Category Archives: budgeting

Our Summer Excursion: Days 26-29 Jersey Shore, Shenandoah River, Home

There’s a huge gap in posting Our 2012 Summer Excursion series that recaps our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Thanks to a friendly nudge, I thought I might try to wrap up our 2012 events before we all turn in to toads in 2013. Or is it royalty? Who has been kissing who around here?

Don’t hesitate to be confused, or lost as to where this story started. Ask questions, or if you care to, go back and read all about it! It’s tagged.

NYC petrol. Roadside.

D26: The whole while we were in Deep River, CT with my aunt and family we envisioned making an overnight stop in NYC. We thought we could catch up with my cousin in Brooklyn, make a stop into Rolling Orange, and show the children a truly enormous city. As we took stock of our days and nights, we opted for driving through, waving at the tall, tall buildings, on the most economic route (some bridge tolls were $25, we avoided those), and staying in New Jersey.

Toll anyone? We doled out about $12 to get from CT to NJ that day.
This is no way to experience NYC. Shameful. We must go back, without the minivan.
It was the pits. So close. So far.

We had arranged to meet up with Megan, her husband and two boys (and now one girl, it’s been too long!!) in Ocean Grove, NJ as a part of the interviewing we were taking on for Liz Canning’s Less Car, More Go documentary about the cargo-bike revolution. If you have been following along with our involvement, you may also recall that it was formerly under the working title (R)Evolutions Per Minute.

Megan recommended Allaire State Park, so on our way through the Bronx, I called and made reservations for the night. Putting that cell phone to work. I have a whole rant about that iphone for later. Remind me to fill you in.

Brent recording video of Megan and Brain on the boardwalk during that “golden light.”

We felt at home with the Soul Learning (Now Days with the Grays) family and were quite smitten with the Jersey shore. It was the deepest beach I had been on, with a wide public, pristine boardwalk, and homes set back behind the front road that angled inward so every front or back porch had a view of the ocean. None of the homes were on stilts, another beach icon I was accustom to. There was a small carnival flair about the shops, not a touristy, buy here, buy now demanding atmosphere. It was hometown meets vacation destination. Ocean Grove earned its place on our “must return for a visit” list. So far, what and who hasn’t?

Oliver left, Gray boy right, at sunset.
Ice cream pallor, our souvenir of choice, and a super treat from the Grays! (thank you again).
They still make these! Excited and horrified.


The calm before the storm at Allaire State Park.

D27: Brent nudged me awake at 6:00AM to help decide if we should strike the camp or throw the fly over the tops of our open air tents. My intentions were to head back to the beach and pow around with Megan, but that wouldn’t be for several hours, and if the tents get wet from the incoming storm, then we would have to pack them up wet and drag them out later.

We chose to pack up and shove off. Who knew how long the rains would last? It was a 20 minute clean up, carry the sleeping children into their seats, finish tearing down the tents and drive away moment. We weren’t even to the park exit before the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down.

We finished out our route through NJ, crossed into Delaware for our first ever Waffle House experience. Brent still gets a chuckle out of the idea that I asked our server what fruits and vegetables they could serve. “This is a grits and grease place, hun.” Thanks. Feeling better now about having never taken my family to Waffle House.

Does a Waffle House stop in Delaware really count as having been to Delaware?

The Delaware stop was intentional. I had never been to Delaware.

We picked up some groceries then kept on trucking. The skies were clear, having driven away from the storm, and we started the process of determining where to go next. I was thinking we might go to Washington DC. There were several people I emailed about visiting as we passed through. We had two nights left before we were to report in Elkins, WV for a three week appointment Brent had taken. If we spent one night in DC and one night in Virginia, or two nights in DC, or what if we spent two night in VA? And so it went. The closer we edged to DC the more we wanted to keep driving. There was a lot of traffic. It was still very early in the day, considering our early start, and staying in DC would cost a lot more money than camping in hills along the Shenandoah River.

