Friday, December 12, 2008

Hi, I'm Tina and I will invade your personal space

Have you ever been in a situation where you're meeting up with friends or even acquaintances and someone hugs you hello? Well, I am that person. I'm a hugger and I'm sorry that I inappropriately touch you.

Sometimes I just can't help myself.

I am always aware of it, but sometimes not until after I hug. For instance, my son had a birthday party a few weeks ago at the local roller rink. The kid loves to rollerblade. It was an exciting day for us. We had been planning it for a while. My son had been talking about it ENDLESSLY. I was so thrilled for him and for his friends to have a great time together. Along with roller skating/blading, they got to play 2 games of laser tag! A dream come true for 11 year old boys, frankly.

I guess it was just the excitement, although I inappropriately hug people all the time. Anyway, I ended up hugging 2 moms and, even though they hugged me back, I could tell they didn't expect a hug at the roller rink. BTW, they were friends of mine. One lady lives in our neighborhood, so her son and my son are frequent playmates. The other lady used to go to church with us. I'm saying that I wasn't hugging complete strangers. That makes it better, I suppose.

Actually, my inability to control my enthusiasm doesn't just apply to hugs. This week my son and I were out running errands and stopped at Sonic for lunch. Sitting in the van, waiting for our food, we both noticed an SUV parked in Blockbuster's parking lot directly opposite. On the front of the SUV was one of those silver, decorative plates with WV on it. Even though we often see WV plates or stickers or even flags, the excitement of it never wears off. I still wanted to track the driver down and swap WV stories. Then I remembered the looks on the faces of those I have hugged and realized that might be going too far.

Self-control. I'm happy to meet you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Home to West Virginia

My friend Amy has a really good post about coming home after a visit to WV. She talks about how hard it is to leave family and the familiarity of our home state after a great visit. It's such a wonderful state. We WV Expats certainly know how hard it is to leave.

She mentions this website Home to West Virginia in her post. It's a good idea. Maybe it will help some people return to WV.

Drawing on the experience that my husband and I had, with deciding to go back and realizing it wasn't possible for us, I can tell you there are many things to consider when trying to get back to WV.

The housing market is so bad right now. We own our home. Well, really the bank does, but we pay the mortgage. :) One of the reasons moving wasn't possible for us was we didn't want to get stuck paying a mortgage in GA while living in a rental (or with family) in WV. Amy has written about her experiences with that.

We live in an older neighborhood. Our house was built in 1986. When new subdivisions are popping up all around you, with builders enticing buyers to buy new homes, selling your older home is even more difficult. Granted, the popping has stopped as of late, but within a two mile radius of our home, there are 2 new subdivisions with new homes no one is buying. Within our subdivision, the number of homes that have for sale or rent signs on them is significant. The odds of finding a buyer for our home were definitely against us.

Of course, we hear from some in WV that the real estate market is not as bad as elsewhere. My brother-in-law just bought a house and sold his home in a remarkably short time. A matter of a month or two, I believe. His problem was finding a home to buy. His agent told him there is a shortage of supply. I tend to think it might depend on where you live in WV, but I'm not there, so I can't really say.

Another issue we encountered when thinking about a return to WV was the low pay that my husband was offered for his job in WV last year. I was a little surprised by it, because in my experience of WV the cost of living there and living in GA is not much different. The WV food tax is actually higher. WV pays 3%, we pay 2%. Taxes on other items in WV are the same as GA at 6%. The gas tax in WV is a bit higher. I know my family in WV pays more for gas than we do in GA (except if GA is having a shortage caused by a hurricane). Some of the extra cost might be because of access, but taxes play a big part in it.

Housing costs are not that different either. My husband was offered a job at WVU, so we looked at homes in and around Morgantown. I was kind of shocked at the prices. Modest homes were more than what we paid for our 3 bedroom/2 bath home in 2002. We found some other homes that were more reasonable, but the travel distance from Morgantown was significant. It just didn't make sense for us.

Is it possible for companies in WV to pay a living wage?

