Spring is for sprucing up

José walks atop glass. The dark area is covered with shade cloth.

I wait till April and May each year to do repairs. It’s the height of the dry season, and outside renovations don’t run the risk of getting soaked. Quite a few have been done already, mostly at the Downtown Casita where painting, plumbing and electrical occurred.

Yesterday, one of my guys, José, did some minor exterior painting here at the Hacienda, and then he climbed atop the roof of the upstairs terraza with a pressure washer to remove a year’s accumulation of gunk. The interesting aspect is that the roof is glass. He treads lightly and tries to stay atop the steel beams.

Old faithful.

My focus now turns to the water heater, which is about 16 years old. We started out with an identical heater 18 years ago, but it failed after two years and was replaced for free because it was still under warranty. It’s a big sucker, and has always worked great.

It has a nonstop pilot light, however, and it sits quite near the propane tank, which concerns me a bit. Plus, I would like to spend less on gas. I tried to reduce gas costs years ago by installing first one solar water heater, then another. Neither were worth warm spit, so I’m turning to another solution, one of those on-demand heaters.

But I’ve had bad luck with those too. We installed one in the Mexico City condo, and it’s been quite temperamental. We installed another in the Downtown Casita some years back because the little cheap traditional heater the home came with worked poorly. The new on-demand heater was no better, so I installed a large, traditional heater, which works great.

Avera.

We also have an on-demand heater in my child bride’s pastry kitchen. It’s never failed us in seven years.

I’m going to buy an Avera instantaneous heater, probably the model that costs 3,199 pesos. It has great reviews on the Avera website, and I’ll also keep the old heater online. I can switch from one to the other. Another option is a modulating model. Anyone have experience with those?

Homeownership, never an idle moment.

Walls and weight

This is Miguel Jr. He’s 13 years old. Yep, child labor.

A crack developed in an upstairs wall recently, stemming from an array of glass bricks we had installed about 16 years ago in a space that originally had wooden windows like the one you see to the left in this photo. There was a serious problem with rain because the windows are badly made, so we removed the most vulnerable window and installed glass bricks.

No problem until a crack in the wall appeared recently. This is not rare in this type of construction. It happened in the stairwell many years ago, and I just spackled it over and painted. No sweat. But since this was happening in an exterior wall and jutting out from the glass bricks, I called my main man, Miguel. That’s his son in the photo, Miguel Jr.

While Papa Miguel was downstairs working on something else, some talavera tile that had worked loose, he assigned the preliminary toil to his son who is 13, and he did a fine job. Dad did the finish work, and all was completed in half a day.

They left the work unpainted because I wanted them gone as soon as possible, and I told Miguel I would do the painting, and I will. Lord knows when.


The fat boy

In the late 1970s, I weighed 225 pounds. I was 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and maybe I still am (doubtful), but the poundage was evenly distributed, so I really did not look fat, just very large and imposing. A black beard added to the menacing effect.

Around 1980, I knocked off about 55 pounds simply by eating better and doing regular, relatively light exercise, and I’ve been around 170 pounds ever since, 40 years. It wasn’t that difficult. Tip: Diets do not work.

Something odd happened recently. I put on some weight around the waist. I attribute it to age. My body is settling a bit. I admit, however, that I’ve become a bit careless with what I eat. No major deal except for one thing. I went from 34-waist jeans to 35-waist. Well, there is a second thing. For some irrational reason, finding 35-waist pants is almost impossible. The sizes leap from 34 to 36, and 36 is too loose.

I bought two pair of new jeans — I only wear jeans — with 36 waistlines, but they tend to slip south. The belt saves me. I recall that I once wore Dockers khakis in Houston, and Dockers were available with 35-inch waists. Don’t see those available now, however, but I prefer jeans anyway.

On Amazon Mexico, I found Wranglers jeans with 35-inch waists. A pair is winging its way to the mountaintop as I write this. If that works, I’ll order a couple more. Three pair should be enough.

Plus I have the two droopy 36s.

Meanwhile, my child bride made apple pie this week for the first time ever. Yesterday, I bought vanilla ice cream at the supermarket. After lunch today, we heated two slices, put vanilla ice cream on top. It was the first time I’d eaten apple pie with vanilla ice cream in about three decades.

It was lovely.

And around 5 p.m., I was downtown, sitting at a sidewalk table with an agua de fresa, which translates to strawberry water, but that fails to convey how good it is. I included a photo. Yes, the expanded waistline is due to age, nothing else.

I curse the years.

The problem neighbors

Neighbor’s new rebar soaring skyward.

We have a construction project under way next door, and it’s going to get ugly. The area between the vertical rebars will be filled, almost certainly, by concrete blocks.

It all started some months ago when the neighbor constructed a one-story building against our wall farther to the left. This is the top of it in the photo just below. It’s the part to the left of the open space. To the right of that space is where he’s begun the new wall that will, I imagine, continue upward and on to the street out back.

This rebar sticks up from our wall, not his. Been there since we arrived.

The building to the left of the open space is no big issue because it’s not very high. In fact, there were pluses in that he removed fruit trees that tossed rotten fruit into the Hacienda yard, which had to be picked up endlessly … by me.

But back to the top photo. More soaring rebar columns continue to the right all the way to the back street, so he’s going to build something long and high, and it will be butt-ugly, battleship-gray, cinder block.

Got me to thinking.

I’ll have to do something to improve the view from our end. After considering various possibilities, I settled on the most elaborate and costly option. See this wall below?

This wall is purely aesthetic, added about two years after we moved in. It runs at a right angle from the kitchen-dining room wall of the house to the property wall, and it hides the “Garden Patio” out back where I keep yard gear and other unattractive stuff. This wall is brick with a stucco-like material on top. I will extend this look as far as necessary to counteract the neighbor’s nasty-looking work. It won’t be cheap, but it will be pretty.

I, the architect

The ground-floor layout, drawn on graph paper by me.*

This springtime will mark the 18th anniversary of the Hacienda. I’ve only owned two homes. The first, in Texas, was mine for just nine years, and I purchased it ready-made, a vintage from back in the 1950s. The second is the Hacienda, which I designed myself with some assist from my child bride.

The downstairs terraza from two directions, drawn by my wife.

Who needs actual blueprints when graph paper is available at the stationery store? The construction began in August of 2002 and ended in May of 2003, which is when we moved in from a two-story rental near downtown. I confess to being something of an architectural copycat. The Hacienda is a much larger version of that two-story rental, a design that I liked and stuck with to a great degree, but not entirely.

Electrical diagram, also done by me.

Among my many talents is that of electrician. Among my portfolio of four-year and two-year degrees and certificates is an Associate Degree in Electrical Construction Technology. I worked as a professional electrician for a spell in New Orleans. So I knew where plugs and lights were needed.

Three talented men and the occasional helper built the house. During the nine-month construction I took a ton of photos, and they all disappeared shortly after we moved in due to their being stored on a hard drive that committed suicide. I stupidly had not backed up any of them anywhere.

A real estate writer on the Houston newspaper where I once toiled wrote a column back then listing the pros and cons of homeownership as opposed to renting. One of his pros was simply that owning a home is fun, and it is most of the time. Renting is not fun.

Though I lost all photos of the construction process, I do have this one I took shortly after we moved in, and at the bottom is a shot from two years ago. It’s been lots of fun.

2003: Fresh paint and disheveled yard. The upstairs terraza is very different now.
That’s the second patio, built in 2019, replacing a grubby stone version.

* The stairwell goes straight up in the drawing. But it would not fit that way, so it actually goes straight up and then hangs a right to complete the turn to the second floor. The revised version is seen in the electrical diagram.