We eventually settled on Watermelon Park, south east of Winchester, VA. This place was nestled on the river, down a dirt road. Seeing that it was 100F we found a small shady spot, striped down and climbed into what we hoped would be a cold river. It wasn’t. Brent set up camp, the children and I squinted into the noon day sun.

Shenandoah River. The river bed was solid, slimy rock. Not much deeper than what you see here, even half way out. Strong currents in places, but very soothing.

In setting up camp, Brent assembled the bikes to get around the grounds. We made a few camp store trips for all the necessities (and the air conditioning). We were going to do this camp thing “right.” Fire wood. To go along with the chocolate, Jiffy Pop, marshmallows and graham crackers we picked up earlier in the morning. Our other two camping nights were just for sleeping, this one was for playing. We kicked around the water, skipped a few stones, and burned things.  Oh, and we used a pay shower. Cool. Nothing like depositing quarters to conserve water and time. It was better than any gift giving holiday. Childs play.

Camp mobile.
The main event. Jiffy Pop.

With everyone clean, fed and waiting for some drop in temperature before attempting to settle into tents, Brent checked the forecast. Could we leave the fly off again tonight? It really is great to fall asleep and feel the dewy air settle around you. That is, it is great for me. Brent can’t tolerate what he calls “noises,” fly or no fly. He never sleeps well.

There were forecasted storms at 1AM. Move the tent away from the tree? Closer to the tree line on the west side? Pack up and find a hotel? It was a subtle argument. If we stayed, which I wanted, he would be nervous, scared, miserable, which I didn’t want. If we left, I would be bitter about money and the loss of opportunity to camp, which he didn’t want. I didn’t care to camp in a storm, given that one of our tents was bound to leak buckets. I was unsure of where to put a tent during a storm, under the tree? Out in the open? It didn’t really matter. We rushed around again, without inciting panic in the children, and stuck yet another camp, for the second time in one day. All before sunset (9pm ish).

As we headed back out that dirt road I started looking for hotel vacancies. There were few. Then it began to rain, far earlier than forecasted. As we approached Winchester a wall of wind rocked the van. We pulled over immediately. Flipped on the hazards. We held hands. The wind was pushing everything over a ridge above us. A perfectly horizontal force beating rain, sticks, dust, and debris. We watched trees bow down. Minutes passed as we whispered “tornado?” “do we drive?” “get out and lay in the ditch?”

Everyone around us was stopped as well. The sky was dark, so not knowing what was happening up and out there was intimidating. There was an interstate on ramp and over pass in front of us. We saw a break in the wind and headed straight for town. I knew there was a hotel on the other side, without vacancy, but with resources. We pulled into the hotel overhang, driving over branches and fallen glass lamp covers. Wind still racing. Rain still falling. A man was in the hotel door way. Initially we couldn’t open our van doors. We took stock of how many children to carry at once and who could/would run on their own. I yelled at the man for some help (not very politely), grabbed the baby and Avery as Brent carried Elliot, who was terrified and crying.

Hotel lobby. Weather channel.
London, mildly unphased by the event was using the camera to entertain herself. We really did cower right here for a while. Elliot was terrified, the rest of us were very shaken.

Anyone else remember the night of June 29th? We hunkered down in that lobby for a good while, with a bunch of other great people. The desk clerk found us a hotel room the next exit down, for when the derecho had passed. We drove down an interstate littered with trees that had been broken apart by barreling through semis. We slept light, and thankful, that my stubbornness relented and we made the decision to pack up camp.

Happy hotel guests. This was our second stay at a hotel during the trip. I sent a bill for both those nights to host institution in Rochester as part of our travel costs for Brent’s lecture.

D29: With the intention of driving onto Elkins for our three week stay, we check out of the hotel and went into Winchester the next morning to do laundry and play at another children’s museum (reciprocal pass member!). It was difficult to see where there was no electricity, but there were trees uprooted everywhere. We didn’t realize the devastation of the region until later. The program dean in Elkins called to say the town’s electric and municipal water was down and we couldn’t come to town just yet.