In early 1993, my husband had been out of college for almost two years. We had just moved from an apartment in Princeton, WV to campus housing in Athens, WV (where I was still attending Concord College). We left the apartment in favor of cheaper campus housing because it was impossible to keep up with the expenses living on my husband's salary and my small income working part-time on campus. My husband was in the Army Reserves and working at a local movie theater. He was assistant manager, but he was still only making minimum wage, which was at that time $4.25.

To this day, my husband and I still talk about this next part. He asked for a raise. He deserved it. He was, after all, assistant manager, managing a group of employees. At times he was running the theater alone. His boss checked with the head honchos and gave him the good news. "You're going to be so excited about this. I got you a raise. You're going up to $4.30."

I wish that story was a joke. The pay raise certainly felt like a punch line.

That was the straw that broke the camel's back. There had been many straws. Straws like looking for a job in his field and never finding one. Straws like realizing someone was going to have to die and he'd have to take their job for him to get a chance at a career. Straws like realizing that when he finally does get a chance at responsibility and advancement, the big bonus was a five cent an hour raise.

We had friends in Georgia and one friend helped my husband find a job as a Graphic Designer (that's what his degree is in) making twice as much as he was making in WV. It seemed like a no-brainer, but we struggled with that decision. We knew leaving WV was life-changing. We knew it was something that would be hard to reverse. Still we left. Our goal was to make a life for ourselves and we didn't feel like we could do that with the limited opportunities we faced in WV.

As I said, that was 1993. Maybe things have changed in WV, but we certainly didn't see evidence of that change during my husband's job searching last year. To be fair, we have brothers and sisters living and working and making it in WV. Maybe it was the idea of my husband and I wanting to live on just his income, with me continuing to be a stay at home mom that made our WV dream hard to come true. I have a sister who stays home, but the other sister and my six sisters-in-law all work. Are they just following the way of the nation, do they just want to work, or is it a necessity?

Interesting question, but I have no idea what the answer is.

I hope the Home to WV campaign works out. I hope Joe Manchin (who was just re-elected to the dismay of my mother) will figure out the right formula to keep young people home. I hate to think of the hard choices my nieces and nephews face if they want to stay in WV.

Frankly, it's too late for my husband and I. This last chance at returning to WV changed something about us. It was already starting to change after 15 years, but I think the disappointment of rejecting the WVU job offer sealed the deal.

We've become those people I used to wonder about when I was growing up. You remember, the long lost relatives? They come in from different parts of the country for the holidays. They're always thrilled to be there. Always happy to be in WV. You are always glad to see them. But they always return to their adopted homes and leave the state once again.

I wondered what it was like for them to travel so far and leave. Now I know, because we are the ones who pack up, head to the mountain state, enjoy our family and our time there. Then we pack it all up again and head back home for GA.

It used to be much harder to do. The first few years, leaving WV after a visit meant I cried in the car until we got a few miles into Virginia. These days that doesn't happen. I do what many others have done before me. I enjoy my family and the beauty of my home state and then I look forward to coming home to GA.

It's not really the life I thought I would have, but it's a life I love. And maybe we have the best of both worlds. We get to enjoy WV as a holiday and that's always exciting. It is our escape. The times we have there all center around fun and family.

That makes WV very special to us, even though it's no longer our home.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

World at War, it's a video game. Really.

One really cool thing about technology is it can bring people together. Via X-Box, my son can play his favorite video games with his cousins in West Virginia and they can spend the whole time talking thanks to the magical Internet. It's really kind of cool and makes video game time family time too.

Technology is not always great, however.

My son uses my cell phone to text message his cousin to see if he wants to play World at War with him. He sends a real simple message with guy language. It reads "World at War?"

Obviously he has mistyped the phone number at least twice because just a few minutes ago an angry lady called my cell phone.

"Who is this?" She asked my son, who answered my cell phone. He saw the 304 area code and figured it was family.

My son just looked at me blankly and I heard the lady repeat again "Who is this?"

I grabbed the phone and the lady asked "Why do you keep texting my husband? What is this World at War stuff anyway?"

I tried to explain, but Angry Lady interrupted.

"Stop texting this phone right now."

"Ma'am," I said, with a southern drawl to make it sound more friendly. "World at War is a video game and my son was just trying to text his cousin to see if he wanted to play. I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

Then I hung up because I can only take so much verbal abuse.

