Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Unforgettable Fun

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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I made a huge mistake last Friday. I asked my daughter if she wanted to do something fun with me on Saturday.

I had forgotten that, in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is only one situation that involves both mom and fun: shopping.

But she didn’t just want to go to the nearby mall where we usually shop. She requested we go to a much larger mall in the D.C. suburbs, and she only wanted to shop in stores that have clothes fashionable enough for nearly 13-year old girls. For the record, these are the exact same stores where she shops at the nearby mall and, from what I could tell, the clothes were exactly the same too.

The day was hard on pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But I tolerated the shopping trip knowing that the next day we would be having real fun.

We were going hiking.hiking - Copy

But in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is absolutely no situation that involves fun and hiking.

At first, I think she forgot that. As we were getting ready to go, she asked what she should wear. (For some reason, she asks me this every day. When I make a suggestion, she rolls her eyes and tells me what she thinks of my suggestion. Then, she wears what she wants and we repeat the routine the next day.)

I advised her to wear a t-shirt and sturdy shoes.  Per usual, she ignored my advice and wore  a newly purchased floral top, matching shoes and new prescription glasses she wears to see long distances. She asked if I liked the look.

This time, I rolled my eyes.

By the time we actually arrived in Harper’s Ferry, she was already complaining that she didn’t want to waste her whole day on a trail.

While my son forged ahead, she was demanding an explanation about the purpose of the hike. When my husband told her that someday she would appreciate it, she scoffed at the idea. IMG_3502When we joined up with a large pack of Boy Scouts at the overlook, she stopped complaining and seemed to enjoy the view and the company.

Then I made the mistake of suggesting we complete the hike along the ridge, which added additional hours to our time  in the woods and on the mountain. While I enjoyed the challenge, nobody else in the family did, especially my daughter. The only solace I could provide was the promise of a hot dog and ice cream at the end of the trail.

The hike, and subsequent meal out, were hard on my pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But despite my daughter’s complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the memories we made. Something tells me my daughter will also remember the hike long after she forgets the trip to the mall. I’m also fairly confident that those memories will be good ones.

That’s how life works.

Despite our disagreements and dislikes, stepping outside our comfort zones and testing our endurance always builds our confidence. When we do it with people we love, it’s even more meaningful.

And when we do it together with family, it’s unforgettable.

Raising Kids in the Dumbest State

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
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For years, West Virginians have been told that, collectively, we are obese and in poor health.

Recently, residents of  Huntington and Charleston have been informed that they live in the most miserable cities in the United States.

Then just this past week, West Virginians were recognized for living in the dumbest state in the nation.

The title was handed to us by TheStreet, a financial news website founded by Jim Cramer and Martin Peretz:[/embed]

Up until this week, I’d never heard of TheStreet, but I’m sure those who work there would take my ignorance as just another example of “dumb” West Virginians. That’s the same reason I hesitate to mention that I was raised to use  the term dumb as an adjective to describe those who don’t speak. I’m sure they’d counter that  the dictionary also defines it as “lacking intelligence or good judgment; stupid; dull-witted.”

What the dictionary doesn’t do is define dumb as “anyone who doesn’t have a college degree,” which is exactly what the folks at TheStreet did. They also assessed median household income and SAT scores to support their pronouncement.

I’m not sure what their scorecard was supposed to contribute to society, but I can tell you that all it really did was serve as another example of  bullying: an attempt by a person or group to feel superior by making others feel inferior through name calling and belittlement.

But here’s what the people of this Wall Street entity don’t get: West Virginians aren’t generally bothered by people who think they are better than us. And even though some individuals will always believe perception is reality, I like to believe this latest slam on West Virginia is a teaching opportunity for our children.

Yes, this is obviously an occasion to emphasize the importance of education and how it directly correlates with income and financial stability. But it’s so much more than that.

We can discuss how generations of West Virginians had good-paying, blue-collar jobs that didn’t require a college education. While the availability of such jobs shrunk dramatically in the last few decades, expectations and culture  have taken longer to change.

