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The Drake House and Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

I used to be a Drake House doubter. I recall sitting in a pew at Alpharetta Presbyterian Church listening to our minister talk about the need for transitional homeless housing in north Fulton. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought. Surely this kind of program is needed in Atlanta or elsewhere. There’s no way our affluent suburb would have a housing problem for homeless women and their families. Right?

The weeks went by and I listened to our preacher get more and more excited about the program. Soon a few big donors came to bat. Next came some leaders who facilitated the purchase of an old apartment building in Roswell. I continued to doubt.

Before long our church was sponsoring an apartment and participating in its renovation. We were also kicking in mission funds to the charity, something we continue to do today. But I really didn’t begin to believe in the mission of the Drake House until I started to hear success stories. Unfortunately it took all that work to convince this stubborn doubter of the need for such a project.

Today, amidst a prolonged economic downtown, the Drake House plays a critically vital role in this community. Since their founding in 2006 they’ve helped over 200 single mothers and their families get back on their feet. I encourage you to spend a few minutes on their website and make yourself more familiar with this remarkable local charity.

So why am I talking about the Drake House in my Foodie Friday column? Because they sponsor one of the coolest (ha ha), most unique foodie festivals around. Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin is the Drake House’s premier fund raising event, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars. It is also your best chance to sample genuine homemade ice cream. With today’s absurd proliferation of frozen yogurt joints, I appreciate a bowl of honest-to-goodness ice cream. And I challenge you to find ice cream better than the stuff they’ll dish out at this event on Sunday.

At only five bucks for all you can eat, this event is an exception value. The fact that it benefits this awesome local charity is like having whipped cream and a cherry on top! There’s a ton of other activities for kids and families as well.

If you’re there for the ice cream, take this advice… get there early! The event starts at 2:00. There never seems to be enough crankers to meet demand. If there’s anything left by 3:00, the chances are good that the August sun will have turned it into goo. I’d suggest getting there a little before 2:00 with spoon at the ready.

Here are the details:

What: 7th Annual Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’. A fundraiser to benefit The Drake House.

Where: The Roswell Square

When: Sunday August 28 from 2:00 to 4:00

Cost: $5 per person, $15 per family

An Open Letter to Prospect Park’s New Owner

North American Properties, the new owner of Prospect Park, issued a press release yesterday. It spoke of wanting community input on the project and touted a west coast tour of similar retail centers. You can read about it here.

Dear North American Properties:

Congratulations on your purchase of Prospect Park! The entire Alpharetta community is encouraged to see something happening with this tract of land. And thank you for including this humble blogger on your press list. I understand you want community input on the project, including what to name it. I will take it on good faith that you’re sincere in this request.

Allow me to offer this bit of early advice… Open Westside Parkway. I understand you have been in discussion with the city to do this. I would encourage you to get this done before you travel the country seeking inspiration for the project. For years we’ve sat in traffic, gazing in frustration at a four lane road that is 90% complete. You could create enormous goodwill with the people of Alpharetta right off the bat. This cannot be overemphasized. Get Westside open, or at least go public with a plan to do so.

It also wouldn’t hurt to demolish the half-built structures. Perhaps make a grand ceremony of the event, allowing City Council members to push the button on the wrecking ball. It might serve as a symbolic gesture, allowing politicians to experience a level of atonement for their past. These structures have stood as a reminder of Alpharetta’s failed adoption of large-scale mixed-use development, right at the gateway to the city. Get’em outta here!

And speaking of gateways… Your project will be a gateway to this community. Consider that as you ponder where to take this project. Ours is a community of affluent and well-maintained suburban neighborhoods with top amenities. Please don’t come to Alpharetta speaking the language of new urbanism or so-called “smart growth”. Urbanism doesn’t play in our version of Peoria. Don’t take my word for it, even Planning Commissioners understand our dislike of these buzzwords.

Again, you could create a great sense of goodwill by dramatically reducing the scope of the development. Cut the building heights to tree-top level, scrap the parking decks and severely reduce or eliminate the residential components. I get the sense that this might be the direction you’re aiming and I’m encouraged by it! We bristle at extreme housing density and high rise buildings.

We love shopping, restaurants, greenspace, outdoor malls, traditional architecture and all that neat stuff. The good folks of Alpharetta will talk your ear off with ideas if given the chance.

Thanks for reaching out to the community. We look forward to continuing the dialogue, especially in the social media space. You’ve got a tremendous opportunity to win the hearts of Alpharetta by quickly opening the road and nixing residential density. What do ya say?