Discovery Museum. Again, free admission with our reciprocal pass.
These small galleries are perfect for spending a couple of hours. We enjoy them more than the large institutions where you never feel like you get to see and enjoy everything. Not that they are not spectacular, they are just massive.
First laundry mat experience. They did all the work. Love it when chores are fun! Laundry cost us about $7 to wash and dry. We had a car seat with vomit on it, so it was not something we could put off.
So entertaining. The establishment also had free popcorn! Perfect, no?

We spent the next many hours calling for hotels, camp sites, anything along I-81. There was either no phone, no cell service (towers knocked down), no electric, or no vacancy. While I understand some of those rooms were full of people who truly needed them. With the extensive heat wave, many of them were full of people who just wanted air conditioning, and it irked me, quite a lot. We drove for nearly 400 miles trying to find a place to stay and then it occurred to us that we could and probably should just go home. We were in our drive way at midnight.

Stopping at the West Virginia welcome center at sunset. This tree suffered from the derecho. Thousands of trees met similar fates. I can’t describe how many downed trees, lines of cars at the only gas pump open for counties, or pitch black mountains and towns we saw. It was an eerie devastation that was trumped by Sandy months later. There needs to be a talk about Disaster Relief with bicycles. These regions could have used some community cargo bike power.

Our house sitter took air conditioned refuge with his own family, who left us a cooler of fruit, drinks and ice, and a battery lantern. We camped under our own roof the night of June 30th.

View Larger Map: As best as I can recall the route


Homemade Yakkay Helmet Cover


As part of an effort to be more of a content creator and less of a consumer, I have been trying to produce (not reproduce). Production has come in the form of increased blogging, more regular Kidical Mass event organizing, baking, hosting friends for warm meals, making of art, and this new wintery cover for my Yakkay helmet.

Laying it all out. I followed the seams in the original cover and tried to make it as fitted as possible. The flat rim of the hard shell is ideal for covers, as there is a straight lip.

The cover idea was inspired by a link Full Hands sent me a few months back. I agreed whole heartily that this cover was cycle-chic, but at $65, I felt it was also frivolous to purchase. $12 in fabric and elastic, and about 45minutes of fumbling about with pins, scissors and my machine resulted in a novice cover, but one I am holiday happy about.

Assembled with pins and reversed to check fit. A lot of seam allowance given.
Attaching the elastic wasn’t difficult, as I didn’t do it properly! Marni at Rebourne Clothing sent me a good video tutorial after I hacked it, but I didn’t go back to fix it (probably should.) Marni is also a super Haley Triking mom of three in Philly!
Finished helmet cover installed on shell. The plan was to leave it this way, but I felt I should try to hide my hideous elastic job, that kept flipping down, and maybe add a bit more holiday flair with a fluffy white trim.
Sewing the double folded trim, and the elastic was tough, but my machine and I muscled through it. There are many things I would do differently next time. Should there be a next time, I will document and write up a proper tutorial.

Birthday Bashes

You may have holiday cards, we have birthday.

Round 1
We rung in the birthday season this week! We do parties every other year or so, depending on the situation. This is most definitely a party year. Avery rocked into the 6 on Thursday with a bunch of his best buds, some pals from school, the neighbor boys, who are besties with Elliot, but beloved by the littles, and most of our crew of six. It was free play, inside, outside and upside down. There were no decorations other than those up for the winter holiday season. I had fruit and veggies on the table for after school and juice and soda as a treat.

Cake in the jam jars. I never got a photo of the “finished product.”
Children. Everywhere.

We had home made whole wheat cake I baked in the bottom of tall jam jars then topped with confetti ice cream and extra cupcakes with frosting from the jar. Then enjoyed plain takeout cheese pizza Brent picked up from Ginos on his way home from work.

Tied down with his scarf. Using what’s available.


