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A Simple Six: 7/17/11 - 7/24/11

Friday, July 22, 2011

Three Week Review

Brent left Huntington, WV for Elkins, WV on July 2, 2011. For 21 days and nights, I was the sole care taker of our four children. Admittedly, I was concerned about my level of patience for such a task. In addition, I was going to drive the van as little as possible. I have been trying to build my patience and independence in a healthy way. This was a challenge I needed. I also needed this time with my children.

From my journal entries, here is the tale of 21 days of flying solo:

Brent left today for Elkins, WV. He took the bike. The only adult working bike we had. His brother drove him over and came back. We didn't need to go anywhere after Brent drove to the bank for cash and a grocery run and to check the mail at a friend's house. What would have been a good bike ride was turned over to the van b/c of his departure time. 7-2-11

Another day at home. The children and I didn't have anything to do but muck around the house. I can't wait to hear about Brent's bike adventures. 7-3-11

A fourth of July a world apart from last year. We ate homemade meals and played around till bed time. The children did a Pirates of the Caribbean flick the I loaded them in the van for a 10pm, 3mile, 30minute tour looking for pyrotechnics. Oliver fell fast asleep and we ended up at the Ohio river for a few minutes looking at homemade displays and then home for bed. 7-4-11

This was going to be our car day, but it was a little more than five miles of driving for a couple hours of errands. The children were just uncooperative. I did manage to drop off my bike downtown for a repair tuneup and they call when I got home. It was done, and for less than $50. That's a good deal and good service. Perhaps we will retrieve it tomorrow and go for a test ride with the children. Fun times! 7-5-11

How fortunate are we? My dinner guests retrieved our bike for us. She even picked up milk for me at the store. We didn't need to go anywhere! 7-6-11

I really enjoy not driving anywhere right now. Getting ready to bike takes a lot more planning, but I can see the rhythm of it getting easier. I hitched up the trailer to my new tuned up bike and loaded the little boys. London rode independently. We went downtown to the library. They had a bike rack right outside the doors, but there were very unsavory and questionable people (they were talking about stealing bikes, smoking in front of the children and some had obvious mental impairments) there as well. I also don't know how to lock up my trailer, so I waited with it. Then we biked down to fencing at the church. Played a bit then biked home. The very slight grade can be felt going home. 7-7-11

Home day. The neighbor took three of the children to the movies. How wonderful! 7-8-11

Being without my husband has been the greatest excuse for not going anywhere, but my grocery supply is critical. I can make do without a lot, but I have done that since Wednesday, so we really need to go. We also had an opportunity to see Brent about an hour away, so we took it. I packed and planned yesterday and threw together a quick breakfast and set off early. We picked him at the Capitol and drove to the farmer's market. Drove downtown for lunch then back the Capitol. Put fuel in the van. First time since the Ohio trip on about June 26. Drove to Barboursville to let the children play at a friend's house while I got the vitals. Drove home. Stayed home, because we acquired two extra children. 7-9-11

Thanks to FB, I got wind of a meeting of hands and hearts at the community garden down the street. It approached 100 degrees today and I was determined not to go, but confirmation that the children were welcome to help strengthened my resolve and we loaded up the bikes and took off. Elliot still needs a lot of practice with biking. He had a hard time slowing down before Hal Greer and went about a foot into the road before stopping by throwing his feet out. He was more hurt in the area of confidence. Yet, he got back up, practiced in the parking lot across the way and rode the rest of the way there. We put in about an hour, nibbled our sandwiches and biked home for baths and bed. 7-10-11

Meal swap was meeting this morning at the park. London had already been picked up by her ride to art camp so the boys and I loaded the trailer. It was extra heavy b/c of the glass containers of food. I was concerned the brakes were going to fail coming down our drive way. Again, we made it. We played at the park, took a couple laps on bikes and headed home. It was hard work hauling that extra weight. I wanted to give up, but didn't. After we cooled down we needed to mail a cable to Brent. If he didn't need it over-nighted and had he not forgotten it, we could have mailed it from home. We drove to the PO. Elliot's just not ready for the distance. While we were out, we stopped at Jeff's and picked up a helmet for Oliver and a new flag for the trailer. I love local business, but my wallet cringes. 7-11-11

Today was our car day. First I had to take care of myself. I had fallen ill to a grave fever and sore throat. After my husband called in the cavalries, I walked to the hospital walk-in Dr's office and did my thing, then walked to the pharmacy and then home. We meddled around the house then a friend picked up a couple boys, Oliver and I napped. London was at camp. Then I set out to do my car things. Trendy tots, CSA, recycle, eggs, pick up boys, deliver diaper goods, home. We enjoyed a light dinner, a lot of A/C then headed out again for tennis. We did a stop at Baskin Robbins for some delicious treats then came home. Our neighbor needed a ride back from the dealership where he was getting car repairs so we did a west end drive. Finally home and ready to crash to get well. 7-12-11

