Category Archives: travels

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.

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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?

Guillain-Barré Syndrome {part 2}

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January 30, 2013

Left you all a couple weeks ago with some of the most grueling parts of our family situation. I am currently back home in Huntington for a couple days, catching up on chores, taking care of myself (MOPS, The Wild Ramp, River and Rail, Studio 8, bike ride, friends, food, sleep) and my other three children. Brent is with Avery in Columbus. You can read the first part of our crisis here, and continue on with the saga below.

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Avery, our six year old, was admitted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital February 5 near midnight. He was met by a team of doctors, nurses and therapists and sent to the neurology unit. Without having my journal in front of me at this time, I estimate he spent another five days with intense pain, extremely high blood pressure and other very misaligned autonomic systems. The pain team was able to do their best, but cautious to using heavy narcotics which could cause respiratory suppression.

In order to confirm/deny the diagnosis of GBS, the doctors ordered an MRI of Avery’s spine. A couple days later, there was a nerve conduction study/EMG. Both tests confirmed inflammation of the nerves and disruptions in the nerve communication. The EMG also helped identify this as a second isolated case of GBS, not a flair up from the first case. This case presented very differently from his 2010 episode. In 2010 his motor neurons were heavily effected, in 2013 it was his sensory nerves, which led to the frightening pain.

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EMG
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Taking his own vitals.
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Controlling pain and sensations through cold compresses and massage.

Given all this data, the progression of the illness and the introduction of Bell’s Palsy on the left side of his face…and a slew of other symptoms, we accepted the GBS diagnosis and added to it the Miller-Fisher Variant. Following the week and half period of pain, which included two additional treatments of IVIG (first was at our home hospital), he was assessed for rehabilitation. He was slowly taken off many IV drugs, transitioning to oral, and monitored for stability with respiratory function. When we had gotten clearance from our insurance company (a story in itself), we were moved from neurology to the inpatient rehab unit at Children’s on February 14.

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Nationwide Children’s. Avery room is the left side, third from the upper floor.

A couple days prior to the rehab move, Brent went home to Huntington with my sister and two of our other three children who came up to Columbus for several days. The hospital has a very strict, protective visitation policy during influenza season. The 2012-2013 winter was especially difficult for the flu, so children under 14 are not permitted on patient floors, and we can only have four visitors to his unit the entire duration of his stay. Those spots were taken by a couple in laws, my sister and a dear family friend (at Avery’s request), leaving my own parents, and other family unable to visit. This of course made it exceptionally difficult to have our children with us in Columbus, unlike the 2010 GBS case, where we felt we could be together more often during Avery’s hospitalization, despite having a new born.

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We understand the restrictions, and if it wasn’t for the grace of Avery not being under any type of contact restriction, it would have been even more challenging. On the Sunday before they left town, Avery had been fitted for a wheel chair and granted 30 minutes to visit with everyone on the lobby level. This was his first transition out of bed, into an upright position. He was unable to do any of the moving himself, but once upright, with proper harnesses and belts, was able to remain so for short periods of time. His duration of chair time has gotten long with time.

Such a bitter sweet moment in our journey. Avery was finally able to be with us all, and they all had to leave. Thirty brief, precious minutes.

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Insisting on waiting on the washer to finish in the family resource (Blue Jackets) room.

With Brent, my sister Shannon, and the three children in Huntington, and Avery and I transitioning to rehab in Columbus, there was a lot of texting, phone calls, email researching, and a little FaceTime. It was during all this time that people were filling countless needs on our CareCalendar (Id: 139535 Code: 4009). We simply could not function without the work of dozens of friends and community members. I am continuously surprised and impressed (when I really shouldn’t have been, b/c everyone is always so selfless and amazing).

