Category Archives: planning and preparing

When We Choose Not to Go

Last week had a couple good examples of giving up, or maybe it’s giving in.

Following Columbus Day, the littlest one, Oliver, and I hung around the house, stared at the overgrown raised beds behind the garage (made a plan of attack), cleaned the dishes, folded the laundry, then headed out to pick up Avery (6yo) at school to take him to an appointment. We were going from home to school to the children’s hospital on a route we had taken a couple times. Brent met us at school and accompanied us to the hospital. Front and center, covered parking, that was in use. A sweet sight.

When we choose not to go
The behind the garage look at my spring project. Where to start? Oy vey.
When we choose not to go
Women and Children’s Hospital Bike parking.

To head home we opted for going around Delaware park, also a mostly familiar route. We stopped for playground and snack time, then carried on. We paused to take in the autumn scene over Hoyt Lake. Ok, we paused because after climbing up the hill and the spiral overpass, I needed it (also an e-assist).

MAP link from school, to hospital, to park, to home.

When we choose not to go
Unfortunately the path to the right doesn’t get me where I need to go. Buffalo has hills.
When we choose not to go
Hoyt Lake at Delaware Park. AKA my rest break.

Once home I assembled my plan to attend an open house at one of the schools we are considering for Elliot (9yo) next year. We really want to make informed decisions and these open houses will help us complete his application. Brent works several nights a week, so it’s me, five kids, dinner duties, homework monitoring, and all the usual. I don’t mind not having the extra adult hands, but that night I also wanted to make this open house. Here were several of the options I had in mind and some of the thoughts on each:

  • Bike all the children to the open house (it’s only 3miles each way, but it would be dark on the way back, I haven’t ridden there before and I am not familiar with the neighborhoods or the streets, the children wouldn’t get their work done or their dinner before a reasonable bedtime)
  • Bike the youngest children only (the older ones could manage a dinner and homework, we’d only have to take one bike, could hope for snacks at the open house to hold over the younger children and feed them more when we return)
  • Take the bus with any combination of all or the littles (missed the first bus by the time I thought of this plan, second bus would get us there an hour late, other bus options would drop us off a bit further away and I don’t know the neighborhood well enough to know if we should be walking around it, I’d have to look around for cash/exact change or stop by ATM)
  • Reserve the car share, taking all or the littles (started to “worry” about where to park at the school, was paying for a car “worth” going to the open house?, how ridiculous does it feel to drive 3miles?, I am obviously having money/guilt/driving issues here)
  • Find a sitter and bike alone to the open house (the one lead on sitters didn’t call me back this week, as I had this in mind on Sunday, our exchange student isn’t up to the task of being responsible for four other children, the other adults in the neighborhood haven’t offered, but should I ask them? seems awkward, and very last minute, should I be biking alone places I haven’t been, after dark?)
When we choose not to go
Even with a full moon, it was dark.

Ultimately, what kept me from going was not being familiar with the route to the school, the children not wanting to go anywhere, and the impending darkness. I am not opposed to cycling in the dark, we do it often. I am leery of cycling with the children in the dark through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Sounds like an unsafe plan at this time. I’d like to be more trusting, but I’m feeling “blind” in a new city. Homework and food were my second concern. I can whip together a lunch box and keep the kids up later, for things I feel are justified, as long as they don’t happen often. I really don’t have an issue with paying for a car or the bus (because right now we have the means), but it was bothering me that the distance was very bikeable and it didn’t feel necessary to use transit or a car. Children not wanting to leave their engaging play, is often something I don’t want to break up either, but it stalls a lot of opportunities and outings.

I scrambled my brain for someone who could bike with me, then wondered how ridiculous I might sound pleading for an escort, but in hind sight, that’s what I really need. I need a tour guide, a bike buddy. I need someone who knows these neighborhoods and roads. I want other people to want to ride with us. I don’t want to beg, but I certainly have been. Where are you cycling families!? Where are you patience and understanding?