Another wonderful day at home. We had a birth to three therapist over and not another thing on the calendar. I spent some time resting and cleaning up the chaos from being ill. 7-13-11

A second birth to three appointment in our home this morning. More cleaning and food prepping and no driving or biking anywhere. There was one last nap to work in. 7-14-11

We have our second anniversary Critical Mass ride tomorrow and I am not sure how Elliot is going to do. I thought it best to take him out for a test ride. London was still getting rides to and from art camp and today I had Joni bring her home so Amara could visit. Because London just got the new cruiser we had enough bikes and helmets to ride the friend home. This was perfect. We didn't need to get in the van and we could test Elliot's distance riding. I took five children out on the bike. Three independently riding and two in the trailer. The weather was mid 70s and partly sunny. Most perfect for us. Elliot rode the whole thing without complaining. We covered about seven miles in 90 minutes. We returned the friend and left the extra bike with the understanding we would pick it up on Tuesday when we were out in the van. Then we headed down the street to pick up an extra helmet from the Amsbary's for Etta. To add a little more distance and so Elliot could see the route, we rode down to the Memorial arch and back home. It was a great success. 7-15-11

It's Critical Mass day and I was so nervous and scared and excited. Ashley and Etta agreed to come with us and I was going to hook up the extra trailer to her bike. It turned out not to fit b/c of a kickstand issue and we used the toddler seat instead. We left the house with five minutes till ride time. Luckily we were not the only slow pokes and they hadn't left yet. Two adults, five children, four bikes. The best of times. We were gone for two hours and covered over 8 miles in all. Elliot was a champ. Everyone made the whole ride easily, except me. I couldn't get up the last ten feet of the 10th Street aqua-duct. Otherwise, we were glorious in our finish. 7-16-11

Saturday has fallen upon us once again. We drove to tennis, still haven't ironed out where to get on that #8 bus. Took London's cruiser in for a tune up, chain tightening and some oil. We vowed to pick it up on Tuesday when we knew we were out in the car again. While we were there we picked up a lime green flag for the trailer, chain oil, and grips for Elliot's bike handles. I called back to the shop latter to see if they could get a front toddler seat for Oliver. We will discuss this on Tuesday. I think I have narrowed it down to an iBert or Yepp Mini. We also had a Harry Potter party in the afternoon to attend followed presumably by biking and fencing in the park. We biked and scootered to all of it b/c London's bikes were out of commission. Then home again. I forgot, Charlie also biked home with us. Three days of evening biking! 7-17-11

A lazy Sunday? Hmm. Home all day till a more than needed grocery trip this evening. I am going to drive to lessen the burden on Melinda who is taking in all four of the rascals for me for about 90min. I haven't checked on how to lock up my bike yet either. Maybe that will be my mission tonight, to scope out the scene? 7-18-11

I didn't scope out the scene. I ended up at the Kroger I am unlikely to bike to. I also took note that a weeks worth of groceries will fit in the trailer, but not with the children in there. That will need to be a solo trip, or two trailers. Or panniers? Now that would fun.

Monday was interesting. I was baby sitting Etta again for most of the day and this time all the children were here. We didn't have anywhere to go, so we called it another home day. 7-18-11
Tuesday is car day. I blogged about all 15 stops we made and about our first bus ride. I think this journal is going to go live. 7-19-11

Woke up to get the eggs by bike. Quick and easy and fun. 7-20-11

Haven't gone anywhere all week. Everyone has come to us or taken the children were they need to go. London had fencing on Wednesday evening and she got a ride with a friend. Avery had a play date today and was picked up and dropped off because I had three extra girls here. We will be doing another van trip tomorrow and I am trying to plan everything to maximize my mileage to make it all work. 7-22-11

In summary, we drove more than I thought we would, but less than most. I also over came some personal hurdles and gave the children plenty of new experiences.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why Car-Lite?

We have lived in Huntington, WV for five years now. It was a good transition for us from Buckhannon, WV. The whole family took well to having a variety of things to do each and every day with other parents and families. I was able to find a MOPS group, a Mother's Club and great libraries. There were a plethora of wonderful parks, many grocery options, an art museum, theaters, dance companies, a river, swimming pools, and of course, we had a good neighborhood with a school playground right around the corner. Every day there was something on the calendar for my pregnant self and my two children, then ages 4 and 2. We were movers.

