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!

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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!