Ramble On

Monday, January 31, 2011

Clarendon Construction Update - January 2011

A quick thought this morning, it's been three years since I started watching all the construction in my work neighborghood.  While one of the original three buildings is substantially completed - it even looks to be occupied on some of the office floors, the North Block building is still in the works, and of course, the church building is very much in the early stages.

Starting with the church - such an iconic picture - the photo shows formwork going in for below grade parts of the structure.  I'll see if I can find some information about the garage capacity.  As part of the building's Silver LEED certification, I understand that proximity to Metro - this is about a block from the Orange Line Clarendon stop - allowed the developer to reduce the space allocated to parking.

Also visible, the little green structure near the church steps looks like it will be a sample board. 

Next, here is the "North Block" building.  The covered walkway area here is in front of the storefronts where the new BGR Burgers Joint will be.  Lots of coming and going there.  Otherwise, I have seen office furnishings on the lit upper floors at night, but so far not a lot of foot traffic going in and out.  So I don't think the building is occupied yet.

The two tower embellishments were "ignited" during the holidays.  Behind the glass block masonry is a computerized LED lighting system that can cycle through a full range of colors.  These lights were programmed to be red and green during the holidays, although for a couple of days they cycled through the spectrum in unison.  I'd like to see that again.  I just thought they were going to be some kind of white light beacon for the conservative activist think tank that is going to move in here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alexandria Kitchen Weeks 10-12

I guess it has been a few weeks since I posted on the kitchen remodel - since before I went to Japan, as a matter of fact.  Gone are the days of big changes, we're at the stage where it is grinding along as the finer points take longer than the big bulky ones.  It's looking good.  I just wish it was over.

Here are the photos, as usual, but I will skip for now the pantry update and the sun room.

First, the space where the fridge is - used to have a base cabinet and wall cabinet here, with a small counter top.

Then, the wall with the sink.  Now the cabinets are all in, the diswasher reinstalled.  Soon there'll be a pendant lamp here to give us light over the sink.

Last one of these, the wall where the door to the dining room used to be.  Now this is all counter space around the stove.  The goal of the remodel was to improve the "triangle" - which seems to work.  Now if we could just get our contractor to wrap it up.

Last two, I took these to give an idea of the detail - you've got a view of the counter top and the backsplash in one, and a second that adds the cabinet and hardware.  This is a white matte finish on maple.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Ramen Gladiator

Well, I thought I was finished with my posts about the Japan trip.  As I was cleaning up the photos on my (work) blackberry and my (personal) iPhone, I found a couple more things I wanted to share.  Then we'll be done with it.  So even though I said I was done, well, sue me.

Recognizing that during the first part of the week I was going to be tied down on post for most of my schedule, I decided to venture back down to the Subodai Mae train station area about a half mile off post for dinner.  I'd seen a Yoshinoya down there, and since my USC classmates and I used to go to one these fast food noodle places just across the street from campus in Los Angeles, in the worst case I would end up there.

I asked the office staff before leaving for the day if there were any recommendations and I told them about the Yoshinoya plan, my fall back.  They said that it would be fine, but just a little farther down was a second noodle place that was better - I figured as long as I could find the place I'd go.

Sure enough, I found it two blocks down.  This one uses a vending machine to take orders, and I needed to get help with it.  After you put the money in, three big white buttons flashed on different sections of the machine.  I figured that the one by the change return slot was the "cancel" button, but looking at them closely they all had the same japanese letters  in large red ink, with smaller letters around them - I'm guessing that the typology I was seeing probably said "press here" and the important stuff, maybe "eat here" or "take out," was in the smaller font, but of course, I couldn't read any of it.

I settled for a chicken dish, as shown in the photo, with a bowl of rice and a little side salad which was very kimche like, just not as spicy.  At 590 Yen - maybe $7, it was a good deal.  The young woman behind the counter took my ticket and then came back with the food in a few minutes. 