We can talk about the different types of intelligence, and how different people have different skill sets. Not everyone is good at reading and math, but they can be very gifted in art or music. And as we talk, we should also note that there is an immense difference between someone’s IQ and his/her ability to take a test.

Most of all, we need to emphasize that being poor has nothing to do with being stupid or lazy.  Throughout history, some of our nation’s poorest people are often the most hard working: They juggle working multiple jobs to pay for their basic needs or pick up extra dollars by shoveling driveways or mowing grass.

I’m not trying to imply that West Virginia doesn’t have issues that need to be addressed, and  I am a strong advocate of education and attracting businesses that provide solid employment opportunities to the Mountain State. But that’s not enough. We need to advocate for all that is right with this state and not allow others to  highlight our problems without promoting the good.

Most importantly, we need  to raise children who are proud of where they come from and the people they represent.

And I’m positive that there are enough wise people in West Virginia to accomplish just that.

Tapped Out

Monday, January 13, 2014
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A bubble bath at the kitchen sink.

A bubble bath at the kitchen sink.

It’s been a long time since I’ve tested the temperature of a bottle on my wrist.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t to feed a precious newborn daughter.  It was to wash that seven-year-old’s hair, which requires 18 bottles of precious water.

I’ll say this about water contamination: It’s taught me a lot about parenting in a crisis situation. The first lesson is not to become hysterical in front of young children.  When the call came in from a friend — not the water company — announcing that we were to stop using tap water until further notice, I screamed at my daughter to stop eating the chicken noodle soup I had prepared with eight cups of the city’s finest H2O.  She put her spoon down and began to cry.  Moms, keep calm and panic in private.

Next, I learned that our family isn’t prepared for anything that lasts longer than a few hours. At the time of the water suspension, we had a near-empty gallon of 2% milk, three diet sodas, six bottles of water and lemon juice.  I had ignored the baskets of laundry for a few days as I focused on writing deadlines, and the dishes were stacked in the sink waiting to make a full load after dinner.  We were down to two rolls of paper towels, four rolls of toilet paper and no plastic cutlery.  We had paper plates, but the art project kind — nothing that would hold the grease of a cardboard pizza, which we didn’t have anyway. Our pantry was filled with staple items to make more elaborate meals.  Our freezer contained meats that would have to be baked or fried.  There were low-cal meals that could be eaten if starvation set in, but not enough to last for, say, a week.

Doomsday preppers we are not.

After the initial fear subsided, I turned to social media to find out what was going on.  Twitter was aflutter (since I don’t use Facebook anymore thanks to hackers and stalkers), blowing up the news feed with teasers as to a massive chemical spill in the river that’s less than a mile away from our house. Trusting that the city of Charleston could get the problem under control in a matter of hours, we began cracking jokes about the situation.  Some people posted pictures of Bat Boy and zombies from The Walking Dead.  I admit that I was part of the fun, too.

Can’t drink the water. Might as well drink the wine!

By the third day, I wasn’t laughing or poking fun at our family’s troubles.  We were out of water, and that meant our pets were out of water, too. Luckily, supplies were well on the way into town, and we’d be able to restock rather quickly. But training ourselves to conserve; to behave more conservatively required real effort.  I started to keep meticulous track of our family’s usage.  Here are some rough statistics:

* Brushing teeth, twice a day:  One bottle of water, shared between four people, using paper cups to swish and spit.

* Coffee: Two bottles of water for a strong pot of java.

* Sponge baths: Two to four bottles of water, per person.

* Full “showers” including hair washing: Two gallons for husband; four gallons for me.  Four gallons for each child, with long hair that wouldn’t lather well, and then wouldn’t rinse clear enough.

* Dog bowls:  Four bottles for each bowl; two bottles for cat’s bowl…each time they drained it.

* Hand washing:  Two bottles of water to rinse clear. It’s cold and flu season.

* Cooking:  We didn’t.

* Drinking:  We chose sports drinks and bottled iced tea; Capri Sun pouches and fruit juices in boxes. And no adult was really in the festive mood for wine or beer.

