Decisions, Decisions . . .

We are now serious. We went house hunting with our agent and saw six properties this past Saturday. Many of them were very nice, meaning that they are beyond our budget. It’s too bad that we don’t live in a less expensive area, as I think owning our home would be beneficial to us and our financial future. Honestly, I am hesitant to jump right in to buying something soon because some experts believe the housing market will continue to decline for the next year or so. Yet, unlike the rest of the country, New York is a unique market and should hopefully not be too affected by the so-called housing slump. My fear is that by buying a house we overburden ourselves with a monthly mortgage, lose much of our savings on a down payment and have to take out a bridge loan to cover closing costs only to see the overall value of the home decline when we set foot in the door. Not to mention the annual taxes (New York taxes are high!), community fees (some of the properties are townhomes or condos that require additional monthly fees) and maintenance. 

We have been renting here for over three years and we will never see that money again. But a house will tie us down to being in New York for perhaps many more years. I’m not opposed to staying in New York, but I do want to have some flexibility in the event that a great opportunity arises someplace else. We still have the rest of the year in our apartment under our current lease, but the question of the last few weeks has been, “Then what?” Decisions, decisions . . . . 

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Hanna is Growing Up

Our little Hanna is getting bigger and more enjoyable each day – at least when she’s in a good mood. Here is one of the more recent pictures: hannas-getting-bigger.jpg. Enjoy the weekend.

Journals

I finished reading a book yesterday by Donald Richie titled The Japan Journals. The book covered the almost sixty years that Richie lived in Japan, from 1947 to 2004, and his thoughts, impressions, adventures and experiences in the country as it transformed itself into a global powerhouse. What struck me, however, was the level of detail he included in his journals. Besides this blog (which only began in November, 2006) I have always been a good journal keeper, but my journals are far from being in a condition to where they could be published and be entertaining for someone to read. But Richie’s journals were, and the type of experiences he included and how well he wrote will forever be with me, especially as someone interested in Japan. My ten plus years of journals are quite different. If anything, I am hoping that my journals will bring back memories, smiles, faces and places when I am older. They may be even useful to my family or a close friend. But I mostly write for myself. I write to remember and to be able to look back. I write to reflect and to memorialize. But the point is that I write. 

Illahee

Some of my fondest memories growing up are centered around Illahee Junior High School. I attended Illahee from 1991-1994 and, looking back, had a great time. In many ways, high school wasn’t as fun as junior high. While in high school, I didn’t care about how we did in sports and all of that activities that so many people get caught up in while in high school in the name of school spirit. But I did care about my school while in junior high. I was proud to go to Illahee and my attitude showed it. Some of the best memories (other than the numerous stories that my friends and I share between the years of 1991-1994) have to do with the physical education department at Illahee. In short, it was awesome. In retrospect, it could be the modern-day cure for the youth obesity problem that has garnered so much attention in the main stream media in the past few years.

The physical education department at Illahee ran their program like this. Every Monday morning in your P.E. period, rain or shine, you ran the short course, a course of about a mile or so up hills and through trees around the campus. Everyone wore matching purple shirts and shorts with their last name on the back of their shirt. We were timed and were required to improve our time over the course of the semester. Each Friday we ran lines (or sprints) back and forth in the large gym. There was an incentive to run as hard as possible because not only were we being watched by every gym teacher (whom we all looked up to), but we were also competing against each other and were trying to show off. The weekdays in between Monday and Friday were spent playing sports (ultimate frisbee, basketball, etc). Essentially, I was guaranteed an hour of sports or other physical activity each day. It was great fun.

Some of the best Illahee memories, however, come from an advanced P.E. course I took called Conditioning. To get into the class, each student was required to pass a series of strength and endurance tests. I got into the class my ninth grade year and spent an hour each day working on my physical conditioning. Two to three days were spent in the weight room, while the other days were spent running sprints up steep hills (which I remember caused me to throw up), running stairs, playing hardcore dodgeball with volleyballs, and running several miles within a short period of time. While it was a lot of work, I was probably in better cardiovascular shape back then than I am now and ever will be. I am not sure if the conditioning course still exists at Illahee (the junior high school is still there, but I think it is unlikely that the course has survived), but oh how I sometimes long for someone to push me now in my exercise and activity as I had then. Nothing was beyond our reach, the great P.E. faculty and coaches led us to believe (I even completed the Big Climb for Leukemia up 69 flights in the Columbia Center in Seattle in under 12 minutes).

