Differences Between the Suburbs in Atlanta vs the Suburbs in Chicago

It is almost a year since we traded our Chicago suburb for a suburb in Atlanta.There are many similarities with living in a suburbs in the southern part of the US vs north. There are cul-de-sacs, neighborhood pools and moms in minivans taking kids from one activity to another.   They both have great schools and rank high in safety, but there are some differences as expected. This is my list of differences I have observed since our move from a suburb in Chicago to a suburb in Atlanta.

  1. Teenagers are so respectful! Seriously. They refer to me as ma’am, and call me by my last name. At first, I admit, it made me feel old, but I was very impressed.
  2. No indoor malls in Atlanta suburbs. There are few indoor malls in Atlanta area and none near my suburb. In our suburb in Chicago we had 3 indoor malls within 25 minutes of our home.
  3. There is this thing called Mother’s Morning Out! Mother’s Morning Out are day cares where moms can register their babies and toddlers to attend a few days a week for about 3 hours. These are intended for stay at home moms who want to have a morning free to rest or get things done.
  4. There are so many faith based schools. Even though our area has some of the best schools in Georgia there are lots of private schools (mostly for mother’s morning out and preschool).
  5. We are not allowed to buy alcohol on Sundays before noon. It is most obvious that we live in the Bible Belt when my family goes out to breakfast on Sundays and we are the only customers. On Sunday mornings, when people are at church, our town feels like a ghost town.
  6. People are friendly and genuinely nice. Strangers smile, say hello and even start to chat sometimes. If you are not friendly back they will call you out. They will ask you if something is wrong, or ask if you are in a hurry.  I always believed people from the Midwest were down to earth, but the south is down to earth on a whole other level.
  7. It has been easier to make mom friends. I believe this is due to a combination of southern hospitality (locals), and also to the high percentage of people that have relocated to Atlanta who are looking to make new friends.  There are many organized mom clubs. The saying “it takes a village” is put into practice in our suburb. Moms support each other, offer to babysit, come over for play dates and are there for a much needed mom’s night out.
  8. Chick-Fil-A is like a community center. People are there for play dates, school spirit nights (fundraisers), daddy daughter Valentine date…there seems to always be an event or social gathering.  The employees feel like friends. On a rainy day they go to my car with an umbrella to escort me and the kids inside the restaurant. Amazing!
  9. People have beautiful properties. The houses in Atlanta suburbs are amazing inside and out.  For an affordable price you can get a mini-mansion with a large private wooded yard.  Even a home that is not big and fancy can have a private pond, waterfall, forest, acres of land…an oasis.
  10. There is natural beauty everywhere. Lakes, ponds, ducks, forest, birds and deer are a part of our everyday life. Sure, a few of the parks have playground equipment that is made of iron and pretty run down, but it is in the middle of a forest that feels like a secret hideaway. At the park my kids discharge their energy while I recharge mine.
  11. Kids can be outside all year around! I know you think they can do that in Chicago as well, but no, especially not toddlers.  It is too freaking cold, and you can only throw snowballs for so long before you can’t feel your fingers. No thank you!
  12. There is no park district. The suburbs in Chicago have a park district that offers swimming lessons, dance lessons, fitness facility, day camps, preschool, soccer, karate, etc. In Atlanta there is no central place for these activities and services. Parents have to search for these activities on their own. There may be some activities held by the town’s recreational center, but it is not as extensive as Illinois.
  13. Kids have days off of school for “snow days”, but there is no snow. You see, snow in Atlanta is rare, and therefore the city does not have sufficient snow removal equipment. If there is even a small chance of snow the city would rather cancel school for the protection of the children.
  14. Pine straw is everywhere! It is used as mulch in landscaping. I had never seen pine straw before so when we moved to Georgia in the fall I thought it all fell from the trees. I started to rake it and put it in bags. Before I threw it out I found out it was placed on the ground on purpose, and so I had to put it all back. True story.
  15. Garbage removal is a private business in Atlanta. In Chicago I was used to the garbage truck coming once a week and taking everyone’s garbage away on the same day. Well in Georgia, homeowners are responsible for hiring their own private company for garbage removal. This results in garbage day being  EVERYDAY in my neighborhood. Different garbage removal companies come to different homes on different days.
  16. The city feels far. Even though our suburb in Chicago was 45 minutes away from the city I still felt we belonged to Chicago. In our suburb in Atlanta we are 45 minutes away from the city, but I forget we are in Atlanta. Maybe this is because I don’t go to Atlanta much. I would love to visit Atlanta more, but unlike Chicago, there is no train connecting our suburb with the city. Another issue is that I am a chicken. I am nervous about driving in a highway that has 7 lanes! I know, I know, I need to just do it!
This the view from my favorite park in our Atlanta suburb. It is very peaceful and beautiful.
This the view from my favorite park in our Atlanta suburb. It is very peaceful and beautiful.
Playground hidden in the forest
Playground hidden in the forest