Another night last week there was a fundraising party at a location I was familiar with, but I was feeling overwhelmed. Brent was working, the kids were not wanting to go, and so the situation played out that I didn’t see the event as neccessary, and we stayed in.

So, I feel like I gave up on these situations. I convinced myself that the open house wasn’t essential, but it would have been nice to attend. I allowed our lifestyle choice to hinder my attendance. Had their been a car in the drive, would we have taken it? I don’t know. I am very good at talking myself out of going places with all the kids by myself. There is very little joy in their company when they don’t want to go, and they didn’t. This happens occasionally (probably more than I would like it). Several of the children are able to pedal their own vehicles, and if they set their minds not to go, I have to get more creative, or we don’t go. These days, after the year we have endured, my creativity is running low.

We come back to this point often and we don’t seem to get far. Is it truly the children, the situation, the time of day, or our mood that is keeping us home, or is it the mode of transportation?

When we choose not to go
All seven of us went to dinner at a friends house on Sunday. No problems riding home in the dark through Delaware Park, altogether.

For example, I was meeting up with another family and commuter cyclist Friday night to discuss the launch of a Buffalo Kidical Mass. (Jesse also organizes the Buffalo Family Bicycling facebook page. Go join, then ride with me!) Brent was home, the kids weren’t wanting to leave, Eiki had a football game to go to, and it was drizzly and dark. Eiki took the train/bus and Jesse and I were meeting somewhere familiar, so I went, by myself. I left the house after bedtime, not that my kids were anywhere near sleeping, I think they were watching Back to the Future. I took the long way around a guerrilla bike path, because it’s not lit and it is rather boggy right now. We jabbered on till midnight, then I headed home, a different route, I wasn’t entirely familiar with, but knew enough about the neighborhood to feel comfortable. A kid free outing, the desire to go, a safe route all added up to choosing to ride my bike, alone. So maybe I didn’t give up on the other nights, but rather made a sound choice. Or maybe it’s all in the perspective.

MAP link home to coffee meet up to home, around the short cut, guerrilla path. Rode the sidewalks on Main Street.

When we choose not to go
It’s clear as the muddy ruts in this photo that we ride through here often. Thankfully several people have already secured funding for a paved and lit rails-to-trails pathway, coming…soon?
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The Current Cost of Not Owning a Vehicle

We are approaching two months in Buffalo, without a car of our own. We spent $149.50 in August, and $249.11 in September on parking, bus, train, taxi, car share (gas & insurance included), tolls, and related memberships. The break out:

August $129.50

  • $96.00 Car share
  • $33.50 Bus/train

We certainly were more conservative with our transportation dollars our first month in Buffalo. We had a lapse in income and insurance to hurdle over, but we made it to the other side, without any significant financial surprises.

September $249.11

  • $137.00 Car share
  • $49.50 Bus/train
  • $30.00 Taxi
  • $12.00 Parking/tolls
  • $21.60 Membership/mileage overage from September

There was a week in September where I felt like it was “Monday” every day. I was making mistakes too frequently. I signed up for a car share to attend Eiki’s first soccer game, then left my keys with the fob in Brent’s bike, and he was at work. We took the public bus to London’s school on her first day and I bought a round trip ticket, forgetting those were only good on the train. Then I put the adult fare in the bus slot, instead of the reduced amount for a child. It was money spent, that we couldn’t recover. We attended Eiki’s second game, but then due to the substantial walking and waiting we encountered on that particular bus route, we decided to take a taxi back to our bikes waiting at the train station. It all adds up, but it didn’t amount to much when put into the perspective of car ownership, or did it?

Then there is the issue concerning the cost of convenience and quality of life. It takes a lot to leave me feeling like something wasn’t worth my time, or was a nuisance to my day. One of the reasons we choose to bike and walk is because we want the day to slow down. We enjoy the extra time rolling around the neighborhood, under scheduling, experiencing new things, and staying in touch with the weather. However, when London missed the bus to school last week, we didn’t hesitate to borrow the car share vehicle. It was the least inconvenient mode at the time, and we now know we need to work on a better plan B. So it’s all relative.