We organized a game of flashlight tag then gave everyone a flashlight to take home in their ‘goodie’ bag that was sprinkled with confetti snowflakes and mini candy bars. I tried to balance the things Avery wanted to do, with some of the things I wanted. We passed on going to the local Billy Bobs (Showbiz Pizza), passed on the fancy cake, passed on the junky toys. He was delighted with the compromise.

Goodie bags and LED flashlights picked up at the dollar bin in Target.

I turned all the winter gifting over to Brent. I don’t want anything to do with it this year. Turns out, that means he spent $50 on art supplies and science project materials at the local art store for birthday gifts. I am still trying to keep quiet about it (blogging is quiet right?). I am definitely going to have to give him a budget for Christmas. We also didn’t say “no gifts” on the invite this year. Several of our close friends gave him experience gift cards! There were toys, which they love, have broken, and haven’t let go of since. There weren’t many, and they are being enjoyed, so we feel this was a great balance for us this year.

Avery had to make a volcano before bed with his new art supplies. Pipe cleaners, construction paper, wide masking tape for the win!

Round 2
Oliver turned 3 today. It was the cutest and slightly annoying of experiences. He was livid with anyone who suggested he was three. He insisted he was two, that he wouldn’t be three until his birthday. Yeah, that was today. He didn’t “get it.” I mean, he’s only 2, right?


Every year for his special day we host a holiday open house. We are up front about it being his birthday too. Several new friends came by, and old ones, and neighbors. It was a full, loving home tonight. I made adult fare (soups and salad) and had plenty of finger foods. Brent put on two loaves of Pretzel Bread. We lit candles on lemon cupcakes and served apple strudel to everyone else.

Apple strudel with cranberries and almonds, in lieu of cake.
Box mix lemon cupcakes (leftover mix from some cheater cookies I made for a cookie swap), frosting from the jar, crushed pecans. I knew the children wouldn’t eat the strudel, so this was the alternate. They didn’t eat these either…

There were gifts. He only received one gift his first year, which he still uses and enjoys (a Radio Flyer Scoot ‘n Zoom) and no gifts in year two. We exchanged books with friends in lieu of presents, and this was good for all of us. This year, he was having a rough time with Avery having a party and gifts just days before his turn at the event. Brent picked up a toy bow and arrow and some toy tanks, which Oliver had been expecting to receive today. The rest of the guests, knowing how we had done things in the past, all gave him books! We asked our guests to pick out books from our collection to take home with their candy “goodie bags.” It was really great, to yet again, spend a warm evening with good people.

After all that, and especially the candles, Oliver was finally ready to admit he was three. The party sealed the deal.


You can read more about Avery’s 5th birthday here, and how we celebrated with Oliver when he turned two, here.

No-Spend Holiday

We used to have family spending freezes to get us to the next income check. I’d tell Brent, don’t buy coffee, there’s not a coin left in the bank and we need to sell something if the next auto draft is going to clear. Something as trivial as a cup of coffee would send me into tears and leave me grouchy for days, concerned over every minute detail on our accounts.

We took some interesting measures (I still think choosing to ride a cargo bike is interesting, don’t you?) to reduce our overall expenses, pay down some debts and realign our family values and priorities. I may go weeks without checking an account now. It’s one of the most gratifying feelings. The fear has subsided. The anger and sadness, the doubt and feelings of worthlessness are waning. Money, or our spending habits, were waging a war on our marriage, on our family, on our sensibilities. Perhaps it was more akin to an occupancy we barely noticed moving in.

This isn’t to say we now spend money however we see fit. We have managed to briefly give ourselves a bit of cushion and relief. We bought some experiences, a vacation, a business trip, a weekend away with friends. There were beds, shoes, stainless steel straws, surgery, violin lessons, food, cell phone/service, soccer season, dance class, printer, clothes, another bike, bike basket, coffee pot, toaster oven. There have been donations to our local food market, the food bank, United Way, our alma maters. The money was there in the account, so we spent it slowly, and as it crept away, and I transferred funds from the back up account, to the primary account, I smiled. We had the means to do this and it felt good.