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Sanctuary for Moms at Walking Dead Cafe

I am not into zombies, but in my experience as a mother I have felt like one. It was mostly during the first two years of my children’s lives where wiping butts, faces, tables and floors took up most of my day and a good nights sleep was not a guarantee.  In those days walking exhausted and drained with disheveled clothes and hair was a normal day. In fact, one year for Halloween I dressed up as my “old self”, I put on make up and nice clothes. If I was going to wear makeup for Halloween, it might as well make me look pretty, not scary! Nowadays, I look halfway decent. I mean I try to coordinate my clothes, put on make up and do my hair. Not all on the same day. I can usually do two out of three. Jewelry? Lol! Yeah, I am not there yet. Maybe next year. Now, however, with one child that is in school full time and the other goes to school three days a week, I can take a step closer to regain my identity. I can go out of the house during daylight hours to places that are not the grocery store or the park. For example, there is this cafe that I saw next door to my hair salon the last time I got a haircut 5 months ago. It is called the Walking Dead Cafe, in Senoia Ga., Yes, it is the town where the Walking Dead is filmed. It is 10 minutes from my house and everything in this town is adorable, including this cafe with French country decor and the zombies peaking out of the Walking Dead museum next door. I have wanted to visit this cafe, but I did not want to go with the kids. The place is so beautiful and relaxing. I wanted to wait for the perfect time to enjoy the experience.

Today was that day! I set up a date with one of my favorite mom friends after we dropped our girls off at school. The experience was all I ever dreamed and more! I almost did not want to tell anyone about this place and just keep it for myself.

Apparently putting on lotion is something else I should aim for next year.
Apparently putting on lotion is something else I should aim for next year. Can you see my ashy knees?

I felt they made this cafe for me and all other moms. This sign below greeted us at the entrance. It said: “Sanctuary for all community, For all those who arrive, survive” . They are talking about motherhood, right? It is the sanctuary for all the mommies that have survived the zombie stage of motherhood and can now come to a cafe alone and drink warm coffee in silence? That was my interpretation, but then again I don’t watch the show so coffee, sanctuary, survival just mean something different to me.

Walking Dead Cafe: Sanctuary for all community, for all those who arrive survive
Walking Dead Cafe: Sanctuary for all community, for all those who arrive survive
Flat screen TV, fireplace and couches. Perfect sanctuary!
Flat screen TV, fireplace and couches. Perfect sanctuary!
The decor! It's like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper came to decorate herself!
The decor! It’s like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper came to decorate herself!IMG_3412
The Walking Dead Museum next door has a jail cell with a bed
The Walking Dead Museum next door has a jail cell with a bed.

The coffee was great, the atmosphere was incredible and with free wifi I sense I have found a great place to write, a sanctuary underground where I can contemplate how I am no longer a mom zombie. I am a blogger now. I taught a Spanish summer class, coached soccer, started an online group of more than 200 members for the Latino community in our area…I am doing more. I still don’t get paid for anything I do, but I am at least following some passions and getting my feet wet before going out into the working world.