Had we maintained possession of our vehicle with our move, and used it instead of transit, car share and a taxi, what would our costs have been? That’s more difficult to calculate. I haven’t been tracking mileage, as we are spread in five different directions daily. I wasn’t sure if we should consider the cost of the yellow school bus, and how would you? Those miles are certainly accountable, it was just too much to consider, right now. Maybe another month I will take it on.

I maintain that I am uncertain about any future car ownership. The temptation is strong to buy another van, giving us the “walk out the door and into the car” convenience for out of town trips. I think the urge might be reduced if our local car share had a van parked in our neighborhood. Family size certainly affects our costs for the bus/train, but it also necessitates a larger vehicle, and that is a cost we pay in time to retrieve it.

While we could go purchase a car, I have been researching and dreaming about a bakfiets. We are staring into the frosty crystal ball that has winter white swirling all around, and wondering, could this be the vehicle that maintains our cycling lifestyle a midst colder/harsher conditions? It’s the vehicle of choice for so many with wonderful winters. My research has led to me to learn from the following (who also have resourceful blogrolls):

  • Modal Mom, Lana is riding a variety of bikes in Ottawa, Ontario with her son
  • Copenhagenize, a multi-contributor blog about building better cities, based out of Denmark
  • Chicargobike, this parenting pair write from the windy city about Chicago infrastructure and biking around with four children

For added good reads I took a moment to look up our neighborhood’s Walk Score: 77, Transit Score: 59, Bike Score: 55.

Right. That’s it for now. Cost break down of transportation for two months without a car, and some thoughts on how to proceed as we approach the fourth season. Cheers!

Buffalo Museum of Science

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Humboldt Parkway, going south. Freeway over the fence, driving lane, biking lane, painted barrier, parking lane.

It took a while, but 8 days after the start of the school year, London, our 11yo, was finally placed and situated with her peers at Olmsted at Kensington High School. There was a lot of misunderstanding, misstating of information from the school registration employees, lack of returned calls and emails, and some good old fashion “take it to the top” maneuvering, but we got her enrolled in a school we hope will be the best fit between instructional methods and learning style. With everyone that needed to be, at a school and work during the day, I felt a little lighter to travel about the city. Less kids on my bike, fewer kids beside me on their bikes, and no one to argue with about which streets were best, and where to ride. It was me, Oliver, the 3.5yo, and Google maps, taking on our day.

Tuesday we ventured to meet up with someone from the Buffalo Mommies group at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Brent biked the boys to school so Oliver and I hung around home, packed our lunches and bundled up for the ride. It was brisk; maybe in the 60Fs when we departed. We followed the route to the boys’ school, taking Parker Avenue south, turning down the side walk on Main Street and then navigating the cross walk to Humboldt Parkway’s bike lanes. The pedestrian light is still not working. I will need to call that in.


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The bike lane is sandwiched between parked cars on the right and a single direction of low volume traffic on the left with on and off ramps to the expressway. For city streets, this one is calm, freshly paved and level. We cruised through, made a left at our light and blink, we were there.

Our arrival was followed by a woman on a bike, whom I inquired with about how to get back home. Since this bike lane is one direction, and the other side of the express way, which is the other direction of Humboldt Parkway ends half way to Main, I wasn’t sure what to do. The last visit to the science museum we took Fillmore Avenue. It was a straight shot from the museum to Parker & Main, which could take us to pick up the boys at school, or carry us on home. However, Fillmore is in a rough neighborhood. The sidewalks are broken, covered in glass and often serving their duty to strollers, walkers and store patrons. The street isn’t much better. It widens to four lanes in places and then shrinks back to two with curbside parking. Feeling safe is important. Me, my preschooler, my bike, in a new, large city. We need that feeling of security. The cyclist suggested we head further west and catch Main, which added miles, but might be a good choice, although we’d be on the sidewalk there. Main is a wide through way with faster traffic. It’s a designated bike route, but not a very safe and practical one for children, or me.