After we returned from our trip to Charlottesville, where everything except the bus, was nearly double what we were accustom to paying, I said, no more. The habit of spending needed to be culled. It had to be reigned in. How were we going to be able to finish paying off the debt, save for the new business, celebrate the birthday season the way we desired, pay off the children’s tuition, visit with family when we chose, support more organizations, and still eat, if the dollars and cents kept trickling outward? More importantly, how were we aligning our values?

We believe in making do with what we have first, looking to borrow/share, buy used, or do with out. We try to make new purchases when we truly need something, succumbing to wants often enough to feel indulged, but not gluttonous. Seemed we had gotten off track.

After two weeks with the iPhone I begged Brent to return it. I started combing the house for things to sell to lighten the visual baggage and return some of the funds to the pot. I was looking for ways to beef up the accounts as if there were nothing left, when in fact there was still a ripe sum. Not enough to endure a month without an income, but enough to pay the bills with a bit of overage, which was leaps and bounds more than we had a year and half ago.

Then I said to Brent and the children, no more. Spending freeze. This time, the whole month of November. It started out ok. Then I left town for a long weekend, purchasing gas, clothes for London, and Brent picked up a sandwich. Then we fell back into a good no-spend routine till pay day, mid month. This past weekend we bought a birthday gift for a classmate, purchased food for the food bank during Cranksgiving, and treated the Kidical Mass riders to hot cocoa. Today I made the donation to United Way to help boost their university fund drive. I bought flash cards for my daughter who doesn’t know her basic math facts. I bought her erasable pens for school. Needs or wants? Hardline or just succumbing to the desire to solve perceived problems with money instead of creativity?

I tried to buy my son shoes for school. I went to three stores. One of them had what he needed (uniform policy) and in his size, but for $75, I passed. I am going to attempt to glue the sole back on his current pair and hope he can get to January, or perhaps I can find something less expensive. I feel it is a matter of priorities. Shoes he needs for school were not important enough for me to shell out money on, but cocoa for Kidical Mass was? Ever make decisions like these and wonder what you were thinking?

We had another spendy moment these past couple weeks that we also didn’t expect. Our five year old has some pretty serious behavioral issues as school. We wonder if some of those issues are related to hunger. Without the long story, we let him get hot lunch at $3 a piece without milk. A sizable chunk of money when it adds up, and something we previously wouldn’t pay for. We wondered if a $3 meal might help what has become a priceless struggle for us all.

Tomorrow I am having $1300 in dental work done. I had a $25 repair made on Friday and it didn’t hold through the weekend. Necessary or desired? Insurance says it’s cosmetic.

While we set out to only spend money on what we needed; food, medical, the regular bills and payments; it seems we are stretching the definition of need to fit our wants too. Or are we? We are very intentionally spending each penny. Returning the control to our conscientious decision making, instead of habit and routine, is valuable. Setting up a spending vacation, might not be perfect, but it was launched with good will.

Entrepreneurs’ Cafe

View from the Galt House, 24th floor looking Eastward over Louisville, KY.

Sunday last week I split town for Louisville, KY, 200 miles straight across I-64 west (oh those beautiful fall colors on the hills!). The ABC Kids Expo was very informative, and the company I kept was delightful. I shared a hotel room with a natural parenting shop owner from my hometown, and her four year old daughter. We filled each day to the tippy top with meetings, vendors, and social-business events. There wasn’t any sight seeing, bike riding, or much sleep.

The empty shuttle bus I took from the Hotel to the Expo. Efficient?
Industry reception at Live on 4th! downtown Louisville. I was content to wonder around for water and scout for desserts but the company I kept insisted I attempt to defy some sort of broken genetic condition and move at least my foot to the deafening music being poured down from the stage. I was a good sport, but good golly, not my cup of tea.
Our hotel. Swanky.
Up for sunrise everyday.
Apple Cheeks diaper reveal ‘party.’ A new pattern was unveiled at the show by the ‘diaper fairy.’ These folks are fun. Meeting the families behind the products was humbling and inspiring.
What sort of tool was this? Motorized trike with out a saddle, not quite a Segue. Perplexed. Seen inside the Galt House.

