Actually it’s the end of Week 5

Pumper truck to the roof.
Pumper truck to the roof.

Here we are at what happens to be the end of week 5 of construction. The structure is complete. Next steps for our team of albañiles (masons) is the half wall on the roof deck and the start of the exterior plaster. Word is the interior scaffolding will remain in place as the roof concrete cures for two weeks. I just looked up the cure curves for concrete to refresh myself. Seven days is generally accepted as 70% strength under optimal temperatures and humidity. We’re pretty close to that here on the Tropic of Cancer, maybe just a little dry and too much day to night temperature swings, for a perfect cure but way ahead of the US right now. So two weeks is well within the margin of error to remove the forms.

The pour was uneventful but a little stressing for me. Our concrete was ordered from Cabo San Lucas. Two of the spinning Easter egg shaped trucks and a pumper truck came in stages but by the time the pumper was situated the concrete was two hours old. ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineering) says no truck over 1 1/2 hours old shall be accepted. I know from past experience that 2 hour trucks get poured but it’s not what you want to do. It was a very dry, difficult to work concrete that landed on our roof. Only time will tell if it’s adequate for the job. Most likely all is well and this is a case where ignorance would be bliss. I have no fears about the structural integrity but I do worry about the finish. Here, again, our location is an advantage. There is no freeze, therefore no thaw, and the concrete finish should not be heavily stressed.

On other fronts I was laid low by a severe bout of vertigo last week. It’s happened before and it’s never fun but this time I projectile vomited. Surprisingly easy to do when your inner ear isn’t working. The ear doctor hear ordered me onto a no salt diet. My ear seems to hurt less, and my fingers are skinnier. I guess I was retaining water. The vertigo is lessened but not gone. It might take weeks.

We have a show next week and we’ve been regularly practicing with our friend Priscila. Check us out on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, 6 PM, Todos Santos. Love gone good and bad.

The roof with a skim coating of mortar.
The roof with a skim coating of mortar. The drainage bulge is visible.
Show at Las Fuetes on Valentine's Day.
Show at Las Fuetes on Valentine’s Day.
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Week 4 of casita construction

Lumber is installed to support the plywood forms.
Lumber is installed to support the plywood forms.

Soon we will have a roof over our casita. Yes, Kevin, I call it a casita because it’s just a one-bedroom home. There’s no room for guests but that won’t be a problem. We have the rumpus room for any visitors. Hint, hint. For those of you concerned about construction management while we are gone for ten days I say you are right to be concerned. We’re pretty relaxed about this but there is no telling what might or might not happen. The Gypsy Carpenters often work in similarly unsupervised conditions with very few problems. We’re extending the same trust to our team that we enjoy from our clients. In addition, our neighbor and good friend Janet will be serving as the treasurer. She can give the guys money if they need any supplies while we are gone. Janet knows our team, she speaks Spanish, and she is right next door. She will be well compensated for any work she has to do on our behalf. The job should be at the plaster and stucco stage so there’s not much that could go wrong. Famous last words, right?

The construction technique for the ceiling has finally come clear in my head. I was confused for years about how insulation and concrete and rebar came together to form a roof. and ceiling. Rebar and insulation are built over plywood forms in a matrix. Concrete is poured over the mass to a thickness of 2″ above the rebar. After two weeks of curing the forms are removed and the bottom (ceiling side) is a grid of  reinforced concrete and styrofoam. They call this style of roof caseton. Maybe casaton. I’m not sure. When the forms are  removed the underside is then plastered. My fears of concrete landing on my head during a Baja earthquake were unfounded. This is a well reinforced structure. If a big earthquake hits only plaster will rain down. I feel better. Were you worried? Our workers tell us only the gringos and really rich Mexicans get a caseton roof. Most families here live under simple concrete slabs or corrugated metal roofs. These homes can be unspeakably hot in summer.

Oh, btw, our workers built that brick colored house behind ours in the photos.