We met up with Nicole and her preschooler from the mom’s group. I chatted up another four child family and one of the museum staff members. I was certainly in “desperate for adult conversation” mode. We explored spaces we enjoyed last time, nibbled some lunch and toured some exhibits that were new to us. Before anyone realized, three hours had whisked away and it was time to pick up the boys from school.

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We loaded up the Yuba and made a choice of route. We opted to take Humboldt Parkway half way, then skip over to Fillmore and finish our journey. When we crossed over the highway the diagonal groove in the bridge was deep enough to bounce my cell phone out of it’s basket pocket and into the basket and my water bottle onto the bridge. I left the bottle behind (sorry!) and kept moving with traffic. That was the most unintentional of littering and I will pay penance with a neighborhood clean up effort this weekend. Promise.

The ride to school was quick and easy, although not the best of neighborhoods, or the best of timing. There were dozens of school buses dropping off large groups of students at many intersections. I felt I wasn’t welcome on the sidewalks or the streets. A little awkward, but manageable.

With the boys obtained, the bikes loaded, and helmets adjusted, we headed for home. There was a stop for groceries and some chit chatting about the highs and lows of everyone’s days. The weather warmed enough to break a sweat, and in time for the sun to dip low enough to cool off quickly once again.

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St. Joseph’s lit up at night, under a full moon, on Main Street.

We did those after school things, then gathered our coats once again for a post dinner neighborhood meeting at the local community center. The email I received mentioned a collaboration between the association and the city to pave and light a rails to trails path near our home. I didn’t want to miss that conversation, but I did. We arrived a few minutes late and the packed room was moving on to personal accounts of the drunken mob/zombie scenes that occur frequently in the University Heights area. My boys were very unnerved by the descriptions given and to be truthful, I was very surprised to hear our neighborhood described in this way. Apparently we live on a “quiet” street. I hope all their issues can be resolved peacefully, and we get our bike path.

Our Path from WV to NY

A month ago we announced our move to Buffalo, NY and all the tribulations and feelings that go with such a decision. We heard back from several people about their own experiences and considered it all deeply. While we waited for Brent to wrap up work at Marshall we paired down our belonging, started boxing things up, looked into NY housing options, and pushed our house (politely) on anyone willing to listen. Now, with four days until the truck pulls away from WV, we have a place rented in Buffalo, sight unseen (thanks to new colleague), and a sales contract on our house in WV pending the usual inspections.

To run along side this, we are selling our home at a loss. We will need to payout cash at closing, which we found by selling our minivan (thanks to a friend referring us to a friend). There were several options for securing the funds, but we wanted to walk away from WV without additional debts. A clean break. I will give you all a numbers breakdown…

  • We financed $132,000 in 2006 for the home
  • Invested nearly $3,000 each of the 7 years we resided there ($21,000)
  • We agreed to sell the home for $125,000, minus our portion of closing costs (roughly $10,000)
  • We owe two banks a total of $120,000 to pay the balance of the mortgages
  • Therefore we will need $5,000 to close on the sale and the $21,000 in improvements combined with the $114,500 in P&I payments over the years are evaporated into the economy

This analysis tells me we are not very good with our money, home buying should probably include a lot more cash down and less financing, and we are presented with the opportunity to make some changes for our future. With the sale of our house we reduced our debt to only student loans and a pesky credit card purchase for a new work laptop for Brent. For the first time ever, we have a positive net worth (you know, in the financial world).

We are renting a single family home four miles from Brent’s new employer. We hope he can continue to bike commute. The NY rent is less than our WV mortgage. The space is also slightly smaller. The utilities are also projected to be less, thanks to the owners being savvy on insulation and new replacement windows. The land lords are also responsible for a portion of the utilities and maintenance. We see this as savings.