Most often, we sponged off by the kitchen stove to have access to hot water. Friends suggested keeping crockpots full of warm water to use throughout the day. Full showers were a challenge in that we had to keep a pot of hot water on the stove for rinsing.  That means someone had to run water up and down the stairs, sloshing half of it on the steps.

Our daughters stayed in pajamas for most of the week to preserve their clothes.  If their mother had done laundry when she was supposed to, they wouldn’t have had to live in jammies. But, let’s move on.

No one exercised, because that would have caused unnecessary sweating.  I didn’t wear makeup because I wasn’t going out, and I certainly didn’t want to have to wash all that paint off my face.  I didn’t put products in my hair or the girls’ hair — not even conditioner — because it lessened the time between washings.  Dry shampoos worked well enough, but after a couple of days, even that needed to be washed out.

We ate pizza for two nights, store-bought lasagna another night, and sandwiches for lunches.  Breakfasts were cereal bars or dry  Cheerios.  Our trash bags are heaped up as high as the piles of laundry.  Trash day for our part of Charleston is Thursday. We also worried about the recycling effort. So. much. waste.

The girls stayed busy looming bracelets and reading books.  They watched TV, but even that became a bore. The girls never complained, and as I write this blog post, they’re sitting on the couch playing with old Beanie Babies.  I couldn’t have asked for more patient kids. They deserve a trip to a water park for their understanding and stellar behavior.

In the time we’ve spent at home, not in school and not in restaurants, we’ve talked about not taking anything for granted, especially water. We won’t leave the tap running when we brush our teeth before bedtime, and we won’t linger in the shower on cold mornings.  We won’t toss out the contents of our water bottles just because it got warm sitting on the counter, and we won’t let our shelves collect dust in the absence of household necessities.

While we’re frustrated with the lack of a timeline to restore our lives, and we’re angry at the so-called leadership at a local chemical company for an obvious lack of concern for public safety, we’re grateful beyond measure.  We’re grateful for free water, given to us even though we have the ability to pay, and we’re grateful for friends and neighbors who picked up an extra this or that to share with us.  We’re grateful for heat and electricity and warmer temperatures, and we’re grateful for healthy children who ate the soup, yet appear no worse for wear.

There are times when life is completely out of our control. When this happens, the most critical part of crisis parenting is teaching our children — and reminding ourselves — how to go with the flow.




A Reason To Celebrate Birthday Number 150

Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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West Virginia is turning 150, and true to form, many Mountain State residents will be celebrating.

Thirty years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and questioned why anyone would care about a state’s birthday.

But thirty years ago, I didn’t know West Virginia.

At the time, I was a shy, awkward adolescent trying to recover from culture shock after my parents moved our family from Oregon to West Virginia.

I was truly baffled when complete strangers acted as though they already knew us. I understood common courtesy, but West Virginians were truly friendly to everyone.

I argued that the nickname Mountain State was inappropriate. To me, real mountains reached higher than 10,000 feet and were snow-covered all year. You couldn’t convince me that the steep hills were ancient mountains that were worn but wise with age.

And I was afraid I would pick up the distinct West Virginia accent that television and movie actors never get quite right.

Yet at some point, despite my resolution not to become attached to West Virginia, that accent began to grow on me.

West Virginia had befriended me by charming me with its character, its beauty and, most of all, its history. As a state born out of the Civil War when it seceded from Virginia, its residents have never forgotten what the motto “Mountaineers are Always Free” really means.

I may never understand the appeal of a pepperoni roll, why anyone would want coleslaw on a hot dog or the allure of the smell of ramps, but I will always be awed by the New River Gorge Bridge, the gold dome of the state capitol building and the eery beauty of Dolly Sods.

Living in the narrow strip of land between Maryland and Virginia, I often cross state lines several times a week. Yet every time I cross back into West Virginia, I  always break into song.  John Denver wasn’t from West Virginia either, but “Country Roads” expresses the feelings of so many who call the Mountain State home.