I couldn't figure out the story with the vending machine, since they still needed the counter help.  Maybe putting the interface to the cash register up front is more efficient...I am sure one of my knowledgeable consulting readers will have an opinion.

There was one other Japanese retail experience that I have left to share.  After I got to the airport for the trip home, I found that I had an hour to kill before the United counter even opened for check-ins.  I took a walk around the shopping mall area (not the duty free area) and found a "glasses express" booth.  They offered a simple process:

1) Choose frame
2) Choose lens
3) Get eye exam
4) Wait
5) Pay 10,000 yen and walk out with your new glasses 

These were very fashionable Japanese frames and I couldn't resist all this service for only $120 or so, and the convenience of walking away with new glasses (on my New Year's list) and heading over to check in sold me.

I talked to the clerk and she said, yes, most people get the new glasses right then and there.  Well, of course, for me it wasn't going to be as easy as all that, since I need bifocals.  But they did them, and it was still pretty easy, and it was going to be about 220,000 Yen instead (still, about half the price I paid for my last pair here in DC).  So I was sold.

As promised, a doctor showed up and did the exam, and he was very careful to explain my prescription and the process.  They would have the factory make the lenses and then arranged to mail them to me at the house in Alexandria.  It wasn't exactly while you wait service, but it was pretty good anyway!

Sure enough the glasses arrived yesterday.  Here's a photo (my last one about the trip) that I took at the counter to remind me what I had bought.  A final reminder of a great business trip!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Last year, when Mary and I were volunteering at the Luray Tri, we ran into a participant who'd brought his 3 year old border collie along.  It was the first time we'd had such a close encounter with any dog since Sofie passed in June.  We realized we were just about ready to look for a rescue.

We decided to postpone this search until after the kitchen remodel...which is now nearing completion.  Over the last few weeks I've begun to look at rescue sites - we are interested in another border collie. 

We know it will be impossible to replace the ones we've lost, but we are ready to start a new relationship.  We'll keep you posted on this search.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Street Food in Kamakura

For my last post about my recent Japan trip, I thought I would share some photos that I took while walking down Komachi-dori, one of two shopping streets in Kamakura. There is another that is oriented towards local stores called Wakamiya-Oji, while the guidebooks say that Komachi features cafes and specialty shops.

On my way over to the area from the Daibutsu, I had already walked about a half mile in this vicinity where I had encountered local wood carving artisans. The technique sculpts hardwood and uses lacquer to preserve the work, featuring many Japanese themes.

But by this time, an hour of train rides getting there and two temple visits behind me, my thoughts turned to getting something to eat – and there were plenty of choices, as you can see from these photos. They ranged from the familiar – crepes and sausages (I had it on good authority that crepes are a craze here, and the two stands I saw on Komachi-dori boasted long lines), to the unfamiliar – seafood fried rice and little confections made from bean paste.

On the Thursday night shopping trip, we came across a little food stand that had a long line, and I wanted to get closer to see what the buzz was all about.  And it just goes to show you what an advantage it can be to live in a big city...the line of more than 20 people streaming from the little window at the booth was waiting on fried octopus!

I’m told that high standards of cleanliness here make the street food offerings safe, not like you worry in some parts of the world. So that’s not why I didn’t try anything from these stands. Since I had no guide to help me choose what to try, I didn’t partake at the risk of offending someone if I didn’t like what I’d gotten – these were going to be all new tastes for me, my tastebuds all spoiled from industrially produced corn by-product foods, and here were so many items that probably were completely and certifiably free of any corn fractions.

At last I went by a little doorway where some people were standing and giving out handbills, inviting passersby back to the couple of restaurants that were there. One of the handbills had exactly what I was looking for – udon noodles, and that is where I headed for lunch. The last photo here is a picture of the combo I got, with the tempura fried vegetable mix featuring my favorite, kubocha.