Still one minute later, she texts my phone with a "Stop texting this phone right now!" message.

Okay, Angry Lady. Message received. It won't happen again.

Take Away Lesson #1: Don't jump to conclusions. Next time you get a message that states "World at War?" it might be a friendly invitation to play a game, not a command to start a world-wide military campaign.

Take Away Lesson #2: If you respond to a message from a Georgia phone number, it might be a fellow West Virginian you're talking to, so cut us some slack, okay?

Accidents happen, even in this technologically advanced world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Keeping kids in touch with their West Virginia heritage

My husband and I have lived in Georgia for 15 years, so our 11 year old son was born here. We love our chosen home state and are proud of our Georgia Boy. However, just like other native West Virginians who have left the state, we have a delicate balance to strike. While we want our son to be proud of being from Georgia, we also want him to be proud of his West Virginia heritage.

To my son, West Virginia is associated with family and our family has had its share of coal miners. My father worked in the mines, as did my grandfather. My husband's father lost his leg while working in the mines and my husband's uncle survived fighting in World War II, but lost his life in a West Virginia coal mine.

A lot of brave West Virginians have done the same. Risking your life while scraping out a living for your family is something that not everyone could understand. I think that mentality passed down for generations is what makes West Virginians such a tight group. It's hard to explain to outsiders, but West Virginians seem to understand.

Something that has helped us show our son what growing up in West Virginia was like is the movie October Sky. He's watched it for years and can quote many parts of the movie by heart. The movie helps him --- a 21st century kid, growing up in a major metropolitan area --- understand a way of life that is difficult to explain to those who haven't lived it.

While we were in West Virginia last October, my son and I went on a long drive with my dad. When I was growing up, long rides in the car were a regular occurrence. We'd drive to old coal camps, like the one where my father was born or the one where he grew up, or one where my grandfather worked. Being in the car with my dad was a chance to learn about my family's history. So, last October, my son got to experience some of that.

I can't even exactly remember what our intended destination was, but we passed a sign for Coalwood and my son begged to go there. I guess I knew what he was expecting. He was expecting it to look like it did in the movie. It doesn't look like that, of course, but it was still very interesting to visit. My son definitely wasn't disappointed.

My son was happy to take this picture of the sign at the lane in Coalwood named for Homer Hickam, one of his "West Virginia heroes."

During that same visit, we celebrated my son's 1oth birthday at Grandview State Park with our West Virginia family. My son wanted his cake to reflect his heritage! He refers to his 10th birthday as his "West Virginia Birthday."

I bought this hat for my son at the store in the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. It's a reminder to him of the proud history of coal mining in our family.

Coalwood hosts an October Sky Festival every year. We plan to make it to one in the future. It's another way to keep our Georgia Boy in touch with his West Virginia roots.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to deal with the holiday travel blues

Since I have been dealing with this (some years better than others) for fifteen years, I guess I've discovered some ways that make it work for us. I'll break them up into the two scenarios we Mountaineers may face for the holidays.

Scenario #1: Going back to WV for the holidays

You've decided to spend the holidays "back home" and it's an exciting prospect. You might be facing some daunting challenges, though, like how is Santa going to get all those toys up there without the kids seeing?

In the age of Internet shopping, this problem has become much more fixable. A great idea would be to ship the packages to the home you will be staying at in WV. You can always wrap them once you get to WV. I don't, however, recommend having the Internet store wrap them for you. That's always been disappointing, in my opinion.

If you're shopping on the Internet anyway, the shipping charges won't be any different to have the packages shipped to WV. If you were planning to buy it in the store, the ease of not having to lug it to WV may make paying a little shipping worth the price. Remember, though, a lot of Internet shopping sites offer free (or drastically reduced) shipping charges during the holidays to lure in those Christmas dollars. And how great is it to miss the crowds in the stores?

Back in the days before Internet shopping became so commonplace, I have sent money up to my little elf (a.k.a. Mom) to grab some things for me, so I wouldn't have to "carry" them to WV. She never even charged me for the trouble!