It may not be Happy Birthday, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing those lyrics tomorrow.

Teenage Turmoil and Family Roots

Sunday, March 3, 2013
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I used to think the most difficult part of parenting a teenager would be actually dealing with the teenager.

I was wrong.

Other than the fact that my nearly 15 year-old son wanders through our house in a general state of surliness, he hasn’t caused any more problems than he ever did.

His father, on the other hand, is making parenting a bit more difficult.

Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, my husband and I have been on the same page in regards to expectations for our children. But there’s been a recent hitch in that unity.

The trouble began when my son announced that he wanted to attend a liberal arts college out of state. Neither my husband nor I had a problem with that. We simply told Shepherd that he has to take responsibility for paying the difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition.

“Anything’s worth getting out of here,” he said. “This place is so boring.”

He clarified that “this place” encompasses the entire state of West Virginia. That’s was when my husband began to twitch.

Neither my husband nor I were born in West Virginia, but he has roots here. Deep roots. The kind of roots that go down so far they nearly reach the earth’s core. I, on the other hand, am a simple transplant in loose soil.

Our roots never made a difference until our son announced his lack of commitment to the Mountain State.

My husband was devastated by Shepherd’s comment, and his immediate reaction was to recite the entire family history and its connection to West Virginia. Both my son and I were unimpressed.

I never grew up with an understanding of family roots as they relate to a sense of place. My dad is from Massachusetts, and my mom is from Michigan. I never lived in either state, and I spent my childhood in Oregon. To me, growing up meant moving out and moving on. It also meant that family has absolutely nothing to do with geography and everything to do with relationships.

On the other hand, my husband’s heart and soul are tied to West Virginia.

While I want to encourage Shepherd to move to Seattle (where he wants to be), my husband is encouraging him to maintain the family connection to West Virginia. I think our son can do both.

I don’t think he will lose his sense of place by leaving. I believe that, as  he moves on, he’ll have the opportunity to share the essence of West Virginia and its people.

At this point, my husband isn’t in agreement, but we’ll see. We still have a few years and another child.

She’s 11 years old and already believes New York City is her destination.

I haven’t told my husband yet. I’m not sure he’s ready for that.

I AM sure that the next seven years are going to be very interesting.

Jennifer Garner talks up West Virginia

Thursday, October 4, 2012
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Actress Jennifer Garner, who grew up in Charleston, has some mighty fine things to say about the Mountain State during an appearance with Conan O’Brien. Oh, and she sings the state song.

Stick to It

Monday, August 27, 2012
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A Halloween costume…or an audition for “Cats”?

Many posts ago, I wrote that my 9-year-old daughter, Ava, isn’t involved in any activities outside of school.  She’s not involved in any activities in school, for that matter. She’s not lazy…but she’s content (yes, that’s creative phrasing).  She loves books and word games, and she loves free time.  I do hope she marries well.

The child is an excellent student, she follows directions and she obeys the rules.  If she makes academics her singular interest, then her dad and I can’t really complain.  But we can worry.  When she leaves the comforts of elementary school, she will move into “junior high” alone.  Sure, she will have friends, but those friends have hobbies.  They play volleyball and soccer.  They run cross country.  Her friends will have an immediate connection to other kids on the first day of school because of summer camps and practice schedules.  But if Ava continues to sit behind a book or in front of a small screen, she’s going to have a much more challenging time securing her niche.

Many people say, “I wasn’t involved in anything in school.  I wasn’t a joiner, and I did fine.” I’m so glad to hear it.  While there is  introvert power, as local author Laurie Helgoe calls it, there’s also strength in numbers.  I know this kid has potential and talent.  I know it’s in there. Thankfully, at the end of her third grade year, Ava’s music teacher discovered it, too.

The Magnet Program is a half day performing arts experience in addition to regular music classes provided in schools.  Students entering 4th and 5th grades are recommended by their music instructor to audition for a spot, which consists of weekly studies at West Side Elementary School.  Students from all over Kanawha County (which means about 120 students from 15 schools) come together on specific days of the week for a couple of hours and work with music specialist and program director, Brandon Willard.  Magnet students present shows for the community in the Winter and Spring.