The plywood rests on teh temporary beams.
The plywood forms will rest on the temporary posts and beams.
This styrofoam insulation is crammed into the spaces between courses of rebar.
This styrofoam insulation will be crammed into the spaces between courses of rebar.
The styrofoam blocks are installed after the perpendicular courses of rebar are run.
Here you can see the plywood forms are in place. The styrofoam blocks are installed after the perpendicular courses of rebar are run.
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Week 3 of Casita Construction

Panoramic view of the job. This is about a week ago.
Panoramic view of the job. This is about a week ago.

Progress continues at a most satisfactory pace here in El Pescadero. Our team works with minimal oversight and zero drama. Every day Burt meets with them in the morning to discuss material needs. If something must be bought Burt goes and takes care of it while the guys get to building. Typical daily purchases are some combination of sand, gravel, block, cement, or water. There’s a limited amount of storage on our lot so materials come in only as they are needed.

Reinforced concrete beams have been poured to support the slab that is both ceiling and roof. It’s not just a roof, it’s a floor too. Our roof top will be accessible for viewing  your enjoyment. Until someone builds on the lot south of us we have a clear view of the dancing humpback and gray whales. A few years ago Burt used to be able to see the surf break with binoculars but that view has since been obliterated by beach level condos. He uses the internet now to decide if he should go surfing. The roof, ceiling, floor…the slab will be insulated with blocks of styrofoam. I can’t quite envision how this is done. I’ll be sure to pay attention and let you know. Today temporary scaffolding is being installed to support the plywood forms for the concrete. The big slab pour should be very, very soon.

The beams are formed and poured.
The beams are formed and poured.
These beams will support the roof/ceiling.
These beams will support the roof/ceiling.
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Temporary Residency Complete

Laminated card
Laminated card

It’s official, we’re official. Burt and I have achieved temporary resident status in Mexico and not a day too soon. When I initiated our visa application process I didn’t realize that being in limbo between application and achieving residency would come with certain complications. One complication is you can’t leave the country without special permission. Another is the banks don’t like letting you do business. We’re running through pesos faster than Olive can eat a chocolate bar and having banking difficulties threatens our building project. Add to that Dad having debit card issues and using us as his money changer and suddenly we had a payroll to meet and no moolah to spare. The first transfers we made this year came with the surprise that we needed both a visa and a passport to make the transfer. In years past we only needed a passport. Two times they let us get away with showing the letter saying our visas were in process. Two weeks ago we finished the visa process but our laminated cards weren’t ready. We were issued a temporary visa, a piece of paper with our new ID number and photo. It says we are temporary resident of Mexico and has the Mexican equivalent of our social security number. Immigration said to use the piece of paper in the interim if any one wanted to see our visa. Burt took this to the bank expecting to get money. He got nothing but the news that it would not work. We needed our laminated card.

That sick feeling of being here with no access to money settled upon us. We have a team of 5 people expecting payday. We got debit card-less dad with no pesos asking for a loan. The cards were due to be done either today or by the end of next week. I had to put aside my fear of Spanish on the phone and call immigration to see if our cards were available. I hate this kind of thing. I was calling a day earlier than the earliest due date to be a pushy gringa asking for my card. It all went super smoothly. My card was ready. Sus tarjetas estan aquí. Muy bien.

Long story short: we drove to La Paz, got our card, drove home, got money, gave some to dad. Our workers will get paid on Saturday.

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Oh! My aching back!

Campfire
Campfire

On the upside I can say black cohosh seems to have knocked the night sweats down by half. I am sleeping better. On the downside, I threw out my back. Again. This must be the fourth time in two years. I’m getting demoralized. I had a nice adjustment yesterday that decreased the pain but was no miracle cure. I have to wonder if there is a more serious underlying injury.

Despite the constant pain, the kind of pain that makes me realize why we have an opioid epidemic, we went camping last Saturday. The four of us piled in the Exploder and drove a couple of hours into the wilds of Baja for a night on a vacant beach with a few hundred birds on a nearby water hole. Dolphins surfed the sunlit waves as grebes dove for dinner. Burt warned up rabbit stew on a drift wood fire. I wandered restlessly finding comfort nowhere except in distraction. At twilight scores of lesser nighthawks came to clear the air of mosquitoes. Their long narrow wings materialized out of nowhere and within ten minutes had disappeared again. A few hundred mourning doves flushed from nearby scrub while we walked to the water hole’s edge.