Sincerely,

-S. Lee Guy
Blogger

You can follow North American Properties on Twitter @NAPatl or on Facebook.

Evolution of the Playset

When I was growing up the lucky kids had metal swing sets. Remember these? They had metal tubes on each end, propped up in an A-shape, suspending two little plastic swings. It was probably assembled by a frustrated father who cursed the poorly written instructions. What was left was a rickety, squeaky little contraption that began rusting after the first heavy rainfall.

Fast forward to 2011… This weekend my wife and I pulled the trigger and bought a playset for the kids. Had my parents bought me something like this in 1980, I’d have been in heaven. This thing is so much more than a swing set. We’re talking 25 square feet of play area elevated five feet off the ground. The thing’s a fort really, with stairs, a rock wall, roof on top and a slide for making quick get-aways. It’s made of heavy duty pressure-treated lumber with thick bolts holding it together. And best of all, this father will not be assembling it the hot sun. The $100 setup charge will save my neighbors from overhearing what would undoubtedly be many cursing tirades.

I didn't buy this one!

Now before you think I’m tooting my own horn, please consider the fact that I bought one of the cheapest models available. The store we purchased from had playsets costing upwards of ten grand. Keep in mind that these are for home use, not public playgrounds or schools.

I’m not quiet sure when children went from having rickety swing sets in their backyards to these monster forts. Is it a just a sign of the times with higher standards of living, or perhaps a luxury of the affluent suburb?

One thing’s for sure, I never really paid much attention to these until now. It amazes me how many stores carry large selections of outdoor play sets. We shopped a handful of stores, four of which were within a mile of each other. None seem to be hurting for business, even in a slow economy.

I also never noticed how many of my neighbors already have forts in their backyards. There’s probably half a dozen of these within a block of my house. I’m falling behind in keeping up with the Joneses.

We haven’t told the kids about this yet. I’m hoping the setup guy can complete assembly while they are away at vacation bible school or something. I’m curious to see their reaction. Our kids are used to playing on much larger equipment at school, church, the neighborhood playground and public parks. They’re either going to be ecstatic or will call me a cheapskate for buying such a wimpy structure. I just hope no one tries to do a Peter Pan off the top of this bad boy.

The Youth Service Project

I recently hired a baby sitter, an eighth grader that goes to my church. She seems to be a responsible young lady. I also know her mother and family so there’s some trust built in. This in and of itself is nothing worthy of writing about. More on the baby sitting later.

The mission work my baby sitter performs is very much worthy of a story. This summer she will join many other youth from our congregation to travel to one of a handful of service projects. Our youth work their tails off in challenging environments including the Katrina-damaged Mississippi and Louisiana coasts, various destinations in Appalachia and some inner-city work. A typical project might be to help remodel a home. This trip ain’t Club Med. It’s valuable work to those on the receiving end of the generosity, but there is something more valuable to be taken away from this.

I often worry about the children that grow up in very affluent suburbs such as Alpharetta. It’s easy for adults to realize how fortunate we are to live here, yet kids raised in this lifestyle may have a jaded sense of reality. Our kids attend amazing schools, get cars when they turn 16, have iPhones and $300 hand bags. Atypical? Of course but if you were born and raised here, it’s normal right?

It’s why I’m a big fan of youth service projects. I want these kids out there, working hard, sweating and learning to be servant leaders to someone in great need. They need to witness destruction, poverty and despair; words we don’t say much in affluent Alpharetta. More than anything, they need to learn to respond to God’s love and grace by helping those in need.

So how does baby sitting play into this? Not only do our youth work hard on these projects, they take on some of the cost themselves. It would be easy for our church to pick up the entire cost of the trip (we pay for a lot of it). But the kids will find themselves invested in the project before it even begins if they are footing some of the costs. So here in the Spring they are serving our congregation with projects to raise a few bucks. I won the baby sitting in an auction and am looking forward to using it on a date night with my wife. I’ve got the easy part in all this.

If you’ve chosen Alpharetta as a place to raise your kids then you made a great choice. If you’re not getting your kids plugged into a youth program with service projects like this then shame on you!

Tiny Town in Affluent Alpharetta

Yesterday my son went to Tiny Town. No, I’m not talking about Milton. Tiny Town is a yearly activity at his preschool. They convert the preschool’s gymnasium into a little town. The kids go from place to place and shop to shop just like in a real town. They even have an Alpharetta police officer to give them a “stranger danger” lesson. He was most excited about the barber shop (make-pretend shave), car wash (riding bigwheels through a bubble machine) and the post office.