If you haven’t already guessed, Ava was invited to apply. To my shock and awe, she sang for her music teacher without our knowledge.  In the words of Ferris Bueller, she never had one lesson.   Right before school started, we received a letter in the mail announcing that she had been accepted. I’ve never seen her so excited.

We danced.  We sang.

But there’s a catch:  Not all teachers are filled with glee. Absences are just that — interruptions. As a student of the Magnet School for Music, Ava has to miss a lot of regular class each week.  She’ll lose three hours of valuable 4th grade instruction every Thursday, and participants aren’t granted favors.  She’ll have to get caught up on her own time, borrowing notes from reliable kids, and solving problems by herself. We’ll support her — heck, we have to provide transportation.  However, she has our blessing. It’s really no different than children being pulled out for gifted programs, but it’s new to us.  We’ve always followed the standard routine — get up, go to school, come home.  Repeat.

Have I given birth to the next American Idol?  No. I doubt that she’ll leave Charleston for the bright lights of Broadway. But, our quiet, shy and guarded little girl took a bold step. She didn’t tell us anything about Magnet, and she didn’t ask us to help her prepare.  She went solo.

I appreciate the arts, but I have other reasons for encouraging Ava to participate.  One, she needs a shake up.  She needs to step out of the zone she’s been in for the last 5 years and experience new people and new places.  Unfamiliar territory. Greater exposure. She also needs to learn how to juggle an activity as well as school work.  This is not a weekly field trip– this is a commitment to other people. We’ve stressed this a hundred times.  There’s no turning back.  Ava needs to gain some confidence and build up her courage; to eliminate the stage fright that she’s had in every corner of her life.  She needs a few more responsibilities added to the mix, and she needs opportunities to become more independent.  But aside from everything she needs to learn, at least we know that she’s found her voice.



This momma enjoys some Mountain Mama

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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The baby, boyfriend and I loaded up the Focus for the holiday weekend and headed deeper into Wild and Wonderful, for two days of hiking, camping and rafting.

The boy's first hiking stick

It was absolutely gorgeous, of course. The trip back felt like we were driving through a peaceful painting popping with

yellows and oranges, only to be spit out of that painting onto a road of coal trucks, coal trucks and coal trucks.

We enjoyed the Adventures on the Gorge campsite near the New River Gorge Bridge, soaking up nature in our state at its finest. The boyfriend also soaked up some whitewater on the Gauley. I enjoyed my first trip to Grandview, near Beckley (why have I never been there before?!) and getting a taste of Smokey’s on the Gorge.

This trip was a good marker for me to stop and look at the development of our boy.

At 26 months, he was the youngest of the six boys there, with the oldest being 11. The next child up was 4 and half. The boy learned a lot about life this weekend, many lessons that aren’t learned by hanging out with momma all day.

He knows that fire is hot, but he actually got to see torches and boxes and paper plates go up in flames, and feel the warmth coming off the fire several feet away.

He learned that six boys in one two-person tent is a whole lot of fun, and one giant tent with air mattresses is similar to a bouncy house.

He learned that it hurts when you run and trip over a stump, or run and trip on a gravel road, or run and trip on a trail. He needs to learn to listen when mommy says not to run.

Rocks on the Tunnel Trail at Grandview presented many opportunities to keep up with the big boys

He also got to experience his very own sleeping bag for the first time, though I woke both mornings to find an extra little body tucked in my bag.

He learned that mommy makes yummy pepperoni rolls that are the best camp food, ever.

It was such a switch from the little boy that we first took camping in June 2010. Then, he wouldn’t even walk off the edge of the blanket while we were setting up camp. You could tell he was thinking, “what was this wondrous, green world and where is my paci?”

Upon pulling into the driveway, he woke up from the car nap and realized his camping buddies didn’t come home with us. Then he learned what it’s like to cry for his friends.

