Kim & Janet Visit New York City

April 11, 2009

newyorkskylineYes, it’s true, we went to the b-i-i-i-g city. We have the photos to prove it. And you are going to see some of them.

After hemming and hawing over whether to take a so-so cruise for Janet’s spring break, we decided instead to visit New York. Janet had been listening to the Jersey Boys CD for a couple of months and was really itching to see the show, and she hadn’t seen Ellis Island. Apparently she missed that marching band trip, the one where the band director got on the wrong ferry leaving Ellis and left 3 busloads of high school kids and chaperons sitting in New Jersey for an hour wondering where he was. Battery Park, it turned out . . .

affinia-dumontI was going to book a hotel in Midtown near the theater, but one of Janet’s friends suggested a small chain called Affinia. I found the Affinia Dumont on 34th Street in Murray Hill, and it was great. 35 stories but only about 7 rooms to a floor.

affiniasuiteWe had a junior suite on the 28th floor with a full kitchen and an executive desk setup, not to mention a corner view with the Chrysler Building out one window and the East River out the other. I felt like a big shot sitting there in my corner office. We admired a building across the street with nice gardens on some of the upper floors. At first we thought it was an exclusive condo, but it turned out to be the US headquarters and conference facility for Opus Dei (remember The DaVinci Code?).

newyork093The Barking Dog Bar & Grill – and yes, I did the usual and asked the clerk if he said “Barfing Dog” – was next door and served as the hotel’s restaurant. They have a small plaza where they welcome dogs to enjoy a meal with their owners (in decent weather). Their motto is Sit! Stay! Great place – we had breakfast there every day, and a couple of dinners too.

One evening we ran into Sandy Davidson, the owner of Annandale’s AnnSandra – one of Janet’s favorite shops – where Vicky has worked on and off for a couple of years. Sandy was also staying at the Dumont and was having Seder with her family and friends.

Weatherwise, New York did not exactly welcome us. We arrived late on a pleasant Sunday afternoon and toted our little suitcases six blocks or so up 34th St from Penn Station (we parked in New Jersey and rode the train in – yokels that we are, we first jumped on an Amtrak with our NJTransit tickets, and they booted us off at the airport to await the correct train). That was the last decent weather we had until we left on Thursday. Monday it poured most of the day, Tuesday was showers on and off, cold and windy, and Wednesday was more of the same with snow flurries. Spring, isn’t it lovely?

newyork05On Monday, Janet went to the ten-floors-of-shopping Macy’s at Herald Square, while I got in some exercise at the hotel gym (very nice, by the way). Janet had the forethought to be carrying the camera and took some pictures of Macy’s annual Flower Show, in between marveling at a whole floor dedicated to Petites and buying at least two pairs of shoes.

newyork071Monday evening we took Brendan’s advice and checked out Otto Enoteca, Mario Batali’s wine bar/pizza joint at 1 Fifth Avenue. Actually, the entrance is on 8th Street, but that’s waaaay too mundane an address for a celebrity chef joint. As is our practice, we went out on a limb with our dinner orders . . . she had the margherita pizza, but I was even more daring – pepperoni! With a glass of white zin! It was great pizza, and it was not done in an oven, but on a griddle.

desserttruck1After dinner, we went to find the Dessert Truck. Brendan told us it would be around St. Mark’s Place, just up 8th St from Otto. We searched the area twice, went around two blocks or so before giving up. We headed back to the hotel where we found the following note on the web site:

MONDAY, APRIL 6, 2009

we will not be open tonight because of the weather. please watch the NCAA men’s championship game instead. thank you.

No, thank you! We saved room for dessert, but in the end we were thankful to have avoided the calories and had a nice walk. Then Janet went for a massage while I watched the Big Game. I had already lost my shirt and pants in the Big Johnson contest, so it was all fun.

newyork08Tuesday we decided to check out some of the NY cultural scene and visited the Guggenheim Museum. Although I enjoy a variety of abstract and contemporary art – for instance, I liked the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Tate Modern in London – I didn’t enjoy the art in the Guggenheim. In hindsight, I think we would have enjoyed MoMA instead, but Janet was completely put off by the thought of another modern art museum, so we went down Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now this is one huge museum. So big, in fact, it’s almost overwhelming. We stayed only an hour or so – despite the $20 admission – but we enjoyed the incredible display of European royal porcelains.

newyork12It was so cold, though, we wound up heading back to the hotel for a nap – but not before we stopped by Macy’s so I could check out the ten-floors-of-shopping and get a photo of the Empire State Building (being rebuilt, BTW).