Tomorrow's post will get back to more typical Hawksbill Cabin topics.  And by the way, I'm noticing as I post this, today's post is number 1,000.  How about that?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Temple of War

One of the attractions of the town of Kamakura is its history as the Shogun capital of Japan, which it was from 1192 to 1333.  All the ancient shrines, temples and gardens originated because of this wealth.  After my visit to the Hase-dera Shrine and Daibutsu, I walked through the town for a half mile or so over to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, which my guidebooks refer to as Kamakura's premier shrine, dedicated to the god of war. 

I had made what I considered an early start getting down to Kamakura because of the two train transfers that would be required.  I entered the grounds of Hase-dera at around 11 am, but even so, there was a growing crowd of visitors.  At Daibutsu, the crowds had continued to grow.  By the time I was at Hachiman-gu, as the picture shows, things were bustling. 

Partly because of the crowd, I wasn't very tuned in to waypoints and interpretive signage at this temple.  I just sort of made my way around, taking in the impressive grounds and buildings, and picking up snatches of what I was seeing as the opportunity presented itself.

After I had toured the little museum here, I learned about the Assassin's Tree, a 1,000 year old ginkgo that had stood on these grounds - meaning the tree would already have been more than 100 years old at the time of the shogunate.  The story goes that a nephew of the ruling shogun lept from near the tree and killed him, only to be beheaded himself within a few hours.  This brought an end to that ruling line in 1219.

The tree fell in a snow storm in March 2010 - we see old trees, much younger than this one, falling down in the DC area during storms like this all the time.  This summer, they had signs of life out of the remaining stump, and a section of the old tree has been rooted there in the hopes it will come back.  Meanwhile, there is a section of the trunk (showing that the core had rotted out from age) and a branch on display at the museum.  The large branch, approximately a foot in diameter and nearly eight feet long, rests in a casket-like glass case with one end on a silk pillow.

As with the other shrines I visited, the crowds were here to make their first visits of the new year, I guess.  There is the tradition of making new year's wishes on emma, small wooden plaques with an image of whichever year it is (this year, the rabbit), which are then displayed at the temple.  Also, there is fortune telling, where the fortune is written on a small scroll, and then hung on little ropes at various places around the temple.  Since archery is still practice at this site, arrows are also sold, which I'm told are good luck charms for little boys.

Wikipedia has an excellent article about the temple at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsurugaoka_Hachiman-g%C5%AB. There is a lot that I saw there and simply can't write up in this post.  There is a photo of the fantastic ginkgo tree with that article.

Getting back to my walk up to the temple, once I was in Kamakura proper the crowds really picked up, especially as I approached the main train station.  There are three torii here along an approach that extends nearly 2 kilometers down to the sea.  In a raised median, there is a pedestrian trail called the dankazura, probably wide enough to walk 5 abreast and bordered on both sides by cherry trees.  The design of this approach forces reverence to the shrine ahead and the place of worship.

One item I have forgotten to note in these last three posts is the ritual surrounding water features that stand at the entry way to shrines like these.  There is a tradition of offering cold, clear, fresh water to wash your hands and mouth before entering the grounds.  Upon first encountering one of these, I stood back and watched how it was done before trying it myself.

Basically, this act, called temizu, works like this:  wash the left hand first, then the right.  Some people rinsed their mouths with the water, but I understand that they were not drinking the water.  At some shrines, people will also wash their feet.  Some folks finished this little ritual by tipping the ladle backwards to wash the handle, and then placing the ladle back on the rack with the opening down, always careful not to put any water back in the well.  I have a photo here of the temizu fountain that was at the Hase-dera shrine.

My next post will be the last from the Japan trip.  After that one is up next week, I'll catch things up with the kitchen remodel, and also will have a hike to report. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sitting Down Like the Buddha Sat

My second sightseeing stop in Kamakura was to visit the Daibustu at Kotoku-in temple.  This seated Buddha, formally Amida Nyorai, was constructed out of bronze beginning in 1252.  Most of the historical information that they give you when you visit discusses the construction process, which took ten years; there are even records of the artists involved and the priests who raised the funds.