Brent and I switched places the weekend of February 16th. It’s a 150 mile drive each way, without any interstates until you reach each city. The parking has been covered by the social worker, due to our long term stay, and free when we utilize the Ronald McDonald House across the street. We have three family/friends in the Columbus area who have come to our rescue with groceries, special clothing and activity/book requests for Avery, and some child care. This has made being with Avery, and caring for him around the clock, a manageable task. Our other needs, outside of the need for being together as a family, and desiring Avery to be healed, have all been met with love and efficiency. Thank you.

When I returned to the hospital February 18th at 8am, Brent immediately left for work. He managed to fit in a week of classes, then the family returned to Columbus together, utilizing the RMH once again. Brent, Shannon and the children returned home on Sunday night, February 24, then this weekend Brent and I made a swap once again. I leave for Columbus in a couple hours, Brent comes back to Huntington Monday morning. And back and forth we go.

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“Boots” for flexing his feet to 90degrees. Worn while sleeping.

During Avery’s stay in rehab he has developed new symptoms. He had something called a convergence insufficiency with his eyes. He became incontinent. The sensations in his limbs went from pain to feelings of intense tearful itching or sharp grains of sand between his toes. There was the feeling of things in his eyes, the sudden onset of cold sores. He lost the ability to move his ankles and toes completely. Many of these things would disappear, and some of them would reappear. Some remain gone. His vitals slowly became normal. With medication they have been able to bring his blood pressure down (to slightly above normal). He is taking three doses of neurontin everyday and a dose of elavil before bed.

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The view that Avery narrated to me.

The facial paralysis spread to both sides and has recently subsided. This affected his respiratory tests and his ability to swallow. The first barium swallow test showed aspiration on thin liquids so he was placed on a nectar thickened diet. A second test on Friday showed aspiration on nectar thicks and he was elevated to honey thickeners. This morning he was given a chest x-ray for wheezing that may have been caused by aspiration, but it was clear.

We are often, as you can imagine, asked how is Avery doing. Everyday has been so different from the one before it that it was difficult to say if he was better, worse or the same. We just told people he was different. We were also cautious to say he was better when in a couple hours he might not be. Since I have been home this weekend, Brent reports he is getting better. He is making progress in his therapies, as you will see in the following videos. His ability to write and control his hand was improving, his endurance is increasing, his attitude is brightening, he is sleeping for longer periods at night. Some of his symptoms are worse, like the swallowing, the return of incontinence, and no changes in strength. I don’t wish to downplay his progress or over represent it either. The information sharing is a delicate thing.

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Tilt table to help with weigh baring.
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Family time in the Blue Jackets room.
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Using the knee stabilizers.

Check out these clips from this most current weekend. He was fitted for special ankle to calf braces on Friday, so he could stop using the knee stabilizers he was utilizing for the previous week. The clips show the very first “steps” and other firsts I wasn’t able to be present for. These are tremendous improvements and I do wish I had video of all he couldn’t do prior to this for comparison.

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A frozen yogurt treat before I left this most recent time, in the “magic forest,” lobby level.

Our Summer Excursion: Days 52-58 Home & Charlotte, NC

This is Our 2012 Summer Excursion series recapping our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Please let me know if you would like more details about anything and I will do my best to work them in or reply personally. Follow the TAG to get the full story. It’s the summer that never ends…it goes on and on my friends…

On Day 51 we arrived home from Elkins, WV after a near three week stay. It was a difficult choice for me, as home is one of the last places I want to go, when given the options, but it was a necessary stop for Brent. He had been trying to work on the road all summer, and doing a fairly disastrous job of it. No fault of his own, it’s all mine. I owned all his time.

D52-55: We spent a great deal of time at home being lazy. There was friend time and cooking of real food, hot meals. There was a lot of loafing about, watching the telly. The last full day at home I drove the children out to Target to pick up school supplies and uniform parts. We hunted for items on my long list of things to fix around the house, since we had some extra summer job money. And it was very hot out (as noted in my journal).