That evening we had dinner at a nice place in the theater district, Rino Trattoria, before going to the show. The owner said that it’s been a tough few weeks – the economy has been keeping both the locals and the visitors away. He was out in the street offering to pay for your meal if you didn’t like it! We enjoyed the meal so we didn’t take him up on the offer.

jerseyboyslogoFinally, we saw the show that was the purpose of our visit – Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Terrific show. Of course, the original cast has been gone since 2007, but the current cast is certainly excellent, and they are still packing in the crowd. We would see it again – I suppose that’s the ultimate compliment. And I understand it’s going to be in DC this coming October, so we probably will be seeing it again!

newyork10Last but not least, on Wednesday we braved the snow, wind and cold in New York Harbor to pay our respects to Lady Liberty and visit Ellis Island. Fortunately, I had booked reserve ferry tickets – otherwise we would have been standing in the cold, wind and snow for well over an hour just to get on the ferry. It was an impressive sight, especially when the sun came out in between the flurries as we were passing the statue.

We chose not to get off the ferry at the monument – we could not get tickets to go up in the statue, and it was too cold to just walk around outside – so we went on to Ellis Island.

ellisisland1Ellis Island was the point through which about 12 million immigrants, chiefly European, passed between 1892 and 1924, probably the greatest period for immigration in US history. (Restrictive quotas limited immigration after that time, and the processing moved to embassies and consulates overseas.) These were the third-class and steerage passengers on the steamships – the “rich” first- and second-class passengers were cleared to enter by the time the ships docked in New York, while the hordes of poorer folk were ferried to Ellis Island to undergo a number of screening tests to ensure they would not be “likely to become a public charge.” I know my grandparents were admitted from Denmark in 1909, but I could not find them in the Ellis Island records – it’s possible they had money enough to avoid it, but I wouldn’t have guessed that. About 100 million Americans can now trace their ancestry to Ellis Island. In the current immigration-unfriendly atmosphere, that’s amazing.

Afterward, we had a nice (but cold) stroll up the East River to the South Street Seaport. We’d been there before when Vicky’s TJ Marching Colonials played their Harry Potter show on a rainy October afternoon in 2002, but it was a lot more crowded this time. We ate a late lunch at Harbour Lights and watched people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Did I mention it was cold (and windy)? I guess they didn’t notice.

Kim Hannemann, Real Estate Consultant/Realtor®, Samson Realty
Cell: 703-861-9234 • Fax: 703-896-5055 • Email: KimTheAgent@gmail.com

It’s Good To Have A Friend In The Business®
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If you would like to discuss real estate questions, sell or buy a home in Northern Virginia – including Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Falls Church, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Springfield, or Vienna – contact Kim today.

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Big Johnson Basketball Winners!

April 10, 2009

bigjohnsonThe Seventh Annual Big Johnson College Basketball Tournament Classic is history. As is my reputation for competent prognostication, but we will get to that later. For now, let me congratulate the winners:

gruber1Chris Gruber won the Mens Tournament competition, after a comparison of final game point totals determined that he came two points closer to predicting the total final score than did Scott Breunig. Scott claims they tied based on absolute numbers, but all decisions of the judges (me) are final. Nyah, nyah.

Chris is the winner of a brand new iPod Shuffle, handsomely engraved with his name and achievement!

chrishChris Hannemann (a distant relative . . .) won the Womens Tournament contest going away. There was simply no way any team would beat the Huskies, and Chris wisely chose Louisville to upset Baylor and Maryland to get to the final four.

Chris has a different plan for his winnings:

Though it against my better judgment as an engineer to forgo fancy electronics, I am already the proud owner of a perfectly functional iPod. Instead of taking the $80 in iTunes cash, I have decided to go the route of Ms. Deems (victor of last year’s college bowl challenge) and have it donated through a charitable organization. Now most of you would say, “obviously, Chris will be sending a check to a fund focused on curing alopecia” (specifically, alopecia areata barbae . . . seriously, you should see my patchy stubble). But no, I instead am going to invest the money through kiva. Kiva is a microfinance/microlending organization that allows you to make small loans to specific people & projects around the globe (in fact, Kiva teams up with several partners, making it more of a microfinancing warehouse). The loans are used to help budding entrepreneurs in developing nations buy equipment, stock their stores, and otherwise get off the ground. As the money is paid back, you can donate it to the next project. I haven’t chosen which project(s) to donate to yet, but I will probably focus on manufacturing ventures.

