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Archive for November, 2009

Making My List and Checking It Twice – Books for Holiday Giving

Well, I’ve been making my list and checking it twice and the answer is always the same – books are at the top of our list for holiday giving.  Who says you can’t sell real estate and read at the same time?!?

Over the next few weeks, I thought I would share a number of our favorites, in several different categories. I make no claim to having read all of these, just that they are on my list, for giving and getting.  Today we are going to start with history books:

 Defend the Realm by Christopher Andrew –  a fascinating in-depth history of the Military Intelligence [Department 5]  originally formed in 1909 to counter the danger to Britain from Germany espionage.  Later renamed the Security Service, it is still best known as MI5.



A Country of Vast Dreams by Robert Mercy – takes a new look at the vastly underrated presidency of James Polk.  An unabashed expansionist, Polk in one term enlarged the boundaries of the United States by one third.  Highly recommended by my barber, Pat.

My Fellow Americans by Michael Woreck – this collection of presidential speeches provides an insightful look at our nation’s darkest periods, and the careful words our leaders chose to offer comfort and inspiration, some of which are eerily contemporary.

On Hallowed Ground by Robert Poole – a sensitive look at the storied history of America’s most famous cemetery and it’s reflection of a country in turmoil over the very human cost of war. Review.


A Fiery Peace by Neil Sheehan – Air Force General Bernard Schriever is the hero in this saga of underdog visionaries struggling to redirect a misguided military juggernaut while building this country’s intercontinental ballistic missile program.  Sheehan is the Pulitzer prize winning author of A Bright Shining Lie. Review.

D-Day by Antony Beever – combines extensive archival research with a remarkable use of telling anecdotes and is sharply critical of senior commanders on both sides.  Review.

Lord of the Sea by John Hale – history and archeology both come to bear in this account of an Athens whose golden age and democratic institutions depended on it’s navy.  Between 489 and 322 B.C., Athens built, ruled and lost an empire extending from the Aegean to the Black Sea. Review.


When Everything Changed by Gail Collins – women, who once lacked the right to wear pants in public but now take their rightful place on the campaign trail have come a long way and Collins makes the most of highlighting early pioneers in the “movement.”

The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley – In 1905 Teddy Roosevelt initiated a series of clandestine agreements meant to secure America’s push into Pacific territories.  Instead, according to Bradley, he ignited the long fuse of Asian restlessness that would lead directly to WWII. Review.

Have you made your list and checked it twice?  If not, I hope this will be a good beginning for your holiday giving.  And stay tuned for suggestions for biographies, cookbooks and children’s books. 





Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 21 Comments »

Temple and Church Share a Thanksgiving Tradition in Alexandria


Tomorrow an Alexandria temple and an Alexandria church will share a Thanksgiving service – just as they have done for at least 30 years.  Temple Beth El and Christ Church Alexandria, once neighbors on Washington St., celebrate each November with a service of remembrance and thanks followed by a reception and hospitality.

The service alternates location each year and tomorrow will see the gathering at Christ Church at 10:00am with both priests and rabbis officiating.  Over the years this service – generous in spirit and thanks – has developed a loyal following.

Now located on Seminary Road, Temple Beth El, was the first Reform Congregation in Alexandria.

On a day when we stop to celebrate family and friends and give thanks for our many blessings it is indeed appropriate that the congregations of a temple and a church come together in one of the best Thanksgiving traditions in Alexandria.


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The Last Flowers of Fall

Just four days from Thanksgiving we still have hydrangeas blooming in our front yard – the last flowers of fall.  But now, instead of pale blues and pinks, the colors mirror the surrounding trees.  We’ll cut some this afternoon and enjoy their dried beauty long into winter.

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Saying Goodby to A Kitty Friend – Mr. Mac

Today we said goodbye to Mr. Mac, our 20 year old 20 lb orange red mountain lion of a cat.  We were not Mac’s first family but we were his last and nobody loved him better.

Mac came to us after losing his original homeowner to cancer.  He made a brief stop at my brothers but another, far less mannered feline, made the situation untenable.  Mac moved onto Howell Avenue and never looked back.

He was known to one and all, afraid of neither man nor beast and fairly indiscriminate with his affection. Our next door neighbor reported one day that Mac, sensing a new opportunity, entered an open door and made himself at home in an upstairs bedroom.  Location was not a deterrent to a good nap.

A strappingly handsome chap, Mac was stolen one year from our front yard  by someone who wanted to give him as a Christmas present.  We recovered him, weeks later, only because he had been rescued (yet again!) by the neighbor of the woman who did NOT want him as a Christmas present but saw our wanted poster at the local vet’s office.

He loved to eat and expected a full bowl at all times.  Chicken was a favorite along with my morning cereal but shrimp put him right over the top.  He kept his own dining hours and expected that I would match my routine to his. Not much for playtime, Mac preferred to supervise rather than participate in any activity that required excessive locomotion.  That being said, a loose shoe string or belt always got his attention.

Mac enjoyed a good college basketball game and was a Redskins fan but thought golf was a snooze.  And NASCAR?  He didn’t give it the time of day. He loved sleeping in the garden, most often under a spread of hostas or on the chaise.  He claimed a chair or sofa in each room in the house and did not take kindly to being moved.  After all, it was his house and we were there at his indulgence.

