A couple of people have asked me to post some pictures of the progress on the house, so here they are. Despite our doubts, the November 15 finishing date might actually happen but we expect a lot of work to remain for several months after we move in.
Although we've had some seriously cloudy weather the reader on the solar electric inverter today announced that the batteries were "floating", which means they are fully charged. I guess you just need light, not necessarily blazing sun, for the panels of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity even if the output is greatly reduced.
And of course, the inverter has to be connected to the electrical grid in the house, which hasn't happened. So for the time being the batteries will continue floating, and the little screens on the inverter blinking, just for the hell of it.
During these final days, details will continue to drive us crazy. Today we discovered that the kitchen sink cabinet, which is supposed to be perfectly centered under the window, is for some reason about four inches off-center to left. Though I've learned to curb my perfectionism this goof is easily noticeable to anyone with a pair of reasonably functioning eyes.
Then we noticed that the electric connections for the under cabinet lights are perfectly located on the wrong wall, the one where there are no cabinets. So now we either have to move the cabinets or the electrical boxes.
The next challenge will be picking paints. We're in Mexico so forget acres of off-white walls or muted shades. Loud reds, purples and greens are all fair game. Yet, what goes with what?
After painting will come the not small matter that we have practically no furniture. That's become an issue because most of the furniture available in San Miguel tends to be dark, massive, baronial stuff. Even more annoying, there is only one major furniture dealer in town and you keep running into the same pieces in people's houses.
So that's two problems really: We don't like the so-called "Colonial San Miguel" look plus we want something different. Mexicanish yet modern.
Did I mention moderately priced? It's become clear to most people that San Miguel is becoming, or may have already become, an overpriced Gringo Gulch. We were shopping in Mexico City recently and were surprised to find that prices, from restaurants to kitchen appliances to furniture, are actually lower there than in San Miguel.
Still, cost of living in San Miguel in general remains substantially lower than in the U.S., plus there's another advantage: The ability of Mexican crafstmen--particularly carpenters and ironworkers--to faithfully reproduce practically anything you show them, and at a fraction of the cost. We gave our ironworker a picture of a gate Stew found in the Internet and the guy came back with a beautiful reproduction.
The same is true for furniture though I'm not sure about the quality of the materials. From experience we know that badly made pieces, with cushions that lose their shape or sag over time are really no bargain at all.
Here are some stories to go with the pictures.
The latest additions to the front of the house are the chimney and the paint job on the wall enclosing the front patio. Since this picture was taken gutters have been installed on the eaves under the clay tiles, and the chimney painted to match the front wall.
The front wall looks somewhat foreboding and massive right now, something we plan to remedy by using climbers and other plantings to soften its appearance. Still missing are the two clerestory windows in front, which have arrived but haven't been installed.
This is a partial view of the front patio, which includes a wall fountain but no plantings so far. Just digging the lousy soil and massive rocks took quite a bit of effort. Now of course we have to get and dump two or three truckloads of good black soil in the hole we've created.
The lattice-like metal roof over the front works quite well to cut some of the sun without darkening the inside of the house. We plan to train some climbers on the metal canopy. My choice would be Angel's Trumpet, which I've seen around here. The nurseryman also suggested we move a Valencia orange tree we had planted outside into the protected patio.
These are the electric batteries hooked up to the photovoltaic electric panels on the roof of the garage. From there, thick (about #4 gauge) wires go into the "inverters" inside, which convert the DC juice into AC, and then to the electric entrance panel with the circuit breakers.
The batteries are about the size of large suitcases but weigh about 900 pounds each. Up close they look like huge car batteries with caps on top for pouring distilled water into the cells. More on that later when we get some instructions from the installer.
I'm still curious whether we may have to resort to a generator during a series of overcast days like we've been having for the past week.
Then there's that wind turbine the installer wanted to sell us and which is still available. A curious phenomenon is that solar and wind seem to complement each other. When it's cloudy, like yesterday, the wind kicks up and vice versa. Wind turbines of course are at their best in stormy weather, when solar is hurting. We need to wait a year to figure this out.
My main objections to the wind turbines are that they are ugly, even the newer, sleeker models, and that they make noise. It's so quiet out there that even the whoosh of the blades may become a pain.
This is Gladys, the good karma dog, taking a rest in the living/dining room area. The wood beams on top were left a natural color, no staining. The patches of color on the walls are samples we're trying out. We think we're going with the red on the one wall, plus a sand-hued color on the rest of the walls.
The texture of fireplace is a slightly rougher than the rest of the walls. I thought it would overwhelm the room but it doesn't. The two square niches have halogen lights, as does the shelf to the right of the firebox. Those spaces are meant to display fine Mexican ceramics or art objects, of which we don't have any. The space to the left is for stacking firewood. A type of Mexican granite is coming for the ledge on top of the mantle.
Another view of the living/dining room, looking toward the kitchen.
Stew, Gladys and Lucy, present at the inaugural lighting of the fireplace. We had the fireplace built so that it can burn wood or artificial propane gas logs. Firewood here is rare and expensive, given that the surroundings are mostly desert. What we are using now are wood scraps left from the construction.
The master bedroom. The bare space on the floor is for a wood inset, sort of a wood carpet in the middle of the tile floor. Stew came up with that idea, a good one.
Master closet, still under construction. The carpenter, who otherwise is doing a good job, initially presented us with an elaborate performance/payment schedule. He's about three weeks behind already and so are the payments.
The pile of rocks at the foot of the terrace is supposed to become a rock garden sometime in the future.
A view of the house, from the road down below.