Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Front Yard Retaining Wall

During the summer of 2009, I had my front retaining wall and steps completely re-done.  The house lot is at an elevated level and accessed from the street level via steps.  The front yard had a two tiered rockery, even when the old house was there.  The front side was essentially left as-is when I tore down the old house and built new.

The rockery was a fairly nice feature in the front yard with the old house and was always kept in good condition.  During construction of the new house, some of the rockery structure had to be moved and some of the boulders were not re-positioned properly.   Also, I had not maintained the plants that graced the two level rockery after the completion of the house construction.  It was full of overgrown bushes.

Renovation of the front was always in the plans.  My niece's husband recommended a landscape contractor.  On one of my visits back to Seattle during the late spring of 2009, I met with the contractor.  We discussed what I had wanted done on the front side.  He offered several options, with a range of prices.  The following day, he brought in samples of the different materials that can be used.  That day, we drew up the work order.

It was not cheap, but the quality of work was excellent.  The work took a little bit longer to start and longer duration than originally discussed.  That was the summer in Seattle when it was a lot hotter than normal which caused some delays on the work.  Anyway, I write about this because I am looking at a little bit of work to be done on the street level side of the yard.  I googled the contractor company name that I had used for the retaining wall.  Lo and behold, once I found the company website, I noticed that their home page shows a photo of the retaining wall work he had done for me.  See the following link:  There are other pictures of the same project under the "pavers and walls" tab of the website.

During the final walk-thru of the project and before I paid him for the final installment, the owner had asked me if he could use some of the pictures of the project to show potential customers.  I had agreed.  So, it isn't like he is doing it without my consent.  Also, it is nice that my front yard is featured.  It's a reminder to me that I need to do some yard work this spring and summer to maintain it in good condition.

The old house:

The new house with the rockery:

The new house with the rockery and unmaintained plants:

Construction of the new retaining wall:

The new retaining wall:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Slowly Getting Back into the Seattle Groove

It has been almost two and a half weeks since I moved back to Seattle.  I am slowly getting back into a normal routine -- living and working, again, in Seattle.  I have just completed two weeks at work.  My computer at work was installed late las week; it has just been a couple of days ago that I gained access to the system.  I am now in the midst of doing all the mandatory training via online.  Most of the training (computer security, prevention of sexual harassment, anti-discrimination, safety, etc.) are not related to the work I do, but required nonetheless.

There is plenty of work out of the construction office I am working at, the Northwest Area Office of the US Army Corps of Engineers' Seattle District, located in Federal Way, which is just south of Seattle.  The office has more than 20 people, including a full complement of support staff -- something that was usually lacking while working for the Corps overseas.

The drive to work is a straightforward 20 minute commute -- mainly on the interstate highway for 20 miles with very light traffic.  I will probably utilize the mass transit system once I get settlled in.  It would entail a short Seattle Metro bus ride to downtown Seattle from my house, and then transfer to a Sound Transit bus headed to the Federal Way Transit Center.  From the transit center, it is about a 3 minute walk to my workplace.  The total time for the trip, including waiting time, should be about 45 minutes.  It will save some wear and tear on my MiniCooper as well as save money on fuel.  The cost for utilizing mass transport system will be fully subsidized by my employer.

The weather in Seattle has been a steady cold, overcast with sporadic rain sprinkles since I arrived.  Sun sightings have been few and far between.  I am eagerly awaiting the warmer weather of spring.  It is still a bit cold and wet to explore the area.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Last week on my second day back in Seattle, I was craving pancakes and waffles.   You can always count on IHOP (International House of Pancakes) for this type of food.  I had three young great nephews and a great niece sleep over at my place.  On a rainy Saturday morning, I took all four of them to IHOP.   Two of them were going to celebrate their birthday later that afternoon with a party at my house.  The third birthday celebrant was not with us that morning.