It was fun to hear him tell me all about Tiny Town before bed last night. But after his kiss goodnight I realized that several Alpharetta attractions were missing. To truly give preschoolers an affluent suburb Tiny Town experience, I think the school should consider adding…

Cubicles

Talk about a low budget attraction. Sit the kids in a fabric-covered box with a chair. Ask them to stare at a computer monitor with an excel spreadsheet. Continue for 9 or 10 hours until they miss dinner. If they protest, explain that 100,000 people do this everyday in Alpharetta.

Cosmetic Surgery

There’s no reason to accept the body you’ve been given! Let the kids pretend to get tummy tucks, nose jobs, botox injections and cosmetic dentistry. Take before and after pictures to bring home to mom or get published in Points North magazine.

Mixed-Use Developments

This one’s gonna make a mess. Print a big poster of an artist’s rendition of Prospect Park or Peridot. In front of the picture, dump a large load of dirt and surround it with construction barriers. Build a road halfway across the dirt but don’t allow the kids to drive on it. Next, ask the children to close their eyes and imagine a suburban utopia where you can live, work and eat in the same block. Promise the kids that it’ll happen in 3 to 4 years and will be nothing like the dirt pile they see. Finally, run out of the room and disappear before they open their eyes. Blame the economy.

I’ve learned as a parent that children have an amazing ability to sense when something is lame. Even my three-year-old is good at this. He picks up on truly dumb things that even his parents may not recognize. So take a step back and think like a child every now and then. And let me know what other Alpharetta attractions you think we could add to Tiny Town!

Activities for Home-bound Kids

As I’m writing this article, metro Atlanta is in the midst of a prolonged winter storm. Schools have been closed for three days and won’t reopen until next week. Parents are going stir crazy trying to keep the kids occupied. I thought I would go off the reservation and venture into dad blogger territory. Here’s a few activities to do with home-bound kids on cold winter days. If you augment these with a good map I think you can create a teachable moment or two.

Postcrossing

Want to break the kids of their addiction to technology? Postcrossing is an international postcard exchange program. Here’s how it works. First you create a profile on the postcrossing.com website. Next, enter a few details about yourself and where you live. Like most things in life, you’ve gotta give before you get. You’ll mail a postcard to a person overseas who’s address was provided by the website. It’s usually best to send a cool postcard from something local. Unfortunately I know of no postcards featuring Alpharetta (a topic for another article) but you can find many for Atlanta and even Roswell. Write a little note about yourself and send it off!

In about a week the recipient will get your card and register it online. That action will put your name in a queue to receive a card. In another week you’ll be surprised by an international postcard in your mailbox!

I like this activity for kids because they have to put pen to paper. Old school, huh? They’ll also meet someone from another part of the world. Perhaps they’ll gain a different perspective than what affluent Alpharetta offers. There’s a geography lesson there as well. You might  purchase a giant world map for the wall and stick push pins all over it.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a supply of postcards and stamps. It costs about a dollar to mail a postcard internationally.

Where’s George

It’s like postcrossing, except there’s no writing or stamps involved. Where’s George is a currency tracking project that’s been around for a long time. Again, you start by making a simple profile on the website. Next you register the bills you have in your pocket by entering their unique serial numbers. You spend the money as you normally would… then wait. If another Where’s George user enters your bill again, you’ll be notified and can track the bill’s geographic journey.

In practicality you should mark your Where’s George bills with a stamp like shown in this picture. The chance of an unmarked bill getting registered on the site is slim to none. I’d suggest obtaining one of these little ink stamps if you’re gonna give currency tracking a try. And again, I’d augment this exercise with maps to visually track the money.

Stay warm!

Photo Credit: Sandro Menzel

Christmas in Alpharetta

The other night I was helping my wife with a marathon Christmas gift wrapping session. Something occurred to me while I was stuffing presents under the tree. I was running out of room for presents. They were stacked upon themselves, getting into the limbs of the tree itself and spilling out onto the living room floor. These were gifts for my family and some extended family, but nothing yet from Santa of course. Santa’s gifts are hidden in a closet yet to be delivered on his sleigh.

The sight of presents spilling out from under my tree was a very visual representation of our abundance here in the affluent burbs. We are all very blessed to live here. We’re lucky to be in a community that continues to add jobs in this economy. We’re fortunate to have the means to give generously to those we love at Christmas. Please don’t take that for granted. With everything that goes on in our busy suburban lives it’s easy to lose sight of it all.