Granted, we did not have the Internet back then to sit in front of, but Illahee was the cure for those extra pounds. The school brings back fond memories of sweat, friends and growing up. Those were the days.

House Hunting

Having decided that we would be okay living in New York for many more years, my wife and I have decided to look seriously at buying a house in the area. Not having looked at houses before in my life, I have learned that New York may be a rough place to own one’s first home. Not only is it expensive, but the houses are so old compared to much of the country. I grew up on the west coast where things were relatively new and new developments were still being built. In the northeast, most of the available residential land was filled long ago and the houses on the market are commonly anywhere from 80 to 150 years old. A house that old needs constant work and fixing up, something I am trying to avoid with our first home. Not only do I have no handyman skills, I also don’t have much interest, not to mention time. The remedy to the old house problem is to buy something built more recent. But then the price becomes ridiculous, especially when compared to what the same amount of money (or even half!) can buy in other parts of the country. While my wife and I feel as if we make decent money, the idea of spending well over a half a million dollars on our first home is a bit frightening. In the end, we must look at it as an investment, even if our monthly mortgage payments will be $4000 plus. We don’t want to rush into anything, but our search will continue, maybe even on a weekly basis. New York has a lot to offer in many ways, but the price to live in New York is never cheap.

At The Driving Range

Yesterday was my firm’s annual summer picnic. For the second year in a row, the firm chose to party at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. I enjoyed the party and it was fun to spend time with my coworkers outside of the office. What I really enjoyed, however, was the private golf lesson I received for free. I don’t claim to be a golfer, but golf is a sport that I appreciate and would like to improve at. The Chelsea Piers has the largest driving range in Manhattan (as far as I know) and it stretches several hundred yards over the Hudson River. I started driving golf balls from my stall and had my usual number of slices, hooks, grounders and bad shots with an occasional great shot mixed in. Then, the golf pro working yesterday came by. He helped me with my grip, stance, and stroke. By the time I left, I was not only driving the balls straight for several hundred years but I was doing it consistently too. It was actually quite satisfying to know that a few pointers could cause such improvement in my game in such a short period of time. I hit over 250 balls on the range yesterday all on my firm’s tab. Today, I am sore, but happy to know that I was able to work on my golfing game. Now, I just need to remember what I learned yesterday for the few occasions in the next year when I might have the opportunity to go golfing.

Explosion in Midtown

You have probably heard by now that a steam pipe exploded yesterday at the height of rush hour at the corner of 41st and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Yes, I am okay and was not one of those who were covered with steam and mud. The blast shut down Grand Central Terminal and the surrounding blocks in Midtown East, an area I must go through twice a day because of my commute. I was at work when it occurred and knew it was going to be a long night when I saw it on the news before I left my office.

By the time I got up near the site, the city was a mess. No one knew exactly what was working and what wasn’t, all of Lexington Avenue was closed down for blocks and people were everywhere. There were those taking pictures, those that stood around watching, and, of course, the tourists who either enjoyed the excitement or vowed never to come back to this crazy city again. I kept asking the NYPD at the blocked intersections if I could catch my Metro North train from Harlem or if the 4,5,6 subway line was running further uptown, but no one seemed to know. I tried calling some friends to see if they were stuck somewhere (might as well hang out together, I thought), but the few friends I contacted either made it home already or had the day off. There is currently still a “freeze area” for several blocks around the site, causing my commute to be a little longer until all is resolved and the subways begin functioning as normal. And although I stated above that the city was a mess, I really meant that the city was abnormal. After commuting through Midtown for over three years now, I know the beat and the rhythm of the City and can tell when things are different. Yesterday, there was a feeling of something different. And rightly so. All in all, the response by the City and its people was good. The explosion caused inconveniences for many, but that is sometimes what living in New York City is all about. I am just happy that it wasn’t something worse (click here for Bloomberg news coverage)