With the sale of our mini van we enrolled in Buffalo Car Share. There was a small Yaris within walking distance of our new home, and several other options (a mini van) we could reasonably ride transit or bike to. Brent’s employer has a discount relationship with BCS, and the membership includes insurance and gas for the vehicles.

Buffalo has a more extensive and timely transit system that includes busing and a light rail, at twice the cost of the one in Huntington (I hope not to compare everything, but it helps for those following along from “home.”) The airport is 7 FLAT miles from our house, downtown looks to be between 6-9 miles, but we will be between the city of Buffalo and the suburb of Amherst (where we could reasonable bike to a *gasp* mall). There are at least two pools, multiple parks, a library, bookstore, several groceries, coffee shops, yoga studios, zoo, and countless other unknown things within our comfortable 2-3mile radius. We will continue to bike. I am actually looking into a box bike now. I feel the timing might be right.

We are not committing ourselves to a car-free life. We will see how things develop. I keep hearing about these transportation prohibitive winters. Avery’s medical care needs might change. And then there is this; one of my first challenges will be the arrival of our exchange student two days (fewer than 36hours) after we pull into our new drive way. I don’t know a thing about this child, or how much luggage he will be carrying. He might not be able to ride a bike. Bringing our family up to seven members will add to many interesting scenarios. Stay tuned.

With all that said, I have more boxes to pack. More things to sell and give away, mail to forward, warmshowers and paperbackswap to put on hold, and appliances to clean.  My minimalist ways are not shared evenly with all members of this home. Those children have a lot of arts, crafts, legos, books, and goodwill.

Cheers from West Virginia to where ever you find yourselves.

Buffalo, NY or Bust

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Brent accepted a teaching position at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, NY. He begins this new chapter mid-August. The running joke around here comes in some form of the following:

A friend: When do you need to be in Buffalo?
Me: I don’t. Brent does.
Friend: Ohhhh….
Me: Yeah, I don’t want to talk about it.

It’s not that Buffalo is going to be a tragic move. The city is wonderful, unique, diverse, and will be a welcomed challenge and experience. It’s that I have a lot going on here in Huntington personally. We have a life here, with good work, great people, a fabulous home and garden, and I find the timing of all this a bit stressful and remissed. Two years ago I would be have been throwing parties and putting on parades to be setting off on such an adventure, maybe even this time last year. Yet around September 2012 I found a spark to settle in to Huntington, chase down some ambitions and dreams and set to work on them.

Avery’s illness certainly delayed much of those efforts, but I was clambering aboard that train once again this spring when it was derailed, to follow the analogy through. With in a week of making some community contacts and learning of the “perfect space” for my business concept, Brent accepted the position in New York. My happiness for him was subdued by my own bubble bursting, the rug being pulled from my feet. Yet, when everything was laid out on the table, the needs of the family as a whole, the needs of Brent’s career and personal path trumped my quest to bring a sustainable family resource to Huntington. It wasn’t meant to be I who carried out that work. And life is short, so we decided to follow this path for now and embrace all the nuances it was going to throw at us.

So it’s a Buffalo or Bust sort of summer in the Simple Six household. We made a brief trip up to the Queen City at the end of May to introduce the idea to the children, to scout out the housing market, and to visit with friends. We went so far as to put a low offer on a house out of desperation, have it countered and then, because we weren’t in love with the home (miniature kitchen) or the location (far from work, higher taxes), we walked away from it.

We need to sell our WV home in order to afford the move north (captioned home album here). We have considered renting it out, but have the feeling we’d be in over our heads with the details and then we wouldn’t be able to purchase in NY. We are considering renting in NY, but still need our house to sell. Brent must be there no later than August 19th, applying pressure to the situation. Should the WV home not sell, perhaps the family will have to live apart for a short while? Brent may have to go to NY while the children and I wait in WV. How long is too long to wait? What about schooling, added cost of two residence, rising interest rates, the strain on the relationships of the family, and so on…? It’s consuming all my thoughts and energy. Want to throw your two-cents into the arena? What would you do?

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