Now let’s discuss the big loser – me. In the Mens Tournament, I was beaten by 52 of the 59 entrants. Never have I been ground into the dust to that extent. Naming everyone would take up too much space, so let me list those I did manage to beat: Jon Coggins, Christy Cunnington, Brendan Hannemann, Ron Frazier, Brian Johnson, and Michelle Boyd. In the Womens Tournament, I did better – aside from Chris, only Jason Pollan, Tiernan Doyle, and Pat Hayes beat me, with Jim Cocco managing to tie The Man.

twizzlersHowever, given my appalling performance overall, I have made the Executive Decision to pay off every participant with Strawberry Twizzlers. If you were entered in either contest, you can expect to receive your Twizzlers either in person or in the mail soon – meaning when I get around to finding the appropriate mailers, etc, etc. . . !


ESPN on TJHSST

April 8, 2009

Yes, you can be smart and athletic at the same time.

Those rising freshman who made the cut and are deciding whether or not to come to TJ, take note: bring your game!

America’s top high school earning respect on the field


TJ Students Sweep Biotech Awards

April 6, 2009

Yup, they done did it again.

Virginia Bioscience Blog: TJ Students Sweep Biotech Awards at VA State Science Fair.


One Of Them Finally Did It

April 6, 2009

A personal event:

My son Brendan proposes to Jill with cupcakes . . .

proposal

She accepts. Yay!

jillaccepts


Looking For Mortgage Money? Might Get Tough.

April 2, 2009

Here’s an article from this morning’s Washington Post:no_moneytransp

Lenders Struggle to Find Cash to Quench Growing Demand for Refinancing

By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009; A15

Now that mortgage refinancing is popular again, one big concern is that there won’t be enough money to keep up with the demand.

Mortgage bankers say the money they borrow to finance home loans — called warehouse lines of credit — has dried up and that borrowers may pay the price in artificially inflated interest rates and maddening delays in loan closings.

Interest rates are at record lows. The average on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.61 percent for the week ended March 27, according to a survey released yesterday by the Mortgage Bankers Association. But many capital-starved bankers said rates could be 0.25 to 0.75 percentage points lower if they had better access to warehouse lines.

These credit lines provide bankers who are not licensed to take deposits with the money they need to close a mortgage. The bankers then pay down the credit line after the mortgage is sold to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or other investors.

But the amount of available credit has plummeted to about $25 billion from $200 billion a year ago, according to the mortgage bankers group. Many of the large financial institutions that extend credit to the bankers have left the business, imposed tough restrictions or capped existing lines as they try to shore up their own capital. In the past few weeks, National City Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase and Guaranty Bank have announced plans to end warehouse lending.

Mortgage bankers say the supply of money available to them is shrinking just as demand for loans is taking off, blunting the Obama administration’s efforts to loosen consumer lending. Last week, loan applications were up 3 percent from the previous week and almost 69 percent compared with the previous year, the mortgage bankers’ survey found.

“When demand outstrips supply, lenders manage that by raising rates” or slowing the pace of lending, said John Courson, chief executive of the mortgage bankers group. “The end result is that borrowers are not enjoying the full benefit of these lower rates.”

Mahesh Swaminathan, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said he agrees that lending volume might be higher and loans might be processed more quickly if there were no credit-line problems. “But at the same time, it is not the case that activity is stalling because of that,” Swaminathan said.

The new mortgage securities backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae totaled $172 billion in March and could reach nearly $200 billion by June, he said. That’s more than the monthly high of $190 billion in 2003, suggesting that lending activity is robust, driven mostly by refinancing.

Still, some borrowers are watching their mortgage deals fall apart at the last minute. For instance, Greystone Financial’s sole warehouse line was pulled in February. The Las Vegas company has shut down its operations in the District and 17 states, including Maryland and Virginia.

“We had 500 loans in the pipeline, and we had 30 loans that were signed and ready to go, but we could not fund them,” said Michael Sweeney, Greystone’s chief executive. “It caused a tremendous amount of headaches for the buyers, and we’re not sure how much longer we can continue doing business this way.”

The Warehouse Lending Project, a coalition of independent mortgage bankers, and the mortgage bankers association are working with the regulator that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to devise a plan to bolster warehouse lending.

That regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said in a statement that it is aware of the effects of the decline in warehouse lending and that it has met with industry and administration officials to “try to develop solutions.”

The warehouse-lending coalition estimates that non-depository banks supply roughly 40 percent of loans and contends that the mortgage market would suffer if they went out of business.

“Think about it: If all of a sudden there was a big demand for gasoline and 40 percent of the gas stations went out of business, you’d have chaos and disruption and higher prices. That’s the situation we’re drifting toward in the lending arena,” said Glen Corso, a principal at the Warehouse Lending Project.

I think the situation for the lenders I work with – such as Wells Fargo, Prosperity, and First Savings – is better than for most mortgage brokers because they rely on their own funding rather than on “warehouse” lines of credit. But the overall tightness could still serve to increase rates.