The next morning we watched avocet and frigates and coots and yellowlegs and all their buddies feed. The rainy summer and fall have provided lots of habitat for overwintering birds. This month we’ve spotted 101 species. That’s nearly half of all the species I’ve ever seen in the Baja. Quite a start to 2019 and a good distraction.

Dog pile in the tent.
Dog pile in the tent.
The skeleton of an old light house.
The skeleton of an old light house.
flor
flor
Flower
Flower
Firelight flatters Ollie.
Firelight flatters Ollie.
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Construction Technique

Footer and start of foundation wall.
Footer and start of foundation wall. The top of the footer is just below the existing grade.

Concrete construction is not the norm for homes in the US but it is common place in commercial settings and most of the rest of the world. We build homes with wood because it’s what we have. It’s cheap and we know how to use it. Concrete in Mexico and South America is like wood in the US. It’s cheapest and all the builders know how to use it. Concrete block is durable and impervious to bugs but earthquakes can cause widespread tragedy since block comes down more easily in a tremor.

The typical home here is a post and beam style structure. The shape of the house is made with posts and beams of reinforced concrete. Cement block fill in the gaps. The block and reinforced concrete parts go up side by side. The block walls act as half the form for the posts. A word about words: I’m a civil engineer and civil engineers call posts columns. I once made the mistake of calling a column a post in my structures class. I was nearly laughed to the curb. Despite that I graduated and was offered a post-graduate slot studying structures. I declined. But post and beam is the style of construction and I work with a guy that builds wood homes and it’s easier to type post than column. So I have regressed back to my earlier usage.

Since our lot is sloped and the existing structures are at its peak we are building this site up to match the higher level of the existing bodega/rumpus room. That means our foundation is from four to five feet high and we have to add a lot of fill. We’ve reached a bottleneck in our construction. Fill is highly sought after and expensive. It’s been two days of waiting and it finally arrived today. Rather it started arriving today. It’s 2:48 PM and we have received only 3 of the estimated 8 loads we need. That’s about 40 yards of dirt. Our crew is staying busy building rebar forms for the beams to hold up the ceiling. Other than that we’re moving right along.

Any questions?

Filling the foundation blocks with concrete.
Filling the foundation blocks with concrete. The foundation comes up about 4′ above the existing grade. This is to make it level with the upper side of our lot and keep hurricane waters out of the house. You can see the post waiting to be formed on two sides with wood while two sides are block.
Forms for the cadena or chain. It is a beam that ties the foundation together.
Forms for the cadena or chain. It is a beam that ties the foundation together.
The hole and the foundation.
The hole and the foundation. Long view of the beam or cadena that tops the foundation.
Foundation and some wall. Rebar will be poured reinforced concrete columns.
Foundation and some wall. Rebar will be poured reinforced concrete columns. You can see rebar bent at 90 degrees from the foundation wall into the area where the slab will be located. That rebar will tie the slab to the foundation. The slab will be reinforced with wire mesh.
Filling the hole.
Filling the hole. The back wall shows the wooden forms in place around the posts.
Fill dirt
Fill dirt
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We’re part of the world

Reflection
Reflection: The view condensed

It’s Friday. We are officially temporary residents of Mexico. We succeeded in convincing Mexico to let us come and go as we please or stay as long as we want for the next year. In 2020 year we can renew our temporary residency visas for three years and at the end of that span we can apply for permanent residency if we so desire. There’s no telling what we’ll do in four years. I’m happy we can stay longer than 6 months and we’re on the road to residency. The process was surprisingly easy and we did it ourselves with a couple of interpretation assists. My favorite bit is that we succeeded during a change of government and the Christmas holidays. It took only two months from our first visit to the Mexican Embassy in Tucson and we only paid the normal fees. No lawyers, no advisors, no gifts. All on the up and up. The Mexican staff were very helpful and professional in Tucson and La Paz. I felt like they wanted us. It’s a nice feeling.