Over the past year I’ve come to make some cool new acquaintances through my blog. I want to take the time to wish you all a Merry Christmas. And if you’re an Alpharetta relo who’s off to visit family back home, I wish you safe and grope-free travels on your journey.

Photo Credit: Allie Towers Rice

Is this Heaven? No, it’s Alpharetta

This past week a few of us had to deliver faith statements for something at church. We were encouraged to be a little creative, so I framed mine around living in the affluent burbs. What can I say, that’s just how I roll. Thought I would share my suburban faith statement here on my blog since it is very relevant.

I recently heard our preacher talk about the great ends of the church,  among those are the “exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world.” With apologies to an outstanding baseball movie, the first thing that went through my mind was … “Is this heaven? No, it’s Alpharetta.”

Sometimes I frame my faith against my life here in the suburbs. My faith has taught me to recognize contradictions I observe. Despite living in one of America’s most affluent suburbs, we have local charities that struggle to meet the demands of their clients. We have rising unemployment in a town of a hundred thousand high-tech cubicle jobs.

My faith teaches me to love my neighbor. We live so close to our neighbors that the acorns from their trees land on my patio furniture, yet I hardly know them. It’s life in the suburbs. Are we “exhibiting the kingdom of heaven”? Hardly. It’s embarrassing really.

My faith teaches me that I’m an imperfect man. There’s a shocker! Despite my sinful ways and failures, Christ died for me. Even though we often don’t heed even the greatest commandment, Christ reconciles us to Him. It’s powerful stuff, yet remarkably simple at the same time. Even so, it is difficult for many here in Alpharetta, myself included, to put our faith into practice, even with the vast resources we possess. So what does Alpharetta look like when we exhibit the kingdom of Heaven? I’m sure it looks a lot different. I’d imagine we don’t cut each other off on GA-400.

I’m trying to raise a young family in Alpharetta. Like most parents I want my children to be well-grounded. I hope they learn to see through the gilded opulence that exists here. I want them to be thankful for the many blessings we take for granted and to be generous givers of their talents and treasures. I’m extremely grateful to have a congregation that will play an important part in their faith journey in the coming years. Thank you and God bless.

The Running of the Tennis Moms

It’s the closest thing we have to Pamplona in Alpharetta, and it’s just as dangerous. I’ve come close to being trampled many times.

For several years now our kids have attended the preschool program at a downtown Alpharetta church. It’s also the church we’re members of. Once or twice a week I’ll take a late lunch and join my wife at preschool pickup. It’s a frightful scene. So scary is preschool pickup that our church’s staff deliberately avoids the area around 1:00. Why?

Tennis moms. Here’s their background… They were popular sorority girls in college with active social lives. After college they married handsome fraternity boys and eventually moved to a suburb. Everything changed when the baby came along. The social life took a back seat. But now, two or three years later, the kid is old enough for preschool programs at churches. Ah ha, new found freedom suddenly exists! Well, at least from 9 until 1:00 it does.  Eager to get back into a social life, these ladies gravitate towards what we do in the affluent burbs… tennis!

By the second week of preschool these moms have purchased new coordinated tennis outfits and are plugged into a league. What they didn’t figure is how fast the morning goes by. 9 to 1 isn’t long, especially if you factor in a hoity-toity lunch, driving and traffic. By the time they arrive at the church property for pickup, they are a mess. They’re racing through the parking lot like Mario Andretti while texting or talking on their iPhone. Speed bumps don’t phase them. Handicap parking spaces? If that’s what it takes to park their Escalade then so be it! These ladies are important and their little precious is waiting!

Seriously though, tennis moms are all over the place and will run you over if you dare cross them. A certain air of suburban entitlement surrounds these ladies when they don the tennis outfit and drive the Escalade. Mere IT cubicle dwellers like yours truly are very out of place in their realm. I mention this only to demonstrate my true suburban bravado. Stand safely clear of the running of the tennis moms.

Veggie Tales and the Gated Community

My kids are really into Veggie Tales right now. I never really noticed this silly song on the show until recently. It is absolutely perfect for my blog’s theme; some terrific satire on living in a gated community in the affluent burbs.

I like how the kid politely asks several times yet the members of the community never really help their neighbor in need. Sound familiar? They are more concerned with talking about how life is perfect in the gated community. “And when you come to visit you can stand outside and see; What a tidy bunch we are in our gated unity!” Enjoy!

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