I knew some of them would not be able to eat all their food even if they ordered from a kid's menu.  So I ordered only coffee for myself.  I got my helpings of pancakes, eggs, and bacon from their plates.  The food was not spectacular, but we all had a great time eating breakfast together.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Side Trips Before My Return to Seattle

I left Abu Dhabi on Friday, 4 March, headed for Frankfurt, Germany.  Before continuing on to Seattle, I stuck around for 6 days to see places in France and Germany.  After my arrival in Frankfurt, I took the train to Wiesbaden to meet a friend who I used to work with at Europe District Corps of Engineers in Wiesbaden.  From Wiesbaden, via my friend's car, we proceeded towards Lyon, France with an overnight stay in Besancon, France along the way.  We stayed in Lyon, France for two days.  On the way back to Wiesbaden, we stopped in Metz, France for the afternoon and overnight stay.  I had a chance to stop by my former workplace to see a few of the people I used to work with in Wiesbaden.  I spent the last day prior to flight back to Seattle exploring Frankfurt.

Trip photos will soon be posted on my flickr account.  The following are a few pictures from this trip:

A misty morning in Besancon.

Not long after our arrival in Lyon, we were enjoying oysters, snails, and seafood soup for lunch and creme brulee for dessert.

At the Roman amphitheater in Lyon.

View of Lyon city center from Fourviere Basilica.

At plaza in front of Hotel de Ville (city hall), Lyon.

Along the riverwalk in Lyon.

St. Etienne Cathedral in Metz.

A few sights in Frankfurt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Last Days in the UAE

I have but a couple of days left in the UAE.  It is nearly a year since my arrival in Abu Dhabi back in 18 March 2010.  It is with great trepidation that I leave UAE because it has been a good stay over here.  My stay turned out shorter than I expected.  I did not explore outside the UAE as I had planned to do.  When I wanted to visit other places in the region, I was either too busy with work or the recent turmoil in the region prevented me from visiting a few places.  There are many locations here in the region that are well worth visiting.  I still aspire to see some of these places in future visits.

On several trips to the western region desert in the UAE, I have come to admire the beauty of the desolate landscape.  I relished the numerous one day visits to Dubai visiting the old (Bur Dubai, traditional souks, and Bastikiya) and the new (the countless super-megamalls, Palm Jumeirah, Burj Khalifa, and the myriad of ongoing high rise construction).  I enjoyed exploring the more sedate Abu Dhabi, where I live.  Visiting the oases in Al Ain and the nearby rocky, mountainous terrain of Jabel Hafeet was always a treat.

What I will not miss are the horrendous drivers.  I have been lucky that I have not had any vehicle accidents here; I have had several near misses.  I will not miss the lack of parking in downtown Abu Dhabi.  It is always difficult finding parking spaces in Abu Dhabi.  If you do find one, it may be difficult to drive off from the parking spot later on because of the common practice of double parking or people parking anywhere, including blocking off parked cars, when there is nowhere else to park.  I did not go to downtown Abu Dhabi as much as I would have liked because of this issue.  I will not miss cleaning sand off from my hair, face, eyes, ears, nose, etc. especially after a sand storm.  And lastly, I can now wear brown or black shoes and not be concerned about them getting dirty.

While the region is awash in pockets of unrest, the UAE has been relatively quiet.  The UAE is not a democracy; it is more like a monarchy.  Most Emiratis enjoy a decent way of life.  Its citizens have not suffered thru the economic downturn that is augmented with poverty, high unemployment, and limited opportunities as have most of the Middle East and North Africa.  The government has ensured that its citizens, for the most part, are provided assistance and benefits such as health insurance and job prospects.  You will probably not see any protest here anytime soon by the locals.  If protests were to occur, it will be by the millions of laborers from third world countries who have toiled with little pay to modernize the UAE.  But if they do start to protest, the UAE government can simply send them back to their homeland.

The region is undergoing political and social transformation of historic proportions; it will be interesting how it will all turn out.  The more affluent nations in the region have undergone and continue to undergo major makeovers to modernize.  I have seen such examples in the building boom of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  There is simply a bounty of construction in these two cities even if the worldwide economic downturn has slowed down the pace a bit.  There are a few projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai currently under construction or planned for the near future that will merit a visit.  I am sure I will be back for another visit, whether as a tourist or for work.