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We’re building our own home

Many loads of sand and gravel.
Many loads of sand and gravel. The footer excavation is visible behind Burt.

Our yard is full of construction materials and a staff of builders. We have finally plunged into the Mexican construction system. We’ve owned this lot for six years and ever since we bought it we’ve wrestled with the next big step. Build or permanently live in our gNash? If we build, how? Wood or concrete? Rammed earth? Prefab panels? It’s obvious we’d prefer wood since we could do it ourselves and we’d be in total control. The termites would prefer we build with wood, too. Or so most people think. We thought we’d solved the wood dilemma with an anti-termite treatment in our rumpus room. And we have. There’s no termites eating our treated rumpus room but someone wisely pointed out that if we wanted to be able to sell this place most people would be suspicious of wood. Termite bias is reasonable and most likely insurmountable in future buyers. Also, hurricanes. Concrete houses withstand hurricanes and we have hurricanes. With climate change we’re going to have more and stronger hurricanes.

So finally having decided to build meant we had reached the conclusion that we had to build with concrete block. Block is the local preference. There are many competent building crews to choose from here. Block is also less expensive than modular panels and rammed earth. Rammed earth is gorgeous but slow and very, very expensive. And it’s hard to remodel the interior. Concrete is easy to patch. Late last year we started getting estimates but really we wanted one crew, a team of guys whose work we’d seen and who we knew to be great workers. But that team had a boss and regular jobs working for their boss. We did not need the boss and we certainly didn’t want to pay the boss. Between Burt and I we can build a house in concrete and in Spanish. There was no need to pay money for the middle man. So we resigned ourselves to working with some other group but didn’t settle on anyone.

Over the summer we played with floor plans. Independently Burt and I realized an L shaped home would be best for our lot. The L would provide a secluded shady patio and allow us to cram in more floor space without crushing some nice cactii. When we arrived this year Burt noticed the guys we wanted were not particularly busy. So he asked them if they were available for some independent work. We got lucky. Things were slow and the dream team wanted to work for us and they got their boss to agree. The Magic 8 Ball revealed: All signs say YES. So we leapt on the chance to get our casita built by this team of quick and reliable builders. And here we are. The yard is a disaster. Rain fell into the mess yesterday so it’s an even worse situation than we could have imagined. But the workers persist. And the house is flying up while money flies out.

More later on construction techniques and the work culture.

Floor plans
Floor plans
The foundation and supervisor.
The foundation and supervisor.
This is where the floor starts. The visible block is part of the foundation.
This is where the floor starts. The visible block is part of the foundation.
This is our current classroom. It's a little tight.
This is our current classroom. It’s a little tight.
How many white wing doves are there? The raptors want to know.
How many white wing doves are there? The raptors want to know.
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Personal Climate Chaos

Partially dismantled original vent.
Partially dismantled original vent.

I am in the throes of what is accurately called night sweats. This phenomenon is very funny and terribly disruptive. I try to stay amused as my mental skills deteriorate from the lack of sleep but it’s not easy. I say funny because I hardly generated sweat my entire life despite many marathons and 15 years of martial arts training and now I am sodden as soon as the lights go out. Disruptive because endless cycles of hot and cold do not make for an easy rest.  This morning I crawled out of bed with a no-sleep hangover and asked if I could have a cot on the roof. Last night Burt a tender hand on me and quickly withdrew it when he felt the heat and moisture. He knew to stay back. Way back.

