspace in a shady spot for their chop saw.

Daily progress report pictures were sent to Tracy. The sink has to be here for the view while washing dishes.

Don't need the legs from that stainless steel table. A wooden frame will be stronger and look better, too.

Let's put some shelves under the sink and counter.

Add a dividing wall.

Build an island with cooking area and bar.

Ok, here's the basic layout.

With the bar side at an angle, more room for legs and feet and it'll take up less space. Gellie approves.

How about a beautiful laurel bookcase on this side.

A wall of little shelves on the dividing wall.

Add some decorative touches to the bar front.

Shelving behind the bar beside the stove.

And here's where the refrigerator goes.

Then we tried and tried to find a big slab of local wood for the bar top, but finally had to resort to laminating a few smaller pieces together. Then, three full days and three guys sanding and varnishing later...Done!

Just in time for the welcome home party! Quick, let's go get that refrigerator out of the bodega before the guests get here...

One month later, the kitchen is fully operational and looks a lot more lived in. Turns out that the design works, too. Now we just need some curtains. If the sun shines in the late afternoon, it is blindingly sunny! For now, the hammock will do.

Welcome Home and Open House

With the kitchen finished and Tracy home for only a few more days, we invited the whole neighborhood to come see and say hello. And come they did, about 40 folks. Everyone generously brought lots of food and drink to share. We also had plenty of liquor and ice (thanks Walt and Honoreé for all that ice!) and the tables were laden with goodies. Just wish we'd thought to take some pictures...thanks to Kathryn and Enrique who took these and shared them with us!

Left to right: Cynde, Ursula , Sharon, Matt, Enrique, Terry, Tracy, Lyn

Left to right: George, Ron, Carl, Sue, Lyn's friend, Matt, Honoreé, Cynde, Terry, Capt. Ron, Walt

Two days later, Sharon and Tracy were off to Florida and the new Cocoa Beach condo. And while they were gone, the house sitters were very, very busy! More about that below...

Bats in the Belfry---Again

A day before the guests arrived for the party we had to roust some bats (again---Susan and Sharon did it once before and forgot to take pictures). It's just not healthy having them live that close. In fact, one neighbor spent over a week in the hospital dealing with a very nasty lung infection he got from spreading bat guano on his gardens. Tracy is ready to pull off the last pieces of siding hiding them. Ok, stand back!

Over a dozen spilled out!.

We felt kind of bad, and we certainly tried to be gentle with them. But they cannot live in the house. Tracy swears they are vampire bats, too, an even more compelling reason to shoo them away. There are plenty of big trees around here they can go roost in.

So What's Happening in Cocoa Beach?

Arriving in Florida, first order of business was to pick up the new Harleys! An Electra Glide Ultra Custom for Tracy,

and a Sportster 1200 Low for Sharon. With matching blue paint. Vroom, vroom!

Next up: scour the area stores for bargains on good furniture. The place came furnished, and it is livable, but...can you say "Hello 1980's?" It needs some serious updating.

Found a couple of couches to replace the icky-sticky vinyl couch and loveseat. Much better! Found some used solid wood bookcases. Bought a new TV and speakers and a subscription to NetFlix, new deck chairs, tablecloth and placemats...still more to do, but it is feeling more and more like home.

Tim Blumer, a friend of Tracy's from his Army days, was our first guest. Which was appropriate, since Tim had spent a weekend last year (along with loyal pal Chino) looking at and taking pictures of houses that, from the internet listings, we thought we might be interested in. The first-hand information he gave us on houses in our price range made us realize we do not have time to take care of a fixer-upper house and yard, which is why we ended up with a condo. His leg-work on our behalf was much appreciated!

Next order of business: buy Tracy some work clothes. It's been years since he has had to wear a dress shirt, slacks and loafers.

Our New Florida Wildlife

This just makes us smile. We did not expect this bonus: a herd of about a dozen manatees lives right in front of our condo! Cows and calves,

and at least one HUGE bull.

Right under the dock, all day long.

We tried feeding them some leftover kale (before the neighbors told us feeding them is illegal), but they didn't like it. We're starting to be able to identify them individually. The most distinctive features for identification are the scars left by boat propellers. Sad but true.