Summer and I are not friends. More like colleagues. The sun may put me in a chipper mood after days of cloudy weather, and I do enjoy a longer ‘day,’ but I don’t care for its glare, UV radiation, and heat. Summer, in our backyard, also means mosquitoes. With all the outdoor time we had packed away this summer, I didn’t have a single bite to report until we got home. It was a blood feast in our own yard. Everywhere in the neighborhood actually. It made tending the overgrown garden unbearable. It had me keeping the children indoors. If I recall correctly, it was also a nasty year for West Nile nationwide.

I welcomed the indoor refuge, the air conditioning, and yes, even the cabin of my van on some of these days. I noted in my journal that on that Thursday, July 26, after doing my Barboursville errands, I drove to the Wild Ramp. It’s a bikeable distance, but I was already in my cozy haven away from all that nasty sunshine warmth, and I kept right on to Heritage Station.

We had tried to keep our home AC off for 2012. The late spring time was ok, and early summer not too bad. We ran into an issue when condensation started building up in our basement. A wet basement leads to mold. We tried a dehumidifier and salt trays, but because it’s a walkout basement, we weren’t having much success. Flipping on the AC for a few hours, dried it up quickly. We tried to keep the thermostat higher than usual, to make the transition from indoor to outdoor less dramatic, but steadily it crept down. We attempted a number of other techniques too. Maybe we can find a better solution to energy conservation in 2013.

D56: Friday, July 27, we packed up the van again, for the third time this summer. We tidied up the house for the sitter, and drove back to Heritage Station before departing town one last time. I grabbed some locally roasted coffee beans and quinoa granola to share with our next hosts, very old friends of mine.

The drive to North Carolina was very stormy. We decided at one point to exit the highway and do some grocery shopping until some of it blew over.

We arrived at Janna and Matt’s in Charlotte, just in time for dinner and a movie.


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D57: We had a movie mantra working in Charlotte. A marathon of old flicks for the children up to an early dinner time with Janna’s whole family. I have known them all since ’98 and it’s a reunion with every visit. Parents, nephew, sister, and inlaws. This time we had an extra treat of some new friends. It was great to meet Kirstin and Dennis and their fellows. Musicians. Alaskan native. They had a couple of fun travel and children war stories to share. On our way back to Janna’s we threw in a stop at EarthFare and loaded up on some bulk bin goodies. Granola, quinoa and lentils, that would set us up for meals a plenty while on the beach the remainder of the week.

Tiny space sleeping. We are not picky. Three on the fold out futon. One on the fold out chair, one in sleeping bag on the floor and one upstairs on the air mattress. Perfect.
Breakfast on every available horizontal surface in the apartment. Mmmm.
Afternoon and evening pool side at Janna’s sister’s complex. We grilled. We ate. We shared stories. More simple pleasures.
Post swim “we don’t want to leave.”
An Earth Fare sunset.

D58: There’s a simple pleasure in the company of friends. Sharing in meals, stories, laughter, the togetherness. We soaked up quite a bit of Matt’s cooking. Hot breakfasts everyday. The children were willingly subdued in their tiny space with more movies and two dogs to love on.

We packed up mid Sunday, and left for South Carolina, where we were meeting up with friends from Florida at a beach house in Murrells Inlet, south of Myrtle Beach. I should probably mention here, we didn’t bring our bicycles for this last portion of the trip. We made a choice to leave the bikes home for this one week. Neither of our friends in NC or SC would be riding with us, and when looking over maps of the areas we would be in, biking didn’t look like a reasonable option.

We pulled into the carport of the beach house (under the house) moments before our friends Nick and Angela, who spent their entire day on the road with two small children. Throwing frozen pizzas in the oven for dinner, we gave huge hugs to our old Huntington friends, divided up bedrooms and called it a day.


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Our Summer Excursion: Days 33-51 Elkins, WV

This is Our 2012 Summer Excursion series recapping our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Please let me know if you would like more details about anything and I will do my best to work them in or reply personally. Follow the TAG to get the full story. Maybe I will get through the whole trip before 2013 (it’s NYE, so maybe not)!