Gorditas de Harina

Gorditas de harina are round individual sweet breads that taste like vanilla and cinnamon. They look like small pancakes, but they are hard like bread.  They are a comfort food that is perfect with tea, coffee or milk, not to mention, they make your home smell like heaven! You can eat them anytime as a snack. They are pretty filling so they are great for camping trips, road trips, hiking, etc. Eating them brings back memories of our family road trips from Chicago to Durango Mexico.  It would take us three days to drive 29 hours!  My mom would make these gorditas, and we would eat them as snacks during the long ride. On the way back to Chicago from Mexico, my step grandma would give us gorditas de cuajada, which are made of a cheese called cuajada (similar to ricotta cheese). The gorditas de cuajada are not as sweet as the gorditas de harina. They have more of an acquired taste, but I miss them. I will do some investigating and hopefully I can share the recipe to gorditas de cuajada soon. For now, I hope you enjoy the recipe translation and review of gorditas de harina that I found at http://magicasprincesas.blogspot.com .

The reason I searched the internet for recipe was because the recipe my mom gave me would never come out right. It is one of those things that she does by intuition, and apparently the author of this recipe does as well. They both stated to use a little milk, but could not specify what that meant! After my second attempt I finally figured it out and I am sharing the secret amount with you! These came out tasting exactly like I remember them. My kids enjoyed them and I hope you enjoy them too!

Ingredients

4 cups of flour

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 tbs cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbs vanilla

1 1/4 cup of boiled milk (you may need 1 1/2 cups)

Directions:

Bring milk to boil in a pot. Mix flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, baking powder and vanilla with your hands. Gradually add warm milk and continue mixing with your hands. I used 1 1/4 of milk but you can use a little more. When dough is soft and not sticking to your fingers you can either cover it in plastic or cover it with a towel. Let it sit for at least 1 hour. Heat a griddle with medium heat. Roll out dough with a rolling pin. It should be thin (1/8 inch). If it is too thick the center will not cook without burning the outside. Next, you can cut out circles using a cookie cutter or bowl. Spray griddle with cooking spray and place gorditas on griddle. Turn them over after a 6-7 minutes. They will be medium brown like a pancake. Leave them on the griddle until the center is cooked through. Mine took a little long to cook through. I suspect it was because I used an electric griddle. You may have to leave yours less or more time. Break one to make sure it is heated through. Enjoy!

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Passing On The Legacy Of Flavors

My mom is an amazing cook, who has spoiled me with delicious food, and is the person I credit for my love of cooking. Now, I have my own kids, and sharing the flavors of my childhood with them brings me great pleasure.  As a 1st generation Mexican American, food and music are the only two things that remain of my culture. I know Spanish as well, but I tend to only use it when needed. My thoughts and dreams are in English but my taste buds crave saltly, spicy, sour and sweet all in one bite and I am only inspired to sing when I hear Spanish lyrics. That is my reality. Who knows what parts of the Latino culture will remain in my 2nd generation Mexican/Colombian American children? So far I am doing a terrible job in the language and music department so that leaves me with food.  It is my mission to pass on the biggest treasure of my family and culture to my children: cooking! I will share these recipes with you. I hope they help you reproduce flavors of your childhood, or maybe help you create new flavors and traditions in your family.

I will share family recipes and also recipes that I will translate from the internet.  You see, many “Mexican” recipes on the internet are modified to the point that they don’t look anything like what they are suppose to be. I am sure they are delicious, but what the internet is passing off as enchildadas is in reality just a tortilla casserole. If all I have to pass on to my children, as part of their heritage, is food then I want the recipes to be as authentic as possible! Sometimes in order to get an authentic recipe you have to do your search in Spanish. Makes sense.  Spanish recipes can be difficult to follow since the author usually uses the metric system (ain’t nobody got time for that), or they tend to leave out details assuming you are already familiar with cooking techniques. I am very excited to translate internet recipes and share my family recipes. I hope you find it helpful. If there is a particular dish you want me to share please leave a comment.