Twelve hours after pulling in the home driveway and dragging my sample products into the house, I presented my business concept and my plea for some start up funds to a small group of lunch time supporters. Huntington recently started Entrepreneur Cafes. This lunch venue allows three business owners to present their ideas for 10 minutes each, and the dining guests vote on the idea they want to see be serviced by local company donations and the cash taken in for the meal. It is straight forward, and a great opportunity to make connections and generate ideas, as a presenter, or an attendee/diner.


I filled my large Thirty One utility tote with my things and put them in Brent’s GoGetters (a perfect fit), since we now have the PeanutShell on my Yuba (more on that later), and the legs interfere with cargo space. In my dress slacks, wedge heels and some light cold weather accessories, I slowly made my way across town. I wanted to arrive glistened, not sweaty. The bike parking was a sad situation, but I did spy a rack at the business next door. I was tempted to park there, but the access was complicated, and there were warning signs and security cameras. Not sure what business it was, but they didn’t seem welcoming to a wayward bike.

20121022-094302.jpgLocking my bike to itself in front of the main doors felt good enough for today.


We all know how frugal I am by now, right? When the woman signing people in asked if I wanted lunch, I saw it as an option and declined. I knew I wasn’t going to be paying to vote (it’s $15 total, $5 for the meal $10 for the vote) but to walk out without paying to drive, park, or eat…well, I felt pretty good. My expenses in Louisville were low too, taking advantage of comped meals, groceries I brought, drink coins provided by vendors, and sharing a hotel room.

The first two presenters at the Cafe were marvelous. They had notes, they were articulate, professional, organized. I was not. I had a really great executive summary with a short bio, all on one page for conciseness. I knew so many people in the room, who were sent by someone who supports my idea, or came to support me because they know me, and they want to see Kith & Kin Junction alive in Huntington. There were other people I knew there as well, because this is a small town and I have lived here six years, and others I knew only by Facebook groups, email communications or phone calls. It was great to meet everyone. There was really no reason for me to be tripping over my own tongue and changing colors like a chameleon, or going from glistening to the clammy sweatiness I became. I just don’t present well. One on one, no problem, stand up and speak to the room, not so much.

Despite not presenting well, the vote fell in my favor. Thank you everyone! What does that mean? I recall I am eligible for some consulting services, a print banner and some money generated from the lunch, but the details have not been sent my way as of yet. Once they are, I plan to pounce on my paperwork and wade through the beginnings of opening a business. Scarey stuff, but it feels good to be here.

L to R: Thomas McChesney with Huddleston Bolen (a sponsor), me :), Ursulette Wells with Unlimited Futures (the organizing agency), and Gail Patton also with Unlimited Futures.

After the meeting, I high tailed it back home and dragged my drenched self upstairs so Brent could get to work. He missed class one day while I was gone because Oliver developed a fever and some respiratory issues. Then he stayed home so I could present and not take the germ factory to lunch. He has been so supportive of Kith & Kin Junction, but neither of us are certain how this two working parents thing will play out. It seems to be you or me right now, and not both and all, or us.

Speaking of both and us, Brent and I are taking the Amtrak to Charlottesville, VA on Friday. Without our children (or our bikes because of the lack of roll on service for the Cardinal line). This will be our first time away in nearly nine years. We have very few dates as it is (all our dates have been posted on this blog in the last year, can you recall many?) My youngest sister is coming down to stay with the heirs and we are adventuring off to somewhere we have never been and where we don’t know a single soul. I have a light optional agenda picked out (theatre, walking tours, art galleries, cyclocross race) and can’t yet find any affordable bikes to rent ($55/day per bike is not affordable!). If you know anyone, want to meet up, have suggestions, etc., I’d love to hear! We might be going out alone, but we really do like company.

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