Over the years, the Buddha has been housed in buildings, but these have been lost to storms.  I recall reading about past earthquake damage to the platform as well, and as you go inside the statue you can see repairs that have been done to strengthen it (second photo is from inside, looking up to the head).

At nearly 35 feet tall (over 40 feet if you count the platform), it's quite a remarkable thing to visit.  My colleague at work recommended Kamakura and the Daibutsu specifically.  That was truly a good tip.

As with Hase-dera, there were quite a few other things to see at this location, although I didn't take a lot of photos of the smaller shrines there. 

As I stopped to rest near the statue, I noticed an incense burner, and paid closer attention to the visitors' rituals - some were there to worship, and it being close to the new year this was an important stop for them.  Here is a photo of one visitor praying near the incense burner - I watched as a few people lit pieces, and then others collected the smoke in cupped hands and passed it over themselves.

At the back of the statue, you can see air vents, since the cavity is open for visitors. Also, the sutras are engraved on large bronze lotus petals at the base in the back.

For the final photo of this visit, there is a little display nearby with a pair of sandals.  The story I heard was that these were made out of straw, in the traditional material and style for buddhist priest, and presented as an offering by Japanese school children.  I was told that the legend on the plaque says something like this:  The offering expressed gratitude for a good harvest, and was accompanied by a message from the children: Buddha must surely be tired after sitting there for some 700 years and they would be pleased if he were to wear the sandals when he takes a walk

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bodhisattva, Won't You Take Me by the Hand

On Saturday, my sightseeing day in Kamakura, my first stop was at Hase-dera Temple, which houses a 30-foot tall statue of Hase Kannon, a Bodhisattva, or future Buddha.  According to the little brochure, while the typical English translation ascribes the Kannon as "the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy" - the Kannon is neither male nor female, but is someone who made the sacrifice of postponing divine enlightenment to show other sentient beings how to achieve enlightenment themselves, and showing compassion, mercy, and love as part of that choice.

Legend has it that the statue housed here (photos of the statue are not allowed) was one of two large carvings from a single camphor tree.  This one was cast into the sea, with the hope that it would lead those who found it to faith and hope.  It washed up after 15 years near here, and was brought to this site, where a temple was built to house it.

The temple has a large garden, planted Japanese style with seasonally blooming plants - in the winter, there are Japanese plum, camelia, witch hazel, narcissus, and yellow plum in view.  I spent quite a bit of time enjoying these spaces, including the water gardens at the bottom of the hill, and the "Prospect Road" trail along the top.

Other features of this holy place were a number of smaller shrines, a bell tower, a library where the sutras (holy texts) are kept, a vegetarion restaurant, grottoes, and an observation platform that looks out over the town to the Pacific Ocean.  I've included a couple of photos below of one of the outdoor spaces along the Prospect Road, where there was a small enclave against the hill with a number of statues.

The primary statue here dates to 721 AD, and had gold leaf applied in 1342.  Other statues here date to 1193 and 1412.  It is still an active holy place, as were several sites that I visited on my touring day, and new monuments and shrines are constantly being added to the temple.  There is a museum here, which I didn't visit because of my schedule, but this features cultural items such as scrolls, hanging mirrors, and a collection of 33 incarnations of the cannon.

Closing out with a final photograph of the Buddha's footprint.  There is a tradition that the first Buddha left footprints on a stone in India, which marked a physical presence before the enlightenment.  At this temple, this sign was on a platform near where the Kannon was housed.  

My next stop was Daibutsu, the giant Buddha of Kamakura.  I'll post about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tour o' Toros

Since I posted last week about the symbolism of the Japanese toro - the traditional lantern that stands at the entry ways of shrines and temples throughout the country, I became a little bit of a connoisseur, if you will, of the form.  So I would like to borrow that imagery for the introduction of the next few posts:  there are five topics left to cover from my trip to Japan; I will complete them this week.  Most of the photos here were taken on my Saturday sightseeing day at a couple of sites in Kamakura.