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Living in bubbles

The concept of living in a bubble first crossed my mind when we lived in a suburb in Chicago. We were 45 minutes away from the city.  I was a stay at home mom with the same routine as many other moms in town. I dropped off one child to school and then dropped off the second child at the gym’s daycare so I could go to an exercise class.  The gym was our socialization center/country club, complete with pool and day camps for the kids. Outside the gym we visited parks, took the kids to soccer practice and of course visited Target frequently. It sounds like any other suburb. The average person would not think of it as a bubble, but I thought it was a blissful bubble where the downtown workforce could vacation to everyday. It was a life like in a tv sitcom.  In this bubble no one worried about violence, gangs or locking their doors. Those shootings that happened in Chicago, sometimes a few dozen shootings on a warm weekend, had nothing to do with our little suburb. We were living in one of the safest suburbs in the country in one of the most violent cities in the country. We were sheltered from the rest of the world and I was grateful. My biggest problem in the suburbs was people mowing the lawn during my kid’s nap time (grrrr). It was nice, but it felt superficial. It was a big contrast to life in South Chicago where I grew up.

In the south side, being street smart is a subject learned in high school just like Algebra, it is probably even more important for ones immediate safety and survival. My biggest problem growing up in South Chicago was the occasional shooting. I witnessed three as a teenager. That was the real world to me. When I would see teenagers in the suburbs trying to be tough I wanted to go up to them and ask if they would like for me to take them to the real hood. Their attempt at looking tough was laughable to me. Now, after having lived in the suburbs seven years I came to a revelation: South Chicago was a bubble too. It is not normal to know gang members and witness shootings, or at least it shouldn’t be normal. The culture in South Chicago could only be understood by the people living inside. The outside felt like a different world living by different rules.

I realized, maybe we all live in bubbles and each have our own definition of normal. I am grateful to have experience two extremes. I am able to appreciate the great schools in our suburb, but also understand the reason why inner city schools have low reading and math scores. I can understand why gangs exist and how important teachers, coaches and programs are for these at risk children. 

Currently we live in a suburb who proudly calls itself “The Bubble”. It has 90 miles of golf cart paths that connect the whole town. Residents take their golf carts through the forest to get to restaurants, school, parks, etc. There are beautiful lakes, streams and the friendliest people who always say hello. It is different, it is beautiful, it is great. It is something I don’t take for granted. I love that the residents here know our situation is unique. Being aware you are in a bubble is a revelation that will help us have more compassion for others or allow us to dream of bigger possibilities depending our situation.  Whatever bubble you find yourself in ask yourself what life is like on the flip side.  Every perspective has something to teach us.

Driving golf cart in our suburb
Driving the golf cart in our bubble

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Finally, I will blog!

I have dreamed of this moment since the day I read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Inspired by the book, I started writing in a journal at the age of 15 and wondered if one day my journal would be read by others worldwide. Fast forward to my mid 30s, and now we have the internet where I don’t have to be famous or important to share my experiences and thoughts with the world. The only thing that was holding me back was time. You see, I am a mother of a 4 year old boy and an almost 3 old girl.  There are many blogger moms, we have so much material to work with, and the thought of blogging has been on my mind since I started sharing my funny, warm or frustrating moments on Facebook.  I have wanted to share more and join all the blogger moms but during nap time, also known as “mommy break time” I gave priority to cleaning my house, exercising and watching Dr. Phil. My dreams of becoming a blogger, creating a business plan or starting a recipe book were just dreams.  Well, today my youngest started attending an early childhood center a few days a week and the Dr. Phil new fall season has still not started so here I am finally starting my blog! I would like to thank friends that have put up with my long Facebook posts and the people that have encouraged me to start a blog.

This blog is about me, a first generation Mexican American who grew up in South Chicago and now lives in a suburb of Atlanta. I am mother of two with an awesome husband who grew up in Miami. My husband and I both have humble beginnings in big cities and we are now raising our kids in a different world in which we were raised. It is a new world of beauty, peace, safety, pools, soccer, karate, joggers, play dates, stay at home moms…it is also a world where we are far from family and the cultural experience that was so rich in our childhood is now absent in our children’s childhood. Money can’t buy it and I can’t duplicate. I am only one person, I am not a village.  Join me on my family adventure in the suburbs! Parenting, cooking, suburb life and maybe even some politics will be my subjects of choice.  Much of it is universal, some of it will be my take on trying to fuse my present world with my upbringing, giving my children the best of both worlds.