We got to examine the beauty of our home state and walk the cavernous Tunnel Trail together.

Most importantly, we were together, learning and discovering new sights, sounds and tastes.

I hope the boy remembers this trip and that we have planted the seed for him to be a wild, West Virginia outdoorsman when he is grown.

The view from Grandview, W.Va.


Root Words

Monday, April 11, 2011
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Uncle Bob?

“Why is your last name different from ours?” my seven-year-old daughter asked.  “Well,” I began carefully, “it’s customary for a woman to change her name when she gets married, but I chose to keep mine because I liked it.”

But what was so special about my name? Why did I insist on remaining Katy Brown? At the time, I was just getting started in a broadcasting career, so I needed to maintain my identity.  But now that I am out of the business more or less, I wanted to provide my daughter with a better answer.

I grew up as the only child to parents who were farther along in life.  By the time our second baby was born, my parents and grandparents had passed away.  With the exception of a few aunts, an uncle and a handful of adult cousins who live elsewhere, my girls don’t have close relationships with anyone on my side of the family.  My last name means nothing to them other than being the color of a crayon.

As if the NBC network understood my concern, the television show “Who Do You Think You Are” motivated me to do some searching for branches on the family tree.  What I discovered was both comical and sad, but every bit intriguing.

During a free 14-day trial (which I promptly upgraded to the World Deluxe Membership), I learned that the Browns were Irish, not German, as I previously thought.  My great-great-GREAT grandfather John U. Brown and his wife, Emily McCartney, traveled from Dundee, Ireland to Ellis Island in the mid-1800s, according to immigration travel lists.  She and her husband settled in Monroe County in 1833, where the next generations of Browns made their home as farmers. While census records were invaluable in adding names and dates, the greatest hints came from newspaper articles and documents.

The historical:

  • My mother’s family (Keeney) was recognized as one of the first pioneers of Greenbrier County.
  • My grandmother’s brother bought a farm in Blue Sulphur Springs, WV, where Robert E. Lee’s beloved horse, Traveller was born and raised.  In 1963, my grandmother donated Traveller’s saddle to the Greenbrier Historical Society, where it’s on display in the North House Museum in Lewisburg.

The quirky:

  • My grandfather’s World War II registration card indicated that he stood 5’11”, weighed 180 pounds, had dark red hair, a medium build, and a “ruddy complexion.”
  • In 1950, The Beckley Post Herald reported that my grandmother’s mynah bird had a 150-word vocabulary, which attracted “callers from all over Greenbrier County and the state.”
  • My mother’s wedding announcement (also in the Beckley newspaper) revealed that she wore an ivory colored sheath of silk faille, complemented by a jacket embellished with pearls.  “The bride’s mother wore black.”

The gloomy:

  • The search for information about my Grandfather Keeney ended in Roane County. After recovering his death certificate dated May 21, 1945,  I learned that he died in  Spencer State Hospital (now a Walmart – go figure), where he was sent after a series of hypertensive strokes led to “psychosis with cerebral arterioschlerosis.”  Perhaps this explains the ruddy complexion.
  • My great uncle Harry (Brown) a Monroe County school teacher who was paralyzed from the chest-down, became a lobbyist for legislation in the 1930s that would have provided financial and legal support for victims of violent crimes.  According to newspaper clippings, his spinal cord was severed by a sheriff’s bullet – a case of mistaken identity.

I have spent hours looking up relatives’ personal histories, timelines and photos.  I now understand where my love of writing and language comes from (no, not the mynah bird!).  I know who’s responsible for giving me auburn hair and hazel eyes.  I have a clearer understanding of who my eldest daughter is most like — a throwback to the grandmother she never had the opportunity to meet, but I feel certain knows her extremely well.

Since revealing my findings, my husband has taken over the computer and started research of his own, which will give our girls a complete snapshot of their heritage. is expensive ($29.99 per month), but it has become an invaluable tool in solving some of our families’ great mysteries. This is one tree that my girls have permission to climb.