I find hot flashes during the day cute and almost entertaining. The sudden spikes in body temperature came and went quickly. Here, during winter, at the temperate Tropic of Cancer it is easy to manage. A shawl on or off or a quick step into or out of the shade and I can find comfort. I’m also awake and it’s easy to solve the problem in daylight and on my feet. Hot flashes have been happening for about two years in the phase of feminine maturity called perimenopause. They did not bother me. I can’t remember my first night sweat. They were intermittent and I’d just throw of the covers and go back to sleep.  I wondered why they were called night sweats instead of hot flashes. Seemed the same to me. About a month ago I entered a new phase of the gentle decline towards death. It is 252 days since my last period and I have started having three to five night sweats a night. Each week I am damper. I wonder about dehydration. Here’s how it feels: Wake and wonder why I’m awake. Recognize the weird anxious churning in my gut as Satan stoking the internal furnace, throw the covers off hoping to lessen the intensity, get really hot and a little stressed, start sweating, soak the sheets, lie there and wonder (again) how many calories are in a flash of heat like this (thermodynamics demands an answer), and then I’m cold. Wet and cold. This is the trickiest moment. If I cover myself too soon I’ll re-enter the hot phase. If I wait too long I’ll get so cold that I’ll cover myself too much and re-enter the hot phase. If I don’t do anything I lie awake feeling cold and clammy. Usually I play Bridge and fuss with the covers for twenty minutes. Eventually I fall asleep. And hour to two hours later it starts over. Sometimes I fall asleep just as the next one starts. Two days ago I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself tangled in a wreck of sheets, face plastered directly to the mattress and thought, “Time for a change.”

I’ve Googled advice and I can say DEATH TO THE PATRIARCHY to this list of bullshit. Get more exercise, eat properly, cut back on caffeine and alcohol, sleep naked. Get a cooling mattress and bedding! The only violation of personal habits is my taste in spicy food. They want to make us behave and be miserable with this list of habits. Surely if we can solve erectile dysfunction we can come up with a better list of to-dos. I want smart PJs that anticipate the change in climate before I wake and increase or decrease temperature accordingly. How about my fitbit adjusts the fan in the trailer? The technology is out there. I know it is.

So there I was wrapped up in some horrible blend sheets on this massive California queen mattress we accidentally bought three years ago. Remember that? Burt and I went mattress shopping and wound up with a mattress too big for the trailer.  There are no easily found sheets or mattress pads for a California Queen. The salesman tried to warn us. It was a low intelligence day. Mimi loved our massive mistake. The 6″ longer mattress shortened her jump commute between the litter box and bed. Burt and I suffered. There were no mattress pads the right size. There were only hideous sheets in awful colors and sticky blends. We spent a lot of money chasing bedding. Most recently I found a set of sheets that were supposedly the right size but they would not stay in place for more than a night. So sleeping on synthetics sucked but waking up with our faces directly on the disgustingly unprotected mattress itself sucked even more. I finally realized 400 count cotton sheets and a natural fiber mattress pad were in the guest room and Mimi was dead. Yesterday I woke up and said, “We must switch mattresses.” This was a classic marital moment. Burt has been agitating for the switch for three years. Mimi always won. He did not say, “I told you so.” He was so happy to switch he just helped me make it happen the same day. I’ll spare you the description of us moving mattresses in and out of the gNash. The workers chuckled. (We’re surrounded by bricklayers for the next 2 months.)

I wish I could report that I slept better, that the ‘cooling’ mattress and bedding was the answer. I cannot. I can say I suffered less. I was disgustingly sodden and awake but in a cocoon of cotton. And the trailer is so much more spacious that I can’t believe Mimi got away with it all these years. Today I insisted we install the new vent fan I bought this summer. The high efficiency fan is whirring this very moment. Air is moving. That might help, too. Meanwhile I will keep trying to eat right and exercise. They say some one get through this phase in a short run of time. Others are tormented for years. I’m considering new hobbies for the evening hours.

You can see the night sweats as the pink spikes. This was a good night.
You can see the night sweats as the pink sleep-free spikes. This was a good night.
New vent with high efficiancy fan. And a couple of Asian roaches.
New vent with high efficiancy fan. And a couple of Asian roaches.
Burt getting after it.
Burt getting after it.
Missing fuse.
Missing fuse. We’d pulled the fuse for the vent (we broke the original mambypamby one weeks into the trip) a long time ago. Luckily we had spares.
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