Being new to a community requires a lot of effort. It's hard work getting to know your resources and amenities. Combine that with trying to make new friends and relationships and it gets very emotional too. We settled in nicely here after all this time. And it has been a long time for us too. Before this house in this city, we had been moving to a new address every year, sometimes across state lines and twice between time zones.

How and Why are we choosing to Drive Less NOW?
Because we have such a wonderful network of friends, because we have a small, locally accessible community with good resources, because we have a moderate climate (by my standards), because we have some public transit, because my children are ages 9, 7, 4 and 19m, because we live less than two miles from both the children's school and Brent's office, because we have done it before (although with fewer children), and because we just needed to cut our expenses somewhere, I feel that we can live as six with just our old 2000 Cavalier.

Today a good old friend whom I hadn't seen in well over a year, stopped in for a visit with her two young children. The issue of me trying to sell our van came up, as I sort of urged it to. I need a buyer, and I will keep talking about it till one comes along. She asked me all sorts of questions about the situation. Here is my paraphrased Q&A:

  • Why are you selling your van, isn't it a necessity with four children?
    • Our motivator was trying to make sacrifices to live within our means. We had already given up our cell phones and tightened our budget in other areas. We were all set to sell our home earlier this year and move somewhere cheaper and smaller and then it occurred to me that I would rather sell the van than the house. We are keeping the car and five of us can fit into it, so this was a good compromise.
  • What about when you need to go out of town?
    • We may rent a van, or we will decide if we won't go. It will be a matter of necessity. We are also fortunate to have a Greyhound and Amtrak station downtown. I heard talk of a car share program at Marshall University, but I don't know what's become of it.
  • What about in the winter?
    • The way we see it right now, we will either grin and bare it or we might just give up in January and buy another van. I am far more likely to like cold weather than the 90 degrees we have tolerated this July, it is the snow that concerns me. I do like that we are keeping the car and we have the option of just not going places sometimes.
  • If you get a new van won't you be paying more?
    • I hope not. My logic, as flawed as it may be, says that if I could sell a six year old van with 90K miles for $11K, then I ought to be able to buy one for that price if I need to. Since we have been making our payments now, I would hope to be in a better place in five months and be able to make them then too.
    • Selling the van is also part of a larger picture. By selling the van and taking the proceeds to pay off our balance then use the remainder to pay down our second mortgage (combined with the extra income we are getting this summer thanks to Brent's many many hours of labor) we will be able to have a home value to loan amount ratio under the 80% needed to refinance our primary mortgage. It's a plan that may or may not work, but I have given myself till January to put all my efforts into it.
  • We don't live in a big city. This is the sort of thing people do in NYC or Chicago, you can't just walk and bike every where. Maybe you should just keep the van and try living without it for a couple months.
    • That's what we have been doing. We have been weaning ourselves from the need to drive everywhere. We use the van one day a week for errands and we have been using it one other day for tennis, but I think we solved that trouble with the bus. We have had other things arise where using the van could have been avoided, but it is still in the drive way so we have used it. For instance, a couple weeks ago Brent's group that he is working and living with, was an hour away so I took the children to see him. Family time is very important. I had saved enough gas from our fill up in late June to get us to Charleston, WV on July 9, where we tanked up and I still have 3/4 left. Good thing too, because we are going back to Charleston on Saturday to pick him up.
    • We don't live in a big city, but everything we need is less than four miles and we are keeping the car. I am not saying this will work long term, but it is the catalyst for the financial change we need. I see it as something we can try for six months and evaluate.
I really like answering questions about what we are trying to do. I see it as a way to analyze the situation and get some perspective. Perhaps we are crazy and this won't work. Where do you see this whole thing could go wildly wrong? What other choices do we have when it comes to saving money?

I did talk to my friend about how my husband doesn't want to spend three weeks working away every summer. He doesn't want to work after the children go to bed until the wee hours of the morning on extra projects. He wants to spend time watching them grow. I want to maintain a budget that sets him up for one job with one salary and the time he desires. I want to grow a healthy financial future for us all.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2005 Honda Odyssey For Sale

In the market for a new to you mini van? We have a wonderful Silver Honda Odyssey-EX for sale. It has just under 90K miles and runs like a champ. 8 passenger, cloth interior, roof rack, 5 disc CD changer, new brake pads. It's been a dream van for us. We drove it to the Grand Canyon three years ago. It was the first and only time we used that lazy-Susan storage in the floor. Now it needs a new family to take it to see the rest of the country, or at least a new drive way.

We are ready to embark on our car-lite adventure. We are ready to lift the burden of debt we carry with owning this vehicle. You can own our wonderful van, which my children have named HighSpeed, for $11,000 OBO. Let me know when you want to take it for a spin.