You can also do something I don't really recommend, but something that we have resorted to in the past. Wait until you get to WV and do some of your Christmas shopping. This has involved doing some shopping the day before Christmas Eve or actually on Christmas Eve. That's not ideal, admittedly, but we have gotten some good deals waiting until the last minute. And we didn't risk the chance that our little guy would see his presents before Christmas!

Another challenge you may face when traveling back to WV for the holidays is dividing your time between family members. This is hard and can cause hurt feelings for not only family members, but for spouses too. Make sure you make decisions about how much time you will spend and where BEFORE you travel. Don't add to the stress by hammering out the details at the last minute. Also be firm about your decisions. You can't be everywhere, so make sure you make the best choices and stick with them. Do the best you can. Remember it won't be perfect because nothing ever is.

The only major travel hurdle my husband and I face with regards to this is our families live about an hour apart from each other. We simply stay with one set of family for the first part of the holiday and the other set of family for the second part of the holiday. Again, this is not ideal. Both of our families have get-togethers on Christmas Eve. We've had to make hard choices, but we try not to let the things we miss get in the way of enjoying our holiday. Doesn't always work, but we try.

There is one thing about visiting parents at Christmas that is kind of nice. It's easiest to see all the siblings during the holidays. My husband has 4 sisters and 2 brothers. I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers. But they all end up at our parents' houses or (in my case) grandparent's house during the BIG EVENT of Christmas. With summer traveling, on the other hand, it's much more unlikely to get all those people together, so we have to go back and forth more. That's a post for another season, however.

Maybe the greatest challenge we face traveling to WV for the holidays is what to do with our furry little friend. This can be tricky. If you don't mind boarding your pet, count that money in when you're saving up for the holidays. Be sure to book in advance. The vets' offices or kennels get packed early, so make sure you plan for that well in advance of the week of travel. And keep your pet's shots up to date. We neglected to do this when we boarded our dog so we could travel to NC for a family wedding. So, along with the $100 or so to board him for 4 days, we also had to pay another $150 for a vet office visit and vaccinations! Be smarter than we were!

Maybe you're like us and your family tolerates your furry family member. Remember to be considerate! Keep the dog well exercised, so he's too tired to get into a lot of trouble. And bring your doggy gate from home, just in case you need to block your pet off from a certain area. We don't often chain our Pug up outside when we're home, but we always take the chain when we travel to WV. There might be times when our family appreciates the dog being out of their house!

An 8 hour drive to WV isn't always as much fun as you might think. For the last several years, we have broken it up into a mini-vacation by spending the night at the halfway point.

We're lucky with this because the halfway point for us is the exit off of I-40 for Pigeon Forge and Gaitlinburg, Tennessee. We have a Best Western that is pet friendly that we stop at and spend the night. My son gets to swim in the heated pool and hubby and I get to relax for a few hours, either preparing for the fun ahead or recuperating from the fun, depending on if we stop on our way up to WV or on our way back home.

I have even programmed the number to that Best Western into my cell phone. There have been times when we weren't planning on stopping, but left so late that we were too tired to go on for the night.

You might not be able to stop at a great place like that as your halfway point, but you probably have some place where you can just relax and enjoy the amenities of even a mid-priced Best Western! It's a little vacation within a vacation that my family often enjoys.

Scenario #2: Staying home and missing the family fun in WV

The best advice when this is the case is to make the most of it and ENJOY!

Enjoy not having to travel and having a much more relaxing holiday. Enjoy carrying out your own family traditions and making sweet family memories! Enjoy the money you will save by not traveling and use that money instead to do something fun with spouse and kids.

We have a special candlelight dinner on Christmas Eve and let our son open one present from us. We play games together and always, always, always watch the marathon of A Christmas Story that runs on TV.

We make sure to drive around and look at the Christmas lights in our neighborhood and surrounding ones. We also put a lot of extra effort into decorating inside and outside the house because we'll be home more to enjoy it! And on Christmas Day, after all the fun and excitement, we go to the movies!

The first year we went to the movies on Christmas night was when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was playing in the theaters. For Christmas that year, my son got a Harry Potter costume and he wore it to the theater. We went to the late show and it was very cold that night and I remember we were all freezing as we walked back to the car! It's a great memory for us!