The original post about the toro is here:     http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/01/toro-intro-to-buddhist-cosmology.html - I found some interesting research that outlined how each part of the lantern symbolized an element of Buddhist cosmology.  Once I had learned this, I carefully looked at each one I encountered to see the connections.  In the end, what really happened was that I developed an appreciation for each of them as individuals - their locations, their forms - and that is what I hope to show a little bit of in this post.

The first photo above is probably my favorite of the ones I saw on Saturday, as I toured the Hase-dera Temple, the Daibutsu, and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, the three sites where these images come from.  The first toro was in a little bamboo stand next to the sutra library.  At Hase-dera there was a stone footpath that you could follow into the bamboo, starting near the lantern.

The second, also a favorite, is this smaller toro surrounded by boxwood and also in the gardens at Hase-dera.  The boxwood is really prospering around it, almost enough to take it over.

I have some great images of the Buddha statue - the Daibutsu - that I will post this week, but for now, here is a photo of the toro that stands at the entry to that shrine.   Farther back at this site there is another, smaller one, shown in the fourth photo.  It stands next to a small shrine, and on the day I visited, a vase with roses filled the little firebox. 

The fifth toro is one I saw at the Hachiman-gu, again off on the grounds near a small shrine.  I did not get close enough to that shrine to determine what it was for, since there were two visitors near the front paying their respects.  I encountered this - prayers and worship - at a couple of the sites throughout the day. 

The final one is one of a pair that were on the main level at the Hase-dera.  I assume they marked the entry to the Kannon-do Hall, where a 30-foot tall statue of a Bodhisattva stands.  That hall and the gardens on these grounds were the point of my visit there, my first stop in Kamakura and the topic of my post tomorrow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Back from Japan

I'm trying to calculate how long it took for me to travel back from Japan - the logisitics of getting from the base to the airport took a bit of extra time, and then there was a five hour layover in Seattle.  I finally arrived back at home last night at 11:00pm...so accounting for the 14 hour time difference and leaving the hotel on Sunday morning at 9:00am Japan time, I may have been in transit for 30 hours (just thinking about that makes my butt hurt from the airplane seats).

The other riders on the shuttle to Narita told me that the route we took wasn't the usual one:  we drove through Yokohama and to the south of Tokyo.  I remember waking up during the ride from the airport to Zama in time to see the Tokyo Tower and a brightly lit area that may have been the Roppongi District, two sights that were visible from the freeway we were on (we also passed Tokyo Disney, but I slept through that one!).

On that ride I also saw the Yokohama skyline - so I was looking forward to the shuttle ride back to catch a glimpse of these sites I hadn't had time to take in.  Here are two views of the Yokohama harbor, one looking back at the skyline and with Mount Fuji rising over it - pardon the quality, they were taken from the bus window. 

The rest of the drive was interesting enough, mainly through agricultural areas, where most of the tightly organized fields have been prepared for planting, and it looks like summer squash was already sprouting and has been covered with light rows of screening.

I have about four posts left from the trip to get out this week and then I will return to traditionally HC topics.  I'm also looking forward to getting back to the little house very soon, and in fact, we are trying to put together a GWNF hike for this weekend.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Parting Shot from Japan

My sponsor here and his wife took me out on a local excursion the other day to help me get oriented on the trains here. That was very helpful, since I had a multi-transfer sightseeing day planned for Saturday. For our evening, we went to a little shopping district out here in the western suburbs called Michida. I had a good time.

We stayed on the shopping streets although there are some very big malls here – quite a few of them with just about any brand you could ask for – hence the green grocer photo, since they are there near the train stations mixed in with everything else.

It’s radish season here, apparently, fyi, and that is what the big green items were.  And that next store is a shoe store in the second photo.