The way we see it, selling this machine can save us over $600 a month. Making the decision to let go of our primary method of transportation, or rather replacing it with healthier more economical options, has taken a lot of strength for us all. Especially Brent, but more on that later.

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Breakfast in the Bike Trailer

Avery and Oliver with breakfast in the trailer.

 We accomplished many things yesterday but we didn't get eggs from our local pick up spot. Once a week a farmer about an hour away delivers dozens of dozens of eggs to a porch cooler downtown. Four Season Farms also has been supplying us, and many other Huntingtonians, with organic basil, raw honey, grape tomatoes, and chives. We love that we get to work directly with a farmer, although we haven't met yet, and it's with in biking distance from the house. First thing this morning we grabbed hamburger buns from the refrigerator, the bags I set aside just for biking, an empty cooler bag, and then took off.

The little ones just couldn't wait to eat, they ate their buns in the bike trailer. We grabbed the buns simply because they were available. The big kids could hold out for an hour. It was just under three miles round trip, but we stopped for water, a couple laps around the park for fun and we ran into our good friend Ashley who was the recipient of the basil we ordered and were picking up.

London preparing to cross Hal Greer.
The BR in the back is where we waited for the bus yesterday evening.

London on her cruiser.
Smart car in the back, the children's favorite vehicle right now.

This stretch of Washington Blvd is smooth, another child favorite.
 Traveling three miles on a bike during the morning traffic was a bit trickier. We took side walks around the park to avoid slowing down the cars, but as you can see, we ran into a minor problem. Many of the side walks were also lifting and cracked. I hope to better document the holes in the roads at some point. It is a constant area complaint, and the city has made many good gestures toward repairs, but the structural issues are overwhelming and funding too short. We are very happy with the ramps they are installing at the intersections, this alone has improved our strollering, walking and biking.

Our obstacle. Marshall University president's home on the right ahead of us.

Ashley crossed the street to go pick up basil and eggs with us.

Eggs, basil and grape tomatoes in the cooler. Oliver asleep. We headed home. The dinky hill up to our home is always dreaded. It's really not much of anything, but it always wears us out. Any tricks to climbing long shallow inclines with an extra 80lbs in tow?

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Bus Ride

Here is it, our very first bus ride in Huntington. Tennis was to begin at 5:30pm. I checked out the bus routes and schedules and found one that picked up two blocks from home and got us to tennis by 5:40. I asked a lot of questions to the TTA worker yesterday when I called for details. I thought I was ready for this journey, but I was beyond nervous, and it was just a little bus ride.  The anxiety stemmed from having to walk four children to a very busy intersection and wait unknowingly for a bus that may or may not stop at a place that was unmarked but allegedly a stop.

The Journey
We left the house at 5:00. We were stopped by two different neighbors who were being very friendly but didn't know we had a bus to catch. We escaped them politely and made it to our pick up location at 5:18. Now I worried even more, had the bus already come by? I waited five minutes. I kept having to ask the children to step back from the curb. These cars were not accustom to little guys walking out in front of them and they were not slowing down to find out if they wouldn't.

Another minute went by and a car pulls into the parking lot behind us. The driver rolled down her window and I thought she was going to the drive-thru at Baskin Robbins, which is what the parking lot was for, but she was calling my attention. This very nice lady wanted to make sure we were alright. She saw me and four children and thought we might have car troubles and need some help. I was extremely touched by her concern. Not another person out there gave us any thought (from what I could tell) and I was so concerned over taking this trip. I thanked her many times and explained in short that we were waiting for a bus that may or may not come, but the children were looking forward to a new experience.
We finally spotted the bus, can you?

London, Elliot and Avery took the wheel seat.
Our  bus did arrive at 5:30pm. I warned the driver we were new to this procedure and to let me know if I was doing anything wrong. He confirmed the fare amount. I fed the machine in the front and told him where we were getting off. He showed the children the cord to pull at the top of the window to let him know when we wanted to stop. The entire way down the road he talk to them about the wild life we might see. He asked them questions about ground hogs and owls and yellow birds. They all loved their first ride.
Our #8 bus coming to pick us up for our return home.
The return bus picked us up at 6:40, just as the schedule said it would. The children fed the dollars into the machine this time. They took the same seats and resumed their conversation with the driver. He asked them to look up the type of birds they were seeing and even slowed down the bus so they could see the fawns. Have you ever had a driver slow the bus down to 30mph in a 55, just so you can see the deer?
Good to know.