He was my constant companion and I will miss him dearly.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

Six Things to Check Before You Cozy Up to the Fire

Winter is fast approaching and there are six things to check before you cozy up to the fire.  It’s not particularly glamorous or fun but there are definitely things that you need to check out on a yearly basis before you even begin to think about chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . . .

Spring and early summer are the very best times to have your annual fireplace inspection and generally the cheapest.  Still, if you’ve put it off till now it’s not too late.

The degree of maintenance will depend on what kind of fireplace you have.  A masonry fireplace is one constructed entirely of bricks or stone and mortar and are almost always found in older or more rustic homes.  A factory-build fireplace consists of a metal firebox and chimney.

If you are not sure which you have there are a couple of easy clues. First, the hearth or floor of a masonry fireplace is usually constructed of bricks joined with mortar.  Factory-built fireplaces use refractory panels made of a pale grey heat-resistant stone.

Look up through the damper – a masonry fireplace will have a large void called the smoke chamber but a factory-built unit will connect directly to a round, stainless steel pipe.

Finally, take a look at your chimney.  If you have a square cap or no cap at all, it’s pretty sure you have a masonry built fireplace.  On the other hand, a round cap is a sure sign of a factory built unit.

Now that you know what you have, let’s look at the six things you need to check.

Foundation: supports the entire structure of a masonry fireplace and can weigh several tons

Firebox: recessed area where the fire is built.

Damper:  mechanism that separates the interior of the fireplace from portions exposed to the exterior of your home.

Flue:  passageway through which smoke and sparks are carried up and out.

Chimney: structure surrounding one or more flues and all related components.

Chimney cap:  keeps pests and damaging elements out and has a spark arrestor to prevent floating embers from causing a fire.

So there you are, six things to check before you cozy up to the fire.

Wait!  You don’t have a house with a fireplace?  Call me at 703.927.4554 and let’s find you one.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 4 Comments »

October 2009 Home Sales in Alexandria’s Old Town Neighborhood

October 2009 home sales in Alexandria’s Old Town neighborhood show identical DOM (days of market) as in October 2008 and an increase of one in the number of sales.

The exciting news is that the average sold price shows an 8.8 percent increase from $611,462 in October 2008 to $670,236 in October 2009.

This steadfastness in total sales, along with the 2009 price increase, speaks to the overall health of the housing market in Northern Virginia.

Please feel free to call me at 703.927.4554 or email me at [email protected] for more information on the Old Town market.

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Blogging the Frugal Life Style in Alexandria and Northern Virginia

Blogging the frugal life style does not belong only to the “experts.”  Indeed, individuals in Alexandria and Northern Virginia are contributing to the blogging landscape with a wide variety of offerings on how to survive – and thrive – in what some have called “lifestyle deflation.”

Some of the blogs are quite professional and have advertisers but most are your basic do-it-yourself blog.

Stay at home moms, young couples and singles all offer their take on making the most of every dollar.  Some share month to month grocery budgets, complete with store by store sales while other focus on activities and taking advantage of coupons.  Anyway you look at it, it’s easy to access information that anyone can use.

Here are some of our favorites:

This list is just the tip of the iceberg.  Almost all of the blogs reference other blogs so be prepared to spend some time surfing and finding out about the best bargains in the area – it’s contagious!

Home ownership can also be part of a frugal life style.  Call me at 703.927.4554 and let’s find something to fit your budget.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

Mortgage Rates Show Slight Decrease for Home Buyers in Alexandria

Mortgage rates are showing a slight decrease for home buyers in Alexandria with FHA, VA and conforming conventional loans in the 5 percent and 0 point range.  Rob Clark, our go to mortgage guy offers this observation on the market:

“With limited economic data released last week, mortgage rates continued their recent trend of slowly moving downward. While we continue to see limited activity outside of conforming and FHA-backed mortgages, it is worth noting that jumbo mortgages are beginning to reappear more widely in the market, and the difference between conforming and jumbo rates has been shrinking.

This is a week full of economic data for markets to sort through. With recent signs that the labor market could be hitting bottom, any signal that indicates that the recovery is beginning to power up could start pressuring mortgage rates upward.

Both Retail Sales and Industrial Production are due this week. If these two influential reports show greater strength than anticipated, then the likelihood of increasing rates will grow. However, if they both come in lower than expected, we could see this trend of very slowly decreasing rates continue.

Both the PPI and CPI also are also due this week. If they are near expectations, they will create some additional downward pull on rates.”

Next we’ll be bringing you up to date information on the extension of the first time home owners tax credit so stay tuned.


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A November Sunday on the George Washington Parkway

On a beautiful November Sunday, the George Washington Parkway was alive with activity – biking, walking, running and sitting on a bench – and wonderfully quiet in its natural beauty.



A November Sunday on the George Washington Parkway

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October Home Sales in Alexandria’s Del Ray Neighborhood

October home sales in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood show a decline in the number of sales from a year ago – 15 in 2008 to 10 in 2009 –  but with an increase in home values.

The average price is up almost 9.4% with the average number of  DOM (days on market) down from 91 to 50 for the same time period.

These numbers are a good reflection of both the stability of the real estate market in Northern Virginia and the continuing overall turnaround.

Want to know more specifics about October home sales in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood?  Give me a call at 703.927.4554 or email me at [email protected].


Related articles:
Northern Virginia Ranks at #3 for Nation’s Healthiest Housing Markets
October Market Report for Alexandria and Northern Virginia

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