Another bit of advice is to mail your Christmas packages early. Get all of that extended family shopping out of the way, so you can enjoy your holiday at home without the stress and worry of getting things in the mail.

I'm big on gift cards! Love to receive them and love, love, love to give them. We draw names in my husband's family, so I buy gift cards for the ones whose names we've drawn and mail them all, along with a present or gift card for my in-laws, to my mother-in-law's house. That way the recipients can open their gifts from us when all the other family members open their gifts on Christmas Eve.

On my side of the family, we buy for all the nieces and nephews. I like to incorporate the help of my little elf again and send up a check made out to my mom and also some money holder cards that I've already filled out. She cashes the check (because older kids love to get cash for Christmas!) and puts the money in the envelopes and hands them out on Christmas Eve. Easy for me and not too difficult for my little elf!

It's true that Christmas for WV Expats may not be filled with the ease that our West Virginia relatives, who don't have to travel to be with family, enjoy. Still, it can be a wonderful Christmas, whether enjoying the Mountaineer state or carrying those Mountaineer traditions on in our new homeplace!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

I grew up in the Beckley area and remember going to New River Park, where the exhibition coal mine is located, often when I was growing up. We'd go swimming in the pool, have picnics, swing and play. We had quite a few school picnics there.

I might have gone into the mine when I was younger, but I don't remember it. My first memory of going into the mine itself was my first year of college at Beckley College (now called Mountain State University).

As an aside, how annoying is it when a place you used to go to school changes its name? Beckley College is now Mountain State University. Concord College is now Concord University. Sometimes progress really bugs me!

Anyway, a couple of friends and I decided to go into the Haunted Mine that they were having during the Halloween season. It was late at night and a perfect West Virginia October evening. It was nice and cool outside and even colder down in the mine itself!

We got on a coal cart and I remember I was on the very back facing backwards. The mine was, of course, dark and decorated for Halloween. The guide was telling spooky stories about the mine and once in a while a ghost or monster would jump out of the darkness! I remember screaming and actually kicking out at the ghouls as they came my way!

That is one of my best memories of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.

This summer they unveiled the renovations they have done to the Beckley ECH and my mom and I made a brief stop there in between shopping stops around town. I didn't spend as much time in it as I wanted, but I did end up buying some things from the gift shop.

I was very impressed with the changes in the museum/gift shop and the addition of all the buildings that were brought from coal camps around Southern West Virginia. My mom has toured some of the homes. They are decorated in all their splendor for the holidays. I hope to make it there to seem them soon.

I'm really proud of Beckley for bringing this important history to life. With attractions like the Exhibition Coal Mine and the very impressive Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, it's no wonder more and more people are making time to visit the Mountain State!

Help build this site!

If you write or keep up with a West Virginia blog or are a WV Expat who has a blog, leave me the link! I'd love to have more blogs to link to that are related to West Virginia.

WV Expat

I'm creating this blog to use as a sounding board for my thoughts and feelings about my home state of West Virginia.

I was born and raised in Raleigh County, West Virginia. I graduated from Independence High School in Coal City, West Virginia, and graduated from Concord College (now Concord University) in Athens, West Virginia.

Fifteen years ago my husband (who graduated from Richwood High School in Richwood, West Virginia, and also Concord College) and I left West Virginia. It wasn't because we didn't love the state. It was because we couldn't make a living there.

We've attempted once to return home. My husband was offered a job at West Virginia University in the fall of 2007. We would have loved to move to the Morgantown area, but the pay he was offered was over 30% less than what he was currently making in the metro Atlanta area.

That was the hardest decision we have ever had to make.

The truth is thousands of West Virginians have had to make that same decision. In my neighborhood in Acworth, GA, there are currently 4 families who have all moved from West Virginia to seek better financial opportunities.

You can't drive around the metro Atlanta area without seeing WV stickers on cars or WV flags hanging on front porches. We are transplanted West Virginians, but we are still proud to be Mountaineers.

This blog will focus on news of West Virginia, the history that makes the state so proud, and the issues the state faces.

Feel free to comment with your own West Virginia story. Expats tell me what part of the state you are from and what you love about it. Also tell me why you had to leave.

I hope this blog will be a way for displaced West Virginians to connect and share news from home.

Montani Semper Liberi!