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D33: July 4 should have been full of fireworks and bbqs and flags and maybe even parades, if you have some sort of traditional holiday flair you follow. While I am not into tradition, it was great to have been invited to a block party on our first day in a new town that had all of the above. As our history would have it, we lived in Buckhannon, WV (west of Elkins) for two years, and I worked in Elkins for part of that time. We met some great people and fell in love with this mountain community before moving to Huntington six and half years ago. One of those great people, Beth King, handles the community arts center, where I worked. She invited us to the block party! Hurray for Beth! As time would pass, many of those faces would cross our path again at the bookstore, bike shop, tennis camp, grocery, and on the street. A small town intimacy; warm and welcoming.

D34-49: The four children and I filled our days as best we could while Brent worked 12-14 hour days. We dined together as a family every night in the Davis & Elkins cafeteria and enjoyed breakfast at the Graceland Mansion every morning. Lunch was a toss up. Some days we had lunch together, and some not. Having the opportunity to be on campus with him for those weeks was invaluable to the children and for our relationship. I may not have been able to get any time away from the children, but knowing I might get 30minutes of shared parenting a few times a day gave my mommy voice a rest, and let me close my eyes just a bit to the hyper-vigilance we kept while living in a hotel. Last year we stayed in Huntington while he worked the Governor’s School for the Arts. It wasn’t impossible for me, I enjoy temporary challenges such as these, but it wasn’t ideal.

To make this entry less cumbersome, you can browse the photo gallery below, complete with captions, of our Elkins stay. It covers what we ate since we didn’t have a kitchen, how we kept our sanity living in one room, with two beds, the local bike culture, where we spent our money on extra-curriculars for the children, our geocaching finds, the views, the people, the fluff.

Spoiler: In terms of bicycling, Elkins was the best! We never drove in town, we didn’t need to, everything was very, very close to where we were staying. We walked most places and biked when we needed/wanted to save time/have more fun. I never saw another child on bikes outside of the bike parade and the park. I rarely saw other riders in general. Not sure why. Maybe they are more of a walking community? It was ideal for us. I was so spoiled, that thinking about going home to a 2.5mile ride to grocery was daunting.

I drove to Beverly twice, 10miles south of town for London’s Girl Scout camp, and utilized a carpool for her other trips to camp. Otherwise, the van just sat in the parking lot until the day we left. It even attracted ants. Ever have a vehicle with a pest problem?

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D50-51: The day before the summer program ended we were presented with a room charge for some of the damages the children inflicted on the hotel. It’s an unsettling story involving play dough in the carpet and a five year old who wet the unprotected mattress, (I don’t want to get into details but feel welcome to ask me about it anytime. Great reason to invite us over, stop by, or meet up, eh?).

So on day 50, Saturday July 21, the program ended. We had the car packed up and we drove off to Buckhannon for dinner and a drive around our old stomping grounds. We booked a hotel in Charleston, WV, an hour from home, so we could swim and jump on the beds and decompress before tossing our house sitter out one more time before our full Summer Excursion would end.

Our plans to bike and camp the Greenbriar Trail system with friends never came together. Brent was concerned about work at Marshall and an exhibit he was invited to participate with at the Clay Center. We headed home before our beach trip. I was glad we weren’t out on the trail, post derecho, in the rain, as forecasted, but I wasn’t happy to be going home. My heart is with my family and friends (new and old), following a map around the country side, city scape, coast lines, and mountain towns. Such a gypsy.

Conclusions
That’s Elkins in a blog-post nutshell. Wasn’t it dreamy? Next up, our spat at home and our last week on the road, in Charlotte, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC.

Note: I tried to include as much photography as I could, but I left out a great deal! I don’t know where it went. Maybe on the phone? Anyway. It was fun, fabulous and we hope to have more of the same again. More small spaces, more outside adventures, more new people, more crazy.

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