We've sort of adopted a couple of resident mallard hybrids who live in the backyard, too.

We've named them Heckle and Jekyll. They beg a little, we feed them a little.

Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off---Right in Front of Us!

When Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off on its last scheduled flight May 14th, Sharon and Tracy were there to see it. No, we didn't take these pictures. But our view from Tracy's boss' 11th floor condo just a few miles due west of the launch pad was spectacular!

There it goes!

We were just a bit further back than this. WOW!

A Mad Key West Dash

One last errand before Sharon left for Panama: get our kayaks back from friend (and author) Michael Haskins in Key West. We left after work on a Friday and got as far as Gilbert's Resort in Key Largo (one of our traditions). Woke up the next morning in our usual room,

to our usual view,

had a cup of coffee, and headed down US 1 to Key West. Met Michael and had lunch at another tradition, El Siboney Cuban restaurant, then loaded up the kayaks and headed home. Lots of miles in two days, but the kayaks are back home.

House Sitters From Heaven

Last-minute volunteers for house-sitting seemed to magically appear on neighbors Carl and Mary's deck about two weeks before we wanted to leave Panama. Honoree and Walt on Will-o'-the-Wisp signed up for the first two weeks, and they recruited friends Kathryn and Enrique on Pelican for the next two weeks.

Not only did they all make it possible for Sharon to leave Panama, Thank you, Thank you!, the house was all the better for it. Walt and Honoree wired and installed about 20 electrical outlets on the main floor, up in the loft and under the house near the workbenches. They also installed 4 ceiling lights and lots of switches. But they were not done yet!

After holding a gravity-fed cold water hose overhead for the past year to shower, what a treat to stand under a pressure water, hot and cold water shower head! The plumber put the parts in, but it was not finished when we left. Walt and Honoree built the shower stand and shelf.

They also worked on finishing up the deck railings, planted in the garden, and many other projects too numerous to recount, including lots of cleaning and organizing. Wow!

Enrique and Kathryn were no slackers, either! They did their part by finishing up the porch railings and adding railings to the top of the stairs, and made the darling wooden knobs for the hot and cold water, in addition to all the normal daily chores.

Who could ask for better house sitters than these? They will be a hard act to follow. But don't let that keep you from volunteering!

More House Projects

Next up now that Sharon is back in Panama, how about a bedroom and bathroom on the main floor? We decided to go with the "bow of a boat" or "house within a house" idea, using laurel siding for the walls. That design allows the air and traffic patterns to flow between all the doors. The framing starts.

Raising the first wall.

OK, bedroom on the left, bathroom on the rear right, closet in the front right. The window in the bedroom wall will stay open when the bedroom is not occupied, for more airflow and light.

A different perspective of the bedroom and closet.

This side will be the bathroom. Not sure where everything will go yet, but we'd better decide soon.

Zumi's Gone

Before Sharon left, the locals had done some more damage. Breaking off her flight feathers because she was getting to be a pest. So she had been staying close to the house.

But a couple of days before Sharon got home to Panama, Zumi did not return to the house. The house-sitters had noticed a male Oropendola hanging around for a couple of weeks, coming closer and closer the house, and we are all hoping that she simply eloped. Sharon would love to see her one last time, though, and is hoping for the best.

Dolphin Bay Rainfall

Neighbors Sue and George continue to monitor our local rainfall. And rain, it does fall! We had 16.4 inches of rain on 13 days in May, with a year-to-date total of 55.3 inches. More rain than most places get in a year, and our year is not even half over. Things are green, though!

Cerro Velero Critters

Had a big bloom the other evening. So did nearby neighbors, and folks at least as far away as Bluff Beach on the north end of Isla Colon. Thousands and thousands of small termite ants with wings, swarming near the gutters and following lights into the house. Then they drop their wings all over the house and porch, and crawl off. Great. Blech!

Sunsets... Here and There

Panama colors that just won't quit...

And Florida looks a little like paradise, too.

House Sitting in Paradise, Anyone?

We are lining up folks to stay for a few weeks or a few months at a time here in Panama so Sharon and Tracy can be together in Florida. At the moment we seem to have folks through the end of the year, but we will need to keep lining people up until Tracy decides to "retire" again. If you are interested, let us know!

Stay tuned...

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