For our dinner, we went to one of those little charcoal huts (“soot bul jeep” as I learned to call them back in LA). We had a nice mixed grill, some edamame, cabbage and kobocha squash (once I saw it on the menu, David Sours, I could not resist it, and I hope you will continue growing it at Public House Produce!).  Suntory Lager there, also, in case you'd want to know.

This will be my last post from Japan, I am leaving for the airport shortly. I still have some posts from my sightseeing day to put up, those will be forthcoming next week. Also, I understand that there is significant progress on the Alexandria kitchen to report, and my hiking group is planning a winter hike next weekend (destination TBD).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cross-post with Breakfast at Epiphany's blog: Breakfast at the Camp Zama Golf Course

Today, a special cross post, done in the style of my friend Brian's Breakfast at Epiphany's blog, a favorite of mine.  You can catch his blog by checking out the blogroll to the right.

I’m visiting Japan on business and have been here a few days, staying at Army Base Camp Zama. When I first arrived, we drove past the golf course with its excellent sign, suggesting that there would be worthwhile views here (although Fuji-san is not visible...false advertising) – and then I got to base lodging, where I found the menu conveniently included in a welcome packet. And so, finding time on my hands before my first meeting on Thursday, I took a brisk stroll over to the Zama Golf Club restaurant for breakfast.

On first impression, it looks like any other golf club, so I walked in and took a seat near the window overlooking the first tee and #6 green. The d├ęcor, colors and furniture, reminded me of a Los Feliz favorite, House of Pies*, from the old days in Los Angeles (I used to golf more then, too), so I was soon comfortable and got busy with the menu.

The first item there is “The Eagle**” combo, which sounds promising at just $5.25: two eggs your way, two sausage patties, and French toast with maple syrup. That’s a bit much for me at breakfast, so I went to the second item: “The Early Riser” – although I was clearly not up all that early – for $4.95 you get two eggs your way, choice of meat, toast and grits or hash browns (rice is a third choice on most menus here). A southern boy, I was tempted by the grits but since I planned to cross post this review, decided I better go with Brian’s "favourite," the hash browns.

Now there is a notable third item on this menu called the “Run-A-Way”: an English muffin with fried egg, cheese, and a choice of meat (spam – incredibly popular here, people give it as a gift! – sausage, or bacon). If I go back, I might just check the box on that one.

After placing my order I got busy with the other Breakfast at Epiphany’s tasks. For condiments, we had basic red Tabasco, and soy sauce; there was also liquified Sweet and Low (no thank you, refined white sugar is fine by me). My coffee arrived, and it was a robust blend, so I asked about it. I hoped to hear “Suntory Boss” because of the great Tommy Lee Jones commercials here in Japan***, or “Georgia” because I had one of those from a vending machine and got quite a jolt. But no dice, this was a bulk packaged restaurant dark roast, although the bag proclaimed Latin American heritage.

The food arrived just as the waitron gave me a refill on my coffee. I enjoyed the meal, although I have to admit I wish I’d been as resourceful as Brian for my condiments, I’m really not fond of the vinegary taste of Tabasco. Also, there wasn't any jam for the two slices of toast I had left over after soaking up the over easy yolks.  Still, as sunny morning with a beautiful view across the rolling hills of a golf course, in Japan, that’s a disappointment I quickly got over.

Glen Bacon Scale rating: “The Early Riser:” 6.8 – it would probably have fared better if (1) I picked the grits, or (2) I had something besides Tabasco to spice it up a bit; Generic Latin American dark roast: 7.0. If I do come back to this base, it’s inevitable that I’ll have breakfast here again.

*House of Pies is a local landmark in what was then the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood of LA, before I moved away and Silver Lake got trendier. Obviously they are famous for their pies, but you can get a good breakfast there, and you’ll probably be dining with an incognito celebrity or two.

**The Eagle, in this context, could refer to the patriotic symbol of these United States, or to the very desirable golf score you get if you finish a hole two under par (also known as a hole-in-one if you’re on a par three).

***I did a whole post on this topic on my blog:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/01/altcoffeejp.html