Our wonderfully helpful and entertaining driver.
The return ride took a slightly different route, one that was closer to home and saved us the gentle walk up the hill. The children had a marvelous time and hope we can do it more often. After I got over the unknown obstacles and general anxiety I began to frown about the fare. It was a $6 trip for five people to travel 6 miles. Not a great deal when we had two cars sitting in the drive way, but a wonderfully cheap form of entertainment, a safe and well air conditioned experience, easy and convenient (at least this route), and it was nice to leave the driving to someone else for a while. Thanks TTA!

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15 Destinations

Today's errands added up to 15 different places on two sides of town. Most of them I could bike to, a couple I could not. Since I had to drive to one location on both sides, I planned our route to include the errands that are along the way or minimally off the path. We had to be at Ritter Park at 9:30am, which would be something we usually bike to, and I did consider it. The next place we needed to be was the Huntington Museum of Art and this is not a family bikeable road, nor was there a bus line going up there.

Sounds like If you Give a Mouse a Cookie...
Since we were going to the museum, stopping to pick up London's bike was a matter of a few more blocks. It was raining steadily at this point and I was thankful for being in the van. I think because of the rain, the bike was not setting out like we had arranged and I will have to call later to see about going back. Since we were picking up the bike and it was close to Pets and Things on 1st St., I let London drop in for crickets. (She has as scheme to trap blue tailed skinks and keep them for pets.) If we took a road a bit further north to come home then we could swing into the bank on 6th Ave for a quick deposit, pick up our CSA, also on 6th Ave and conveniently drop off our glass and cardboard at the recycling box I found in the same parking lot where we pick up produce. So far so good.
London with her crickets from Pets and Things on 1st.
Meals in the cooler bag, recycling to go out and room for the bike and CSA.
London hauling three bags of produce.

Continuing east, we were two blocks shy of Huntington Sport and Cycle where London's other bike was being serviced, so we parked out front and loaded up the bike and headed home. The bike and produce made it in the door and we were off to the other side of town.

The western side of Hal Greer is relatively flat. We could have had a jolly time biking all those places, but couldn't have hauled all those things.  Maybe next time we could do some of the traveling by bike.

The next set of errands was on the eastern side of Hal Greer and that region is all hills. While I have biked up those hills, I think they just about killed me. I got to the top and couldn't breath for about twenty minutes and I was beet red for hours. Hauling 70lbs of child and the trailer was not happening today folks. It is a challenge I hope to overcome with time and practice.

Our eastern errands included dropping off an extra bag of produce at a friend's home. We had three bags of our own to keep and that would be more than enough to eat from and preserve for later. Four blocks from their house is the children's school. We needed to sign forms, which they couldn't find, pick up a scrip gift card for my sister, and inquire about used uniform parts.

Every part of the journey was planned because of another portion. Being this far out on Norway made it in close proximity to another friend with whom I wanted to share my homemade sauerkraut. We headed down the road, another one that is cursed against being family bike friendly. There is a bus line that goes by her house, but it doesn't start near us and would require a hike or bike ride to catch. I hear the buses have bike racks, but I doubt they can accommodate a trailer. I will have to check this out tonight on our very first bus ride.

We managed to get her the kraut and stop at two other friends for small drop offs of misc. items and then head home for naps and lunch. I am still very nervous about the TTA experience about to happen. My expectations are low, so I guess I will have good things to report shortly.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Every Corner a Bus Stop

My fear of new experiences without adult company is a compelling case for never wanting to leave my house. It takes a lot of thinking, talking about, researching, and eventually practicing something before I can commit to doing it. Such is the case with our local public busing. I have been thinking about this bus for five years. I have checked out the routes and fee schedules online. I have even followed a bus or two on routes I have wanted to take. My husband has ridden the bus. I recently met a family with one car and one parent who doesn't drive and they occasionally ride the bus. Still, I am incredibly concerned about the things that could go wrong.

How I Assuaged My Fears
I called the TTA today. I knew which bus I needed but I had no idea where to get on and how. I asked the gentleman a number of questions about the time the bus should arrive, how do I pay, are you sure it's only going to cost me $3, how do I tell the driver where I would like to get off, where do I purchase a pass and why would I need one? I wrote down everything he said. I was most concerned about the getting on the bus part because we must make it to tennis and I didn't want to be left on the side of the road looking foolish, which is how I am already starting to feel.

The gentleman told me they consider every corner the bus passes as a bus stop and they can't afford to put a sign at every corner. Armed with my notes, my research, my own doubts, we will be riding the bus tomorrow at 5:20pm. This will mean dinner at 4pm, packing up by 4:45 and heading out by 5:05. I will be thinking about this anticipated ride hence forth.

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